Are you ok with price expectations of small and indie games?

Discussion in 'Indie Business' started by Dark Octave, May 2, 2009.

  1. Dark Octave

    Dark Octave New Member

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    Am I the only one who is annoyed by our expectations of small and indie game prices nowadays? New release prices are expected to continue falling while the quality of our games are expected to continually rise.

    Now that more games are are being released at $15 as opposed to $10 on XBLA, everyone is up in arms over it. Apparently every game on the service should be $5 or it's not worth it, I guess.

    Also, we are now expecting games to be $2.50 and even .99 cents? Have games been reduced to the same value as an item on a McDonalds dollar menu? You really mean to tell me that a one time use Big Mac holds more value than a piece of software that has infinite plays and potentially infinite replay value?

    Is it really ridiculous for me to ask for more than $5 or $10 on a game that you can own and enjoy forever with friends in the comfort of your own home, while it's perfectly acceptable to spend $22 ($11 if alone) on a one and a half hour movie in a stuffy theater?

    I understand that everyone wants a deal and I understand that the average gamer couldn't care less about what it takes to build a game they enjoy, but I believe developers and games are worth more than this.

    I was thinking about how the portals have pretty much slashed (or more) developers prices in half.

    I was thinking about how poorly XBL Community games have sold and how had price expectations been set at $10 instead of $5 or less, a lot of these developers who made a quality product, like the creator of Weapon of Choice would probably be able to comfortably develop another day.

    I was thinking about how $15 for Castle Crashers and Braid is too much, but $60 for an updated roster in the next Madden and Dynasty Warriors is perfectly ok.

    I'm sure there are flaws in my thinking but how do the rest of you feel about what is expected of us compared to what we are expected to sell ourselves for? Is the average game consumer spoiled (for the lack of a better word) or is .99 cents, $2.50, $5, and $10 truly all that we are worth?
     
  2. papillon

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    As I always say when these discussions come up, be careful about your assumptions. Some of your customers have also LONG since stopped going to movies because they're way, way, way too expensive. For that matter, to some people McDonalds is too expensive!

    This is less true when you're dealing with the iphone and the XBLA, of course. It's a safe assumption that these people have some money to spend. However, particularly when it comes to casual games, there seem to be a large number of players who are disabled and/or unemployed. Especially right now, with the economy in turmoil!

    That doesn't mean everyone should slash their prices to $.99, just that it's silly to immediately accuse EVERYONE of having hypocritical value judgments.

    As for the rush to standard price points - it's the price you pay for relying on that particular system to promote your product. If the main thrust of your marketing is "hoping to be on the top seller list of iphone apps" you're going to have to put up with what it takes to get there.

    There are many niche products in the gaming market that get away with charging well above 'average' prices, because what they offer is special and rare and not easily duplicated, AND they go to the trouble of cultivating a fanbase that will put up with the higher prices.
     
  3. PoV

    PoV
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    Gaming as a commodity. You either sell in larger quantities at a lower price, or in smaller quantities at a higher price. iPhone's and the "recession" has been turning the market on it's head lately... annoyingly.
     
  4. Jack Norton

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    Who said that? are some larger companies which have only interest in gathering most email/contacts as possible, since they have an unlimited supply of content.
    Ironically if all devs stopped submitting their games to portals because they don't agree with prices, they would shut down tomorrow. :rolleyes:

    Back on topic, what you say can be true for casual games / consoles, but outside that, high /normal prices are still the norm (Spidweb, Positech, my sites, etc.)
     
  5. Ciardhubh

    Ciardhubh New Member

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    McDonalds doesn't have to compete with free. You cannot effortlessly steal more Big Macs than you can eat. Yet you can pirate more games than you can ever play. "Customers" can demand any price because they can get games for free if they don't agree with yours. If it was as hard to pirate a game as it is to steal a meal or defraud a cinema, the situation would be comarable.

    Of course there are other aspects, too.
     
  6. Crimson Knight

    Crimson Knight New Member

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    I don't think it's ridiculous to ask for at least, $12 for a nice game(like a decent looking platformer). However, as the gaming industry matures, you'll find many jaded gamers, asking for lower prices on higher quality titles. The movie industry is different IMO, we should've abandoned movie theaters long ago(we don't even have to go to the video store to rent DVDs anymore!).

    IMO, XBL Community Games has got off to a great start. A bunch of mediocre games, making thousands of dollars in a couple of months and a bunch of terrible games, making hundreds of dollars in a couple of months with little to no promotion, is a lot better than what I've been seeing in the PC world. When you develop for the PC, you can probably expect to make goose eggs for the first couple of months, and then seeing sales gradually appear, increase and fluctuate.

    I think Nathan Fouts of Mommy's Best Games took a big risk, and got stung on Weapon of Choice. That game was WAY too ambitious, especially for Community Games. Too high quality of content, on top of too much of it, in an uncertain market, on a $5 price tag!? I'm pretty sure a PC developer wouldn't have any of that. If you ask me, my first game would've AT MOST, had a budget of $5000 or less, not ~$10,000(based on developer's financial goals), for a $5 game(to break even, you'd have to had sold 2000+ copies before you grow old).

    The common cry that XNA didn't make enough, was just a bunch of sites copying/pasting news stories, and people expecting a big paycheck for a game worse than what can be played for free on a flash game site. If you take a look at the facts, the games that weren't POS, actually did very well. Heck, even some POS games earned a little bling(a non-game called Remote Masseuse made over $7000 in less than 3 months!).

    I don't like Castle Crashers, way too simplistic of an art style and too mindless of action for me. I thought it was worth 800 MSP ($10.00) at the most.
    The price of the 3D games(Madden and DW) are based more on console development and retail costs. You don't need much behind the development of games like Castle Crashers and Braid, but they still cost time at least(and maybe some money) to develop. I think Braid's worth a little more than CC, but their cost stigma probably comes from people who are used to high quality 3D games, who then explore games which usually don't have the high quality assets they're used to, coupled with the fact that they can get better games for last-gen consoles like the Playstation 2 for about the same price in retail stores.

    If your game is good and you exercise good judgment on how valuable your game is, people will buy it regardless. However, if you want AAA sales, you gotta get with the program and use AAA assets, plain and simple.
     
    #6 Crimson Knight, May 2, 2009
    Last edited: May 2, 2009
  7. vjvj

    Indie Author

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    My advice? IGNORE IT. It has little bearing on actual sales, because the people up in arms over it are a vocal minority.

    Remember when Braid's price was announced? If you went off of the general buzz of msg boards and media comments and whatnot, you'd think the game was destined to flop. It was all filled with bullshit armchair businessmen spreading doom and gloom about how the price was a slap in the face of epic proportions and a threat to gaming integrity and surely the game is going to flop because "no one I know is going to hand over that offending $4!".

    Then the game came out and hit sales numbers most of us only dream of.

    The fact of the matter is that pricing theory is a) super complex, and b) highly irrational and illogical by nature. Most dev people don't even fully understand it, so to expect to get any useful commentary out of customers on the topic is just crazy.

    If you want some interesting anecdotes on the subject, check out the GDC talk from this year "Your Own Zombie Army". The second half goes into pricing strategy a bit and there are lots of interesting facts. Examples:

    • People will drive an extra 15 minutes to save $7 on a pen, but not to save $7 on a suit.
    • One retail chain couldn't sell a $200 breadmaker, but when they introduced another one that was $400, the $200 model started flying off the shelves.
    • Given a choice between a Lindt truffle for 15 cents and a Hershey's Kiss for 1 cent, everyone chooses the truffle. When the Kiss is free though, everyone takes the Kiss.
    • And one of my favorites: If you have a three-tiered product line (one cheap, one expensive, and one as a middle ground), positioning the middle product to make it obviously non-cost effective will boost sales of the more expensive one. Removing the middle product entirely boosts sales of the cheap one.

    I highly recommend checking it out. I think a lot of you will be surprised by the facts.
     
  8. netflow

    netflow New Member

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  9. Fuze

    Fuze New Member

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    This is interesting topic.

    My opinion is that, anything (from cars to paper clips) that is sold to people are basically based on demands. When there are many demands for it, you can gladly increase its price a little bit and people will still buy it because it is something people want. Yeah, if you have a game that people want so badly, selling it at $60 will still gets a huge sales.

    So we, as game developers, really have little to say about pricing. Even you set the price of your superduper game for $15, but nobody is interested to buy it, that only means you game ain't worth that much.
     
  10. cliffski

    Moderator Original Member

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    • This is all very true. If you want get as obsessive with customer decision and thought processes as I do, I highly recommend the books "predictably irrational" and "the advertised mind".
      Bottom line is, pricing is about psychology, and people do not make rational decisions with money, but they do make predictable ones. Ignore what people say, and observe what they DO.
      Every few months I change my prices slightly and carry out a statistical analysis of the change in revenue and revenue per site visit. I am 99.99% certain every one of my games is on sale at the optimum price. I have the data, I KNOW.

      Everything else is just hand waving :D

      If you are making games designed to compete on price, you are in a race to the bottom. Don't enter that race.
     
  11. vjvj

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    Yep, Predictably Irrational was referenced in that GDC talk several times. Another book recommended by Morgan Ramsay here is Harvard Business Review on Pricing.
     
  12. defanual

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    Hmm, yeah, good post I think. I agree with you Dark Octave, some of the prices on iphone for instance are off-key, seriously, but as others have said or alluded to, a combination of the right mindset, a solid product and a fair / experimented price and researched / reiterated should see you good, in other words, we don't all need to sell our wares at 99cents!;)

    Your Own Zombie Army - Driving User Behavior with Game Mechanics and Behavioral Economics (MP3 and Slides Link)
    http://www.casualconnect.org/content/Seattle/2008/pahariasea08.html
     
  13. Acord

    Acord New Member

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    Charge what you feel it's worth. If that's $20, so be it. People will figure out that for $2.50, they're getting a $2.50 game that's only good to waste a minute or two of time.
     
  14. tfowers

    tfowers New Member

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    Taking Cliffski's advice, recently we started doing some A-B testing on our game price. For a two month span, we lowered our price from $16.99 to $9.99 had no noticeable effect on conversion rates. If anything, conversions went down slightly. We'll keep testing - but our ideal price may be higher than our starting price.

    Also - don't feel like you have to discount your price over time like a retail outlet. Your game is "New" to people everyday - act like a new product and people will buy like it's new.
     
  15. Acord

    Acord New Member

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    As long as it still runs... Sell it dear. Retail outlets have limited shelf space and have to move old product to make room for new product. Digital distribution that runs along the same lines is stupid and an insane waste.
     
  16. Dark Octave

    Dark Octave New Member

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    Lots of great advice in this thread and I'm happy that I am not the only one who feels the way I do. I just have a few responses and another question or two.

    Nintendo GBA, DS and PSP games as well as movies and downloadable and disc based AAA PC titles are pretty much as easy to pirate as smaller and indie downloadable PC and console titles. Yet, had the same version of Lode Runner that came out for XBLA for $15 recently, come out for the Nintendo DS at $30, $35 or even $40 instead (pretty standard prices for a new DS game), nobody would have blinked an eye.

    I believe the problem is what people are accustomed to paying is where all the complaining comes in. Back before XBLA, $20 was standard for smaller downloadable titles. I'll go ahead and say it, my opinion is that MS messed it up by introducing the $10 as standard. The rest of us messed it up by accepting that. Now we are seeing that $5 and $10 isn't really enough and creeping prices back up little by little and boy are people vocal about it.

    Great advice. These are things I wondered about, but was never sure of. Adjusting prices up and down was something I never thought was done. As we all know, in the retail world, prices usually go down and only down. I need to free myself from this way of thinking. Also, true about what you say that our games usually don’t age, or not as fast anyway. I’ll remember this.

    Those examples are very interesting. It's strange that we think and base decisions this way. I'm going to check the articles and the books out right now. And you are right, a lot of it is hot air being blown around by people who I feel don’t realize that they are already getting a great deal compared to the alternatives. Hopefully their actions and purchasing habits are different from what they say. As with your example with Braid, vjvj, I can’t help but believe that to be true.

    Netflow thank you too for the article links.

    I will take you guy’s advice, from this point on, I will no longer worry about what people say, but what they do. I am in the middle of developing my first game and I realize my part will be very small because of that, but when my game is finished and I am ready to release it, what would you guys suggest? How can I help do my part to ensure that all of our hard work is fairly compensated? As I mentioned earlier, I hear about the portals slashing prices and how many of you have pulled your games because of it. Should I stay away from portals or would that be an unrealistic way of running a successful business? Does any of that matter, or do you guys just do what you need to do for your business without worrying too much about the overall industry?

    I currently have the mindset that portals are evil as sin with their take it or leave it 60/40 deals on top of slashed prices at developer’s expense (imo, if they want to slash prices, they should take the cut out of their over bloated 60% not our portion). If I am correct in my thinking, then I don’t want to support that.

    And lastly, probably more of a question only I can answer myself but I will ask anyway for anyone who cares to give their opinion. I would say the game I'm currently working on is closest to Eets for XBLA ($10) and Carneval for XBLCG ($5) as far as style and quality/production values. Now say I did all this talking, plan to release the PC version of my game for $15 or $20 with plans to adjust prices to test the market later on, then turn around and release my title on XBL Community games at $5 (the price my partner feels will be "safe" to get optimum sales for our game as you can't easily adjust prices on that service as well as $5 pretty much being the average price there) would I be a hypocrite or smart or what?

    Thanks everybody.
     
  17. Scharlo

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    Well, they are in fact priced equally due to the fact that boxed product has resale value while the game downloaded on XBLA or PSN doesn't.
     
  18. puddinlover

    puddinlover New Member

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    I disagree with having the value be in download or box... I think the main difference is 1. The targeted market and 2. The franchise/name
     
  19. Crimson Knight

    Crimson Knight New Member

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    Making two different versions would be good IMO. For example, I plan on releasing a platformer game for both PC and XBLCG. The PC one will probably be around $19.99, have 20+ levels and be expandable with free custom levels/tilesets. The XBLCG version will be 200 MSP($2.50), lack the extra content, maybe it'll be just a simple game with 9 levels instead of 20.

    Personally, I'm not gonna give the same large game for a lower price point, unless I thought it was worth doing so(and according to the XBLCG sales figures for the first 6 months, I don't think it is). PC owners will get something worth the higher price point, and the content for XBL users will be adjusted accordingly. I think that's fair.
     
  20. MrMandrill

    MrMandrill New Member

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    Personally, I feel like the downward pressure stems from a collective disillusionment with the quality of games that are being produced. The work that I've seen from those who frequent this board is generally quite excellent. That said, as development has become more and more accessible (game maker, flash, XNA vs. C, C++), the average quality of available content has decreased. And sharply. With such a high noise:signal ratio, it's no small wonder that consumers demand lower prices.

    That said, what can we as developers do to combat this deflation? Certainly, continuing to produce highly polished games is the first step. Beyond that, I'm not really sure...:confused:
     

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