The surge in popularity of independently developed games has opened up new creative possibilities. The advent of new digital distribution venues provides plenty of new outlets for these developers to get their games out to a wide market. However, this has also had the side effect of leaving a lot of these individuals and studios unable to make a profit.
While people are beginning to realize marketing is relevant, price is a vital part of the equation, too. The right price point will attract buyers, but still allow the creators to make money. It's a tricky balancing act that can be a daunting task. And when you factor in the variables inherent to each different platform indie games pop up on these days, the balancing act gets even more difficult.
Planet of the Apps
The iPhone has become one of the most popular outlets for independent developers in recent years. With a low barrier to entry and great flexibility, it seems like a perfect fit for small, up-and-coming studios.
But the nature of consumers on the app store means that it can often be difficult to make a profit or even break even when releasing a game on Apple's mobile device.
"The push to 99 cents is the single most frustrating and terrible thing about App Store pricing," says Nathan Vella, co-founder of Toronto-based Capybara Games (Critter Crunch).
"Since it became 'expected' by consumers, it forces a lot of developers, specifically indies, to devalue their game and significantly increase the number of sales needed for developers to get back their investment."
Capybara's Critter Crunch, which was released on the iPhone in June of last year, currently sells for $1.99. And Vella says that if more developers stay away from the 99 cent model, the App Store will become a better environment for indie developers because it could potentially change the way consumers view the value of games.
"I always use Canabalt as my example -- that game is 100 percent worth $2.99," he says. "Adam Saltsman bucked the trend and priced his game at a level he thought was fair. We're on board with what Adam is doing -- not letting the 99 cent pressure define how you price your game. Rather, just price it fairly. Having control of your pricing is great -- being able to define, at a fine level, what your game is worth is something you often don't get control over."
It's also important to realize the platform you're developing for and to budget accordingly.
"You need to be smart on the production side to not spend a fortune making a game," Vella says. "That way you break even at a good number of sales, and maybe even start profiting. Huge teams and giant-sized epics are super risky (on the iPhone), since it's so tough to tell if a game's going to hit and make back its costs.
"The other key thing is making a quality game," says Vella. "While quality doesn't assure you financial success by any means, making a garbage game pretty much ensures you won't have financial success. So, the best thing you can do aside from being smart in your production is make sure the game you put out hits a certain quality bar."