The weird game-pricing experiment of Frozenbyte's Shadwen
Frozenbyte’s Shadwen won’t be out for many moons, but it has already provided players with two unique and innovative gameplay experiences.
The first was the core game, a stealth/escort affair with a medieval setting and a pause/rewind time mechanic akin to Braid and lots of cool tools and weapons and, and, and... Well, it’s kind of hard to explain what makes the game’s unique mix of features so compelling. This is one of those games that cries out for a playable demo.
The Finnish developer just offered a free demo of Shadwen for a limited time, and it was accompanied by a second fascinating gameplay experience--a sort of metagame in which the amount of player engagement that the demo generated would lower the final price of the game.
"The demo event was a joy to watch!,” gushes Frozenbyte’s CEO Lauri Hyvarinen. “Both the interest and the positive reception have exceeded our expectations by a mile!"
He says all of this despite the fact that the collective efforts of players lowered the price of his game Shadwen from $35.00 at the start of the demo to $14.55 by the time it wrapped up at the end of February. How can you be happy to see the price of your game halved?
"We were already tracking player’s stats, so we thought about linking people’s combined score with the launch price."
"We knew that a demo alone would be pretty hard to get visibility for, so we had to come up with something to boost it a notch," says Kai Tuovinen, Frozenbyte's marketing manager and one of the people who conceptualized the pricing metagame. "We were already tracking player’s stats in Shadwen, so we thought about ways to use that in a promotional sense, and came up with linking people’s combined score with the launch price, in hopes that they’d rally and work towards a common goal."
The demo attracted some 20,000 players, and the collective actions of those players were reflected by a Community Score, which incremented up based on how stealthy--or brutal--their trip through the gameworld was.
Over a million NPC guards were slaughtered over the course of the free demo period. The demo was completed 557 times without killing any of guards, and 2635 times by killing every single one of them. As each of these stats increased, the collective Community Score ratcheted up, and the price of the game slowly dropped.
Tuovinen said that the price incentive was something Frozenbyte hit upon after they came up with the idea of somehow rewarding players based on the Community Score. "Initially, we thought about giving out codes to our other games, but that didn’t quite fit, since the other games have a different audience," he says. "We couldn’t really go promoting a game with this much stabbing on a family-friendly Trine environment. And for our loyal fans, who already own our games, those rewards would be pretty worthless."
Once they settled on incentivizing engagement with the demo by discounting the final game, they had to determine just how low the price could go. "We ran some numbers and tests for the relation of the score to the price before the event, and came up with a mystery algorithm," says Tuovinen. "We balanced it out a bit right at the start of the promotion when we started getting some real data, because it was based purely on a prediction of player amounts before that."
While players were going through the Shadwen demo, slaying or sneaking past guards, Frozenbyte employees were watching the pricing metagame unfold. Tuovinen says that late into the evening, you could walk around the office and see people with their eyes glued to Shadwen's homepage, obsessively refreshing to see the community score climb.
The core idea motivating the discount promotion was that a high level of player engagement was just as valuable as a larger price tag. "We’re of course happy if the score goes way up and the price goes really low, because that would mean a lot of people were interested in the game," he says. "But we thought about some lower limits, so it couldn't have gone down to zero. It could've gone pretty low though!"
Frozenbyte's pricing experiment on Shadwen seems particularly bold since their last game, Trine 3: The Artifacts of Power, experienced something of a backlash related to its pricing. Some Early Access purchasers of that game felt that the final product was too short to justify the cost, and Frozenbyte conceded that the reaction may have jeopardized the future of that franchise.
Yet now, Frozenbyte is attempting to let the level of player enthusiasm determine the final cost of their latest game. For Tuovinen, the lesson is clear: "Content should match the price," he says, "and not a lot of people are fans of Early Access."