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

When your indie game is $1, you are competing in the wrong way.

Take a look at this:


Thats a gold bar currently selling for £330,000. Thats roughly $475,000. Thats also roughly the price of an average house in Bath, UK.

Apple recently posted their profits. They made 18 billion dollars in a quarter and have $142 billion in cash reserves. 18 billion dollars in 3 months is $200,000,000 a DAY. Thats 421 gold bars, or roughly 17 an hour. A gold bar or average house every 3 and a half minutes. Like they are on a conveyor belt. Someone, somewhere is feeding the conveyor belt. And if you are entering the unwinnable war of trying to get in the app store charts its probably you.

How many app store games haven’t even sold enough copies to justify apple making a payout? How many have made less than the unjustified yearly fee apple charge just to even play the game? The app store is a casino where they charge you just to walk in the door.

There are HUGE profits to be made with a hit game on the app store, especially in the F2P business. We never bore of hearing stories about the fabulous riches to be won. The problem is, with all the apps chasing the same users (basically ‘everyman’), your chances of getting a decent return with your sub-one-million marketing budget are zero. Why are you still playing?

Democracy 3 is on the app store and does nicely. I make a few thousand pounds here and there, and thats great. I price it at $5 and there are 3 optional DLC purchases. The thing is, the whole dev cost was paid for by the PC build anyway, so the sales only have to cover porting and marketing.

Forget the app store. Lets look at PC.

I said about a year ago that we were going to hit some indie meltdown when everyone realized they can’t be notch. Its happening right now, but indies don’t admit it, because most people don’t like to admit failure, so lets look for third party evidence. How many bundles have you seen selling 10 games for $1? I’ve seen loads. TEN games. Those games are getting ‘their cut’ of $0.10. Lets be honest, thats insane. There is no point in putting a decent game in such a bundle, its silly.


If you really think shovelware works as a strategy, ask yourself who the shovelware billionaires are. Anyone? Whereas Activision Blizzard seem to do VERY nicely with their policy of extreme polish and high quality. I don’t see any blizzard games selling for a dollar.

The shovelware billionaires are not the people making the products, they are the stores. Like The Dollar Store or PoundLand. Selling stuff other people have inexplicably made for a dollar is very profitable, just ensure you are the store, not the producer.

Niche games command higher prices. That is a fact. So why is everyone trying to sell the same product, and then getting knocked down to $0.10 a copy? because….¬† It is SO MUCH EASIER to make a bad game now. You don’t have to learn C++ or DirectX or how to code a web store, and you get an asset store, and simple exposure through steam, so everyone’s first game looks AMAZING and they assume it will make money. So they sell it, and it makes fuck-all, so they discount it. And again, and again…and again. Note: Some of these people are kids, with zero living expenses. Some live in the developing world, with VERY low costs of living. You CANNOT compete.

The real problem only comes when actual talented  and experienced game designers who made something cool, interesting, original and special see all those cheap games and think they have to compete on price.

You don’t. Those games are nothing like yours. Ignore that price war, don’t commodify your game. Right now the steam sale is on, and this game of mine:


Is sat there selling very nicely without even being in this sale. I bet there are lots of 95% off games in that sale earning a LOT less per day even today.

TL;DR: If you sell your game to a generic audience at commodity prices you are making someone rich. Its just not you.

4 thoughts on When your indie game is $1, you are competing in the wrong way.

  1. I have seen no bundle selling 10 games for $1 that I can recall. There are a lot at $3, for $1 you usually get 3 titles (tier 1), and you have to pay more to get all of the games that are being advertised (tier 2 and sometimes tier 3 and 4).

    Going by the economic theory that people have a fixed amount they’ll spend on games, depending on the prices of the games they’ll either spread it around or buy only a few games. The market volume stays the same, and earning isn’t determined so much by price as by quality: make a top quality cheap game, and everyone gets it; make a top-quality expensive game, and fewer people get it; if you want to earn more to get your AAA investment back, of course you have to price it higher, but that’s not going to apply to most indies. That’s economics 101.

    Secondly. most games follow a “cinema” model of demand, i.e. sales are strongest in the opening week and then fall off. This has been true even back when game sales were exclusively brick & mortar, and there were only very few games that bucked this trend (Myst comes to mind). So good game marketing, assuming you have a proper release, means selling at a high price initially and then cash in on expanding target audiences by selling more cheaply in subsequent sales and bundles. (In a brick & mortar world, these games eventually end up in the bargain bin.) This means for many games, selling the game cheaply once its sales curve is past the peak makes economic sense.

    However, more and more games these days don’t have that kind of release; everything “early access” is trying to work up a followership with a nearly nonexistent marketing budget (the curse of having no expenses to spend), and a sale or bundle serves to get “word of mouth” jumpstarted. This is especially important for multiplayer games that rely on a minimum amount of players to be online at the same time to get games going: if 200 people buy the game over the course of a month, chances are they’re going to find an empty server when they check it out, but focusing sales on a bundle release or flash sale means these 200 people come online on the same day, see each other, start playing and stay online for others to find them.

    Semi-finally, I think the people who profit the most from smaller prices are the payment processors, whose percentage rises significantly with smaller transactions. Bundling makes a lot of sense because it keeps their hands off the pie that is the gamer budget.

    Finally, look whose 2015 release “Big Pharma” sells for $1.39 (based on choosing $15 and the default money distribution):

    1. Cliffski didn’t create Big Pharma, he just published it. Which likely brings a whole different dynamic than if you made the game yourself.

      1. I assumed that as publisher, he controls the price, or at the very least can tell the developers in person what he’s blogging here. And whether you’re self-publishing or publishing others, the maths should be the same, right?

  2. You CANNOT compete.
    As someone who has actually considered shovelware as a strategy, I assure you that’s not true. I do have more living expenses than a college kid or a vietnamese developer living in a street. However, I also have a lot more skill (and marginally better tools). What takes a college kid a year or more to make, I can do in a month or two. And the math does work out in my favor in this case… Though barely. There are no millions to be made here, but a decent income is within reach, provided you can live with the fact you’re making literal crap.
    I did not actully try that, though, as a better opportunity presented itself (-8

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