On The Ball: So Indie It Hurts

On The Ball: So Indie It Hurts

Are indie game developers pricing themselves out of a job?

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I would say maybe, depends on who you ask, if you spent a year or so, try pricing it in the range you think it will sell and who much money you could have made min-wage, its just a place too start
(I am the only one who wanted to break out into song at the title?)

An interesting article. On the subject, I might buy VVVVVV some day, but at $15 it's hard to justify buying a game that could have been made 20 years ago. Heck, even the new Mega Man games only run at $10. And that's just it though, I'm the target audience for a game like VVVVVV, and even I find the price point a pinch high, so what about people who are slightly off-target?

Yeah, it's tough. VVVVVV is a great example because while it's amazing (only played the demo, I must have about $200 worth of indie games waiting for me to have money/time to play them) it looks too much like a flash game you'd find on Kongregate or whatever. It's hard to convince people to pay money for what they think they should get for free.

Still, I think such games are the only way to get around the big cost of creating AAA titles and actually making strides in the industry. I predict that, as the cost of an AAA game increases (due to improvements in graphical and processing power that require more manpower to reach the bar of appearance and physics) more and more people will turn to indie games. By then, it will be something you can at least live out of, if not live large, whatever market model you choose to pursue.

WhiteTigerShiro:
An interesting article. On the subject, I might buy VVVVVV some day, but at $15 it's hard to justify buying a game that could have been made 20 years ago. Heck, even the new Mega Man games only run at $10. And that's just it though, I'm the target audience for a game like VVVVVV, and even I find the price point a pinch high, so what about people who are slightly off-target?

I don't think VVVVVV could have been made 20 years ago. I just think that advances in gameplay aren't nearly as evident as advances in graphics. People are making the assumption that because VVVVVV looks simple, it plays simple, and that's definitely not the case.

This is shaping up to be my new favorite column.
Nice work, one again!

I find it odd how Copy and Paste Shooter XXI or Guitar Hero/ Rock Band whatever-the-hell-the-number-is (especially the music game ones) end up costing $60 and up without much change over the time span of a year, while these guys work in small teams for a long period of time and create very good games which cost $15 and under (many times free). It's unfair, but it always happens. Goes along with the idea that mainstream and popular will always beat creative and new.

JRCB:
I find it odd how Copy and Paste Shooter XXI or Guitar Hero/ Rock Band whatever-the-hell-the-number-is (especially the music game ones) end up costing $60 and up without much change over the time span of a year, while these guys work in small teams for a long period of time and create very good games which cost $15 and under (many times free). It's unfair, but it always happens. Goes along with the idea that mainstream and popular will always beat creative and new.

You act like the two are mutually exclusive. Besides, it's not exactly "unfair". Like the article said, as fun as VVVVV is I don't think I could see anyone paying more than $15 for it and even that was bit of a stretch for me. I didn't mind it, though. As long as I enjoyed it that's money well spent.

My Devil's Advocate reflexes are tingling but I don't actually feel like doing it this time since it's 2:30AM. So I guess I'll just say this:

There is definitely evidence that creativity in the gaming industry is becoming stifled by the prohibitive cost of making a high-quality game. These independent developers have an important job of providing originality and inventive mechanics that present a nice change of pace from other games. However, I don't see independent games ever becoming a stable source of income for these developers. Rather, I think that making a good indie game or mod could be a smaller studio's chance to break into the mainstream and have a go at some of the resources the larger studios have.

Of course, this could just be coming from some simpleton who had his brain cells rendered inert from a lack of stimulation linked to a thoroughly enjoyed match in Copy and Paste Shooter XXI and who prays that this doesn't give birth to any Indie Gaming Snobs.

As long as we're on the subject, though, I can't seem to think of any sequel shooters that have been released within a year of their last incarnation. Of course, you could be referring to the number of them in general, but those don't ever do that well and never get sequels so it's not like they're rewarded for creating a generic piece of trash.

I hope this is a trend which results in a second renaissance for gaming.

Hopefully the Indie developers remain so long enough to squeeze out some great games, before they're swallowed by the huge corporate demons.

Thanks Jordan, I enjoyed reading this article.

Indie games always have my interest as I can't stand most "mainstream games". Seeing as most game developers seem to go the "console" and "mainstream" way, obtrusive DRM and too many DLCs, I have to find my gaming fix elsewhere. The simulation games are few and far between, as its a niche market, so indies fill up the other half I play.

It's interesting how Indies (and obscure Russian developers) seem to have the best concepts, ideas. They don't make them for the money (I guess? I hope?), so they can pull off experimental moves that no big company that's out there for profits only would ever have done. I suppose it would be quite difficult to put a price tag on your indie game, but like you've mentioned .. you don't have to put a fixed price on your game! I thought that the World of Goo "whatever you want to pay for it" was a great idea (and I bet their wallets thought that as well!). Or, you can invest a lot of time in your game, and hope the donations come rolling in. Just like Cactus, which you mentioned, Tarn Adams also lives entirely off donations. It worked out well for him, looking at the numbers.

I found Mount and Blade's pricing system to be an interesting concept as well, that seemed to have worked out alright. Release the betas for a price, and as the game developers, the price increases. I picked up Mount and Blade for the low price of 15 bucks or so, in an early beta. Money well spent.

Articles like these and the whole Indie Developer Showcase you've written provide me with more material to look at. Hooray for indies, is all I can say. That, and there's an update coming up for Dwarf Fortress. Hooray for Dwarf Fortress. Hooray for indies.

Jordan Deam:

WhiteTigerShiro:
An interesting article. On the subject, I might buy VVVVVV some day, but at $15 it's hard to justify buying a game that could have been made 20 years ago. Heck, even the new Mega Man games only run at $10. And that's just it though, I'm the target audience for a game like VVVVVV, and even I find the price point a pinch high, so what about people who are slightly off-target?

I don't think VVVVVV could have been made 20 years ago. I just think that advances in gameplay aren't nearly as evident as advances in graphics. People are making the assumption that because VVVVVV looks simple, it plays simple, and that's definitely not the case.

Definetly. Thats the great thuing about Indie games though I think. Alot do look like they could have been made years ago, and that they could have come out in a time before high end graphics.

But, I think that the fact they are coming out now makes them more prominent, and, also shows we still have a good tolerance for games with lesser graphics than modern counter-parts

Well, a very thought-stimulating thought. We have to think a lot about economics to answer that question properly.

First of all we know that the price is regulated via demand and supply. From my perspective the demand for games in general is very high. That is the reason why new games, regardless of quality, are priced higher and the prices even rose drastically over time, especially in the last years. Look at CoD Mewtwo. It was a bit more expensive than the usual game and it didn't hurt the sales in any way.

But I guess in the Indie market there is almost no such thing as a significant demand. I guess you point this out very clearly. Some bedroom programmers do something as a hobby and surprisingly people who had never thought about such a game or a specific gameplay mechanic start to love this game and are ready to pay for it.

Yet the perfect game for someone might exist but we don't know how to get access to it. My best game evar to be might exist only on the hard drive of a gifted computer scientist's hard drive or even just in his head for that matter.
Most people who might enjoy certain indie games do not follow the market and don't regard news for the latest releases.

That's why I think that an organized distribution might help to establish pricing standards. Establish a shared way of (online) distribution to make the market more accessible to the innocent bystanders. Hence I think that this would be close to the fairest yet time consuming solution.

The easier way is in my opinion pay as much as you like alternative. But I see why it is so unpopular. To answer your question directly I bet there are thousands of people ready to pay 15, 20 or even 25 bucks for VVVVV just because they fell in love and think it is the beats game evarr.
BTW: What would you pay for VVVVV if you were to set the amount yourself?

I guess most programmers won't believe that those heavily willing to pay crowd is able to subsidize the free riders and scrooges but most of the time people used such offers rather well. If you are still skeptic you could have a small minimum few like 1 $ or 2,50 $ for example.

On a side-note:
Retro and stylized graphics are easier to fetch and much more cheaper yet I guess it is a problem for some games. I reckon there is the HD-crowd we enjoy the graphics equally or even more than the gameplay and nowadays we are spoiled with excessive graphics.
It is hard to sell something at an adequate price if it looks "cheap and old".

Anoctris:
I hope this is a trend which results in a second renaissance for gaming.

The Random One:
I predict that, as the cost of an AAA game increases (due to improvements in graphical and processing power that require more manpower to reach the bar of appearance and physics) more and more people will turn to indie games. By then, it will be something you can at least live out of, if not live large, whatever market model you choose to pursue.

One cannot only hope, but invest.

As I see it, most indie games have to sell to a small pool of enthusiastic people who think that the game is worth more than the latest Call of Pixel Shaders, World of Industry Buzzwords or Farmface. There wouldn't be much point in the games if they were not making an an alternative option for people who care a lot. If the game was something that was a sure fire guaranteed seller that could move 200 thousand downloads and be very profitable if it was priced at $5 then don't you think that a big publisher would be already be making it?

When those game buying pioneers have made some money for the developers then it makes sense for them to offer it up to the slack jawed peasants for a budget price.

i don't like old school hard games and i can tell from the demo that VVVVVV is just that, but i dont doubt that it is better than a thousand rogue warriors, rogue warrior is the game that made me stop pre-purchasing, rather pay the 5 euro extra once its metascore is in.

Crazy_Bird:
BTW: What would you pay for VVVVV if you were to set the amount yourself?

I don't regret spending $15 on it, but I have to admit that I wasn't expecting to get my money's worth when I bought it. I think $5 is the right price point - that way, I can recommend it to three times as many people (or, hell, buy them copies myself) without feeling compelled to mention that they might not enjoy it as much as I did.

WhiteTigerShiro:
An interesting article. On the subject, I might buy VVVVVV some day, but at $15 it's hard to justify buying a game that could have been made 20 years ago. Heck, even the new Mega Man games only run at $10. And that's just it though, I'm the target audience for a game like VVVVVV, and even I find the price point a pinch high, so what about people who are slightly off-target?

I think the difference between this and Mega Man is that with Mega Man you are getting the same thing you played 20 years ago, whereas with VVVVVV you are genuinely getting something new.

Though I do agree that VVVVVV seems a bit overpriced given the other "one-man dev team" games on the market now. I really think he'd see more sales (and probably more profits) if it were a bit cheaper.

It depends on the games released and their starting price pre-downloadable content. I do notice that it seems like only the first games from indie game developers are doing well because of how much fun gameplay and replay value they have.

Your question falls onto the fact if the next set of games released are as much of a hit as their most popular title or titles previously released. If it is then money is used to make the next game. If the game doesn't sell well there isn't enough money to make the next game and their out of a job.

It isn't really up to us its up to them to make sure that really worthy games are released so more games can be made.

Yes! I very recently (yesterday) had this problem with both The Path and Democracy 2. I had played the demo for Democracy, and knew that I liked it, but I simply can't justify paying 17 pounds for it, since for all I know it gets boring within an hour. The Path, I knew was an arty game, and might be a bit difficult and unenjoyable, but I was willing to splurge a bit of cash just for the experience. But 10 quid seemed steep for a game in which half the players seem to end up hating it.

It's hard to say what the right price for a game is, but I know for a fact that if both of these games had been 5 pounds, then both developers would be 5 pounds richer, but as it is, I'm staying away.

Different games are worth different prices, and it's always a crapshoot to determine what to charge. I'm an indie developer myself, and I've sold my games at $5, $15 and $10. After a few games of experimenting I determined that I made the most money at $15. Sure, the cheaper games sold better but not enough to make up for the money I was losing. But this is what worked for me. Other developers are able to sell many more copies than I do, and can easily get by with a lower pricepoint.

In looking at VVVVVV, an old-skool game that appeals to niche hardcore indie gamers, it seems perfectly priced. I'm sure the developer will have occasional sales and those who want to pay less will be able to do so.

I don't know if it was this article convinced me to or if it was just the straw and the camel's back that pushed me over the edge, but I decided to buy VVVVVV after reading it. I kept on seeing press about it but I had decided not to buy because $15 seemed to much when I could get other games for less or even free.

I love really, really hard 2d platformers, as long as they have a forgiving checkpoint system. I've lost countless hours between I wanna be the guy, N, moneyseize, and Spelunky. I've been really craving a new one recently to. I'm still don't know if VVVVVV is worth $15, I never had to pay any money for the examples I just listed, but I like supporting indie games and the soundtrack is AMAZING. Even if I decide it wasn't worth the money, there isn't a chance in hell I'm not going to end up enjoying the game.

Indie devs have a much harder time, as they have original ideas that people may or may not want or even understand.
In order to garner such demand, they have to make the demand.
And trust me, making people want something is getting harder and harder these days.

Why do you think the big fatcats spend so much cash on hype machines! XD (and good reviews in some cases...)

Pricing an indie game is exceptionally difficult. If its low, it might be seen as bad quality or under-developed, and people will likely pass over it, but if its over a certain amount, (say 10 pounds-ish), then people will start to question its qualities and capabilities.

Lets not forget opportunity cost. What else could they spend that 10 pounds on? A couple of old xbox/ps2 games?, some older, but much cheaper indie games already established as good by the gaming scene?, A kebab and a couple of drinks?

Lower quality graphics can be forgiven for good artistic style, (a la Braid, and Plants versus zombies), a great soundtrack (Braid again!), or an overall experience that is unique and engaging, (Braid, once again is a good example of this!).
Look at the best selling indie games and compare them. They have a fair amount more in common than what us "individual" gamers might have percieved them before individually.

More Fun To Compute:
If the game was something that was a sure fire guaranteed seller that could move 200 thousand downloads and be very profitable if it was priced at $5 then don't you think that a big publisher would be already be making it?

If a publisher pushed for a development, it would almost certainly not be $5. Profit only comes after the initial production costs have been met, then that gets cut between the development and publishing (not to mention distributor if it uses one.)

Not to mention, if it was a SUREFIRE hit then they would definitely jack up the price because they know saps would be willing to pay it anyway. It would be easy to point at Modern Warfare 2 here, but then you also need to take into account the exorbitant development cost.

DeadlyYellow:

More Fun To Compute:
If the game was something that was a sure fire guaranteed seller that could move 200 thousand downloads and be very profitable if it was priced at $5 then don't you think that a big publisher would be already be making it?

If a publisher pushed for a development, it would almost certainly not be $5. Profit only comes after the initial production costs have been met, then that gets cut between the development and publishing (not to mention distributor if it uses one.)

Not to mention, if it was a SUREFIRE hit then they would definitely jack up the price because they know saps would be willing to pay it anyway. It would be easy to point at Modern Warfare 2 here, but then you also need to take into account the exorbitant development cost.

I had a long ranty reply written out but I scrapped it.

Long story short, Indies also have cost and would also like to be able afford some of life's luxuries like video games. Some might be financially independent and are making games without worrying about making their money back, as that is a benefit of being independent, but not all of them are and we shouldn't expect them to be if we want them to stick around.

 

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