Posted by Rampant Coyote on November 16, 2010
I’ve noticed a trend among indie game devs towards this whole pre-release “Buy now at reduced price, and we’ll let you play the version in development” thing. (Sorry, Craig, your announcement was what triggered this post.)
I’m not saying this is bad or anything. If anything, I find it praiseworthy. And I’ve pre-ordered a couple of games myself, and played the early development versions. Indie game developers need to always consider different ways of monetizing what they do, because it’s dang hard to make any money at it as it is. Just breaking even on out-of-pocket expenses can be tough enough, but compared to the opportunity cost of putting those hours into a minimum-wage job… Yeah. Any ethical innovation to give indies a better chance of surviving to make more games is okay in my book.
Plus, it gets people to pay to be beta testers, which is a totally bizarro concept in my mind, but one I’d happily get behind. It’s tough enough to get people to beta test for free…
But it’s kind of amusing how this trend is catching on. I first became aware of it with the release of Mount & Blade. As the game came closer to release, the “pre-release” price gradually increased.
And it worked. There’s a weird cultural effect (that maybe isn’t so weird, if I analyzed it enough, but to my brain it seems weird) of how hype for a game can build for months – even years – before it is released, and then disappear quickly after its release. Even when the game is being consistently maintained and improved post-release.
It also seems to me that the idea works better for certain games than others. For a game like Frayed Knights, which is pretty story-heavy with a clear ending, lacks tons of replayability, I don’t know that it would work out so well. My concern would be that people would play through the buggy, broken version a couple of times, but then never bother to experience the game in all it’s cleaned-up final-release glory. Whereas, in a game like Minecraft — well, that game never really comes to a conclusion. It’s okay for someone to keep playing the game as it evolves. No biggy.
(TANGENT ALERT: This is one more reason why story-based RPGs are an an absolutely terrible genre for indies to make. We’re pretty much screwed no matter what we do, so we may as well just enjoy the ride, right? Actually, I do think we have some aces in the hole we could pull out. But that’s another story. )
Another issue with the progressive pricing model is that I don’t see it working for everybody. Unless a developer has a track record I can trust (which usually means a history of released games I liked), I won’t throw money at an unfinished game. I am painfully aware of the failure rate of first-time indies. If the game is fully playable and worth the price RIGHT NOW, then okay. Fine. But I won’t spend money on the promise of an unproven stranger.
There are a couple other concerns I’d have with the model, too. First off, I really do not have a clue how much pre-orders might rob from release purchases. Secondly, I would worry that broken pre-release versions could generate some negativity from the core base of gamers that would have been your first, most vocal fans. I’m sure most gamers willing to fork over the cash to play a pre-release version, but there’s always that worry.
There’s also the pain of supporting what is effectively a public release – making sure it is distribution-ready, etc. But that’s a headache you are going to have sooner or later anyway, assuming you intend to support your game post-release (and DUH! You’d better be!). So that’s not a big headache.
So do the benefits outweigh the problems? Considering how popular this is becoming, I can only assume so.
Filed Under: Biz, Indie Evangelism - Comments: 8 Comments to Read