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

‘Shut up and take my money’ as a business strategy.

A few days ago I saw an article about Star Wars Battlefront, saying its out this week. With super-slow ADSL, I wanted to start preloading, so went and ordered it right away. I think it was £50. That is about $80. For a digital game. Thats not a season pass, all I get for that is just one game. And it’s $80. Did I mention the $80?


How can a company in 2015 justify $80 for a game (standard edition) when so many indies struggle to get $9.99 for theirs? The answer is a combination of ‘brands’ and ‘animal spirits’. Animal spirits is a term by an economist which describes how in many ways we can be irrational and illogical. Its often a term thrown around on the stock market to explain all the irrational buying and selling that goes on when the fundamentals of a stock have not changed. Its basically people thinking with their emotions, and we do it a LOT with brands. You can even see it in brain scans.

You see animal spirits at play with purchasing decisions most obviously with big brands. Half Life 3 is available for download right now. It’s $100. Add to basket? y/n?. of course you do, how could you not, its HALF LIFE THREE. The same is true for Star Wars Battlefront, Fallout 4, the next (inevitable) COD game, and so on. I bet a lot of people do not even look at the price, especially if the marketers can generate a ‘rush’ mentality like they do with concert tickets, where you do not DARE waste time asking if 1direction tickets should cost that much, you must BUY IT NOW.

We probably underestimate the extent to which this sort of behavior works, as a business strategy. Lets take the example of a product that costs $10 to make, and sells for $11. Thats great, we are in profit! (obv. its not a digital product in this example). If we can spend a STUPIDLY BIG amount of money on that product to make it a ‘must have’ then we can actually charge $20 for it. We haven’t multiplied the profit by a bit, but by 900%. Even if we are spending an insane $5 PER ITEM to market it, we are still making 400% the profit we used to make.

I think there may be a ‘tipping point’ where the steam discussions about ‘is it worth getting full price’ basically evaporate. Very few people will wait for Half life 3 to be in a sale, or a PWYW bundle. Ditto the other games listed above. The trick is to have the confidence in your product (and a good enough product to warrant it), to try and push your game into that area.


Now you probably think thats bullshit, and impossible for indies because we do not have anything close to the required scale. True, we cannot make our game as *generally* desirable as Battlefront or HL3, but can we make it desirable within its niche? Can you hype up, promote and generate buzz enough about your game within its niche so people are excited on launch day and MUST HAVE IT NOW? Big Pharma was very popular on release day, people really wanted it, and paid full price for it. It can be done.

I think a lot of us could do it. I think most of us (including me) wimp out, with our fingers hovering over the ‘buy advertising’ button thinking ‘Jesus what if this is a waste of time’. I would like to make Democracy 3:Africa and Shadowhand absolute ‘MUST BUY’ products on their release dates next year.  Lots of work ahead…


4 thoughts on ‘Shut up and take my money’ as a business strategy.

  1. I suppose it works when the fear of being looked down upon by your gamer mates for not having the latest big release is more painful than the pain felt by paying full price for a game you know will be cheaper in 6-12 months.

    Like you say, it’s not just a theory, it actually happens, a lot. For me it happens with Pro Evolution Soccer on the Xbox360. I will happily pay £45 for it, because I’d rather go through that ‘pain’, than the pain of having to admit to my friends a couple of months later that I still don’t have the latest game in the series that I’m supposedly in love with.

    So the takeaway for Indies? Perhaps do so much pre-release marketing and effort that people will feel part of your product and the community surrounding it, and thus would feel guilty and shameful if they had to admit they weren’t purchasing it in week one.

  2. Great post Cliff. Everything makes a lot of sense and I totally share your views here.
    There is a big part of the potential audience that will always say “I would buy this, if it was cheaper”, but maybe they are not a potential audience at all.

    If you think about it, even the Battlefront audience is a niche. It’s only a bigger niche, but still a niche.

    Keep it up!

  3. So, what I’m most interested in hearing from you is your thoughts on the game that was delivered for your $80, and the consideration that the DLC will bring the total price up to $150 I’d guess. (It’s $59 and $49 here)

    Battlefront 3 is a $120 (US) game. They don’t put a $120 honest price tag on it, because you can buy it in “installments” to lesson the blow to your psyche. This has spurred a healthy debate about the game not being as complex or content rich as Battlefield 4, which cost the same. There was apparently an assumption that BF3 would be a Star Wars-ified Battlefield title, which is assuredly isn’t.

    I started out immensely disappointed with the demo weekend we got in October, and resolved to not get it. I think the “It’s Star Wars though… and it’s pretty even if it’s dumb” worked on my willpower, and I started watching people play it on Twitch and looking at the design decisions that went on here. Then I bought it, because I felt that I understood their reasons, and I decided to accept it as a $120 not $60 investment.

    1. If it wasn’t Star Wars, I wouldn’t bite on a $120 game. Nope. So branding is key here.

    2. I’d already played it for a weekend. I was highly aware of what it was and was not. I think that was in their favor in my case, and maybe cost them quite a few sales by people who couldn’t deal with it being a less complex thing than BF4, and freaked out most vocally. That demo weekend was a big gamble.

    3. There are “only 4 maps” because each map is a planet type. Lava, Forest, Ice, Desert. That’s how Star Wars works. So, we could have 3 maps on Hoth, would they be appreciably different? You can tell when playing the walker assault mode it’s actually traversing 4 different sections of the map, which are used as individual maps for other modes. So, 4 maps or 16? Depends on what mode you’re playing.

    They claim another 16 maps are coming in DLC. Is that one big walker assault map counted at 4 maps? If so people are going to get irate again. Also each new assault map needs to be on a different environment or people will say “Oh, another desert map, no variety!” So, I guess they can do urban, swamp, etc. I just don’t see more effort going into map making that 4 more of those monster walker assault maps. If they really mean 4 of those per DLC, well, that’s one hell of a lot of map to play on.

    4. The game isn’t complicated. Why? Because go play Battlefront 2. I’ll wait.

    Right, now you have perspective on what a Battlefront game is… it’s Star Wars skin on a very simple gun and gun game with some vehicles in it. Always has been. Why is that appropriate here? Because I see in every decision point in designing this thing, if they ran into an A/B choice they chose the path of greater accessibility and not frustrating the player. That’s because this game’s audience isn’t hardcore tactical shooter people. It’s everybody who can hold a gamepad and likes Star Wars.

    And it’s very important to not alienate them, either via assumed knowledge of how mechanics of Battlefield 4 works (You just talked about it’s glorious complexity, eh?) or through making a Call of Duty style game where the elite players sit at the top of the scores every round with 60 kills and have been spamming kill streak nukes the whole match, making the average player feel that all they’re doing is die, spawn, die, spawn, and making no difference.

    So, kill streak stuff is VERY toned down. Powerups are just laying around for ANYBODY to pick up, not just the elite players. Nobody can camp the airfield and steal the X-wing every time it spawns, because everybody has a chance to pick up that powerup now. People have complained that the blasters are all the same. Two things here. 1) It’s Star Wars, and almost every gun goes PEW PEW and shoots red bolts. 2) Every gun has the same stats as Battlefield 4 or COD. Rate of fire, range, accuracy, etc. So what people are complaining is that there are no guns that are clearly quite superior to the others. Well, again, I don’t feel like I’m victimized by top tier players who have ubercannons and all I have is a pointy stick.

    Once I got my head around the mindset of what they’re doing and why, I’m prefectly fine with 90% of the gameplay choices. Now what I wonder is about that $60/50 split on the game + DLC. They had to hold back some content because it involves the new movie, which nobody can see yet. EA also smells “the market will bear $120, this is Star Wars lads!” obviously. Is $120 the new normal? Game prices haven’t moved since 2005 on consoles when they jumped to $60 and stayed there for a decade. Meanwhile the economics of development have kept pushing up costs.

    I’m writing a review of the game for techraptor, and it’s going to be rather the opposite of what I’m reading elsewhere I think. We’ll see.

Comments are currently closed.