Tales of the Rampant Coyote

Adventures in Indie Gaming!

Why “Because We May” & Indie Pricing Is Important

Posted by Rampant Coyote on May 29, 2012

The Because We May sale is entering its last few days (so don’t forget to pick up a copy of Frayed Knights: The Skull of S’makh-Daon for all your friends while it’s still ultra-cheap! Sorry, that was Marketing Coyote talking… back to the other one!).

During this event, I’ve seen a few comments on twitter where people don’t quite get what the big deal is.

Yeah, indies have sales all the time. This one may be unusually large, sure. And it’s about indies being in control of their own destiny, which sounds cool. But exchanging my indie hat for a gamer hat, what’s the benefit? I mean, those other channels who aren’t so indie-friendly have sales all the time, too, so what’s the big deal to me as a consumer? Why should I care that indies are setting their own prices this time around?

Excellent question.

The short answer is, “Because it means you get the games you want to play at the prices you more-or-less want to pay.” But that requires some explanation, because it’s not direct and it’s not necessarily intuitive.

Half of the answer is this: It lets the developer and the consumers arrive (hopefully) at an agreeable price between them for buying and selling the product, without a middleman interposing barriers to distort the market or add confusion to the signals. Reciprocally,  it allows customers to inform developers what kinds of games (and at what price points) they want to buy.

An example: iPhone games. Let’s imagine what would have happened if Apple, looking at the typical prices for Mac games as they launched the App store, decided in their infinite wisdom to set the standard price for all games at $6.99, $9.99, or $19.99. While there are no doubt many game developers who would rejoice initially at this “price fixing,” I suspect they’d change their tune once they discovered that their games just didn’t sell at that price. In fact, a lot of games might not sell at that price, iPhone “apps” might never have caught on in general, and people would still be waiting for the “mobile games market” to “hit.”

Now imagine for a moment if Apple had clamped down a year into the iPhone’s success, prior to the release of the iPad, and said, “You know, almost all games that are selling are selling for less than $2.99. So we’re going to put a price cap on games at that price – so consumers will all know that they are always getting really cheap games at the App Store!” If they’d done that, there’d probably never have been Avadon: The Black Fortress for iPad. Nor would we have a lot of the games now out from indies and non-indies.

Instead, game developers continue to experiment with content and pricing, and consumers get to keep voting with their wallets, signalling their willingness to try something different.

That pricing freedom means developers can experiment with niche genres. Because its niche, it has a much smaller potential audience,  which means the price may have to be a bit more. That’s where you get titles like The Many Faces of Go or X-Plane (yeah, not really a game, but still…).  The price freedom allows these titles to be made and maintained.

Freedom of pricing allows a kind of a negotiation to take place. It allows games to be sold at multiple prices to meet multiple levels of consumers. A game you are really excited about might be a bargain at $20 or $30, but I have only a passing interest in it but would be willing to pay $15 for it.  Someone else may simply not be able to afford it for more than $10. That’s what sales and discounts  are all about. Offering a game at a “pay what you want” price is something of a novelty (and for many people may be more of a “pay as little as your conscience will let you get away with” price) is another option that comes with this freedom.

Now, if money grew on trees, I’d be more than happy to just give you the game for free, or you’d be more than happy to give me a million dollars for a copy. But in the real world, we both have bills to pay, and making a game takes a lot of time, effort, and cash, and likewise you have a lot of more important things to spend your money on and probably can’t spare a lot for my game. So between the two of us, we have to come up with something reasonable. Freedom of pricing allows this discovery of what’s ‘reasonable’ to take place much more easily. As developers fiddle around with sales and price changes, they might get the idea that there’s a ‘sweet spot’ for sales and scope that is not where they thought it would be.  Maybe their audience is willing to pay more for a game like X but which is of bigger scope and higher quality.  Or maybe they’re more willing to buy it if it is broken up into bite-sized chunks. It’s a tricky dance and the steps keep changing on us, but it allows games and their prices to evolve over time to fit the expectations and demands of the players based on a very simple feedback mechanism.

And we all know how “one size fits all” usually means “one size fits poorly.”

So while a big game sale may be a big, direct, tangible benefit of indies being able to set their own prices, hopefully this little meandering rant will help illustrate how it’s something that really does pay less obvious dividends over time to the players.


Filed Under: Biz, Indie Evangelism - Comments: 5 Comments to Read

  • Groboclown said,

    In other words, this is really good way to experimentally discover solid price segmentation without artificial (supplier) controls.

  • John Evans said,

    But you’re making it a social negotiation instead of a logical one. I don’t want my buying decisions to have a social dimension to them, I don’t to enter into negotiations with a seller, I just want to click a button and get something. I haven’t even looked at this most recent sale because I’m sure I would feel guilty about paying less than full price. Why can’t you just tell me what the price is without all this hassle?

  • Groboclown said,

    Think of it like an RPG haggling system. “How about $10?” “But my seven children would starve for less than $15!” “How about $12?”

  • Modran said,

    Finally caved in and bought Frayed Knights. Only managed to play like 20 minutes this morning, but the game will get more.
    Little question: where in France will you be? if it’s Paris, think you can have time for a bite?

  • Rampant Coyote said,

    I’m in Paris right now – I’ll be here until Saturday morning, when we go to Le Havre. The short answer is “sure” – contact me here (jayb) and we can see about setting something up.