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Pricing a notgame?

Pricing a notgame?
« on: February 25, 2011, 01:45:50 pm »

This topic will feel different in a notgames context.  I know ideally, I would want to release all my games for free and expose as many people as possible with what I have to say.  However, to gain traction and even just a bit of attention, you need professional quality assets, which don't come cheap.  Some countries have art funds and grants.  But I'm funding everything from my own personal savings.

The reason this is even an issue to me is the risk that some content aggregator out there will rip my game and profit from it (even just by ads).  If there's somebody earning money, it should only be me, the creator -- and only so that I won't feel so bad about spending a big chunk of life savings.  Also, by placing a price tag on something you increase it's perceived value.  All of a sudden it's worth pirating on torrent sites, which increases the number of people who will take a look at it.  I want also to be part of the upper echelon of games that only consist of the most popular freeware, and commercial games. (That's what I noticed to be featured on Kotaku, for instance).  I already know there's no way my game is ever going to be that popular as freeware, so commercialware is the only choice.

But, my game will be short. So short that it won't make sense to make a demo.  I don't recall any works made by the people here even having a demo?  The entire situation takes place in only one level... since only one level is needed to elaborate on the situation!  In fact, I won't even be sure it will last more than 30 minutes.  Kongregate would be the perfect place for it (the portal for Flash and now Unity games), if only I didn't have an aversion to ad-supported gaming in general... as well as an aversion to the audience who considers these games as mere time-wasters.  Maybe I should just charge $3?

The worst thing about all this is that it's even influencing my design.  I'm already maximizing and squeezing the assets I have for all their worth.
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Re: Pricing a notgame?
« Reply #1 on: February 25, 2011, 02:26:55 pm »

Yeah, I've seen others here say "fuck efficiency" which is fine and dandy if you don't have to worry about time, money, food, etc. There is no shame in wanting to make money from your work. There's not much you can do about pirating, it's simply part of the risk. Or maybe one should look at it as part of the cost of doing business. People aren't willing to pay more than $10 for small short games. When VVVVVV was released people bitch up a storm about it's $15 USD price tag and that was a proper game. People want to pay even less for mobile games. I think $5 USD is about right.
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Re: Pricing a notgame?
« Reply #2 on: February 25, 2011, 10:37:47 pm »

I know ideally, I would want to release all my games for free and expose as many people as possible with what I have to say.

In my experience, the second part of your sentence does not automatically follow from the first. It's not because a game is free that it will reach its maximum audience. For one because a lot of people ignore things that are free. For another because other people who can help you reach a much larger audience than you can even dream of, require that the game has a price (because they are commercial distributors, e.g.).
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Re: Pricing a notgame?
« Reply #3 on: February 25, 2011, 10:46:08 pm »

I don't recall any works made by the people here even having a demo?

Our first commercial piece, The Graveyard, was distributed in a sort of parody of free demo and full paid for games. It comes in two versions, with a slight difference. One is free, the other is not. The Graveyard is a very short game (5-10 minutes).

There's also a free demo for our game The Path but it's more like a technical test, than an actual demo. Artistically, it works better as a sort of companion of the full game. It makes more sense after you've played the full game. I also believe Thomas' games have demos. But neither of these are really short.
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Re: Pricing a notgame?
« Reply #4 on: February 25, 2011, 10:47:34 pm »

How about releasing your game for iOS or Android? That seems like a good place for short and cheap games.
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Re: Pricing a notgame?
« Reply #5 on: February 26, 2011, 04:22:35 am »

In my experience, the second part of your sentence does not automatically follow from the first. It's not because a game is free that it will reach its maximum audience. For one because a lot of people ignore things that are free. For another because other people who can help you reach a much larger audience than you can even dream of, require that the game has a price (because they are commercial distributors, e.g.).

Initially I wanted the option to pay for advertising which only makes sense for commercial games.  But since I don't feel that anything more than feedback posts or word-of-mouth will be necessary, I was starting to have some doubts... until I realized many gamers don't bother to wade through the 'sea of mediocrity' that is XBLIG or any site that has tons of user-created content, arbitrarily picking a quality threshold for their attention which starts as -- you said it, paid games.

Yes, iOS is an option except my game requires high poly characters (I will not be satisfied otherwise).  I may attempt to release something with desktop specs but at iOS prices, but I don't want to set a trend of desktop price erosion -- it's already happening on the Mac App store.
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Re: Pricing a notgame?
« Reply #6 on: February 26, 2011, 08:31:34 am »

The funny thing with low prices is that you often make more money. People are cheap these days. But at least they pay something. In the past no-one would pay anything for downloadable content.

I'm personally in favour of a low standard price for games. Like DVDs are all sold at the same price, whether they're art films or Hollywood blockbusters or documentaries. Then our decisions depend on what we want to see, not so much if it's "worth the money".

Unless people change on a massive scale and they actually start thinking about their relationship with the developer, instead of their personal gratification (and pockets). Then of course, developers and audience could agree on a price point. Which might be much higher if we make something so exquisite and special that it only appeals to a very small group of people. The trouble now is that, no matter how few copies you need to sell, you always end up dealing with your audience as a mass. I'd prefer to be able to deal with them as individuals. But with low prices that's not possible.
« Last Edit: February 26, 2011, 08:37:47 am by Michaël Samyn »
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Re: Pricing a notgame?
« Reply #7 on: April 16, 2011, 02:07:35 pm »

Alright, I'm about to cross the $5000 threshold in expenditures (my cap is $10K).  I'm thinking of just charging $6.99 since that's the standard set by BigFishGames (although where I'm from the devs still hold out on the $19.99 price tag).  I can drop down to $5.99 (PS1 Classics which were the major source of inspiration for me) or even $4.99 sales.  I can't maximize ARPU like the other devs since I come from freeware and mainstream hardcore gaming so I know the amount of value that can be gotten on sub-$10 games, and I want to be perfectly honest that my game can never stand up to even some of the $9.99 games out there.

Of course, now according to my calculations I have to make 2000 sales to break even.  I've read horror stories of many games barely making tens of copies.  I'm wondering if Dinner Date broke that number (since it's the most non-gamey game I can think of and has approximately the same amount of assets as my game -- even Fatale has more production value).  I understand NDAs, etc... but just an estimate of ballpark sales for the typical non-game can help me budget and build to a price (I'm considering allocating more budget for extra characters, for instance).

I know, I know, this is a not-game forum, and unlike other gamedev forums "How to make money" is not foremost in our minds... but finances are the reality of the situation and if I can successfully make that break without relying on art or university grants than it can only make the scene better.
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Re: Pricing a notgame?
« Reply #8 on: April 16, 2011, 03:32:24 pm »

Booger;

Without giving actual figures, I expect Dinner Date to have sold more than 3,500 units in a few weeks [edit: this is a total sum of the half-year that it has been out]. This is helped by some very flattering press attention, the GDC coverage and a strange tenancy for Gamasutra to mention it without informing me. If I had not been on Steam the sales would have been immensely lower - exposition is an important thing. This to me is 'a lot of money'.

Dinner Date started at $12.45 and now is $4.99. When it started I was very uppity about price points and how this was a 'quality product'. I since then have not changed my opinion on the importance of quality, but rather am considering that some people do not have too much money to spend on these things; selling for a lot of money not only is placing expensive and exquisite truffles in a supermarket, it also leaves you nowhere to go but up when new games are made.

I should be careful to say I am not an advocate of low price points. It is just that I personally would not price a short game over $4.99 again. I have heard of some that they did not purchase it when it came out because it was too expensive and then 'forgot about it'. So I do believe that if I had started low sales may, overall, have been much higher.

Pre-sales did work and gave the game some exposure before it came out and also converted 'preview' reviews to actual sales.

Special two-for-one offers may not work if your customer base is too small (and consists of people who already own the game anyway).

Personally I now have been thinking for a long time to make the next game quite cheap and sell the soundtrack for 'pay what you want' (at least €1.00 to cover fees for credit card costs). I have noticed some customers feel $4.99 is 'too much' and I suspect they could have been convinced at lower price points; others would have bought the game for far higher prices and making the game cheaper is in some way disabling them to give you what they would have given otherwise. 'Pay what you want' for a game you have not played feels presumptuous to me, but I do believe that if fans want to support you, the last person obstructing them should be you.

I think nothing better than to earn money for making quality products. It is when you forget 'quality' that the view shifts to increasing sales - but then again, I suspect that if you forget 'money' the view sadly does not naturally shift to quality.
« Last Edit: April 16, 2011, 04:23:37 pm by Jeroen D. Stout »
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Re: Pricing a notgame?
« Reply #9 on: April 16, 2011, 03:36:51 pm »

Don't apologize. Money is a very real part of the process. It's not because we don't make games to make money that it's not important. And we should try to reach our audience. And they should support our production.

FYI: we sold 3000 copies of Fatale and 3500 of The Graveyard. Fatale was released a year and a half after The Graveyard. This doesn't include bundle sales. In each case, 2/3 of the sales were made on Steam.

As Jeroen's figures show, though, I think the situation is improving for short artistic games. Fatale was released a year and a half ago and never made it into the IGF.
« Last Edit: April 16, 2011, 03:43:14 pm by Michaël Samyn »
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Re: Pricing a notgame?
« Reply #10 on: April 16, 2011, 07:33:04 pm »

I see, Steam is the key... without it I'd probably struggle with 1000...

Then again, I'm using Frictional's approach with a minimum conventional game mechanic at the very least (It came about because my programmer was questioning the lack of goals and suggested that a portal opens up when we collect all items... I go "Fine, whatever" since I know exactly the aspects I want to concentrate on).

Regarding keeping games inexpensive to make, ideally I would love to handcraft everything but that would be cost-prohibitive so it's natural to resort to procedurally-generated environment elements.  Then as long as you have custom character models for less than $1000 have about 3 or 4 of them and it's sorta enough to create a situation.  Well, that's how I'm going about it. 

The communities I frequent won't even touch 3D since it's hard to make then look non-amateur without spending a lot of money (and they're right) but there no one has ever gotten on Steam (it's said you 'made it' as an indie if you manage to be accepted) and I'm hoping with a 3D game (which has elements which really require a 3D presentation -- I'm making a 2D game as well by the way) my chances will be better.  If not, I hear IndieCity's coming out and hope to be one of the first 'artgames' there.
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Re: Pricing a notgame?
« Reply #11 on: April 16, 2011, 11:27:58 pm »

Extremly generally speaking I think 5 dollars per 2h of prjected gameplay gameplay time is a good start to calculate. this is of course if you are making a linear progression type of game, but even more open ended games could use this too. This would be for a pc game.

Also wanna say that the sales jeroen are having do hint at a very nice future. For example the total online sales for penumbra overture the first year was something like 2500. This was 2007.

Steam is biggie, but do not forget to have your own store too. Mine craft would be an extreme example and amnesia has so far sold over 10k through own store. I think people's will to pay online is increasing a lot and by just adding stuff like online back of save and game download, can help greatly into getting people to buy. So do not forget to set this up!
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Re: Pricing a notgame?
« Reply #12 on: April 21, 2011, 06:35:00 pm »

Echo Thomas' calculations. But stand your ground. Depth costs, repetitive use of a cool mechanic via retro sound and graphics is shitloads cheaper to make (and that's absolutely NOT a dig of bloody clever talented people like Terry K, btw) - so that has to drive up the price a little. When we've talked about the price point for Esther, as much as looking at game costs, my thinking has been "how much is a movie, a round of drinks, a night out, a packet of cigarettes, an album, a piece of sculpture" - what's our comparative value? I'd prefer to have the fight on those terms. We also need to get out from under the myth of replayability. If that's the cornerstone of perceived quality, we're screwed. So are movies, albums and novels, but that's another point.

If you are on PC, Steam is hard to get away from, but sell it yourself too. Keeping under $10 is a good idea if it works with the maths. But I'm totally against low price points - it kills innovation. Mass product can be cheap because it's, well, mass produced. Low run, experimental, deep work costs resources to make and we should be careful about trying to fight mass production. Like retail, you can't price fight a supermarket. You offer something they can't and you create a value through this. I've been thinking about limited runs recently (not that we can afford it), but it's a radically different model and quite an interesting thought.
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Re: Pricing a notgame?
« Reply #13 on: April 21, 2011, 07:11:34 pm »

Also like to add that I think 5 dollars is the absolute minimum you should take, no matter what. It is low enough for people to dare try even the strangest concepts, yet enough to make it profitable if a reasonable amount of people buy it.
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Re: Pricing a notgame?
« Reply #14 on: April 23, 2011, 09:16:25 am »

Keeping under $10 is a good idea if it works with the maths. But I'm totally against low price points

When did $10 become not a low price point?
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