Monday, April 13, 2009

Indie Games Should Cost More, Pt. 1

I have a friendly little message for my fellow Indie game designers.

You really need to start charging more for your games.

Every year, life is getting more and more expensive. Insurance. Rent. Food. And, at the same time, your games are getting cheaper and cheaper, sometimes as cheap as a dollar, as you engage in a full speed race to the bottom.

Now don't get me wrong. Some games (casual quickies, simple puzzle games) should be inexpensive. But everyone (retailers, reviewers, customers) is enabling a mindset where all games, even the niche products and larger, deeper, less casual titles, are expected to be desperately cheap. This is not going to help developers stay in business. This is not how a healthy industry is maintained.

Creating the Expectation of Insulting Cheapness

There is an increasing attitude that Indie games should be cheap. Super cheap. Like, pennies on the dollar, "How can a developer make a living that way?" cheap.

XBox Live gave the trend a big push by charging $5 or $10 for most titles. That was still enough to get rich on when the gold rush was going. It isn't going anymore. I was genuinely surprised when people seriously complained that Braid, one of the coolest, most innovative titles out last year, was an entirely reasonable fifteen bucks.

Then Microsoft created XNA, a set of tools anyone can use to write and sell games on the XBox. Sounds cool, so far, but the maximum anyone can sell their game for is $10. Not good. Think that, sometimes, some games should actually sell for more than that? You are, apparently, crazy.

Then Amazon opened their game download store, selling all titles for ten bucks or less. Not good. (Oh, and look at the comments in the article I just linked to if you don't think people are now expecting games to be that cheap.)

Now the iPhone has boldly lowered the bar, with $4.99 being the highest price point for most of the titles, and the user reviews on most $4.99 titles are about how excessively expensive they are. (As if.) And many of the games are going for ninety-nine cents. Cents! Once the gold rush is over, only the lowest budget, most casual titles are going to be able to make money at that price.

Bargain basement prices are becoming the expectation. It wasn't always that way.

A Bit of Ancient History

When I first founded Spiderweb Software, in 1994, I spent a lot of time thinking about pricing my first game, Exile. Back then, there was a good rule of thumb for pricing your shareware product:

Charge half as much as the comparable product being sold in boxes on store shelves.

Back then, new games sold for $50. So Exile was $25, which was a very common price for shareware games back then.

A few years later, I started sending the registered version on a CD (instead of E-mailing a registration code). I charged $30 for a CD. Sales changed very little.

Two years later, I went back to an E-mailed code system and lowered the price back down to $25. Sales changed very little.

Three years ago, I looked at all of our expenses (credit card fees, postage, insurance, etc) and went "Holy crap! We need to raise prices to account for this." We raised our price to $28 (still about half the price of comparable products on store shelves). Since then, our money intake has actually increased. We're doing quite well now.

And yet, in the last few years, Indie game prices have been falling through the floor. They get more and more expensive to write but are approaching unheard of levels of cheapness. ($10. $5. $1.)

So What's the Problem, Loudmouth?

Some games being sold cheap doesn't bother me. Some games SHOULD be sold cheap. Braid and World of Goo, both fantastic games, are perfectly priced at $15 for 6-7 rich, no-filler hours of play. $28 would be too much for them.

What bothers me is the increasing number of outlets where low, low prices, no matter what the quality or depth or size of the game, are the expectation. (hi2u Amazon and iTunes) This squeezes out the niche products. Niche products (like single-player RPGs, adventure games, wargames) are going to have small, intense audiences. They need to charge a fair price to survive. And that means taking all the factors into account.

How Should You Price An Indie Game?

The difference between an amateur and a professional is that the professional knows how much to charge for his or her work. When people argue about how much an Indie game should sell for, they tend to ignore several important factors that should go into the decision:
  • How Big is the Game? - Braid lasts about 6 hours, or about $2.50 an hour. A little on the pricey side, but the game gets away with it by being so fun. Our newest game, Geneforge 5: Overthrow, lasts about 30 hours, or less than a buck an hour (not counting considerable replay value). $28 seems very fair.
  • How Niche Is the Game? - Economics says that scarcer things should sell for more. A Bejeweled clone is common and thus should be cheap. Good single-player RPGs are scarce. They should sell for more.
  • How Much Do I Need To Earn To Live? - Suppose your game takes a year to write and thus, counting salaries, needs to earn about $100K to break even. If you sell it on iTunes for $.99, after Apple's cut, you need to sell around 130000 copies to break even. That is a LOT of copies. A spiffy and addictive puzzle game (which is harder to write than you think) might sell that many. A plot-heavy niche RPG? No.
When you price your game, you take the factors into account and you come up with a number. Then you try to sell the game. And if the number you need to charge is too high for what the portals will let you charge? You have a real problem. And, when good games get squeezed out of the market because of penny pinching, we all have a problem.

Indie developers are harmed by a blanket idea of what their games "should" cost. Everyone who allows this bargain basement attitude is part of the problem.

Oh, And a Quick Note For Those Who Disagree With Me ...

If you don't care about the people who work so hard to entertain you being able to charge a price that enables them to survive, I have no interest in what you have to say.

Why You Shouldn't Go Cheap, and What You, Yes You, Should Do

This is already pretty TLDR for a blog post. Next week, I'll give some of the reasons to sell games cheaply (I've heard them all over the years) and why they are bogus. And I'll give some suggestions for how everyone can maintain a market in which ALL Indies can survive.


  1. Agreed. It seems that there are quite a number of people who do not understand that developing games cost money. The price of development has to be less than the profit gained, or there isn't any reason to develop the game in the first place.

  2. Thirty bucks for a game longer than a $60-$80 mainstream game is beyond reasonable.

  3. Even at $20, most indy games are over priced when you compare them to their flash based competition. As websites like Kongregate get more and more popular they will begin to take more and more of the potential profits from direct sale games unless prices are lowered or they find a new way to compete.

    Take for example World of Goo. The game got good buzz and reviewers raved about it. When I played the demo I weighed the entertainment value I expected the game to give me versus the value of free flash games. World of Goo lost out because I could get a comparable experience for free.

    The genre of games Spiderweb creates right now has the advantage that it is a niche genre. You get away with charging your prices because you have little competition for those looking for your type of product. There are hundreds of free puzzle games, action games, and shmups. Why should people choose to pay for those?

  4. Gosh, Jeff, don't you agree with Nina Paley's view that art should be free (or pay-as-you-like) because it all comes out of "shared culture"?

  5. You have to look at your market, too, because all gamers are not the same. To a 13 year old kid with an allowance who plays games for a day and then goes on to the new one, $4.99 is a lot. Also realize you're competing against amateurs with day jobs, who don't need $100K for a game to be profitable. You're also competing against people testing out the freemium model, which probably won't work too well in a saturated market.

    There's always room for differentiation, so if you make better games, you'll be able to charge more. The answer isn't trying to get everyone else to raise their prices, though. Their business acumen, goals, and product are different than yours.

  6. @M: I'm actually a big fan of Nina Paley's warly comic work. That said, the answer to any question that begins "Don't you agree with Nina Paley about ..." is probably no. :-)

    @Dan Goldstein: I'm not trying to get _everyone_ to raise their prices. I want developers to have the FREEDOM to set their prices. Believe me ... Nobody is hurt more by a $10 ceiling on what they can charge than those amateur day job folks.

    And I am never more proud and honored than when a kid saves up to buy my game. I wish I could make my games cheaper for only 13 year olds, but it just doesn't work that way.

  7. Every year, life is getting more and more expensive. Insurance. Rent. Food.

    Actually, if disinflation continues to grip us, as many economists claim, this will no longer be true.

  8. By the way Jeff, I pimped you in class today when I was talking about the economics of independent versus studio developers (I teach the computer games courses at Cornell).

  9. @Walker: I hope you're right! I'll make a deal with the universe. My health insurance gets a little cheaper, and I'll sell my games for less. I didn't want to raise prices. I really didn't.

    Oh, and thanks for mentioning me!

    - Jeff Vogel

  10. Dear Jeff: I'm poor. I still buy your games for full price. Minimal complaining here about your prices.

    I mention Spiderweb Software when it seems like I might get people to care. This, sadly, is not often, but I'm gotten a few people to bounce on by and check out the awesomeness.

  11. $ spent per entertainment hour is a bit of a trap, because it creates a need for a developer to pad the game. Stuffing doesn't add to the game experience, but reviews never call a game out on it and gamers rarely complain. They complain when a game is too short, almost never when a game is too long. Even if that longness is due to boring filler. And, as much as I personally love the rpg genre, rpgs are often guilty of filler. Grinding, near identical monsters, locations, item, weapons throughout the world. Random enemy encounters, slow travel, refighting defeated enemies. These are tricks that add to game length, but this longer game- if you reflect on each point, is more illusion of length than actual meaty gameplay.

    I do agree with the race to the bottom mindset being incredibly damaging. I just think the model of justifying a higher price based on total hours is a trap. RPG enthusiasts don't mind repeating, often seek out this repeating. But is a longer game really a more valuable game? (and I am not saying charge less, just that price and length are poor dancer partners)

  12. Grinding, near identical monsters, locations, item, weapons throughout the world. Random enemy encounters, slow travel, refighting defeated enemies. These are tricks that add to game length, but this longer game- if you reflect on each point, is more illusion of length than actual meaty gameplay.

    This kind of stuff is not so bad if it is not necessary and is truly a "side quest". For example, Mass Effect is pretty efficient and streamlined as long as you stay on the core mission worlds. The extra planets are positively grindtastic, on the other hand. But they are there if you do not mind that sort of thing.

    The real problem is leveling. If you need the levels from the side quests to actually complete the main quest, then they cease to be optional, and then the grind becomes mind numbing. Mass Effecttried to solve this problem by auto-scaling enemies to fit your current level. But this approach is doomed to failure, because simply adjusting numeric parameters of an enemy is not going to counteract all the extra abilities I get when I go up a level
    (biotics make Mass Effect laughably trivial at the high levels, even on Insanity).

  13. Will this gradual downward pressure also strangle the complexity and maturity out of titles? I surely hope not. This industry needs healthy expectations from both the consumer and developer/publisher concerning what value is and, when value is present, what costs can be associated.

    I pay 20-ish dollars for a good fiction book. That seems to be standard, and I don't expect to pay less. I want quality and I want to support those in its development (i.e. creation, production, and manufacturing) to ensure its longevity. Sure, there's an argument toward creation solely for creation’s sake, but why not reward someone for their diligence and hard-work?

    So what's a reasonable price for a good game? I suppose that’s subjective right now. But to experience the same feelings brought by the original Half-life (moments of surprise, the exploration, well-crafted tension), I’d gladly pay 75 dollars. (Can anyone even set a value to authenticity?) Though in doing so, I want this hypothetical game relevant to its context (i.e. no clones). I want it authentic and memorable. By no means does that suggest every game can achieve this critical ideal, and by no means does this give the authority to charge accordingly.

    Jeff, I think you need not worry about the comments from iTuners. While they're potentially a competent share of your own market, (I’ll quote my grandmother here, so please bear with) “Alls you need to worry over is the quality of your work.” Jeff, from what I hear it’s rather good. I say this despite my limited experiences with the Geneforge series.

    Create the quality. People will seek it. I see things as such: many people want -- crave even -- authentic experiences; and we are willing to pay a price (be it time, money, emotional investment, whatever) to achieve such. Things that simply occupy our time and do not enlighten us will fall into obscurity. Sure, they may make a quick buck, but does that adequately indicate a business’s health?

    While in many ways this post reads as self-justification, I understand from where you're writing. I even agree. Kudos on the work you do.

  14. @Russell Marsh: Thanks for the comments!

    "While in many ways this post reads as self-justification, I understand from where you're writing."

    In this area, I think self-justification is very important. I tried to go into the factors that went into pricing my games. For new developers, this is an incredibly difficult decision, one of the hardest. I was trying to give some factors worth analyzing in making the call.

    I might pay too much attention from the comments I read online (like on iTunes), but I think it's important to provide a countering voice. If a newbie developer only ever hears "$5 is too much", there is a change he or she might believe it and make a very, very big mistake.

    - Jeff Vogel

  15. Well, I know I don't even acknowledge the existence of opinions from the general internet populace unless it's from people who've actually thought out their opinions like you Jeff! The race to the bottom for games is just following a long traditional plague of consumer... everything. Like $8 CD players. What's that saying "The cynic knows the price of everything and the value of nothing." They better be careful, otherwise they'll wind up with nothing but the equivalent of "$8 CD player" games. I think the only folks that complain about prices like that are just fly-by-night customers anyways that are just mad cause it's not free.

    A couple years ago, some screwball with a German CD Distro was trying to get us to sell him our album for $5, and was completely indignant when we refused, even after pointing out that he was going to sell them 14 EUROS!! He didn't buy'em. I know a thing or two about cheapskates. :D

    Jeff, your games are a bargain.

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  17. Jeff, with articles as interesting, well argued, and to the point as this, I don't think TLDR is a problem.

    The comment about the 13 year old got me thinking. There must be an interesting graph of perceived value of a game in relation to amount of free time and relative income. I've gone from a poor geek with lots of free time to a reasonably well paid geek with small amounts of non-contiguous free time.
    As such, my ideas on the value of games (and books, films and other forms of entertainment) have changed.

    Do you have any customer surveys of age or income? Might be an interesting bit of data.

  18. I'm a little surprised with all of the angry back and forth here already on paying indie devs what they're worth, there isn't a hint of economics mentioned.

    Valve did an interesting study recently; during their last holiday sale on Steam, they followed the trends on profitability made by the games in their store. There was one particular trend that was interesting -- the higher the discount on the game, the more PROFIT that game made. Small discounts saw games selling for a little jump in profits, but the big discounts (the cheapest games, then) saw the largest boost in profits.

    They made sure to stress that this wasn't a boost in sales, but rather in actual net profits. Gabe Newell, in talking about this data (might have been at GDC, but I think this was slightly before that) suggested the opposite of what you're saying here -- Games are priced wrong, tehy're too expensive. The model that mainstream games should retail for $50-60, is wrong, because they'll make more money if they sell the game for less.

    It's not a surprising truth -- the higher you cost your product, the more of your potential audience you alienate with the pricetag. Sure, we can't go for free, and admittedly, not all games are created equal, so how much to sell for is still something of a mystery, but selling your games for cheap is quite possible the best way to make money.

  19. You know, I paid for your games. But the further you went on, the worse they got. Boring. I don't think the problem is the PRICE, I pay when I like something. But as I get older, time is at a premium, so I prefer to spend my free time being entertained. And I'm not going to spend money and time on things that are dull. I put up with the graphics in Spiderweb games, because the game was fun. It certainly doesn't LOOK like it should cost what it does. But now gameplay isn't the same, so there is no reason to spend that much. That's it.

  20. There was one particular trend that was interesting -- the higher the discount on the game, the more PROFIT that game made. This is a nonsensical statement. It is just like the argument that lower taxes always lead to higher revenue. Without further qualification, these statements are clearly false. Otherwise a price of $0 (or a tax rate of 0%) would make the most money.

    There is an inflection point at which lower price cease to be profitable. Jeff is simply arguing that the race to the bottom is pushing public perception of game price below this inflection point.

  21. But as I get older, time is at a premium, so I prefer to spend my free time being entertained. And I'm not going to spend money and time on things that are dull.And this is perfectly fine. What you are saying is not unlike titopaul28's comment. The price/hour tag must include the fun factor as well, and for you it is not there anymore.

    But this is not necessarily an argument for Jeff to lower his price. There are enough people who still like his gameplay that he can make money on it. And, at the end of the day, that is what keeps him funded.

    The only reason to lower price would be if it pulled in enough additional people who like the gameplay, but whose sole objection is price. And it does not sound from your comment like you are in that category. Which is perfectly fine -- buy different games.

  22. I think you're kinda right, but you're not taking into account that some games actually make *more* money when cheaper, cause they sell much more copies. Granted, that did not happen to you, maybe because you make niche games, but sometimes happens in some cases.
    Btw, if hours of gameplay are to be taken into account, few thing can entertain you as much as nethack ;D

  23. Amen, brother. Anything that helps independent designers and studios survive more is a good thing in my book.

  24. My boyfriend and I are going to be selling a game at some point that we've been working on for the past six months (spare time). By the time we finish it it will probably have been about a year since we started.

    I was going to charge about $5, but your articles on this subject and made me rethink this extensively, we think it's ridiculously fun and eventually we want to do this fulltime. Right now I'm hovering about the $15 mark in my head.

    I just want you to know that these articles do make some difference.

  25. Ehi, Mr. Vogel, maybe if you try to improve your games a bit more, you will find more people happy to pay for them, without any price boost.

    You are going to sell same damn stuff since years.

    johnathan Blow has turned this crap...
    in this...

    and now thousand... no, maybe millions of customers know about Braid and love it.
    For just 15 bucks.

  26. One sentence summary: External price caps are bad for any business. (There... fixed your TLDR problem). You'd have a hard time finding any economist that would disagree with you.

    I agree. Apple, Amazon, et. al. are doing the market a disservice by de-facto price capping games. Especially Apple, because they control access to a platform.

    Customers love to bitch. The nature of the 'net makes that all too easy. The real question is are those complains well-founded? And the jury is still out on that.

  27. The issue with valve discounts is not only related to the fact that the game was discounted. It was also due to the fact that when the game was discounted it was put on the front page of steam, and promoted. This effect is shown on the iPhone as well, as the most money is made when your APP is on one of the top ten lists, or new app list.

    And one major flaw in most iPhone apps is the lack of demo's or trials. Trying to get someone to pay $4.99 in a saturated market with no demo is asking for a lot. There was another blog I forget the link, but a developer mentioned that his game was a few months old and rather stale selling on the iPhone at around $2.99, but when he went back and released a demo/preview he sales increased tremendously.

    And I know Jeff already mentioned the benefits of a demo for games in a previous blog.

    Personally I would pay $60 for a good indie game that peaked my interest. I didn't think twice about buying World of Goo for $20 after playing the demo. But I also didn't buy Braid, because I didn't have fun with it, not because it was $15.

    And I agree with Jeff, that price ceilings will unfortunately just end up lowering the quality of games put out, and hurt the good indie developers out there

  28. So what I hear is "how dare the magazine equivalent of game publishing limit my content value".

    I frankly think you're overreacting to a few *very good* limits on product pricing.

    While I'm sure they cause headaches to accommodate, deeper longer offerings flourish just fine in that ecosystem. Case in Point:

    The iPhone, XBLA, Amazon, etc are all *magazines* as far as content length goes. Slice and dice your game into a serialized series of installments, and voila, you get all the money you need to stay afloat, and you meet their cap.

    It *also* gives you a good excuse to release more incrementally (cause what company doesn't like being paid more often), and it also lowers the incentive of "trial pirates", as instead of priating to just "check it out", they can buy an installment if only moderately interested.

  29. I usually buy only 1-2 year old xbox 360 games when they go on discount. This way i get them for about 20-30$. Now compared to a indie game for 10$ on xbox live i usually get more value for the money going with the 1-2 year old game instead of buying the brand new indie game.

  30. How is this limited to games? It seems to be a pandemic for all sorts of wares, from non-game iPhone apps to books to movies and songs.

  31. Bravo, Jeff. I've been a big fan of your company for a long time - even though I lack the time to play them all! It was your success that inspired me to start my own indie game company three years ago (Wadjet Eye Games).

    Like you, my games are niche (point and click adventure games), and when I started i had SUCH trouble finding a price point. My first game was short, and the graphics were passable at best. Lacking any experience in these matters, charged a measly $5 for it. Big mistake. It soon got the reputation of being a "cheap" game. And when I released my next game with higher production values and a higher price ($15), I instantly got complaints that I was charging too much.

    Interestingly enough, the $15 game sold BETTER than the $5 game. The people who complain are vocal, but I believe they are a minority.

    Anyway, I wrote more than I planned but thanks, Jeff, for starting this blog.

    -Dave Gilbert

  32. Have you thought about a different model? Could you break your game into pieces and sell the pieces?

    Would your sales be better if players could pay $3 for each tenth of your game, as opposed to the all or nothing $30 for all of it? If your game is really that great? Is everyone really playing all the way through it?

    The highly segmented game also lets you effectively escape the price caps.

    If your games are really that great, can you find a way to milk the players who love it for more than $30? I don't play video games much anymore, but I'd gladly pay $200 to get a copy of the next version of my favorite board game right now, as opposed to the $25 that it will inevitably retail for.

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  34. What about moving to a micro-payment based model? Give the base game out for free, or maybe for say $10 and then sell add-ons for $3 here, $5 there to get the $30 out of them. As long as you do it in a way that those who do not pay for every single add-on can compete, most gamers will not care and if they like the game will buy a good amount add-on content.

  35. @Dave Gilbert: This is an EXCELLENT point, and one I will be sure to address in part two. A higher price does create the impression of value. A lower price creates the impression of junk.

    Way back in the day, pricing your game too low could be a horrible mistake for that reason. It's not as much of a factor these days, with everything everywhere being so cheap, but it's one reason to consider charging more.

    - Jeff Vogel

  36. Dear Jeff,

    As a budding indie, I respectfully disagree with your premises - that indies should charge more.

    The market and the entertainer will negotiate and determine how much a game should cost based on the factors you described - cost of living, cost of creation, but also on the perceived quality and value each customer believes they are getting from a purchase. This is basic supply and demand.

    If the market is unwilling to pay for the kind of game you want to make for the price you set it, either you have to cater to the market, lower your costs, increase its perceived quality or simply not waste your time in creating the game you want to make but no one is willing to buy.

    Neither Xbox Live, Apple or Amazon is obligated to cater to the mass market. As indies, we should count ourselves as lucky to even get the shelf space and bandwidth they are allowing to give. The very existence of independent developers getting that kind of support network is unheard of - you should know. If you don't like the price cap they create, then create your own ability to network. For instance, Derek Yu created and used it to drive sales for Aquaria.

    Yes, you should set a price at what you think is fair for the time and effort you spent on your product. But if there is no one willing to buy it at that price - then maybe it isn't worth the effort.

    If you have the fan-base, the clout and the support of a community behind you, then by all means, set the price as high as you can to make a living. But no one should expect "the man" to cater to your demands.

    After all, that is what being an indie is all about.

  37. @GameDevigner: "The market and the entertainer will negotiate and determine how much a game should cost based on the factors you described"

    Yes. EXACTLY. That is EXACTLY what I want.

    Third parties providing artificial price ceilings is completely the opposite of that.

    I am very confident in my ability to survive in the free market. As long as it is, you know, Free.

    - Jeff Vogel

  38. Hi Jeff,

    Thanks for the reply. The Internet is most free you can get for a market and you've proven to all of us that it is possible to make a living doing what you love and people are willing to pay you for it.

    But for all intents and purposes, Apple iTunes,, and Xbox Live are not free - they are storefronts. They are highly prized avenues of Internet real-estate that can drive traffic so that people are aware of your product. Because of that, they have every right to dictate who and what is featured on their portals. And by virtue of their popularity, they also have the power to set price expectations of what to expect from smaller "indie" companies.

    But yet, there are major successes from indie companies that break the expected price points set by the big portals. To me, that says that the market is not being controlled.

    If you look at games on portals such as PlayFirst or even PopCap games, they are able to push millions of units at $20 a piece, even for "generic" casual games. That's because they have been able to create their own market to sustain their prices, along with the trust of the quality of the product they are making. That is why so much of your loyal fan-base are willing to pay the $28 price point you put on your games.

    I don't think that Xbox Live, Amazon or Apple has that much power to drive the price of games down. People will always be willing to pay top dollar for quality and value.

    The Internet is the biggest street corner in the world, and we are the street musicians and performers who hopes that the passersby will toss us pennies along the way. But if we're good enough, they may stop long enough to pick up the CD we are selling next to the hat we set down on the street. And even though the big man who owns a storefront says that they are paying too much for the CD, if we are good enough, responsive enough and entertaining enough, we will still make a sale - and hopefully a good living.

  39. $ = Hours of game play has to be the most short-sighted equation for pricing entertainment I have ever heard of.
    Saying a game is worth "X" amount of money because you get "X" amount of play time is absolutely ridiculous. I would expect more from an industry veteran.
    All that promotes is developers adding filler to their games to justify a higher asking price.
    What we get is more mediocre games, certainly something the industry doesn't need more of.
    While hours of game play is a factor, it's not the only one. What about re-playability? How about the QUALITY of the gaming experience?
    Portal was a short game but was definitely one of the most enjoyable games I have played. Should it only cost $5-10 because I only played it for 4-6 hours?
    Consider more than how much your rent is this month and how many hours of play time your title offers when pricing your next game.
    But like you said, that's the difference between an amateur and a pro.

  40. Complaining about the price of a really great game would be like complaining about the price of a Porsche -- it's valued higher for a reason. Sure, a high-school student might wish he could get such a car for the price of an old, used, beat-up Ford pickup, but complaining about it just isn't realistic. There are so many people out there who throw a temper-tantrum like a toddler in a toy-store, and, unfortunately, there are so many game developers who cave like a week-willed parent. Why should the developers of games have to both make the games and foot the bill? I crunched the numbers once, based on indie game sales statistics and those unreasonably low prices, and found that it would be easier to make a living as a janitor than as an independent game developer! That's not right!

    One thing that game developers and portals should realize is that they can always lower the price of games later. If sales start to slow down or the game begins to show it's age, then it is reasonable to price it lower.

    As a side note, I wondered once what it would be like for somebody to make a "luxury video game" -- a game with, perhaps, a $200 price tag. It would, of course, have to be completely awesome in every way. If it's designed for ultra-high-end hardware (perhaps even with quality settings far beyond current hardware capabilities) the game could have lasting sale value. Over time it could be priced lower and lower and eventually enter into the mainstream market.

    Also, have we already forgotten the video game market crash of 1983? . A flood of low quality, low priced games killed the industry once already, and we're doing it all over again!

  41. @Art Curry - Oh, God. Why even respond? You've constructed a straw man out of the most ridiculously exaggerated misinterpreted version of what I said and attacked that.

    I think it is painfully obvious that the number of hours of QUALITY entertainment a game provides should absolutely, without question be taken into account when pricing a game. Consider this, Art. If you paid $60 for a new XBox game, played it, and we completely done in two hours, you know something? I think you'd be a tiny tiny bit miffed.

    (If you think this is an exaggeration, look up an old video game called Timeline.)

    Is there a straight equation taking length and returning price, without taking quality into account? OF COURSE NOT. But I never said there was.

    But customers do expect a certain amount of entertainment for a certain amount of dollars. Obviously.

    - Jeff Vogel

  42. @GameDevigner - "But for all intents and purposes, Apple iTunes,, and Xbox Live are not free - they are storefronts. They are highly prized avenues of Internet real-estate that can drive traffic so that people are aware of your product. Because of that, they have every right to dictate who and what is featured on their portals."

    This is all, obviously, correct. But what you are able to do and what you should do that is best for you and your customers in the long run are very much different things. Apple and Amazon, by trying to be WalMart and make the quick buck, are scaring off developers like me. I can't write my niche games for those prices. And, as the gold rush ends, I am very confident others will come to the same decision.

    I'm not a hippy-dippy head in the clouds type. I'm as hard-nosed and dollars-and-cents as they come. If the new pricing models cut off a lot of potential developers, not good for business in the long run. All I'm saying.

    - Jeff Vogel

  43. Hi Jeff,

    I would imagine that it would be good for your business bad for theirs. It kills off your competition and allows you to remain the leader in a niche market without the need for portals to sell your product.

    So if your theory is correct, then it would be Apple and Amazon that will be hit because it will discourage developers to use their portals and they will lose potential business. It should be no skin off your nose, but the way the original post is written is as if it were.

    Amazon and Apple's policies does nothing to you who have an established market, reputation and fan-base. It may harm me, as an unknown indie game developer start-up who needs to find a way to pay for his mortgage and support a wife and children.

    But that's the charm of being an indie and entrepreneur - great risk, great reward and making the things you are most passionate about the very things you do everyday.

  44. This comment has been removed by the author.

  45. yes i agree with you statement.

  46. @GameDevigner - "It may harm me, as an unknown indie game developer start-up who needs to find a way to pay for his mortgage and support a wife and children."

    Couldn't have put it better myself. I believe the regime that is developing is good for me, because it hurts the little guy. I have enough of a fan base to have a chance to make the high sales I'd need to survive at a $5-10 price. An unknown? Very, very difficult.

    But I want to have competitors. I feel genuinely bad when rivals go under, because I really love shareware/Indie development and want people who practice it to thrive. That's why I'm ranting over here in my little corner.

    And I wish you the best of luck with your project. Hope to see you making a good living at it. :-)

    - Jeff Vogel

  47. Thanks Jeff, that means a lot to me being a long-time fan.

    It'll be a long time before I can quit my day-job, that's for sure. I posted on my blog how my first game has garnished me $20 from ad revenues against over 120 hours of development time. :)

    But honestly, I think that the $5-10 is the "sweet spot" for an indie rather than $20 and I'm rather pleased to find out that Amazon is a viable distribution model for indies for that price range. Now whether or not that is enough money to make a viable living remains to be seen. But I'm willing to take the chance and report my results.

    Again, thank you for your best wishes. And I do hope to one day foray into the RPG scene. But for now, I'm just a lowly free-Flash Game Developer - the lowest of the low. :)

  48. Quote:
    "How Big is the Game? - Braid lasts about 6 hours, or about $2.50 an hour. A little on the pricey side, but the game gets away with it by being so fun. Our newest game, Geneforge 5: Overthrow, lasts about 30 hours, or less than a buck an hour (not counting considerable replay value)."

    For me, a short game is actually worth MORE than a long game. Time is money, and I spend too much time playing games.

    I wanted to get this point across, since you seemed to make an argument that long playtime is good. It is not. Long playtime is boring.

    What matters is the total experience of the game. That's the base value. The hours required to play actually subtract from this value. The more hours required for the experience, the lesser the game is worth.

    Obviously, you cannot have the ultimate RPG experience in 2 hours or so. (But if you could, I would happily pay $50 for that game.)

    Immediate impression (not having played any of your games):
    Split your game into chapters. Make the first part as great and as short as you possibly can. Make your customers want to play the rest of the chapters as much as I want to read to the end of a truly amazing novel.

    Short is good.

  49. @Per Magne
    That's purely a matter of opinion. Some people like small games, some people like large games, and some people like both. I have to say (from a reviewer's standpoint) that long playtime is just as fun as short playtime IF you like that type of game.

    It really comes down to the Casual vs. Hardcore arguments that I see all the time on different game forums. "I want to be able to pick up a game and put it down again in an hour or two" vs. "I love to be able to sit down and play for eight hours or more nonstop." Two very different gaming philosophies, but both very common in the gaming population.

    I agree with the pricing strategies, personally. However, one of the things that I've mentioned in my reviews is that the price should be determined by hours spent having fun, not just hours required to finish the game. If the game is good, these tend to be equal, but there are a lot of cases where games cease to be fun halfway through.

    That said, I've always had fun with Jeff's RPGs. I'd say about thirty hours of entertaining gameplay per game is quite accurate, although the hours do seem to be decreasing as time goes on. The plots are always good, but the gameplay gets a little less fresh by the fourth consecutive game with the same mechanics.

  50. @Per Magne Bjørnerud - "For me, a short game is actually worth MORE than a long game."

    I TOTALLY agree. Sometimes, I would happily pay twice as much money to get a game that is half as long. Braid and World of Goo were the PERFECT length.

    But I think we may be in the minority. My fans seem to crave a 20-30 hour experience, which is what I am pretty good at delivering. People might not believe it, but I try very hard not to pad my games.

    - Jeff Vogel

  51. I'm going to try to draw an extended analogy here that may or may not entirely be appropriate.

    When I was younger I went to a lot of punk and hardcore shows, for which I rarely paid more than $5-6 for admission. And this was at a time when mainstream acts were charging $30-$50 for arena shows. And whether or not it was ever explicitly stated, I always felt that the "deal" between me as the ticketbuyer and the band was as follows: "we're charging you less money because we don't want you to have expectations of the show that are unrealistic--there won't be dancing girls, there won't be a fantastic laser show and dry ice, and the sound might not be all that great. What we are doing by offering you a lower gate price is to tempt you to come in and enjoy the core musical experience, whose sincerity, originality, and quality we WILL absolutely stack up against the major label acts. The low price reflects our desire that you disregard all the pointless trimmings when evaluating and comparing our music to the big names."

    With your games you are essentially saying "I may not have the gee-whiz graphics and super-hi def sound of some other 'major label' games, but the actual gameplay is as good if not better. You just need to take a chance on a game that looks as if it came out 12 years ago. This 'indie price' is to encourage you to take that chance."

    There are a number of ways I could continue to draw comparisons between the musical economy and the games economy. Not to sound like a jerk, but are you SURE you should be able to live on what you make as a game developer? If so, why don't you go to work for EA or Blizzard or one of those companies that pays their developers so much money that they never seem to run out of money for life-size busts of Star Wars Cantina characters, paintball equipment, and yellow Audi TTs? I don't really think you should do this, I'm just playing devil's advocate.

    I guess my point is that being an INDEPENDENT game developer working on the games YOU want to work on is a big part of the value for you, in the same way and for the same reasons that Fugazi never signed to a major label. The creative freedom was worth more to them than the economic assurances that would come with being swallowed up.

    Of course, my analogy breaks down to some extent because of the iTunes-selling-games-for-iPhone/iPod touch issue. I don't have one, but the few games I've seen on them are only a little more interesting than screen-savers. I have yet to see anything worth paying more than a buck or two for. Can't you just NOT develop for that platform? I certainly wouldn't bother playing anything more complex than a crossword puzzle on there anyway. The only musical equivalent I could think of is if suddenly the only medium everyone was writing songs for was the digital watch alarm or those birthday cards that play a little tune when you open them.

  52. I don't get what's the fuss all about. As a businessman your only concern should be to maximize your profits. Whether you'll be thinking of the short or long runs depend on how soon you plan on closing shop. If at at $128 you could actually get more money than you do at $28, then you'd need a pretty good reason (like the shrinking of your consumer base which you'd leave more vulnerable in the future) not to raise it immeadiately. Wheter the game is independent or not is irrelevant, just maximize profits, long or short run.

  53. I would pay top dollar for a Scorched Earth Party game. How about it Jeff?

  54. You sir are a tool. Sell cheap and sell lots of copies, selling a premium for what are typically lower standard (compared to the budgets big companies throw at their games) is lunacy.

    Sure, you charge $50 for your game. I'll sit back and chuckle to myself as you make no sales and lement the poor business sense.

  55. Well said!
    The pricewars was started by portal anyway, no indie is so fool to lower prices on his own (especially those with selling products).
    The problem is that most people don't want/know to do the bare minimum marketing to sell a few copies every month, or think to get rich with just 1 game.
    They fail, and all they do is agree to put their games on portals which compete each other in a race to the bottom :)

  56. In my experience, charging more has been a heck of a lot easier than charging less.

    It was much easier to convince 2 people to purchase my $15 game then it was to convince 6 people to buy my $5 game. For less work, I got the same amount of money. Of course, the $15 game had better production values and cost more to make, but it was actually much less work to sell the game.

  57. @WadjetEye:

    How about 3 people for $10? And if you can get 4 for $10, you've got a net increase.

  58. @GameDevigner

    More than likely that 4th person would still pay $15 for the game, if they wanted it. I actually have a $10 game for sale on my website. It's sold about the same number of units as the $15 one.

    Of course this is all subjective. Different pricing schemes work for different developers and games.

  59. @WadjetEye:

    I love adventure games! :)

    But... Isn't the $10 game a sequel to the $15 one? Wouldn't that mean that you'd expect the same number of people to buy both?

  60. Funny enough, I charged $10 for the sequel because I made it VERRRY cheaply. Like, $600 cheaply! The production values were lower, and it took only a few months to make, and I figured I should charge less for it.

    You're right, though. My schitzophrenic pricing scheme makes it hard to gauge what the perfect price is. It depends on the game.

  61. Not just game developers, but most software and even engineer salaries in general. The expectation is that we will work 12 hour days normally, and not get a raise because 'of poor sales, but maybe next year'.
    ZOMG!!1! You are already getting $100k/year! Well yeah, but after taxes and my $4000/month mortgage that basically pays for a case of Top Ramen per month.

  62. Some games are overpriced and some games are underpriced. It's all about finding the sweet spot. Personally, my idea on pricing is to figure out the highest price that customers will still feel like they're getting a good deal.

    I like the indie music concert idea. My $2.50 price tag on the XNA Community Game RPG I'm making is to get people in the door: I feel the gameplay & story are great, but the game is text-based & relatively short for the genre (maybe 3-4 hours) and any higher price tag would scare off people, I think.

  63. I’ve played Dwarf Fortress ad nauseum. Now this is a game that is open-ended and not so repetitive as to lose interest after the first few rounds. Programmer Tarn Adams programs it as a hobby and makes a living for himself month to month based entirely on the donations of well-wishing gamers. I threw in my $20 to the cause and have been seriously considering tossing him another $20 at the next major version number.

  64. Thank you Jeff! I have been struggling with what to charge for my game when it comes out later this year. It has been a huge investment. I've spent my entire life savings as well as dedicated going on 2 years full time every day to completing the game. I'm glad to hear that it is ok to charge a reasonable price even if it is an indie game and there are folks out there that are doing just fine charging more for a quality game. For the next one I would like to have an office, hired employees, some free time, health insurance and beer money :).

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  65. This is pretty much the case with most industries. People have traded diversity and quality for price. It's now near impossible for someone with an idea which is different enough to matter to make a living off it because nobody is willing to pay for how much it costs to produce anything that isn't mass-produced(aka generic).

    In response to people at a certain other site that I can't be bothered signing up to that complain that $28 is too much for one of your games when you can get fallout3 for about the same in the bargain bin, I would propose that is because Fallout 3 was a less-than-"indie quality" game with shiny overbudget graphics (which in many ways were horrid).

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