The indie games pricing challenge
I’m still months away from releasing my next still unnamed stealth game project but sometimes to free my mind of the latest bug I like to get a few steps ahead and take a glimpse of the many decisions I’ll have to make later. One of them is what will be the price of my first downloadable game.
My project aside the pricing of indie games is one of the topic I enjoy reading/debating so I wanted to take a look at the different factors you have to consider when pricing your indie game.
From $2.99 to $25
This seems to be the pricing range for indie games. I’m only focusing on downloadable PC games here so I’m leaving out possible $0.99 phone apps (and freewares too). I don’t remember seeing an indie game sold for more than $25 (indie here being tiny team) but if you know of some please let me know.
How much does it cost you to create your game
This seems to be the first thing you should consider when thinking about pricing your game. If you’re lacking this information it becomes hard to set minimum expectations. Unless you’re totally doing this as a hobby and don’t care about revenue most will hope that the game will cover its own fees. You can’t run a business if it keeps costing you money. That is called a hobby then.
Do you have to pay for your time?
Big question here. Is your time part of the cost of the game or not? Or to narrow it down a bit do you need your game to pay for food and shelter or is this covered by another job? So I’m not talking about all the hours you spent working on the game but at least 35 hours a week. What a normal job would provide you with.
If like me you currently have a day job to pay for daily expenses you feel a lot less of pressure so at that point you don’t have to reject the $2.99 or $4.99 pricing right away. There are other reasons to do so I’ll cover later but for now if you don’t have to pay yourself your game is probably cheap to make. “Cheap” here may vary but the biggest expense of all is your own potential salary to survive for a year and you probably shouldn’t spend more on artists and other resources than your own potential salary (otherwise I’d suggest you change the focus of your project).
How many people are part of your core team?
If you’re alone then once again you don’t have to throw right away cheap prices. If you’re part of a small team then it can get complicated fast. To get the same results as a single dev you either have to raise your price up (easy) or make sure you’ll sell a lot more copies (not so easy).
While working alone can be a challenges for some it however makes it easier to hope to see any money at all. I’d hesitate a lot to start a project in a team of 2-4 in my current situation as I know how hard it is to make money and if I have to split this money I can only imagine what kind of sales number we have to achieve.
What have you achieved so far?
Did you released a commercially successful game so far? Do you have any data from previous projects that can help you make a decision? Do you have a fan base you can count on? Have you ever released a game?
If “no” is the answers to most of these questions then it’s not really helpful to make any decision on pricing. On the opposite if you answered “yes” then I’m guessing you already forgot about pricing your game $4.99. You probably see low pricing as a hindrance and more or less know that everything should be alright if you go the $15-$25 route.
It’s not assuming that because you were successful once you’ll be again but not being a stranger to the business helps. If you’re lucky your fans are just expecting your next game and might not even see the price you’ll put on it anymore.<
What are your expectations?
Cut even? Get the wheel started to fund your next game? Survive? Become rich … *cough*
Here it’s simple. If you sell your game $4.99 and you need say $40,000 per year to survive you need to sell at least 8,000 copies (not counting the cost to make the game or related operation expense). That’s 21 copies sold per day. That’s about 1 copy sold every hour… When put like that it’s easier to see how much of a challenge it can be to survive with a lowly priced game.
But isn’t it easier to sell more copies with a lower price? …
Cheap versus Many
Go read the previous points. How can you sell “many”? Have any data to back this up? And how much is “many”? If the lower the price the more copies you automatically sell to fill the potential loss was a rule then all games would be sold for $2.99 and indies would ten of thousands copies each…
But if you’re rather inexperienced much like me I still feel like a high price can potentially hurt. The trick is to find the middle spot when people are not repulsed yet you still get something out of it.
A good way to maybe figure this out if you’re a regular gamer is to check your own buying habits. At which price are you willing to click on the buy button without much knowing what you’ll get? What’s the price that makes you say “At worse I only spent X dollars”. For me it’s $10. At that price I don’t care if I play a game for only 1 hour or less. If it has something that might interest me and I see the price at $10 then I don’t think twice about it and buy the game.
Over $10 it depends on various factors. Have I read many great reviews? Have I played other games from that dev I enjoyed? Does it look different enough from everything else that I’m curious to see how it plays out? Anyway the important thing here is that over $10 I take a moment to think about buying or not. Maybe all the other players have their “no brainer price” set at $4.99 but unless you have some way of knowing this observing how you buy games yourself can be helpful a bit.
What are you selling?
How does it compare to other similar games? Is it rather unique or just your take on a popular genre? Again it’s not a question that answers the whole pricing issue but it can be part of the equation. Knowing what’s on the market right now might help to get a better grasp at reality. Others had to set a price on their own games before so use this to your advantage.
If your game can be easily compared to what’s on the market right now setting a price $10 higher than everyone else might look weird for buyers even if it makes sense for you. That’s why coming with something “original” or “different” can play in your favor as people might be less prone to compare your price to other games. At least as a buyer that’s how I feel.
Just an example. Trine 2 is currently sold for $14.99 but that’s the kind of game I would gladly pay $20-$25 for because compared to other platformers it’s some amazingly beautiful. I’m really not a platformer lover but when it comes to Trine things are totally different for me. So how does your game compare to others?
No factory worker in a Third World country
No offense to anyone but tt’s just that it seems some people are sometimes ashamed of making money or asking a fair price for their work (living in Quebec I can tell you that money here is often considered borderline evil…).
I’ve seen people complain about games priced at $4.99 (saying they’ll wait for a sale at $0.99 …) so if you’re hoping to look like “mister nice that is not a big bad capitalist” to everyone you’ll fail anyway. You’re not in the “nice” business but in the “my work is worth its fair share” business. You’re not making games as a favor to players. You’re making games because you believe you can make a good product and you should be paid decently for such product.
The Steam effect
This one can pretty much makes all previous points useless IF you indeed get on Steam. Apparently it’s doing miracles for indie devs. Get on a sale for say $4.99 and sell 10,000 copies and it’s enough to make a 1-man team happy.
BUT … that should not be the main concern when it comes to pricing. I’m not sure if Steam has any word to say on how games are priced (anyone could confirm here?) but betting everything on Steam is one weak plan. Sure it can be a life changing experience but if the plan was as simple as make a game, get on Steam and $$$ then we would rarely hear stories about struggling indies.
Anyway if you do get on Steam you can always adjust your price. If you wish to be part of the pack you can just adjust your price back to $9.99 which seem to be a very popular price for indie games there. The important thing to remember is that “trying to compete against Steam price” if you’re not on Steam is probably not a good plan because then you just forgot about all the previous points in this post and I bet it won’t serve you well.
Steam also has the perverse effect of making all games look cheap. I’m even often falling for it. Sometimes I’d be tempted to buy a game that is not that expensive but will just wait for the next big sale because I KNOW it will happen one day or another.
Such a long post and no true final answer
Well for my current project if it turns out to look like what I currently have in mind I’m considering getting close to $15. I still have a lot of time left to make a final decision but for now that’s what I feel comfortable with.
For more on the topic of pricing I’d suggest taking a look at the following posts: