The portal option

July 25, 2008 | Filed under: business

There is a big difference of opinion in the indie game developer community regarding whether or not to sell direct or work with portals. For new developers with no web presence doing casual games, its an easy choice (use portals). For devs doing hardcore games that are not portal friendly (big RPGs, FPS games, hardcore shooters) the choice is easy too (sell direct). For the people like me who have both options available, and do games that are part hardcor, part casual, it’s more of a dilemma.

On the one hand, it’s mad not to use them. Some portals (like bigfishgames) have a HUGE audience, and can put your game in front of tons of eyeballs. They can generate serious income for you, and they do marketing, promotion and some limited customer support. Probably more people bought Kudos from a portal than from me.

On the other hand, the portals customers remain theirs. I don’t get their email address, or any custom from them. A portal sale boosts the profile of the portal, more than me, and that’s effectively helping my competitors to grow. Also they take a BIG chunk of the money. It *might* still be a good deal though. There are two further things that need to be calculated though:

1) Are people buying the game from the portal rather than me, who would have bought direct from me otherwise? If so, I stupidly gave up a chunk of my sales to someone for no good reason.

2) Will the portal undercut me? If a portal has no cap on the sale price of the game, then they can churn it out for $5.99, making my prices seem artificially high. I’m effectively forced to play ‘match the lowest price’ with all the portals I do deals with. I can’t make a living selling games for $5.99. These aren’t throwawy bejewelled re-skins, my games take massive effort to make.

So what will I do with Kudos 2? No idea. I am genuinely in a dilemma. It all comes down to hard negotiation over contract terms and minimum prices. I can see portals refusing to agree to anything that prevents them bundling my games for a pittance alongside some diner dash clones. If they really stick with that, then I’ll just sell the game direct. I guess I’m lucky, I don’t *need* the portals anywhere near as much as most indie devs, all thanks to people like you, who found my website, and buy my games from me.

Thanks guys and girls!

8 Responses to “The portal option”

  1. Michael says:

    Wouldn’t it be wise for portals to match your price for a bigger cut and then negotiate with you if the game is not selling about lowering the price.

  2. CountVlad says:

    Well, you can rest assured that I’ll be buying direct when K2 comes out.
    I find that some portals tend to sell you the game… and thats it…
    once they have your money they don’t care if there is a problem with the game.
    For example, I once downloaded a game from a portal (without naming names) that I could have bought in the shops only to find out that the portal hadn’t bothered to include an essential patch in it and the retail patch was incompatible with the download version!
    If I find a game on a portal that I like the look of I tend to find the developer’s site and buy direct from them if possible, or buy from the publisher they recommend.

  3. Tormod says:

    Have you looked in on getting your games released through Steam, and would that be viable? Remember reading about Valves’ Steamworks a while back, and for my layman eyes it looked good.

  4. Jake Birkett says:

    Stick to your original plan of direct sales first for a few months then have a quick blast on the portals … my 2 cents.

  5. CountVlad says:

    Tormod mentioned Steam, which is a good idea seeing as Steam doesn’t just do casual, only worth £5 games. You could also try Gamersgate, which is a similar system (except games can work, but not be installed, without their software).

  6. cliffski says:

    I do sell through gamersgate. Steam are not interested, they don’t even do the courtesy of replying to emails. Despite all their hype about being indie-friendly and steampowered being free, its not available to anyone they don’t personally pick, and they ignore most indie devs.
    Stardock are way better.

  7. jack norton says:

    Direct sales FTW! :)
    Having your game on portals that sell with such insanely low discounts will damage your business in the long run, I’m sure.

  8. Jake Birkett says:

    OK I finally got round to looking up what FTW means. It’s weird.