Game Design, Programming and running a one-man games business…

Lets kill the cheap, and begging myth right now ok?

I just read about an indie games bundle where one of the main ‘selling points’ of the bundles was that you can get six games for just $5.

That sucks.

The implication is that the games are worth a dollar each (or less!). I get the idea that people try and make an offer that you’d be mad to turn down, and for a limited time, as a one-off way to grab some press that you can’t get any other way, maybe there is some merit to that, but increasingly it seems to be the case that people think that charging more than $5 for a game is ‘cheeky’ and that indie games should be $0-$5, and of course half of it goes to charity, but even if we get $0.01, we really thank you for your payment etc etc…

Lets just get this out in the open right now:

Indie means ‘independent’. It means you dont’ work for a publisher that controls your output. It means self-funded, with total control. It does NOT mean *cheap* or *low budget* or *desperate* or *hobbyist*. Granted, there are a lot of hobbyist indie devs, but that doesn’t mean some indies don’t employ a bunch of people, have nice offices, spend tens or hundreds of thousands of dollars on development, produce high quality content, and you know what…. I think it’s perfectly reasonable for a lot of those indie games to sell big numbers, and *shock horror* for the developers to make some decent money without being made to feel like they are worse than osama bin laden.

A lot of indies give me a funny look because I have an advertising budget, as though indies are not allowed to advertise, because we have to do ‘guerrilla marketing’ or beg for coverage on hobbyist-blogs rather than run our business like anyone else. Some gamers flat out refuse to buy GSB because it’s more than $10, despite paying £34.99 for ‘non-indie’ games.

I know quite a few indies that make very good money. Better than anyone I know with a mainstream games industry job. I know a lot of them who run their businesses extremely seriously. They shouldn’t be ashamed of having a successful business or feel ‘too corporate’ because they have a marketing budget and use a PR firm. I can just see the howls of hatred and cries of ‘sell out’ the minute minecraft pays for some adverts somewhere, or refers to notch as CEO.

Most indies make no money. We get that. Lets not try to force all of them to stay tiny and huddled around a begging bowl though. There is nothing wrong with success, even in indie gaming :D

39 thoughts on Lets kill the cheap, and begging myth right now ok?

  1. As we hinted in an earlier blog piece, you probably want to market yourself as something other than ‘indie’ if the image bothers you. End of the day, changing people’s image of you/your company/your games will be easier than changing how people perceive “indie”!!

    The issue of game prices is thorny tho – it’s certainly possible to make money on games which cost pennies – and lose money on games which are ‘fairly priced’ for that matter. The whole thing is far more complex than the face-value price of a game suggests – the market has changed a LOT in the last year and they do say that if you don’t accept change, you’ll usually be made obsolete by it (King Canute leaps to mind).

    Maybe the industry will be a wasteland in 12-18 months with the majority of developers are left bankrupt due to taking part in what amounts to a ‘price war’ – who knows – but no-one has EVER successfully fought against a price war and won so best you can do is ride it out…

  2. @John

    “Maybe the industry will be a wasteland in 12-18 months with the majority of developers are left bankrupt due to taking part in what amounts to a ‘price war’ – who knows – but no-one has EVER successfully fought against a price war and won so best you can do is ride it out…”

    It sounds like you do not care what happens next with the gaming industry.

    You see, games require a lot of work and software engineering skills.
    Indie are now very hard pressed between piracy and low price expectations. Right now, for most indie writing a game pays less than flipping burgers in McDonalds. How many people will do it for fun, while working in IT brings ten times more income (for the skills required)?

    Enjoy while you can, because like you said in few years it can be wasteland with few Farmvilles and movie-like games without any content.

  3. Anyone can point to a handful of titles that sold extremely well and made millions despite being sold for pennies but that’s not a business. That’s called ‘gambling’. It only seems to be a successful model since the reporting of which has deep survivor-ship bias. We just don’t hear about the companies that go bankrupt or do a ‘refocus’.

    As a sign of maturity for this industry, we’re starting to get an influx of new blood. Those ‘indies’ that give you the funny look are obviously lacking experience in the school of hard knocks and think game creation is a pure ‘creative’ endeavor.

    All creative industries from fine art to film suffer from the same. At some point, you just learn to dismiss talk like this as its the expected norm from new entrants. Sometimes I find it hard to do so myself, but then I just remember all these famous ‘starving’ artists they hold in their minds eye are historically the most mercenary group of people I’ve ever read about.

    To Cliff, I’d say stick with the indie title. I’d even suggest sticking your name on the box. That would help at least differentiate you amongst the other possibly fly-by-night indies out there.

  4. Hi Cliff.
    Actually I’m part of that indie pack.

    First let me say this, you are very lucky to be already a well know and respected game developer.

    That’s not an easy thing to do and my congrats on that. I honestly believe that you have to struggle to maintain it every single day. Also I think your games are worth more than the price tag they have. I only have GSB but I’m pretty sure the other ones are cool too.

    At this point you’ve managed to build a fan base that directly buys games from you and even managed to get on Steam.
    For most of us “indie” that’s a long shot dream.
    Outside the few digital publishers I’ve manage to get into, wanna know how much copies I’ve sold directly?? 3….in a whole year.

    Now I’m not saying you didn’t battle hard to get there, but you did it. and most of us still haven’t.

    I totally agree with what you are saying, cheap hurts the community, in fact I even wrote an article about it ( you can remove the url if you like, I’m not trying to market my blog.

    But these days I found that only by offering a quick promotion of sometimes insane prices do we get media attention.
    Why? Well, for the past 2 years I’ve been trying to get attention from, RPS, DiYGamer, etc. Guess what, 1 day after I sent them the email about this they posted it, but never before.

    So why did I agree to get on this pack? Because it’s a limited time thing, because it might get us some relief and some money to start working on my next game. I have an idea for one, couldn’t get funding from banks (over here they don’t even know what games are) nor crowd-funding and all that stuff. Also I think the pay what you want model is a bit worse.

    By the way, I take the chance to publicly ask you how can I get my game to Show me The Games. I’ve sent you 2 emails but never got any answer.

  5. When your variable costs are near zero (download fees and ?) the market effectively sets the price for the commodity software most indies are producing. If you want to be able to set the price for your game, you need to produce something other than puzzle game #23432 in the Apps store or at least convince people that you have.

    Short version, make something awesome or convince people you’ve made something awesome or you’ll have your price capped by all the shovelware 99% identical to your game.

  6. “The implication is that the games are worth a dollar each (or less!).”

    Or that you’re getting the games you’re buying at less than their actual value, making it a good deal for you? Just maybe?

  7. @Pandarsenic

    I’ve never managed to buy a quality dishware set at more than 50% discount (even going to an outlet warehouse). The closest I’ve managed to come to that discount rate the $5 pack was going for was buying at the Dollarstore.

    Did I feel like I’m getting a good deal? Not really, because the rational part of my brain starts to make up excuses such as

    – ‘this was made by a third rate manufacturer’
    – ‘it’ll probably break in less than a year’
    – ‘i’ll have to take my chances with lack of quality control’
    – ‘is it toxic?’

    I don’t know if anyone indie dev really wants to be considered ‘toxic’.

  8. I think the problem with indie prices comes with the prices on AAA games.
    An average AAA game costs 50 dollars, gives you (often) incredible polish, hundreds of animations, top notch scripting, good storytelling, many weapons, very detailed and well designed characters and maps etc.
    Most of indie games give you only one of those things. If it has a great story it’ll suffer on graphics, gameplay and music quality, same goes for gameplay, same goes for graphics (see “the death and the fly”, pretty graphics, abysmal gameplay). So having 1/5th or 1/10th of the content of a game that costs 50$ it’s quite normal to expect indie games to be a lot cheaper.

    Another thing that’s related to indie games is a niche market. The market of people who fight against the man and big corporations, that don’t believe in selling your game to earn money and all that bullcrap. They are your “fans” they’re most of your customers, and they’re holding you back from actually spreading the word through “the man”‘s ways.

    This is all pretty sad. I buy most of my games for low price of <15$ since I can't afford them, but every now and then I save a bit more money and buy a fully priced game, and I'm happy to give my money to people who actually have done something right, something I enjoy and something I would like to see more of. I'm pretty sure there are a lot more people who think in similar ways, and they're probably are the market indie devs should looks forward to. It's hard to please them, but they won't hinder you.

    If there's something I want to say it's this:
    Indie games need more polish to be able to sell for more.
    Most devs don't have the money for that amount of polish, but they do have the time, even if it means taking a part time job to survive. If a game looks unpolished, with bad graphics, bad sound quality, music, uninteresting characters etc, then no matter if it's indie or not, it will fail, and people won't want to buy it, not at the full price.

    I'm out.

  9. “…Or that you’re getting the games you’re buying at less than their actual value…”

    Yeah, quite so. Electronic distribution makes super-bargain sale prices workable.

    I agree that there’s a down side to this, namely that lots of people now know that New Big Game that costs $50 (or, often, _$AU89_ down here in Australia…) is likely to be available much cheaper in some Steam sale or suchlike, so they choose not to buy until that sale comes along.

    But on the other hand, ultra-cheap games can be an impulse purchase (no pun intended) for people who never even _considered_ buying them at full price, on account of poverty, only mild interest in that kind of game, a personal I’ll Just Pirate It threshold set at $9.99, et cetera.

    Just because Steam sold Oblivion plus all of the expansions for $5 or something last Christmas doesn’t mean that’s all that game is worth. Otherwise they wouldn’t have put it back up to $25 again :-)!

  10. [quote]Indie games need more polish to be able to sell for more.[/quote]
    Well, it does not matter how much I polish, my game will always look inferior to AAA titles.
    On average game is made by 200+ people over 2-3 years (every one of them specialized in its own part). Some spectacular visuals (Final Fanstasy XIII) took even 9 years!

    But that worries me not, there are people ordering my games.
    What really worries me is this:

    [quote]Indie games need more polish to be able to sell for more.
    Most devs don’t have the money for that amount of polish, but they do have the time, even if it means taking a part time job to survive.[/quote]

    What do you mean by “survive”?
    Man, get real – indie are usually very capable software developers.
    Read second post here – we have the skills and knowledge to get good jobs in the market.

    Why do you say they should “take part-time job to survive”?
    I am doing games for YOUR your pleasure and you merely grant me enought money to “survive”?

  11. You have an uphill battle if you keep using the term Indie for your studio. Yes, you are correct in all you say about what indie means, but the *perception* of the word is being changed by things like X-Box Live Indie Games (Xblig) which have a pile of games that would be more appropriate on Kongregate for free. Oh, and you have Kongregate with some impressive content that you can actually find, thanks to the filtering system.

    It is supply and demand and to be honest I can’t keep up with the supply of reasonable quality free and $1 games, much less the deluge of $5, $10 and $20 indie works (which tend to be longer lasting).

    I have purchased GSB twice (once directly and then again via the bundle on Impulse). I have no problem paying for a quality game. But the signal (you) to noise (indie games at $5 or less) ratio is getting high and I see no likely hood that will reverse anytime soon as making a game gets easier and easier with each passing day.

    With HTML5 and WebGL, the flash game wave will look like a drop in the bucket.

  12. [quote]Why do you say they should “take part-time job to survive”?
    I am doing games for YOUR your pleasure and you merely grant me enought money to “survive”?[/quote]
    Look at Bay 12, they don’t demand a penny and the complexity and level of content in Dwarf Fortress puts almost the entire Indie marketplace to shame (polish being another matter entirely). Art doesn’t always pay the bills, famous painters have had a long tradition of taking commissions to keep food on the table.

  13. Mike, so you suggesting now all indie should work for free :-)

    Games are applications with require some creativity to develop, but they require coding skills primarly.

    Average software engineer with 5 years experience gets easily 80k-100k USD in major cities.
    Guy form Dwarf Fortress gets like a 2-3k USD income total per month from dotations. He is also quite lucky as his game has a lot of exposure, neverthless he gets half of his potential income.

    Where is economy there? Why I should work for free?

  14. I have to agree, the perception of indie is really small-time, think pro wrestling.
    There needs to be a category for mid-major studios as well.

    You’ve got the WWE, then you’ve got your indy promotions which is people bleeding themselves to death for a chicken sandwich in front of 20 folks.

    My idea is the concept of “mid-major” studios, which on the high end is folks like Stardock and Paradox, and you’d probably fit into this category as well.

    That’s borrowing from an American College Basketball Term- I guess in English terms it would be like Championship/League football, still professional, still serious money, just not the AAA Premier League. Indies would be like semi-pro/amateurs. Just like how the term would cover the Gonzagas (Stardock), Butlers (Paradox) down to say, George Mason (you).

    When I think “mid-major”, here’s what I’m thinking. I’m thinking games that sell for around $20-$40, and have the potential to be as much fun as AAA titles, but with a higher risk.

    Other folks I consider on your level as a mid-major: Soldak, the Winter Wolves folks, etc…

    If you’re not perceived to be part of the market that sells game for a $1 a piece, then you’re not going to be hurt by that market selling for a dollar.

  15. Woo I got promoted to mid-major! :D
    Jokes apart I agree with Cliff. I personally think time-limited sales, in special occasions are ok.
    But I see some indie games that are on sale 300 days a year. Players aren’t dumb, if they see a game ALWAYS or 90% time of the year “on sale”, they’ll start thinking that maybe is a poor game, or that next company game must be $1 each, or that the developer is desperate, or other bad thoughts.

    I personally think that if your goal is make $1 (or even $9.99 for that matter) games, is better if you make them quickly, otherwise you’re going to remain an hobbyst forever.

  16. “Mike, so you suggesting now all indie should work for free”

    No need to be intentionally obtuse. There’s a difference between “I work for free” and “I have an fanbase sufficient in size and dedication that I can rely on donations.”

  17. The charity thing bothers me too. I don’t want to give my money to some charity, I want to pay the developers who made the damn game!

  18. Jeff Vogel wrote a similar blog post some time ago. The basic idea is (and I agree with this) that the value of a game isn’t just the hours of fun it can provide or how polished its graphics are, but also, quite simply, what value it’s being sold for. Selling your game for $1.99 places it within the ranks of iPhone games and other casual and disposable games. While charging $20 will give it some inherent value. The game still has to have enough merit to warrant that cost, of course, but if you only charge $1.99 for your game, it isn’t worth more than that and people aren’t going to value it higher.

    I believe that’s also why most of the games in the Humble Bundle, for example, are games that have pretty much already run their course. Who will ever pay $15 for one of those games again if they’ve practically been given away for free?

  19. The popularity of game portals such as Steam and the like really does level the playing field (a bit) as far as reputation and such. I don’t really know or care which games are Indie and which are not, but I do immediately sort them out by price (at least in my head).

    Gratuitous Space Battles left such an impression on me that I got to know the name Positech and looked into other games of theirs.

    I agree with almost everything cliffski says about AAA games in his blog, however, I don’t see the indie market as some kind of noble savior of the gaming industry. Very few indie games have done any better at giving me the kind of gaming satisfaction I crave, and risking more than $20 on ANY game is starting to feel very unreasonable.

    The blog post seems to imply that gamers are judging producers as “indie” or “non-indie” and making our purchasing decisions based on that. “Oh, he’s just an indie, he’s not worth paying…” I can’t speak for anyone else, but that’s certainly not the way I make my purchasing decisions.

    Price is a HUGE factor in games. Lower prices means I can buy more games, buy copies for my friends, and take a risk on something I might never have heard of. I’m willing to pay more for a game I want, but the trick is to somehow communicate that your game is something I want (and to be something I want, obviously.)

    The name Positech means something to me NOW, but in general, the indie cred does absolutely nothing. In general, I buy on Steam — I know you seem to hate that, but Steam’s marketplace features and social networking features (including an in-game chat) make Steam games more valuable to me than those purchased by other means.

    Even then, for me to purchase a game lately, it’s got to cost less than $15 or I need a very strong reason. I don’t spend more than $40 on ANY game anymore. I need screenshots (of actual game play, not cinema scenes), a video showing a strong theme. and probably an 85 or higher metacritic rating.

    I don’t know for certain, and have not done any research on it, but it seems to me that game producers still aren’t selling products that consumers want to buy, in the methods that they want to buy them. Positech knows some of this already, as they’ve been really vocal about the lack of DRM, lack of annoying startup vids, and abundance of free demos. It’s an excellent series of steps in the right direction, which is why I still check in with Positech every now and then to see what’s happening.

    It seems to me that if game producers want to make money, they should consider changing the way they go about getting it. Again, speaking only for myself, here’s some thoughts on my own gaming monetary habits:

    – Producers should realize their games, like any other product, go down in value over time as newer games, newer technologies, newer gaming concepts, and additional competition become increasingly available. What once was $25, shouldn’t be selling at that price five years later unless its amazingly successful. At the very least, that older game is now additional advertisement for your company creds at a lower price.

    – I’m willing to pay for downloadable content, especially if the base game was very cheap. This has to be done very delicately as its easy to offend consumers with this tactic. However, for me, I think the best tactic is to offer downloadable content as a series of optional modules. Each one can add a feature or dynamic to the game, essentially allowing me to create a custom version of the game as I collect them.

    – Discount upgrades. I was seriously offended when Mount & Blade offered their stand alone expansion for the same price as the original, without even a slight discount to current users. I felt that I was paying twice as much as others simply because I had supported the game when it was less known and successful. If I own Awesome Game 3, it would be nice to get some credit toward Awesome Game 4, otherwise the fact that I *already own* Awesome Game 3 is going to be a factor against buying the other. Not only would Awesome Game Producer lose a sale, but also any intangible benefits from word of mouth advertising, forum participation, or multiplayer availability.

    – Risk mitigation. Positech has been all over this one, but I include it for thoroughness. If I can buy $10 instead of $20, I’m more likely to buy a game. If I *really* like it, I’m probably not going to be against paying the additional $10 later on. I’m not sure what’s the best way to go about this without offending people, but free demos (of the quality proposed by cliffski) definitely cover this. The possibility of purchasing additional products and DLC do also cover this, slightly. Although this is the most vague of my points, it may be the most important, because it involves trying to get over that “should I really invest money in THIS game rather than this other game?” If all the money doesn’t have to be paid upfront before I fall in love with the game, the risk is negated, and I would be more likely to both try a game and to buy it.

    – I hate it when games and game companies try to do their own social networking instead of using Steam. Social networking doesn’t work unless all my friends are also using it, and only if the social network covers the games they play. That being said, I recently played a game that had a built-in IRC window and I think that’s pretty awesome. If it could incorporate some buddy lists from different networks…

    – I hate it even more when a game requires me to register on a website. I understand, anti-piracy, blah, blah, blah. Its an auto-hate. If I know a game does this, I won’t buy it. I’m not really sure why, I just really hate it. If there absolutely MUST be some kind of interface with an over-the-internet connection, at least have an in-game interface instead of jumping to the browser. I’m glad Gratuitous Space Battles never had this problem. That being said, there is something cool about having on-the-web statistics and information, group forums, etc. In-game forums and statistics would still be cooler, even if the info was also on the web. I’ve never seen a game with an in-game interface for its internet forum — I think it could be pretty cool.

    – Modding and DLC are kind of a weird issue when taken together. I discovered that when I grew dissatisfied with GSB expansions, where I felt I would rather pay for modding tools than for mods. This, in my mind, is the distinction between what makes a good mod and what makes a good paid expansion. (I’m not really against premium paid mods, per se, but I feel its wrong to advertise it like an expansion — like I’m really getting something new). I would have gladly paid for new features, especially since GSB had a suggestion thread in its forums. I don’t understand why that whole forum area wasn’t read a checklist for possible future DLC. Those that like it would buy it and those that don’t, won’t. This, in my mind, is a necessary qualification for good DLC. If you are releasing something you feel EVERYONE would want, it’s probably the bad variety of DLC that should have been in the basic game (or an expansion). Final note to close this subject: What’s the difference between DLC and downloadable expansions? In my mind, it is three things: 1) price, 2) scale, and 3) optionality. (Is that even a word?) DLC should be small, independent modules that are cheaply priced and can easily add something new, optional, and interesting to customize a game. Expansions are more literal in terms of “expanding” the game, making it overall better, and likely expecting that most players will want to get it.

    – Not having done much reseach into it, it seems to me that copyrights really hurt the possibilities of game design in lots of funny ways. I think as an industry (or even broader), game designers need to be more liberal in sharing of code that has already been released and sold. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve played a game and felt, “Wow, this would be great except for this one little detail.” Here, is where I point to the open source movement and use some of their terms to talk about variety, customization, and the building off other people’s ideas for collaborative (re)design. Obviously, you don’t want to copy the open-source movement (since you want to make money off your product), but the gaming industry needs to be more opened up. Just to give a simple example: GSB does not allow players to give orders mid-battle, despite that some people have requested it in forums. Positech has said that’s against the game’s design premise and most fans seem to agree. However, from a consumer’s point of view, why aren’t both those options available? Surely it would be easier for some game company to tweak Positech’s GSB in some subtle way to add their own creative touch than to come up with all new complately original design I’m likely to hate anyway, and having to avoid a lot of things I love to avoid looking like another GSB. It seems to me that SOME kind of pricing/royalty/licensing model could be put into place that would make this easy, convinient, and desireable for everyone involved. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve played a game and thought, if only this ONE little thing was changed, it would be perfect. And it would be – for me. Given that everyone’s tastes differ, why is it so hard to find games that can be seasoned to an individual pallet?

    I’m not talking at all (here) about the TYPES of games I would buy or what features I’m looking for. I’m not even really discussing prices or any current games on the market. I’m talking about the method of sales, purchasing, and distribution… that’s not yet caught up to (my) consumer standards. Until it does, there are weird conflicts between consumers and producers in this industry.

    I don’t hate game producers for being indie, and I don’t judge their price on whether or not they are indie. The indie cred doesn’t do much for me, since they are essentially building on the same flawed marketing model as the larger companies. That being said, Positech has done more than I’ve seen any other company do to move the industry in a better direction and they deserve kudos for that. (pun intended)

  20. Looking back on my post, it seems that I regard games as an INVESTMENT whereas game producers regard seem to regard games as PRODUCTS.

    I’m not sure what this means or who is right, but if feels like something very important from a business model perspective. I thought pointing it out might be helpful.

  21. About value of indie games, it’s also a matter of market, and target.

    Cliffski, your games are niche games. They will appeal to a specific kind of gamers, very dedicated ones, able to sink in your games for hours. But they don’t appeal to the wider public.

    As such, of course for you it doesn’t make sense to sell your games for a lower price. It makes no sense to sell Democracy 2 for 5 euros, because it’s not an “impulse buy” game. You can’t just pick it up and enjoy it, without investing long hours. Same goes for GSB (at least at the release time). You couldn’t just enjoy it directly, you had to invest time in designing ships, learning all of the weapons, before actually having fun!

    It’s ok for a specific market, like I say, and that’s why you can sell your games for these prices, because you match the expectation for this particular group, even if it’s smaller than the regular “indie market”.

    I personally bought Democracy 2, and preordered GSB. Truth is, I spent less than one hour with the first. I see the appeal, I see there is a great simulation under… but I don’t manage to invest myself in it. I spent around 3-4 hours on GSB, and same feeling. I can put ships, watch some battles, but in the end not be sure what exactly I did good or not.

    In the end I had much more fun with Magicka, which I bought 10 euros. I would have gladly paid more for it, even, but this price allows for a regular amount of players online.

    The SMTG bundle is composed of niche games as well. In the end you don’t expect it to sell truckloads of it, that’s why the price makes sense. The other indie pack you talk about is made of more accessible (and easily enjoyable) games. That’s why it makes sense to sell it for a price tickling the “impulse buy”.

    My point is that you have valid arguments, of course, but don’t forget that your point of view might be biased by your personal experience. And that there might be several “classes” of indie games.

  22. There’s a tricky balance to pull here. Despite the fact some of the original humble bundles did quite well, the released stats show it may be better to have a low basepoint so that you don’t lose money on the idiots offering a penny.

    On the other hand, some of the bundles have indeed ‘run their course’ for the indie market. My three copies of Machinarium are original, collectors version (i.e. real stuff I can touch) and included in an indie bundle – didn’t need it, fancied a look at the other stuff.

    The bundle you mention does look like it’s worth more than $5. Personally I think a multipart bundle should be targeted at £5 upwards (~8$), if it’s any good.

    Then again, the last frozenbyte humble bundle was particularly poor. I bought it for a low amount (£4?) basically to get the Linux version of Trine. Already had the Windows version; wasn’t interested in anything else.

    This bundle? Well, my backlog of games is already ridiculous, I was trying not to buy anything and I wouldn’t be buying it if full stop the cost was 15$+. I find it hard to resist some game bargains though, so I’ll probably end up giving them some cash..

  23. Hauden:

    You couldn’t misinterpret my post any worse than you did.

    By “Indie games need more polish to be able to sell for more.”

    I didn’t mean to bring it to the level of AAA games, I mean bring it to the level of Natural Selection 2, Overgrowth, World of Goo, Minecraft. it means fine tunning every single crank you can, and playtest it constantly. It doesn’t matter if it looks worse than AAA titles, what does matter is how meticulous you are when fixing those thousands of irritable quirks.

    By “even if it means taking a part time job to survive.”

    I meant that making a fully polished indie game is a full time job, no matter how good you are, and unless you want to spend 8 years working on a game, making it part time won’t give it the polish it needs to be worth playing.
    Yes, you are making games for the player’s enjoyment, but that’s only because you yourself, unforced, and knowing there are easier paths to get money, have chosen to go indie/get into the games for the players to enjoy. If the players doesn’t enjoy it, then don’t expect to get thousands of dollars.

    Also Yes, you can get good jobs on the market. I have a good job on the market, low paid, but I do what I like and every night I work on my game back home. Remember, if you’re an indie, that means you’ve chosen the difficult path, and don’t expect anything to go fine and dandy and butterflies and rainbows. It’s a gritty path where every turn brings more challenges and more work, and even between indies, only those that really work the hardest and have the best ideas are able to succeed.

    If you’re an indie, then you do it because you love doing it. And earning money is mainly there to help you continue doing what you are doing. If you’re in only for the money and not the enjoyment then I’m sorry, but it’s not the best path for you.

  24. [quote]Mike, so you suggesting now all indie should work for free
    Games are applications with require some creativity to develop, but they require coding skills primarly.[/quote]
    My point is that you need to be (or fake being) awesome or accept what the market demands. If your game has less going for it than something I can play on Newgrounds or Kong, don’t expect to be charging more than a couple bucks for it. Indies playing the “starving artist” card are a bit weak.

  25. @Mike,

    I just wanted to ask you which games you’ve developed? I just want to check them out.

  26. @Tre
    I can’t comment unless I’ve done it, eh? Check the blog linked from my name if you want, but I’m mostly a F/OSS guy, so YMMV.

  27. You are right on the money (so to speak). The problem of low prices goes to benefit the companies that commodize your product, which are also the ones that acquire the customer relationship. Instead of “selling out” by selling your soul to a major channel publisher, instead you are selling out to someone else.

    I’m not saying working with publishers is bad; in fact, it can be one of the best ways to generate revenue, or useful as one way to establish yourself in the market. But in support of your premise, low prices are about beating the competition and more often than not, that is mostly to the benefit of the publisher who needs to maintain their position.

  28. There appear to be three distinct camps of indie developers.

    One group of indies develops games for free because the love making games and recognize their skill level or artistic polish is not yet to the point where they would have a large audience. This also includes the $1 X-Box Live Indy Games guys (as $1 is the minimum charge, I suspect they would have gone with $0 if it was possible). Hobbyist-Indie perhaps?

    Another camp is our hero here on this blog: professional studios looking to market at that sweet spot that optimizes revenue and self assured enough to know they don’t have to hold out the pan-handling hat. They have higher costs and higher quality outputs. Pro-Indie perhaps? This is clearly where Positech lives and I watched the podcasts from a recent indie gathering and there were quite a few presenters coming from ~US$100,000 and higher per game budgets.

    There there is a third group which has a bizarre confusion between the two: they develop at the level of the Hobbyist but try to extract the fees of the Pro… and they lash out on forums when that doesn’t work out. Entitled-Indie perhaps?

    For that latter group, I have to agree with Mike’s comment that every game out there is competing with Newgrounds, Kongregate and Armor Games on the web front and the $1-$5 Xbox games (which include some amazing things like Hedge Wizard for $1 and The Avatar Legends for $3, the latter a full 10 hour RPG with a RPG builder kit built in that allows you to exchange modules with others).

    Claiming that making games is “hard work” isn’t enough to get a consumer to part with their money. Publishing a price simply starts the discussion… and the the consumer says no you can either make it cheaper or live with the market that will pay your “fair” price.

    But there is no point at which your “hard work” has value to the average consumer, only the result.

  29. (Oh, and just in case the “you can’t comment unless you have been there” card gets played again… I have been involved in several startups. One of them lost millions of dollars of “hard work”. Trust me, nobody cared. The only thing that mattered with our successes was the end product’s features, support, reliability and crucially, marketing. The only thing that mattered in our failures was the same stuff, just failed execution.)

  30. Hey Cliff,

    Good read and I think you’re spot on. I’m curious (if you’re willing to divulge), what percent of a project’s budget do you reserve for marketing and advertising?

  31. @Les I DO care about the gaming market – but I can’t really do anything about what’s going on – nor can you or, indeed, Cliff.

    A mixture of Steam ‘crazy sales’ and the pressure to sell as cheap as possible pon digital markets like Steam, XBLIG and the AppStores has left is in a funny predicament.

    As a developer, all you can do is try to surf it – no point in railing against it because you’re wasting your time.

    There’s no way to define what a user sees as ‘value’ or ‘worth’ – just offer what you have at a price you think is fair – accept that a deal from time to time isn’t a bad idea – accept that your game should get cheaper as time passes – and see where that takes you.

  32. I’ve often thought that it’s a bizarre way around for people to think. Surely the Indies should be expected to charge £34.99 and up, whereas the big publisher should be expected to charge £1 to £5 since they’re the ones with the economy of scale… in theory ;)

    I am of course aware that this is bull crap, because we spend so much of our money in games on flying our senior management to GDC so that they can not bother going to any talks or presentations that we’ll never be able to sell games for £5… grrr

    Sorry, gone off-topic!

  33. Valve is indie. Mojang is indie. One is a company that employs hundreds of people, the other seem to have a money-making machine hidden in their basement.

    I’d argue that egosoft (makers of the X universe games, which retail for “proper money”) are indie, because they have different publishers in different regions of the world, and afaik don’t get an advance (it’s a strictly we’ll-sell-your-game-for-you deal)

  34. I am an indie-game developer scrounging for money myself. I do not believe that prominence equals legitimacy. I work my butt off every day to get my game made, and when I do sell it, I am going to sell it for what I would pay for if the shoe was on the other foot.

    You raise wonderful arguments that I side with 100%.

  35. IMHO at this rate indies will be the future of gaming…

    the major studios are too concerned about making money and decide to churn out countless bland games not that different from each other… (call of duty, I’m looking at you!)

    things like GSB, or diplomacy, or some other indie games I’ve seen like portal or achron or minecraft, they have true creativity poured into them.

    shame they can never quite have the budget of the big studios like EA or activision :P

  36. sorry for the double post but the smilies are a bit messed up…

    the one at the end of my last post is supposed to be a sad face…

    im not laughing at the fact that indies don’t have the budget here

  37. Christian Knudsen, did Jeff really write something like that? Care to link? Cos if he did, it’s a bit ironic he then sold the same game he tries to sell PC and Mac gamers for $20-$25 on iOS for just $10.

    I admit I was annoyed having just bought the game a short while before that release on PC. It’s a good game, not his best, but he just told me it’s actually worth no more than $10. Now, having almost finished it I’m not gonna be a jerk and take advantage of his one year money back guarantee, but this isn’t even a special discount, but a permanent price, on a different platform, yet for all intents and purposes the same game (limited to the iPad resolution and input methods of course, just as it’s limited to my monitor and PC capabilities when I buy it for that).

    Indie or not, making games I liked or not, I can’t really condone paying more than $10 for his future games on PC now knowing he plans to make an iOS version for all of them, and likely price them similarly to Avadon.

    I just want to be treated fairly, not be given a bunch of half assed reasons (like the differences between versions) for why he feels he has to treat me unfairly, which essentially means his PC and Mac fanbase covers his costs and turns a profit as usual only for him to go and give a super awesome discount to another platform that he uses as a bonus for himself. I don’t care about those people, I’m just another selfish gamer. Maybe some of his fanboys are happy they can double dip for less than half the price, but I’m not one of those and I’m sure others agree with me.

    I do hope in the future he’ll price his games more equally for all his customers. Anything that isn’t free or $0.99 on iOS won’t have great exposure anyway, so a little more than $15 across all versions may work well, slightly limiting iOS sales further but enabling additional sales on the other platforms. Or even $20 on PC as he plans for his next game and an episodic two part $10 each release on iOS rather than once again a half price deal for that.

    All it would take is to lock out (or not even show their existence to not disrupt gameplay) areas based on their intended level and story progression from Part 1 and make a nice cliff hanger art epilogue, at the right part past some boss fight or grand story point or whatever that makes it feel like a somewhat complete achievement yet also promotes part two to see the rest of it, but past that still allowing people to keep playing and exploring any part 1 areas they wish, just as if they were playing the whole game.

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