Let Us Talk Pricing, Shall We?

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.

This little piggy went to the market.

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.

This little piggy stayed home.

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.

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67 Responses to Let Us Talk Pricing, Shall We?

  1. BrunoB says:

    I dislike the average SD game as much as anyone else, but you’ve gotta admit their games are often trollish and simplistic, but almost never as crappy, glitchy and unfinished as some other stuff that gets its way into XBLIG. Sure SD games are an easy target, but I wonder if people are really driven away from the indie channel by stuff like No Luca No more than they are by things like Christmas Rocks! or piniq.

    Also, have you considered that SD’s release strategy – many shovelware titles that gets them attention and eventually also promote their “top tier” titles – could be the “out of the box” marketing that you complain many indies don’t have?

    I’m not saying their ways have to be promoted or admired, just i don’t think it’s all black and white.

    • Kairi Vice says:

      I think being new to the scene back in August when I did that piece, it’s likely something I shouldn’t have wrote that early. I do stand by my argument that they are capable of doing better and the fact that they don’t really try to is kind of shitty of them.

      I do agree that they are one of the few XBLIG devs who do market unconventionally. But I still assert that their games can be perceived as representative of the whole market. I know it’s true because I did it myself, long before I started this website, and gaming friends I know outside of Indie Gamer Chick have done the same. After starting this place, I told them “you know, there’s a LOT of really great games on there for chicken feed” and they were like “really? Every time I checked it out it was mostly about dating sims or impossible games.” I’m pretty much the average game consumer and I made that mistake too.

      Developers need to accept that perception is reality and price accordingly. It might not be the “right thing” but these were the cards the XBLIG market was dealt.

      • Silver Dollar (and similar) games are the reason I didn’t use the XBLIG channel until about a year after I discovered it. Late one drunk night, a friend and I with some time to burn decided to investigate this mysterious section of Xbox Live. We found one or two thing we quite liked (Metro and Apple Jack, as I recall) but the rest of the time it was all “Baby Maker Extreme? Don’t Be Nervous Talking to Girls? No wonder we didn’t know this was here!”

        I returned months later, because I had some leftover points and I felt there had to be at least a couple of decent games in there. My friend never came back to XBLIG though, even with me now promoting it to anyone who will listen. When I suggest that someone checks out the indie channel, the reaction is either confusion (because they have no idea what I’m talking about, and don’t care enough to find out) or distaste: “but they’re all shit, aren’t they?”

        To return more directly to pricing, I think 80 MSP also has that handy ‘spare points’ situation. If you have 240 points left from another purchase, you’re already well on your way to getting a full XBLA game. You just need to top up with a few more points. In contrast, 80 points are useless unless you want to buy a garment for your avatar. When it comes to buying an XBLA game, most of the time having 80 points is like having no points. But you can buy a whole indie game with it. I think the spare change nature of 80 point games is a big advantage.

    • Lemmingrush says:

      As one of the developers of piniq (Our first foray into the indie game world) I’m a little annoyed that you’d lump us in with the silly “Fox news” titled games from SD and guys like that.

      While it’s not the most ground breaking thing out there, it’s a great place for us to work on our programming and game making cred.. Also our two player “super piniq turbo” mode is really fun (Simon meets pong with special attacks). I’ve spent hours at parties playing it with friends.

      Another thing we tried hard to focus on was making sure it was polished and didn’t crash or ignore controllers and stuff like that. Anyway what kills us in the marketplace imho isn’t the presentation or gameplay it’s that Microsoft demands that we charge 3 bucks because the game is over 50 meg. If it were up to us we’d be charging 40 points.

      We are basically offering a competitive experience similar to the arcades of old, so 3 bucks is pretty steep. I really wish MS would allow us to charge less. The very reason our game is that size is because we wanted it to look and sound great. All the backgrounds and assests are high rez images and Hubble space shots that scale correctly for any rez. We also made and original sound track that imho is catchy and fun to listen to. We could have barfed out something much less polished and been able to keep it under 50 meg for the lower price point. MS’s pricing is probably hurting the indie marketplace more than just crappy games.

      Play the super piniq mode with a friend and let me know specifically what you don’t like about it or what makes is subpar in some way. :) Hit me up on twitter @lemmingrush

      Also I’m impressed with your site indiegamerchick. *bookmarked*

      • Chounard says:

        I haven’t played your game, but I have a lot of trouble believing that you can’t get a Pong style game under 50 MB.

        How high are the resolutions on those backgrounds? Bluebones’ Curse has 19 image files that are 1280×720 or bigger (quite a few much bigger), and getting under 50 MB was simple. I was lazy, and found no need to optimize there.

        What sort of compression are you using for the music? Did you use XACT? Are you using a lot of sound effects?

        I’d be glad to help you, if you’re interested in getting the file size down. Toss me an email or message me on twitter (@Chounard)

        • Lemmingrush says:

          Thanks for the offer I’ll email you when I get off work. :D We are using 1920 x 1080 jpegs. I’m not using any sort of compression on them other than what jpeg is offering. The tracks are mp3s and they aren’t that big. Also have a few wav files for sfx that are pretty small.

      • BrunoB says:

        While I respect anyone’s work and effort, especially in something as complex as making a videogame, I’m sorry to say that, as a gamer, I didn’t like piniq at all.

        I can see your reasons, but I found the “super” mode too complicated, for a game that, for the rest, is very simplistic – the ball doesn’t even move at any angle other than 45 degrees.

        Sure the backgrounds are nice, but the actual foreground graphics are quite elementary. Also, I’m sure you spent much time polishing the game, but there are still some glitches – the ball briefly flashes before changing color, for example, and I guess some transition animation when you enlarge your paddle would’ve been nice.

        Anyway I wish you good luck with piniq and I’ll look forward to see what you’ll do with your next games!

        • lemmingrush says:

          Thanks for taking me up on my request. I’ll keep these things in mind as we make updates to the game. I didn’t think of doing animations on the growing paddle. Our next few games are quite a bit more ambitious in scope, I hope the community will enjoy them too.

  2. Starglider says:

    You didn’t even mention the 400 MSP price point. If selling at 240 MSP is effectively suicidal, is 400 MSP self-immolation while rolling in barbed wire? Then again you also didn’t mention that only 50 Mb games can be 80 MSP, ambitious games up to 150 Mb cannot be. If you have no chance of sales due to being forced to go for 240 MSP anyway, is going all the way to 400 MSP going to do any more damage?

    • Kairi Vice says:

      I’m curious about the 400MSP price point as well. Antipole, the #3 game here, is one of those. Is it worth $5? Yes. Are gamers likely to take a chance on it at that price? For the vast majority, probably not.

      • Antipole launched at 240 MSP. The price was bumped around when the PC & DS versions came out for consistency. It actually did get a slight increase in sales for a while after the bump. I think trials went down but conversion went up.

  3. It all depends on where your hoping to get your sales from that helps you decide the pricing. If your new on the scene with little to none publicity your best chance is to sell at 80msp but if you have a cult for your games and hope to get your sales without the need of the new releases and more so the likes of marketing on the internet then by all means price your game a little higher. Some people see 80msp as a throw away game and would much prefer to buy a 240msp game at the hope of better quality gaming.

    Just my opinion! :)

    • Kairi Vice says:

      You know, I quit paying attention to 80MSP versus 240MSP myself a while back. The topic came up today on Twitter and that’s why I did this piece.

      Most of the games I do here these days seem to be 240MSP. Price only once on my site has made a difference in me recommending a game or not, and that was with a game that was 400MSP but lacked the features or gameplay to justify the tag, even if the game was still fun.

      But I would say the guys who did Cthulhu Saves the World had that “cult following.” Hell, Breath of Death VII was one of two XBLIGs I bought before I started this site. I loved it. But CTSW sort of bombed on XBLIG if I understand correctly. They were forced because of its size to price it at 240MSP, but it doesn’t change the point. It didn’t sell. But it did sell on Steam. Why? The Promotion they got from Steam, maybe.

      My point was WHY is a $3 game acceptable on Steam and not on XBLIG? It’s because a Steam game goes through wringers that games on XBLIG don’t. People feel confident with a Steam purchase. They don’t with an XBLIG, and that’s totally justified.

      • Agreed. You don’t buy a Steam game thinking “I hope this isn’t a heap of mouldering ass”. You know it won’t be. You might not enjoy it, but it will be a decently executed, functioning game. On XBLIG, you have the sleazy games, the frivolous apps, and the stuff that attempts to be a proper game but is glitchy and buggy beyond acceptable levels.

        It’s similar with XBLA. People who won’t gamble 80 points on an XBLIG will happily risk 1200 on the Arcade, simply because XBLA has quality control. They will even buy indie games on there (e.g. Super Meat Boy). but not visit the indie channel. Indies that appear on XBLA are assumed to be professional-quality games from small studios. XBLIG content, on the other hand, seems at a glance to be basically flash games, developed in three days by a 14 year old who was trying to avoid doing homework. The reality – that Super Meat Boy, for instance, was developed by two people – doesn’t really enter into it.

        This is why pretentions of professionalism can sometimes be a good thing. Indie developers who aim to get distribution through Steam or XBLA must mimic larger, professional development studios in their work ethic, their quality control, and their pride in their work. Those who develop for XBLIG don’t have to even try, because they know pretty much anything can be accepted on there. As long as XBLIG allows unregulated crap to splatter through the gaping holes in the peer review system, the service will never be taken seriously and customers will continue to shy away from risking 240 points or more on a game that has a good chance of making them wish they’d bought their avatar a new t-shirt instead.

      • In my opinion, buy games from steam is alot more like buying games from XBLA. They have the same feel of proffesionalism because they both have lots of hoops for developers to jump through to allow their game to be put foward. I wouldn’t need to risk it with a game on XBLA or Steam because I know all games on their are developed to a set standar of proffesionalism. But then, isn’t that idea of not having to jump through so many hoops to get your game on XBLIG the reason why most people develop for it? It’s a fine line between freedom and quality control that I think XBLIG needs to re-evaluate.

  4. Dcon6393 says:

    If their game is under 50 mb, a developer should release at 80 msp. I know Ian has a differing opinion, and I definitely want to hear his argument because I know he had some level of success with Soulcaster I and II. In the grand scheme of things, 80 msp helps you reach a larger audience of people who happen upon your game. Like you said, people are more likely to skip over an 240 msp game because of the quality assurance XBLIG has. 80 msp gives you more people to reach initially, and those people might tell their friends. That is why it is my personal belief, unless you make a Crafting game or are the guys over at Barkers Crest Studios (Avatar Golf and Avatar Legends), 80 msp should be your logical goal for a price.

    There are also a ton of other factors that could affect sales, in combination with your price point. Box art is a big one. How many people see the box art for Avatar Legends and are intrigued enough to look at the info? I bet a whole lot of people are. The same thing can be said for some 80 msp games. Firing Range has a box art that says “hey we have good looking guns” and that is probably a good marketing strategy. Also, title probably factors in a little bit, but box art is probably the biggest factor that works hand in hand with price point. If your box art looks professionally done, you will get more trials no matter what your price point. I love the box art for Escape Goat, but it might not have stuck out enough to the average buyer.

    In the end, 80 msp is better for 98% of all cases (if possible to price that low).

    • Good point about box art. I can’t remember what it was now, but there was a game that I kept skipping past because it had really hideous box art, but when it was recommended to me it turned out to be really good.

      Hmm, to use an example I can actually name: Flotilla. The box art is quite well designed in its own way, but it’s not remotely representative of the game, and it’s not well-drawn. At all. And yet, Flotilla is one of the best games on XBLIG in my opinion. It’s worth the 400 MSP it costs, yet if you saw the box art you might well be put off. I know that to me it doesn’t look like a 400 MSP cover.

  5. BrunoB says:

    By the way may I suggest reading this post http://www.apathyworks.com/blog/view.php?id=00250 by Alex Jordan, the developer of Cute Things Dying Violently, which also talks about XBLIG games’ pricing practices.

  6. Chounard says:

    If Escape Goat failed at 240, it likely would have failed at 80 as well.

    Compare those screenshots you posted. While they both look retro, Dead Pixels is immediately approachable and looks like it’s full of action. Escape Goat looks dark and dingy (because there’s no contrast anywhere), and other than the goat and fireballs, I have no idea what’s going on. On top of that, everything is tiny, so it looks pretty complex, like there will be a huge learning curve.

    Price definitely matters a great deal, but I think the screenshots matter a whole hell of a lot more. This is part of what cause my last game to tank so completely. I’m the first to admit that the game has tons of problems, but nobody even downloaded the game to find that out. I think that’s because my screenshots were boring. (I found a good spot and stopped moving to take the screenshots, so each shot shows the player standing still. It was a bonehead move.) You can see them here: http://www.xboxindies.com/game/bluebones-curse

    • Dcon6393 says:

      Screenshots are also super important, good point. It is weird sometimes how some developers take no pride in their screenshots, yet that is the consumer’s only view into the game without downloading the trial. If you can get good screenshots and a good looking cover, you can really draw some people in to at least try the trial

      • The screenshots I don’t understand are the ones that just show the title screen or a menu or something. Having one of three or four screenshots be that is fine, but all of them? Madness. There’s been more than one game I haven’t even tried simply because the only thing the pics showed was the title screen.

    • Kairi Vice says:

      I agree with you on screenshots. People need to put in the effort to have good representation on the marketplace.

      They also should really put more attention into their name. It should be something that sticks out in a Google search. (for the record, I think Escape Goat is a perfectly fine name).

  7. Robert Boyd says:

    Cthulhu Saves the World wasn’t a bomb so much as it was disappointing when it comes to sales on XBLIG. We had more experience, we weren’t starting from scratch, we had an existing fan base, we spent nearly 3 times as long in developing it, and we even hired a composer and yet despite all those things, it ended up making almost exactly the same amount of revenue as BoDVII did (1/3rd the sales at 3 times the price). However, if we had been able to price it at $1 (only 50 MB and under games can use that price and CSTW is about 130-140 MBs), I think it would have had a good chance to go viral and sell a lot more than BoDVII did.

    • Kairi Vice says:

      Did you break even on it on XBLIG? Was your cash in and sweat equity made up in the revenue it brought in?

      • Robert Boyd says:

        In about a year of sales on XBLIG, I personally have made about $20,000 off of the XBLIG version of CSTW. The game took about 8 months to make plus an extra month or two for the bonus features we added later on. So that comes out to about $2,000/month for a mix of part-time and full-time work. Not great especially since the payments are highly delayed (started work in May 2010 and didn’t see a cent until February of 2011 since you don’t get paid until you release and then you have to wait for the quarterly payout).

        PC has been exponentially more profitable for us.

    • maxtrix2000 says:

      Well the thing is that there’s a big different on the market model of xblig and for instance Steam (where you’d had a lot of success). I think the problem is the marketplace itself, as I’ve already heard on steam games of 3-5$ are selling well as they get their visibility on the front page. Xblig are a bit obscure for the public.

      On the other hand you’ve games like the such “minecraft” clones who are selling half million copies at 240msp. So why they do and the other games don’t?? that’s my real question.

      • Kairi Vice says:

        “On the other hand you’ve games like the such “minecraft” clones who are selling half million copies at 240msp. So why they do and the other games don’t?? that’s my real question.”

        That answer is simple: Minecraft is trendy. It’s the most successful new IP in PC gaming over the last five years, and has created a cottage industry of modders and communities dedicated just to that one game. Minecraft clones on XBLIG are catching the windfall of something that is a fad right now. One of the biggest fads in all of gaming.

        • maxtrix2000 says:

          Well that’s true but that also means that half million gamers were willing to pay 240msp and found the xblig marketplace to buy it. So maybe we’re not delivering the quality the players expect for a 240 msp game? I guess that if someone tells himself “I can buy a proper arcade game with that money” then some games that are really worth of 240 should go to the arcade marketplace.

          A great solution would be to have some kind of “arcade promotion” within the xblig.

          • Kairi Vice says:

            Well again, those people are catching wind of it from the Minecraft communities that are all over the place. “Hey, there’s a new Minecraft style game on Xbox!” And bam, whole communities will flock to it. They’re not XBLIG fans. They’re Minecraft fans. If XBLIG existed five years ago and someone had made a game that was remarkably similar to World of Warcraft, the same thing would have happened with it.

            And FortressCraft hasn’t received half the attention of something like I Made A Game With Zombies, a game which has had merchandise at stores like Hop Topic and DLC in games such as Rock Band. In a way, it proves my theory that it’s a separate entity generating these sales for those games.

      • maxtrix2000 says:

        and also I want to quote this phrase from kairi “And that’s because consumers perceive Steam as having better quality control, and higher quality games as a result.” This is totally true. I think that if games had some kind of “quality vote” or some kind of measure to make sure the games have some bit of quality on XNA. The feeling of the platform would be different from “massage apps”…

        • Kairi Vice says:

          Well, I’m not suggesting that there should be a litmus test for “quality.” Quality really is in the eye of the beholder. The community is either totally open or it is not. But, having an open community means requiring a lower price point because games are perceived as being a high-risk investment.

          And yes, $3 is a big deal, especially if you’re gaming budget is limited. Not everyone can afford to just burn money like I have on here. I mean, can you imagine someone using their last three dollars on something like Raventhorne? They would feel ripped off.

          • maxtrix2000 says:

            I agree. But take for intance my personal experience. I got Sideral Defense at 240 msp. And I had to wait 3 months to lower the price. Also there’s no way I can notify people I’ve done that on xbox.

            On the other hand on Steam, you’ve got realtime tracking statistics, and you can at any time place a “deal of the week” thingy. This way you get back to the offers page. This is totally impossible to do on Xbox. And this also removes a lot of market control for your product. If it were me, I’d had already downed the price of Sideral Defense or runned some kind of weekend deal or something. But here is not possible and this is one of the weak points of the platform.

            On the other hand, I’m really grateful that with no investment ( apart of my time and personal work) I could place a game on xbox marketplace. But that doesn’t remove the will of quality on the platform.

  8. Craig says:

    While I’d like to keep stabbing Silver Dollar Games for their less-than-playable games, I’d like to point out that they’re one of the best examples of an Indie Games community member. They make the peer review/playtest system go more smoothly than most at times when no one wants to do the WORST type of volunteer work ever. I suppose that’s their way of saying “I deserve to be paid for QA testing shitty games.” when they release them too. :)

  9. Team Shuriken says:

    As far as getting someone to try the game, boxart and screenshots are 100 times more important then pricing or any reasonable outside marketing in my opinion. From our releases, other game sale numbers and mostly random guesswork, i would think that a game that stands out (by quality AND/OR humor AND/OR perks, etc) and gets a player somewhat interested will sell about twice as much at 80 points.

    From this guesswork that is completely arguable, if you have a game that stands out you should price it at 240 points unless you believe the game is awesome enough that you feel like going at 80 points will make your game go viral through customers recommending the game a lot (i made a game with zombies, impossible game, breath of death). If you have something that stands out but isn’t quite awesome enough, then i think 240 seems better. If you have something exceptionnally trending like fortresscraft, then you could even go 240 or 400 and still go viral.

    I wouldn’t have the balls to try 400 points again though, it’s just a scary number and Karnn Age got soooooooo burned when it released at that price back in the days… (not that it didn’t deserve to get burned anyway, regardless of price there were too many issues and not a strong center of attention to that game)

    • 400 can buy some XBLA games. If you’re going to charge 400, you need to be developing to a professional standard. Karnn Age was reasonably fun in small doses, but it was nowhere near the level of production to merit charging XBLA prices.

      In any case, I think your perception of pricing is skewed. You’re coming at it from a developer’s perspective. I’m purely a consumer. Don’t underestimate the effect of charging three times as much for your game as for others of equal or superior quality.

      • Team Shuriken says:

        While i understand that many people will calculate if a game is worth a purchase or not by thinking they can get 3 games instead of one, there is also a crowd that doesn’t really care if the price is 1 or 3 dollars and who use the wallet friction metrics. Those people will need to be well entertained in the demo and have their curiosity struck, and if that happens to them, they won’t care much between 1 and 3 dollars because they don’t want to waste an hour doing 5-10 other trials to find another game just as entertaining but at a smaller price. Anyone who has a job and a busy schedule will understand that waisting an hour on boring trials is NOT worth the 2$ savings.

        As for how many people of each type there is, you make your guess and i make mine and it’s really hard to figure out who is really right because when comparing 1$ games to 3$ games it’s very tricky to find good games to compare to one another.

        For example, dead pixels vs escape goat : dead pixel obviously has 100 times more charm in the boxart and screen shots and general art style… the comparison seems unfair to me.

        Cthulu vs BoD7 : I never looked at cthulu price, but from the boxart and screenshots i was not interested, while BoD7 got me interested in getting the trial and the humor/music made buying the game easy for me and i wouldn’t have had a second thought about it if it was 3$ instead.

  10. Team Shuriken says:

    I think one of the main reason there is so called evidence against the 3$ price point is based on developpers thinking that since their game as better then average XBLI production values,
    they can price at 3$ instead of 1$.

    The big mistake in that thought process is that XBLI sales are made mostly out of the novelty/charm/humor/sale pitch of the games rather then the production values. In general, gamers will get AAA games as the backbone of their play time. Then, they will look to arcade games for solid games. When a gamer goes to the XBLI marketplace, they KNOW that their not getting the production values of arcade or AAA so they will not look to that market for traditional games that have been done a 100 times better before (shooters, twin stick, platformers). They will look at XBLI because they are jaded with the conventional stuff or want a quick distraction that will show them new types of games that are more out of the box.

    When developers are pricing their games based on the production values rather then the novelty/charm/humor/sale pitchvalue of their game, they are not basing their prices based on the right criterias. The problem is that this mistake has been done SO MANY TIMES in XBLI that it has caused people to get the wrong idea when trying to compare 1$ and 3$ games

    • This really seems to the be heart of the matter. If you’re using the Indie Channel as your ONLY source of distribution, you’ll have to concede that, yes, your main demographic here is bored 13-18 year old males. And what do they like? Zombies and boobies! (Though, to an extent, don’t we ALL) ;)

      However, for the image of the channel, I really think it’s important that we strive for a balance between cash-in type games and true-quality type games. And I know that can be considered subjective, but I’d deem anything without zombies, guns, minecraft, or boobs on the cover to be ‘trying to push the envelope’ as to what can sell here. Without that balance, WE start to look like the under-sexed, T-Virus horny 13-18 year olds that primarily shop here – and then NO-ONE visits the channel. And then it’s gone :(

      As for pricing, I fear that if you ARE making a game for this channel alone, 1$ is your only choice. If you’re hitting PC and iOS as well, 3$ could fly a bit easier, but only if the XBLIG money is considered gravy.

    • I’d be interested to hear how much, if at all, this opinion of yours is affected by Ian Stocker’s 500% increase in revenue when he dropped Soulcaster I and II from 240 to 80 MSP.

      • Team Shuriken says:

        not at all unfortunately :( i never tried soulcaster and didn’t have it’s 500% increase in mind.

        Since i wasn’t confident in 3$ being a good price point and understand all the arguments for the 1$ price point, i made an experiment a few days ago and lowered beach bubbles series to 1$. Current data is unconclusive since it’s only a few days, but the current state of things is we’re selling 150% of what we used to. No extra trials, just a slightly better conversion rate. That’s far from the 300% needed to break even…

        It still might be the right move though as both beach bubbles are slowly starting to move back up the top downloads list, and the extra exposure might make the 300% happen in a little while.

  11. Pingback: CONTINUE?: Week of December 5th – 11th | Shh Mom!

  12. John Getty says:

    I dunno, Darth Kairi does have a sort of nice ring to it.

    XBLIG is essentially doomed though. You can’t price high in risk of losing dramatic sales numbers, thus losing top downloads slot, and you can’t price low because it’s hard to make any money that way and chances are, you’ll still not sell well…

    Solution: quality-control. We all talk about it, we all want it (except Silver Dollar Games).

    It would also be nice if Microsoft did a “New and Noteworthy” section like the app stores do. They get just as much, if not more, crap than XBLIG does, and yet we trust those portals. It’s because Apple and Android put their frontrunners where they should be, in the front and give a deserving ZERO publicity to the crap.

    • Team Shuriken says:

      I really like the idea of a quality control though a filtered sublist of indie games…

      I am a big fan of the current no quality control status because it allows a lot of experimental games to appear. Like them or not, a lot of silver dollar games have a way of grabbing people interest and give them a good cheap laugh… This is better then what most indie games bring to the table when they make the 100th rehash of an old idea without bringing any interesting twist or refinement to the formula.

      That being said, those “cheap laugh” games are giving an image to xbli that prevents the rare games that are banking on production values and do all the right things from succeeding since people looking for solid titles do not look at indie games since forever.

      This sublist already tried to happen, there used to be IGN picks (but, the picks used to kindof suck back when i was paying attention to it). I heard there’s the kotaku list right now, but i haven’t looked at it (I’m generally not interested in browsing the indie games section myself). Microsoft has the DBP list… There’s also the top rated list… With all those attempts at filtering the indie games,

      i’m not sure how they should gauge quality to make a filtered list… And by giving 0 publicity to the cheap laugh games, they are removing the most popular reason why people would browse the indie games in the first place.

      • John Getty says:

        The sublist tried to happen, but it’s not in front of everyone. On the appstore, “New and Noteworthy” IS the front of the list. We don’t see a list of all the games that just came out for the Appstore, then have to browse to get to a section where the good ones came out. That is put in front of us. We should have the quality stuff put in front, then have to actually work to get to the section where the crap is shown. Also, there’s the fact that the Kotaku games list isn’t just new games. It’s all games on XBLIG. There needs to be a focus on NEW games that are GOOD.

        And saying XBLIG is only good for “cheap laugh” games really just promotes the idea that XBLIG is home for crappy games. That paradigm needs to be tossed aside and we need to focus on what XBLIG was meant for in the first place, quality games by the true indie.

        If there is a new and noteworthy section as the very first screen on the dash, that will make people think there is good stuff to be had on that channel, not just crap that will make them laugh at the quality of XBLIG and then leave forever.

        And it would be very easy to be subjective about “good games” vs. “bad games.” I went on XBLIG yesterday for the first time in months and went through the new releases. I was easily able to pick out at least 5 games from pictures alone that looked like quality titles and if I had played the trial on every single one, I probably could’ve gotten 10.

        This would also allow the good games to have more visibility on the front of the dashboard since they wouldn’t get erased from the new releases by waves of utter garbage.

        • “That paradigm needs to be tossed aside and we need to focus on what XBLIG was meant for in the first place, quality games by the true indie.”

          Perhaps its my disenchantment speaking, but, I don’t know if this IS what the Indie Channel was meant for. I know MANY developers that WANT it to be a place for high gaming art, but MS always pitched it at “the YouTube of gaming”.

          When the average person uses YouTube, what is it for? Laughs and quick, mindless entertainment. Mental bubblegum….chew it up and spit it out.

          If someone wants to play a serious game, they have too many outlets at this point. Getting them to come to the channel, regularly, for quality window shopping may be too difficult a feat now. :(

          I’m starting to see that MS got what they wanted all along, much to the dismay of those that wanted it to be ‘more’ than your low-brow fare.

          • John Getty says:

            When did Microsoft ever explicitly state that XBLIG was to be the “Youtube of gaming”? I googled that and the only response I got was some guy talking about how Apple succeeded in that more than Microsoft did.

            And just because it is called the “youtube of gaming” doesn’t mean you have to take that literally or with your bias (not all of youtube is for laughs). I don’t consider the Appstore a source for getting quick laughs, and yet it succeeds at being the “youtube of gaming” more than XBLIG does. The two markets are essentially exactly the same, just one succeeds more than the other.

            I do agree with the other part of your statement that XBLIG is meant for quick, mindless gaming. The mindless part is practically all games in general. I feel braindead when playing anything other than multiplayer FPS or RTS games. My mind literally feels like it’s melting sometimes when I play Skyrim, but I still love the game.

            There is no real reason a quick, mindless game can’t be a good game. There are a ton on XBLIG right now, and Microsoft should support them. When you go to “browse” in Youtube, do you see the THOUSANDS of garbage videos, created every few minute, that get 100 views or less? No, you see the worthwhile, featured stuff that is worth taking your time to view. Funny or not, any successful “youtube of [insert genre here]” supports only the quality, not the crap. If Youtube supported the crap, they would not have made it.

            • http://www.gamasutra.com/view/feature/1692/the_youtube_of_games_microsoft_.php?print=1

              “If you combine those two platforms, that ability to use that as a backbone — as an infrastructure — to deploy community-created games — that’s what we’re excited about. Enabling that “YouTube for gamers” model is completely based on an integrated experience and is possible for all commercial games and community games.”

              Not saying they wanted a channel filled with crap, but one that both the experienced and inexperienced could display their works. Unfortunately, for whatever reason…probably the hardcore market of the 360…we’re now selling our product to a less-mature crowd than the YouTube and iOS communities.

              If it doesn’t have a juvenile hook then you’re going to have a really tough time on that ROI. Even low-balling a quality title is appearing to be a futile avenue. And Microsoft continues to give less support to the channel, so any solution needs to be community-backed.

              Quality assurance methods have been discussed. Group marketing has been attempted. If there’s a silver-bullet to the problem, one that doesn’t involve MS, it hasn’t been found yet. :(

              Wish I had something positive to say :) Want success? “Zombie Boobcraft” == much monies!

              No, that just depresses me more…

            • And just so you know, I’m totally on your side. I’d like nothing more than for my friends to look on the channel with some respect and know about the amazing diamonds that hte channel produces.

              So much hard work was put into some of these gems, but it SUCKS to see the titles that end up rising to the top.

      • “I’m generally not interested in browsing the indie games section myself”

        That explains a lot. Without wanting to sound confrontational (which I know I have before, and I apologise for that), your understanding of the XBLIG consumer is limited by the fact that you are not one yourself. There’s certainly logic to your perspective, but I think you miss great chunks of relevant thought because you haven’t really been part of the customer base. Good writers must first be readers, good musicians must first be lovers of music, good developers must first be gamers, and the same applies to indie developers. If you want to understand the indie market, you have to be part of it.

        For one thing, I believe pricing matters far more than you think it does. Whether it’s because a given customer is a child/teenager, or (like me) they’ve recently become unemployed, or any number of other reasons, in any consumer market the price is pivotal. Your arguments are perfectly valid, but they make sense primarily from a ‘supply’ point of view. From the ‘demand’ side of things, they ring a little hollow.

        As to the ‘cheap laugh’ games, yes they might bring in an audience of their own, but they also act to limit the potential of the indie channel. Regardless of what it was intended to be, or what it presently is, it has the potential to be a serious indie gaming avenue. I don’t think it’s to anyone’s benefit to smother XBLIGs that also happen to be very good games in their own right beneath the scabby crust of ‘$1 for a cheap laugh’ games.

        It would have been easy for games to barely evolve past Pong. Technologically, they could have tapped into the same ‘cheap laugh’ market as XBLIGs now can. But thanks to a few people in the fledgling games industry aiming higher, for things that hadn’t previously been considered, we got games like The Legend of Zelda and Super Mario Bros – games that expanded the possibilities for electronic entertainment. Where would this hobby of ours be now if the likes of Shigero Miyamoto had shrugged and said “let’s just give people a cheap laugh”?

        • Team Shuriken says:

          For my defense, i might have become a bit jaded from XBLI because i’ve done about 100 peer reviews so far. I might have no interest in browsing the indie games because i am ‘forced’ to. To get my games approved requires approval from my peers and since we are a community, i can not take their reviews and not give reviews back and be morally fine with it. In that sense i feel like i still know what’s going on in the XBLI scene since i put a lot of time into it.

          I’m a huge gamer myself, but i generally prefer really hardcore games that have no chance of showing up on XBLIG (Starcraft 2 and geometry wars retro evolved are the 2 last games i played seriously, been playing sc2 almost exclusively since it came out).

          There’s a lot of indie games that i thought were pretty entertaining, but most of those games relied more upon charm rather than raw quality. GET TO THA CHOPPA, The Impossible game, I made a game with zombies in it, Avatar showdown, Techno Kitten Adventure.

          Some of those games have decent production values, but it’s really their charm that made me love them.

          As for the child/teenager/unemployed argument, i understand that they value pricing more. It’s just really hard to tell – 1 : How prominent of a group they are and 2 : How much they value the 1$ vs 3$ difference. There is no denying that 1$ will sell more copies then 3$, but when trying to figure out how much, it really all comes down to guesswork and there is not yet enough evidence in the marketplace to declare the 3$ price point inferior to 1$ in all circumstances… And for any particular game, a developper has to do his own guesswork to figure out if he can pull off the 3$ price point instead of always defaulting to 1$.

          As a side note, i would LOVE to have access to a parallel universe that would answer for me wether TKA would’ve sold 3x more at the 1$ price point. (not trying to telegraph an answer, i really got no idea)

  13. BrunoB says:

    I’d like to add that it’s not just production values: many XBLIG games have nice graphics and sound but they have a puzzlegame-ish general design, in that you feel you’re playing a set of levels without a real encompassing structure.

    One thing I liked about EscapeGoat was its sense of progression through the levels, it felt like a unique experience and not a journey through the products of a level editor… and that helps (I guess) if you pitch your game at a higher price.

  14. It might be worth pointing out that until FortressCraft, there were *no* successful high-priced games; there was the Ez-Muze apps, and the RC helicopter sim, and that was literally it. 240MSP is generally considered commercial death, but fitting into 50 megs is an absolute nightmare :(

    • Indeed. Until FortressCraft, the most successful game on XBLIG was I MAED A GAM3 W1TH Z0MB1ES IN IT!!1 which only made about 150 grand. Maybe if we had more successes like FortressCraft, Microsoft may just take us seriously.

    • Team Shuriken says:

      About “240MSP is generally considered commercial death” :

      By taking the question in the other direction though, can you name any 3$ games that you think would have sold 5x more would it have been priced at 1$ ? Without naming games that wouldn’t have sold atleast 10K$ worth. (Over 10K is to avoid including bad games that simply cannot sell at 240 points)

      The only game i think has a possibility of fitting that description is Techno kitten adventure.

      I’m just using 5x rather then 3x, because 3x and 4x seem like too close calls.

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  16. funinfused says:

    I won’t even waste my time releasing anything on XBLIG that’s over 80MS points. Problem is the Top Downloads list is based on quantity of sales and nothing else. Want the best chance to stick on that list and sell a lot of copies? Make your game as cheap as possible.

    If MS were to make say 240 MS point game count for 3 times as much as an 80 point game, then this could change.

    Unless you’re very niche where gamers are seeking out your title (music creating games come to mind and also Minecraft clones could go here), you may be able to succeed selling higher. But I would bet you’d still make more selling cheaper.

  17. Mark says:

    Are you not all losing the point of what the XBLIG community games were initially supposed to be about? It was supposed to be an area to get your games out there and seen and enjoyed. Was it ever sold as a chance to start a viable business?

    People keep comparing it to the PC Marketplace but nearly everyone has a PC, the market is miles larger. For me Indie games were going to be like Freeware/Shareware games; made by hobbyists as a way of getting their game out to more people and to possibly get seen by publishers, maybe to possibly fund their next game, but not their main income. Too many developers are delusional regarding the quality of their games. Games that are nothing above average you seem to think have a god given right to sell well. Why? There are thousands better for free on PC’s and even mobiles now.

    I have seen games on XBLIG that are over 50mb for 80pts how does this work? I think Microsoft should increase the file size for 80pt games to say 100-150mb. There should be a little more flexibility with pricing. Maybe you can choose a price from 80pts to 240pts but not higher than this.

    With games being reduced on XBLA now to prices that compete with the higher tier of XBLIG I know what I’d rather choose in a 1 on 1 decision. However, on the other hand if I had the choice of say 5 very good games on XBLIG over one purchase of a 400pt game on XBLA I would go with XBLIG. It’s not just about numbers, these days everything is about value for money too.

    I think you should be developing for PC with the XBLIG as an additional platform for additional sales and not your sole source of business, don’t dismiss the Xbox use it as the tool it was initially suppose to be.

  18. I was thinking earlier today that I’d be interested to hear the thoughts of radiangames on this pricing matter, considering their across-the-board price hike of all their games from 80 to 400.

  19. Pingback: Microsoft Announces Changes for Xbox Live Indie Games « Indie Gamer Chick

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