How much is any given game worth? It’s 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.
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% 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.
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 isn’t 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.
So what can you do?
Pirates exist, but I have seen ‘pirate amnesty sales’ and even pirates contacting the developers to apologise 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 didn’t pay, but maybe they will tell their straight-laced friend (who hasn’t ever even seen a warez site) how great a game is and you get a legitimate sale that way. Even if the pirate doesn’t 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.