Let Us Talk Pricing, Shall We?
December 10, 2011 67 Comments
I was going to do this as a reply to a comment in my Pingvinas review, but it’s actually become a bit of a hot button issue on the scene. So I figured I would talk about it. I recieved the following comment from the developers of a game that will be reviewed shortly here, 3D-struction. This is in response to my comments about pricing from the Pingvinas review. Here is their comment, which I’ve cleaned up.
I don’t know if I agree with your comments on pricing. I read this a long time ago and it forever changed my views of selling software.
In my own experience, I charged the max of 400msp for a text-based drinking game, and it sold disgustingly well. Then I made a cute twin-stick shooter with 30 player online and charged just a buck. I don’t think a total of 30 people bought it.
In the end each dev must do what’s right for them. Do I want maximum exposure, or to focus on my best fans? Is the price meant to be perceived as an insignificant barrier to more fun, or a cost paid to own a quality product? Do you want to fight to get your New Release into another list ASAP, or will you focus on marketing outside of the built-in XBLIG channels?
I think if more developers took real risks, stopped fighting for top downloads and top rated, and instead focused on building an indie community that exists within and outside of Xbox, everyone would profit – and we’d stop seeing as many zombie-anime massage-gallery “games” meant only to follow a fickle zeitgeist.
And to that end, IndieGamerChick is a beacon of hope. I just hope you don’t continue the fallacy that just because a similar, free game exists, a developer who put possibly 1000 hours of work into something doesn’t deserve to charge the same as a small Starbucks latte. And that $3 (or $5) is for a product that could have real, lasting value.
We’re in firm agreement about developers putting too much stock into their numbers and not enough on pushing their games. I haven’t seen too much “outside the box” marketing from this community and that really surprises me.
I do respectfully disagree about price points though. Ian Stocker, the developer of Escape Goat, is going to be addressing this issue right here at IndieGamerChick soon and he’s not taking my side of the argument. I’m opening up my site to developers to post freely (yes, freely, as in you can even slam me and my reviews) and he’s the first to take me up on that.
But I’m going to use Ian as an example for my point of view.
My #1 game is here is Dead Pixels. My #2 game here is Escape Goat. Both games are retro-themed titles with 8-bit style graphics. Both were well received games, not just from me but by the community at large. Both received mainstream attention and a spot on the dashboard as a Kotaku pick.
Dead Pixels has sold 25,000 copies. Escape Goat? According to Ian, “only dozens.”
What is the difference between these two games? Perhaps zombies are a better, more attractive subject matter than goats. But, is it really 25,000 copies significant?
The significant difference is price point. Dead Pixels cost $1. Escape Goat costs $3.
The article those guys sent I agree with in points and not in others. However, my argument isn’t related to economics, cost to develop, or game quality. It’s fully about consumer perception. I believe, and no disrespect to any developer or the hard work they’ve put into their games, that gamers associate the term “indie game” with “non-professional, potentially unstable/unplayable/glitchy amateur games” that are not worthy of a significant cash investment, even if they are good games. Whether this is true or not, it really is the consumer perception of the Xbox Live Indie Game marketplace. As more quality games come in, that perception might change. But it’s not likely to because there is no filter for XBLIGs and absolutely no quality control.
Right now, consumers can purchase games of remarkably high quality off the market for 80 Microsoft Points, or $1 USD. It’s what the most promoted, mainstream reaching game the marketplace has seen was priced at. And I feel once a consumer has a taste for that, it’s hard to justify high pricetags, especially when a lower one is an option. The Minecraft games might be the exception because of the types of fans those cater to. But in general, my (admittedly short) experience has taught me that 240MSP titles sell significantly less than others, with quality not at all relevant.
Take Cthulhu Saves the World for instance. Here’s a game that was 240MSP on the Xbox Live Indie Game marketplace. It did poorly on the platform. That’s despite mainstream attention, being promoted on the dashboard, being part of a promotion like the 2010 Winter Uprising, etc. Then on Steam, at the same price point, it sells significantly better. Many multiples better in fact. And that’s because consumers perceive Steam as having better quality control, and higher quality games as a result.
On the flip side of that, consumers associate Xbox Live Indie Games as stuff that is more high risk. There’s no quality control, and that’s plainly obvious to everyone involved. Consumers associate XBLIG with games of poor quality, thanks in part to guys like, and I hate to bring up these guys, Silver Dollar Games. You wouldn’t see stuff like their crap on Steam. Period. But you do constantly on Xbox Live Indie Games. And not just from Silver Dollar, but from the majority of games on the marketplace. And that perception suddenly makes even $3 a high risk investment. It’s easier to buy three 80 point games using the fishing net strategy of “I’m bound to get at least one good game out of this” then it is to put all your money into one game and hope for the best.
You just don’t know what you’re going to get from Xbox Live Indie Games. I’ve played games on here where, out of nowhere, the quality of a title suddenly falls off a cliff. It even happened to one of my leaderboard games, Chester. Midway through the game, there’s a level that takes about five seconds to beat. What the fuck is that? And mind you, this is a game I really liked. A game that nearly became the #1 game on my leaderboard. But it certainly did not put a premium on quality control, or shit like that non-level wouldn’t have happened.
I’m not going to bust on Silver Dollar anymore. At the time I wrote that article against them, I was still new the scene. Now, I realize they’re not the only developers that consciously shovel out stuff they know to be crap. But I sort of have to use their games as examples because they have the most visibility. Their rate of production means that someone new or returning to the Xbox Indie channel is likely to stumble upon one of their titles that are, admittedly eye-grabbing and maybe even attractive. Then they try the game, hate it, and leave the channel.
What that situation does is taint all games, because a Silver Dollar Game that is priced at 80MSP is now painted into the picture with all XBLIG games, including ones not developed by Silver Dollar and priced at 240MSP or more. Now that consumers associate games of that quality with the channel, they are really not going to want to put 240MSP at risk for one of those potentially poorly made Indie games. $3 might not seem like a lot of money, but it’s only $2 less than Xbox Live Arcade Games that are on sale that week. Those are games with a degree of quality control. They are less likely to be glitchy, and might even come from a major studio. Plus, they come with all the bells and whistles of a real Xbox video game. Achievements, proper online support, and professional levels of graphics. During this Christmas season, I was able to purchase Beyond Good & Evil, a game that has had a pretty good amount of press, for the low price of 240 Microsoft Points. That’s what Xbox Live Indie Games have to compete against. Simply put, they can’t.
Plus, the argument fails to consider that games priced at 240MSP are generally no better or worse than their 80MSP counterparts. 240MSP might buy you amazing games like Escape Goat, Blocks That Matter, or Flight Adventure 2. But, given the rate of bad games to good games, it’s more likely to buy you something like Raventhorne, Dragons vs Spaceships, or President John America. The majority of consumers are more likely, just by the laws of chance, to sample those games over games of higher quality and have it taint their perception of the market. I realize that some games are handicapped by the system Microsoft has created and are forced to price their games at $3. I sympahtize with those people, because the system is forcing them to be, in my mind, uncompetitive.
I am willing to concede that the best-selling XBLIGs as of this writing are 240MSP. There will always be exceptions to the rules. Stuff like FortressCraft that made one million dollars will resonate in the minds of hopeful developers. But those are games that are following a genre that is highly trendy right now. They’re also probably selling significantly less copies of their games than they could on other platforms. Reality shows that 240MSP, which is only $3, is too much to ask for your average Xbox 360 consumer. That gamer is venturing into the Indie channel, not as a fan of it, but as someone who is looking for things to burn excess points on. Quality is not going to be the tipping point for a three dollar game over a one dollar game. Quantity is. They can get more with 240MSP than with one game. And, they can get a LOT of value out of those three games. So if 80MSP is an option, you should take it. I mean, you don’t think those Silver Dollar assholes would still be around if they were charging 240MSP, do you?
Kairi does not think the guys at Silver Dollar Games are assholes. In fact, she respects them for sticking up for the XBLIG community, like they have repeatedly done. However, she does think their games are about as fun as having glass shards forced under your fingernails.
On the other hand, Kairi does quite enjoy being called a “Beacon of Hope.” Wait, wasn’t that what the Jedis called Darth Vader?
UPDATE: Actually it would seem that Ian Stocker of Escape Goat did agree with my viewpoint. Huh. Well, either way you can expect something from him on this site sometime soon with the first installment of Tales from the Dev Side.