Thursday, January 28, 2010

What? Some Indie Games Made Money?

I think the XBox LIVE Indie Games project is really cool and exciting. For the first time, random losers like me can write a game and sell it on consoles. This really excites me, because my games are far too small and niche and low-budget to have a chance of getting on, say, XBox Live or WiiWare.

Sure, there are problems with the service. It has predictably taken a bit of time for the quality to come up. And I think you should be allowed to charge more than $10 for a game. But this is still a darn cool opportunity for small developers, and Microsoft should be applauded for it.

But that leaves a big question: Can any developers actually make money on the darn thing? Well, we now actually have some hard numbers for earnings of the top games. Take a look. They are very interesting.

1. Good stuff makes money!

The top two games for numbers of sales are I MAED A GAM3 W1TH ZOMBIES 1N IT!!!1 and Avatar Drop. And, coincidentally, they're the two games on the service I've actually bought. I MAED A GAM3 is the best dollar I've ever spent on gaming. (Just narrowly edging out CrushCrushCrush on Rock Band.)

Excellent party games, and you should buy them.

1b. I'm just sayin' ...

If someone makes I MAED AVATAR DR0P W1TH ZOMBIES 1N IT!!!1, I will buy it.

2. Don't undercharge for your work!

But look at the profits column. Two of the three most popular games had developers who wisely chose not to charge a paltry dollar for their labors. Though the amusingly named "ezmuze+ Hamst3r edition" is down at #18 in number of sales, its higher price helped it to make a pile. The $2.50 games are making more than the $1 games, because that price increase (from almost nothing to almost nothing) isn't causing sales to drop by 60%.

I MAED A GAM3, to make a lot of money at a dollar price, had to get a LOT of exposure. Most developers won't get that lucky. You can luck into a quick payout, but you can't build a lasting business (meaning making a living off of multiple titles over a period of years) making dollar games. I've said it before, and I'll say it again. Don't race to the bottom! Figure out a fair price for your work, and stand by it.

3. The kids love the vibrators.

I hate it when people act like Indie developers have some obligation to be always super-creative and artsy and like Jesus or something. I know some people are miffed by the popularity of the "massage" games, two of which are on the top twenty. But freedom to do whatever you want will result in a lot of ... Well, try out The Drinking Game, and you'll see what I mean.

I personally think that the "massage" games are pretty innovative. They saw demand for something nobody else was doing, and they made it. That is what innovation is. Which teaches a valuable lesson. Even when you get the innovation you want, it will still probably suck.


  1. Oh, I dunno, Jeff... I'd pay good money to see a quality RPG hit XBLA that's not all gimmicky and actually GOOD. Geneforge Lite, perhaps?

    That said, Vandal Hearts: Flames of Judgment is a decent game, but it's a very weird choice for a XBLA release. A single player turn-based strategy game with no DLC as far as I know and no multiplayer features whatsoever? Sounds to me as if Konami didn't want to go to the trouble of pressing a retail disc version and charging $5 more for it...

  2. @Greg Wilcox
    XBLA is not the same as XBox LIVE Indie Games

    XBLIG is basically open to anyone. XBLA has a number of barriers setup that effectively keeps most Indies from releasing games in that marketplace.

  3. Oh, I know that - to me a good game is a good game, period. Especially if an "indie" game is as good as or BETTER than a more expensive XBLA release.

  4. I find it very interesting that you think this chart proves that you shouldn't undercharge, because I think it shows just the opposite. Of the 20 titles on the top seller list, 15 of them were released at the lowest possible price point at the time (the current $1-$3-$5 system was only implemented midway through last year). Let's take a look at the 5 games that weren't released at the lowest possible price point:

    Kodu Game Lab - This was done inhouse by Microsoft as an example of what could be done with the service so it had an obvious advantage when it comes to resources & marketing.

    ezMuze+ & Avatar Golf - These are both sequels to existing games on the service so they had the benefit of existing fanbases & polish.

    Inside LaCross - We don't have exact figures but based on the surrounding games, it might have been as good as the 3rd best revenue for the year on the service. Good for it - they found a niche that wasn't being served that was big enough to be lucrative.

    Physics Sandbox - Not familiar with this title, but it's at the bottom of the list so it didn't make a ton (although if it was just one person developing it, he or she is probably very pleased).

    Also, it's worth keeping in mind that it's not just about making the most revenue in the short run. Selling 100k copies at $1 may end up being better in the long run than selling 30k at $5, because you build up a bigger reputation and fanbase with the first option which can help make your future games more successful.

    On another note, I'm at a bit of a quandry as to what to price my next game on the service. It's a Japanese-style RPG and will be about 3-6 hours long. We've got a good premise, a very talented artist, and what will hopefully end up being awesome gameplay. We could go the $1 route and hope to become viral like ZOMB1ES or Avatar Drop. We could go $5 and count on the absence of similar games on the service plus our game's quality to help convince people to pay the higher price. Or we could take the middle road and price it at $3. I'm honestly not sure which route would be the best to go.

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  6. I started selling my game on XBLIGs at $5 but people weren't buying it. I reduced the price to $1 and immediately started selling 30 times more.

    I like to think 8 months of my life and over a thousand dollars spent out of my pocket are worth more than $1, but gamers seemed to indicate the opposite.

    So much of how well you do on XBLIGs is driven by if you are on one of the Top lists (Top Downloads, Best Rated, etc)... your best chance to get on one of those (which will significantly inscrease your downloads, ussually by a factor of 10 or more) is to get as many sales as possible (sell cheap) and be rated as high as possible (cheap means great value means better rating).

    As much as I hate selling games cheap, my next game is going to start at $1 because everything I see indicates that selling as cheap as possible gives me the highest likelyhood of success.

  7. Eight months and over a thousand dollars spent might seem like its worth a lot more than $1. But what if you sell a few thousand copies?

    I think most of those $1 sales are impulse sales. $1 really isn't all that much. I wouldn't be surprised if a chunk of the buyers play it once and never again.

  8. Yeah, I'd have to agree with what everyone is saying on it indicating that low prices are good. I'm certain that the I MAED A GAM3 would not be up there if it charged $5 or $10. RC-Air Sim is a great example of spot-on pricing, it's dirt cheap, and actually cheaper than buying a real RC-Aircraft.

    I'd strongly agree that Avernum has the perfect pricing, because of its huge amount of depth in the demos alone. That should be defended. But for games with less depth, people won't pay as much.

    Don't forget the millions of people who don't make 1st world wages, and schoolkids. They can't afford good games, but are happy to pay $1 for some entertainment. Lower cost, bigger market.

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