Spiderweb Software just started our annual sale. It's ten percent off everything we sell for the whole month of October. That isn't really news. We do this every year, and people seem to like it.
But this year, there is much more. We permanently lowered the prices of everything we sell. At least 20% cheaper (in addition to the 10% for the sale). For some products, much more. The most expensive game we sell is now $20, and that is likely to last pretty much forever.
It's a big mental shift for us, and I thought it was worth blogging about. I write about game pricing on this blog a lot, and I'm not ashamed of it. Right now, most of the huge revolutions in the game biz are in the new crazy pricing models, and there are still a lot of questions out there about the most efficient way to make a game make money.
Why It Took So Long To Lower Our Prices
We released our first game in January, 1995. That is a long time ago, and much has changed. A few helpful comparisons.
Now: Huge distributors like Steam and iTunes sell massive numbers of copies for low prices, and Indie developers make good money on huge volume.
Then: The World Wide Web barely existed and we scraped by on a handful of sales from AOL.
Now: A quality Indie niche game sells on big portals for ten bucks at most. More than that and people think you're crazy and move on.
Then: Most good shareware games sold for $25. It took me a very long time just to realize that that price isn't normal anymore.
Now: Indie developers can make excellent livings selling lots of copies of cheap games.
Then: Indie game developers were called "shareware developers," and everyone thought they were losers and spat on them.
Now: Want to pirate a game? It just takes 3 seconds of searching on Pirate Bay.
Then: Took five minutes of searching instead of three seconds. This actually made a big difference.
Now: Many new games are given away for free and make their money on micro-transactions from a portion of their users.
Then: FREE games? With micro-WHAT? What are you? A SORCEROR?
(The shift to free games is arguably the most stunning development in the games biz in a very long time. My prediction: Within five years, there will be a successful game that pays you a small amount to play it and makes their cash selling better swords or whatever.)
I'm a dumb person in plenty of key ways, so it took me a while to observe the key fact:
A LOT of money is being made by selling games for cheap.
So now , instead of selling our games for $25 or $28 (!!!), we'll sell them for $20 or $15. I know this still seems like a lot, but I haven't backed off on the key thing I've long said ...
People Who Write Niche Games Can't Charge a Dollar
If you're making a pretty, shiny, highly casual game with cartoon squirrels and you think you can find a million fans for it, go ahead. Charge a dollar. You'll have to.
But if you write games like mine? Low budget, old school, hardcore RPGs with lots of content? If I charged a dollar for it, I'd have to sell a copy to pretty much every interested human everywhere to have a chance of making money.
So I still charge an actual price, an amount of money that still feels like money. Maybe I should have taken everything down to $15. Maybe I'm being too timid in the price drop. But, in a sense, that difference doesn't matter.
There are two sorts of prices you can pay for a game: An amount that is so small you don't care, and an amount high enough that you do. Our newest game, Avadon: The Black Fortress, is $20 on our site and $10 on Steam. That's a big difference, but, in a very real sense, they have the same price: an amount of money that actually feels like spending money. We will always charge actual money, as opposed to pocket change. All I have done is slightly tinkered with the level.
Bonus Point: Why Is Our Game Twice the Price On Our Site Than On Steam
I get asked this a lot, and it's a fair question. The answer:
In any place where your game is sold, pick the price that will maximize the profits. This ideal price changes depending on the nature of the place where it is being sold.
Steam is a big, sprawling gaming bazaar where practically all of the games are cheap. People see a game, spend a moderate amount of money on it, and try it out. People experiment there, and you need to charge a price that encourages customers to pick you as their experiment. Also, if you charge $20 for your game there, it will be on a list with ten good games at half the price, so you will get murdered.
Spiderweb Software's web site, on the other hand, only lists our games. It is generally only visited by fans of role-playing games. People on our site are generally really interested in the specific sorts of games we sell, and so the higher price doesn't scare them off.
This sort of logic isn't my weird invention. It's basic business. World of Goo is $20 on the company site, $10 on Steam, and $5 on iTunes. Each marketplace has its own norms, and you price your game to maximize your earnings there.
And that is why games are now at most $20 on our site. Because of the current standards of the game industry as a whole, I think that will most likely increase our earnings overall. It might not always have been that way, but I feel it is now.
(And, yes. I set game prices to maximize my earnings. Of course I do. Astonishingly, some people seem to take offense at this. I don't care. I'm not going to neglect to send my kids to college just so I can satisfy someone's arbitrary standards of Indie cred. I'm too old for that, and children persist in their irritating need to eat food.)
So. Anyway. A Sale.
Our games are cheaper forever, and even cheaper than that this month. We're getting a lot more sales, and I don't feel like the dumb jerk that still charges $28 for three year old games anymore. If you like old school role-playing games, you could certainly do worse.
And it will be a while before I write about pricing again. Believe it or not, I have other things to say (and make fun of). Time to get going on that ...