As many of you know, Cardinal Quest programmer & designer Ido Yehieli joined the team last month and is now toiling away at the code for Auro: The Golden Prince. Today, he’s got an important point to make about the nature of game-pricing in today’s industry, and particularly how these things are affecting independent game developers.
Don’t we all love crazy Steam sales, the Humble Bundles and their newer ilk? Players get games for cheap, developers get loads of money & sometimes even charities get a nice chuck of change! A straight up win-win situation, right?
Well, it could be right – but only if you are one of the chosen ones that gets picked by the gate-keepers. But just like with the App Store race-to-the-bottom, it isn’t for the other 90%+ of us indie game developers.
If you strain your memory and try to look back beyond the mists of time and into the long forgotten eons of 5 or 6 years ago, you’d remember that the price for a desktop indie game used to be about $15-20. A cheap “casual” game would cost you maybe $10, and at these prices if you’d sell a couple of thousand copies you’d have (hopefully) covered your meager development costs & could afford to work on your next game. Of course not everything was giggles and ponycorns, but people understood that price point to be the expected, normal price of an indie game. That is, however, no longer the case.
Apples & Valves
Others have written about the abysmal situation at the App Store far more eloquently than I may hope to do myself, so I will spare you of any such futile attempt. Suffice is to say, it’s almost impossible to sell indie-games for iOS or Android that cost more than $1.99. The trigger of a similar phenomenon on the desktop is Valve’s digital distribution system & game store – Steam. Steam has frequent sales in which they often sell games for 50-75% off for a few days, which shoots sales of those games through the roof while making the developers (and even more so, Valve) heaps of money. The other thing it does tho, is make players expect all games to be priced that way. That $15 indie game of yesteryear? Might as well be $500 these days.
We Are the Indie 99 Percent
Whilst maybe 1% of indie devs do really well out of such things (with those running the stores/doing the bundles doing even better), it’s made things a whole lot harder for the other 99%.
We’ve now got this tiny minority of ‘super-indies’, that are basically getting the majority of the ‘indie game’ media attention and the majority of the money.
There are thousands of indie games out there. The vast majority of these do not get into the Humble Bundles. Most of them do not get on Steam, either (Steam’s quality control is extremely uneven and inconsistent, and lets in plenty of shitty games as well as leaving out plenty of good games). Of those that do get on Steam, most never get into lucrative, high-visibility sales. Saying “just get on Steam/Humble Indie Bundle” is about as helpful as suggesting that you should win the lottery. It’s not a valid business plan and no one (except maybe the people in Indie Game: The Movie) can guarantee your number will come up. And the race to the bottom means that if you don’t you will still have to sell your games for a penny on the dollar.
What Can We Do?
Sadly there is not much any of us can do about it. Of course, there are also some positive long-term consequences to the current situation (a lot of people who never played indie games before now do), but as a whole it mostly means that the situation has become even more of a “winner takes it all”. One thing you can do, is to head to places such as Indievania, Desura, Gameolith or even your favorite developers’ web site and buy some little-known indie games at a fair price.
It will probably not be enough to turn the tables, but you might just make a starving little indie’s day a little better.
Speaking of helping out some smaller indies, why not contribute to our Kickstarter campaign for our upcoming game, Auro: The Golden Prince?