If you follow the Indie-gaming industry there’s a good chance that by now you’ve heard about what I like to refer to as “Puppy-Gate.” If you’re wondering what I’m talking about, last week indie game maker Puppy Games wrote a blog post that was … venting … to say the least. The main point was that developers can’t afford to care about individual customers due to the downward pressure on game prices exerted by the excessive supply of games available through Steam and Humble Bundles etc. I found the Puppy Games post more than a bit depressing, but I do have to ask myself – do they have a point? After all, they have been in the business a lot longer than we have.
At first in trying to answer this question, I tried to figure out if what they were saying about game prices is really true. Do you really have to sell your game for $1? Are developers really destined to get discounted into oblivion?
Thinking about this, I realized that I didn’t actually know as much about all of this pricing stuff as I thought I knew. At risk of sounding extremely naïve, I will admit that I thought you more or less set your price as a developer and see if the market responds favorably. So, unfounded assumptions in hand, I set out to research this problem earlier this week. I found out that I was wrong – maybe.
Turns out, it’s a lot harder to research how Steam pricing works than I thought, which in retrospect really shouldn’t have been a big surprise. Steam does answer the question itself to some extent, noting that they will “work with you” to set an appropriate price based on their knowledge of historical pricing data. On top of that, I came across my fair share of “we can’t disclose that” comments by developers that have put games on Steam. On one hand, this all sounded a bit ominous. On the other hand, Steam does have kind of a lot of expertise in this area, so I don’t want to get too cynical about being strong armed to a lower price point by Steam.
I’ve realized that at the end of the day it is rather pointless for me to go around in circles trying to predict what price our game will be. I think that instead we need to ask ourselves what our goal is. How much do we want to sell our game for? We should decide what price we want our game to be, and then aspire to that goal.
Right now that goal is $10.
I acknowledge that in a sense we are privileged to be able to look at things from this perspective. After all, we don’t absolutely need to sell this game in order to make a living since we’ve still got our day jobs. This gives us a bit more breathing room to hold out for a price we want. Yet, I think this approach will help us put out the best game that we can because it gives us a certain standard to which we need to hold ourselves. If we want to sell our game for $10 then we need to look at other indie games that are selling for $10 and make sure that we can offer an experience that is at least on par with them.
So far in looking for games similar to ours, I haven’t been able to find anything that is a great comparison. While frustrating, this is also encouraging. It makes me think that maybe, just maybe, we can really provide something a bit different here.
Side bar – I did notice that Goat Simulator is selling for $10. Sadly, while hilarious, this is perhaps not the best example for us (or anyone else ever).
Perhaps the better starting point is – what aspects of our game do we think will make it worth $10? This will develop over time, but there at least a few themes we are focusing on right now. In particular, we think that our gameplay length and customizability will provide value at least at a $10 level. This may make us sound insane, but we are aiming for 15-18 hours of gameplay on one play-through with the addition of valuable re-play time if you play again making different decisions. As far as customizability, this is admittedly a widely-claimed game attribute throughout the industry. However, Rich is laying the foundation right now for this to be at the core of our game as he programs in a wide range of equipable parts that actually modify player stats – not just appearances.
Of course, none of this completely answers the original question. Is the indie game industry dysfunctional and economically untenable for developers? To be honest I still don’t know. But what I’ve realized from trying to figure this out is – it’s really not something we can know for sure at this point. Either we try to put out a game that lives up to our $10 price point expectations, or we don’t. We decided to try. We’re coming for you Alexander Hamilton.