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What is a game worth?
by Anthony Hart-Jones on 08/19/11 05:05:00 am   Featured Blogs

The following blog post, unless otherwise noted, was written by a member of Gamasutras community.
The thoughts and opinions expressed are those of the writer and not Gamasutra or its parent company.


How much is any given game worth? Its an interesting question as a developer.

Someone in marketing obviously worked out the RRP. They based it on other games of the same genre, the hype surrounding it, how much of it is new and how much was borrowed from another game. They must have chosen between 45 and 50 for the Xbox 360 version, setting a higher price for the special-edition version with exclusive DLC and a life-sized replica of a dead frog.

So how much is the game worth? The answer may seem controversial, but I think it is simple

Any game is worth only what the buyer / player is willing to pay for it, even if they happen to be a pirate.

Not everyone buys on release day

For some people, the latest PC blockbuster is worth the 40 price tag to get it on release day. For others, it is worth the 5 they pay for it when Steam put it on a mid-week madness special offer. For an estimated up to 90%[1][2] of players, a game is worth ten minutes surfing The Pirate Bay and maybe an hour or two of downloading.

Only I think we misjudge the latter batch of customers when we say that.

Some pirates are just under-served customers

If a person sees a game they would happily spend 10 on, but it never drops below 20, we never gave them the option to pay what they actually think it is worth. Oh, we might tell them to vote with their wallets, but isnt that precisely what a pirate claims to do?

If any of you have ever bought a Humble Indie Bundle, you were given a chance to undervalue the games. If you ever bought In Rainbows from Radiohead when it was released, you had a chance to get a Radiohead album for free without legal fears. With the Humble Indie Bundles, you even have a choice in who gets your money; you can give it all to charity if you want and with the blessings of the developers!

The point is that you could decide that the handful of games there were worth a punt for 1, but would never have paid 10 each for them. Later on, maybe you even went back and bought them a second time or made a big donation for a more reasonable amount of money.

Clawing back the bottom line

So what can you do?

Pirates exist, but I have seen pirate amnesty sales[1] and even pirates contacting the developers to apologise[3] after realising what awesome people they were cheating. Most of us can probably agree that pirates buy games; I would lay good odds that almost every pirate has bought games with real cash and probably recently.

The trick may be to make the pirates give you something instead of nothing. Yes, it may mean getting 5 for a 20 game, but if the 90% figure is true, every pirate giving you 5 for your 20 game will earn you 225% more revenue. Heck, get even one in five of them to buy it at that price and you are still looking at a 45% increase.

Alternatively, the trick may be to think of them as unpaid evangelists; they didnt pay, but maybe they will tell their straight-laced friend (who hasnt ever even seen a warez site) how great a game is and you get a legitimate sale that way. Even if the pirate doesnt buy the game, they might drive the sales based on their unintended complimentary copy. They could even convince a fence-sitter to stop waiting for a Steam sale and buy the game at full price, a smaller increase, but still useful.

At the end of the day, perhaps there is no easy way to stop piracy or to make a person pay 20 for a game they are certain is only worth 10, so maybe we should just find a way to win our small victories and stop fighting the tide. If the only price they pay is to recommend it to their friends, to drive sales, at least it is worth something to them.



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Alexei Andreev
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Instead of speculating, it would be nice if you actually had some data, and you did some analysis. Why don't we charge a $1 for every game? Because we are trying to maximize our profits (at least that seems to be the assumption), and you maximize profits by using supply-and-demand curves, not by trying to sell the most copies.

Alex Leighton
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Interesting.. But isn't it just cheating legitimate customers who pay full price to let pirates off the hook?

Tony Celentano
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Companies that rely on $60 titles every couple years are selling themselves short in the long run. Companies that use a free-to-play, pay-for-perks model are flourishing in today's piracy market. Take Iron Realms for example, they could bring in 6 digits annually with a player base of less than 1,000 without any pay-to-play model. Today's player doesn't want to play a game, they want to experience a game, and allowing them to purchase things that enhance the experience is the key to any game's longevity.