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Principles of an Indie Game Bottom Feeder
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Principles of an Indie Game Bottom Feeder

February 9, 2012 Article Start Previous Page 3 of 3

You Can't Always Charge a Dollar

If you are writing a very casual game aimed at a very wide audience, you will have to charge a low price -- so low that it'll probably make you uncomfortable. Like, a dollar, tops. (Or you can do what all the cool kids are doing and release your game for free and make money selling little add-ons. This involves far more courage than I possess.)

However, if you are writing for a niche, you can't just charge a dollar. To make money selling games for a buck, you need a huge potential audience. For my games, a huge audience just doesn't exist. In general, the smaller your niche, the more you need to charge. Highly detailed tactical wargames tend to have pretty high prices.

Your customers will browbeat you for daring to charge money for your work. Don't let them get to you. Remember: The key difference between an amateur and a pro is that a pro knows how to price his or her work.

You will be told that you should lower your prices because it will increase sales. This is true. However, your sales might not increase enough to make up for the loss of income. You need to pick the point at which your price times your number of sales is at its highest. This tends to be covered in like the first eight seconds of any economics class, but it's still news to a lot of people.

I'll give you an example from my business. Pleasingly, I have actual figures to prove what I am saying is true.

Last year, we released Avadon: The Black Fortress HD, our first game for the iPad. Old school, Western-style turn-based RPGs are almost unknown on the platform, so we were serving a classic underserved niche. However, the audience for such games on the iPad was, we guessed, not huge. We decided to sell our game for the princely sum of $9.99. That's a lot on the iPad. We then made what, for our tiny company, was a lot of money.

When the game had been out for a few months, it settled down to a very reliable average sale rate of 25 copies a day. These are pure Long Tail sales, from people just stumbling upon it in the store. Then we had a two-week half-off sale. This got a bunch of PR and attention, and sales shot up for a few days. Then they quickly settled back down to a constant rate: About 37 copies a day. Here is a screenshot of the sales chart:

So, at $9.99, Avadon HD was averaging about $250 in sales a day. At $4.99, Avadon HD averaged about $185 a day. When I was preparing the game for release, I strongly considered giving in to peer pressure and selling it at $4.99. I'm desperately glad I didn't.

This is what is important to remember: If you are serving an underserved niche, the neglected gamers who want that sort of game will be thrilled to find you. They will be excited enough to pay a premium price. On the other hand, if you're selling a game in a genre that isn't hugely popular (like turn-based old school RPGs), a low price won't tempt many customers into a purchase, not when there are a million games with a broader appeal for sale on the same page at a lower price.

We Are The Proud Bottom Feeders. Join Us!

There has been a revolution in indie game development in the last few years. In terms of prestige, attention, and, yes, sales, indie games are succeeding far beyond my wildest dreams of sixteen years ago. Skilled developers all over the place are leaving big companies to try their hand at doing what I do, and that is awesome.

I feel truly lucky to be writing games now. It's an exciting time. Don't take it for granted.

And yet, despite the explosion in the field, there is room for more. Game development is the next great art form, and we're still on the ground floor. Let the big boys write the same games in the same handful of genres year after year. There are so many sorts of games out there, waiting to be picked up, dusted off, improved, and sent back out into the world. Find your niche and own it. Accept what you can't change, be as awesome as you can, charge what you're worth, and stand proud on the ocean floor.


Photo by Doug Wertman, used under Creative Commons license.

Article Start Previous Page 3 of 3

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