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It’s that time of the year again : Steam summer sales! Yeah, loads of games at small prices! Like every PC players, I’ll probably buy a bunch of games (which will mostly stay untouched for the next months) but as a professional game developer, I’m more and more convinced that the whole concept of these promotions is toxic.
Why toxic ? Because systematic sales and discounts contribute with other factors (mobile stores pricing, bundles) to decrease the commonly accepted prices of games to absurdly low levels. It’s now a standard gamer behavior to wait 3 or 4 months before buying any game because you know for sure there’s a major discount coming. It’s so systematic that it’s nearly stupid not to do so!
‘Most people don’t know how much it costs to make a game’
It’s now common place to hear or read complaints about prices of games daring to set a price above 10 or 20 dollars or euros. But most people have no idea, no concept of how much a game costs do develop. Damn, even a lot of young or inexperienced indie developers have absolutely no clue when they start! This is most obvious when you take a look at crowdunding targets of game projects. Usually teams are inexperienced and ask for ridiculously low amounts of money for projects that will most likely fail spectacularly… or teams are experienced and ask for ridiculously low amount of money because they know they will look bad and fail if they don’t. But experienced developers will do everything they can to get A LOT more than what they asked using stretch goals and such, secretly hoping that they will have maybe nearly what they actually need. You can even have those experienced developers collecting millions of dollars to create a point & click and still failing to produce a full game with that much. Ok no, that’s a bad example. This has to be bad project management or Jack Black’s voice acting costs way too much money…
‘Most games are not profitable’
Warning, i’m not saying that most games are not successful. It’s far worse than that, most games do not actually pay for the cost of their development : making them is a loss of money for their creators. Overcrowded stores, clones, overwhelming piracy, lack of marketing money… There are actually a lot of reasons for games to fail. And let’s not forget another common reason, for a huge number of small titles flooding the online retailers : they just suck. They bring nothing new, are poorly crafted and largely deserves to be ignored.
The thing is, you can’t expect studios to set their prices according to the size of their project only. It’s ridiculous. Indie games are a lot less work than AAA games but do also sell order of magnitude less copies. When a developer decides the price point of his game, he has to imagine a realistic number of sales he can reach and try to repay his investment.
No gamer, not even journalists should look down frowning on developers and say : “you know mate, I think your game doesn’t really deserve to be sold that much:”. Like I said, you probably have no idea how much money it did cost to make that game and the poor bastard is certainly more aware than you of how many copies, he’s likely to sell. And be sure that he DOES know higher prices will scare off a lot of people. He DOES know that similar games may be sold cheaper than his. He DOES know that a lower price will bring more sales… but at what cost ?
‘Discounts, bundles, it’s now only a race to the bottom’
Everyone will tell you : being a deal of the week on Steam, being in the next humble bundle is so cool! You’ll sell ten or even a hundred times more! Yes but this will cost you 50 to 90% of every copy you sell if you want it to be effective. Sales you could have done at full price if you were a little bit more patient, sales you’ll never be able to catch up later. What you have actually done is decrease the price and value of your game for everyone and possibly forever. If it can be bought now for this price, why should I pay more later ? I’ll just wait for a bigger discount because I know for sure it will come…
And sure it will. Right now, everyone seems to be pretty much desperate about all this. A lot of developers are ready to accept anything to sell copies of their games. The current belief is that if you sell a lot of copies of your game, even at extremely low prices, it’s better than nothing and it will always help the game sell better in the long run.
But personally, I don’t think it’s a good thing. I even think this is hurting the whole market. The old pay2play is sick and this is one of the disease. This is one of the reason, whether you like it or not that a lot of developers are heading toward free2play… and I personally dislike free2play because I want to know how much money playing a full game will cost before I start. I dislike free2play because except for very rare games they will cost you a lot more than pay2play games if you want the same quality and quantity. Yeah Path of Exile, you are one of my rare exceptions and I love you don’t worry. I wish you were pay2play though.
This race to low prices is also a major cause to the DLC / Season Pass fashion of AAA games. Sure big publishers now sell their games with discounts similar to small games. But they make sure that what could be part of the initial game is now “additional content” to justify a game 150 to 200% more expensive at full price. So let’s not be too surprised that we are swallowing so much DLCs and season passes bullshit, it’s only simple maths.
‘No summer sales, no bundles for Drifting Lands’
I may be wrong but I sincerely think that playing along the promo / discount / bundle fashion is bad. Bad for us and bad for everyone. So we won’t. Drifting Lands will never be part of any sales, never be part of a bundle.
Oh, in the first months, we will use a discount. A significant and probably long enough discount, to compensate for the fact that the game is not complete or as “big” as we would like. Progressively this discount will decrease and completely disappear just after the official release. This will be a way for us to thank early supporters for their trust. Because it’s not a privilege for players to play an unfinished game. It’s a gift to the developers when they are kind enough to try the game and even pay for it when it’s not complete. So we want them to be sure, that no one after that will get the game even cheaper. Maybe years after the release but not while the game is really active and updated.
Later this year, we will announce our detailed pricing plan for Drifting Lands. Honestly, it’s not yet clearly defined. But I do know that we will not participate to this discount madness. Maybe it’s a bad idea in the current context, maybe we should do it exactly like others but there’s no certainty that this model even works. So, we will do what we think is ‘right’ and hope it will be for the best :)