Distribution How Much Should an indie Game Cost?

Zizka

Member
Hello everyone,
I touched on this in a status update but I feel like it’s an important aspect of game distribution and something which people who intend to sell their games will have to deal with eventually.

People have different opinions about the topic, using all sorts of arguments to justify the cost of a game:
* Production Cost
* Quality
* Length
Etc...

I was researching this and on steam found a thread about the cost of Little Nightmare 2 which made people react quite a bit considering it’s a short game:

It eventually delves into racist diatribe but from what I’ve read people believe that it’s too expensive content wise. Note that it’s not a poll or anything like that, just my impression reading through the replies.

This dates back to 2018:
According to his SteamSpy data, the median ("middle", not average) price of a game on Steam is $5.99; for comparison, the median price of an indie game on the platform is $3.99, and the median price of an indie game released on Steam in 2017 is $2.99.Apr. 4, 2018
Source: https://www.gamasutra.com/view/news...he_topearning_Steam_game_prices_last_year.php
 

mikix

Member
People that are game collectors or just in general love games and if it fits their genre taste they will pay for it. Trust me, some people are impulsive buyers. If you have a good game trailer that looks like the game is worth it, then the impulse starts kicking in.
 

Zizka

Member
In this case, you wouldn’t be enticed by shorter games or would you be interested in a two hour long game provided you paid 2$ for it?
 

ChrisC

Member
@Zizka Id be fine with a 2 hour game that was at the 1.99 price point. if it was a theme i really like and or art was very good I would be still be interested at a 2.99 price point. 4.99 would be out of the question, but l'd still wish list and buy once i saw for $2.99 or less, most likly 2.49 at 50% off.

Price is such a subjective thing, so again this is only 1 opinion of millions of potential looking to buy.
 

kburkhart84

Firehammer Games
I've seen the time to beat metric used before. It is surprisingly not a bad way to go. That said, in some cases it loses accuracy due to replayability, created by procedural generation, multiplayer where it exists, and moddability. In some cases you can easily double or triple the hours and then get a more accurate price. Anything that has multiplayer(especially online), and things that can be modded tend to be worth more especially. Procedural generation doesn't add as much value IMO since it also gets repetitive in many cases.
 

pixeltroid

Member
$30 for a 4 dollar game....so that's $7.5 per hour. Which I think is okay.

$1 per hour of gameplay is way too less.

I'm not so sure a game should be priced depending on the length of the game. It's one way to gauge how much a game should cost, but it's not the only way.

What if a game takes 20 hours to beat, but it looks terrible and is dull and repetitive. Would you pay $20 for it? I wouldn't.

What if a game takes only 2 hours to beat, but it looks great, is well designed and fun to play. Would you pay $10 for it? I would.
 

Zizka

Member
I agree that a dollar is a bit low for me but everyone is entitled to their expectations. 1$/hour is something I've seen over and over again and it's often referred to.
 

pixeltroid

Member
IMHO $1/hour might make sense for certain games, like an epic story driven adventure... but not for, say, a fighting game like Mortal Kombat that can be beaten in under 30 minutes.
 

Khao

Member
Tying value to individual hours is nonsensical to me. A incredibly polished 5 hour experience with a ton of variety, and unique custom content thrown every minute that constantly introduces new mechanics and ideas, is far more valuable than a 30+ hour game with grindy, repetitive, copy-pasted content that wastes the player time. I honestly and genuinely hate this idea of "dollars per hour" as a measure of quality. Short games can be ****ing fantastic and are not even necessarily easier or cheaper to develop. So why should they be automatically cheaper to purchase?
 

Zizka

Member
There's also a stigma attached to a cheap game I find. I usually disregard anything under 10$ thinking the quality isn't probably there. (not saying I'm right in doing so, just a reflex I have).
 

kburkhart84

Firehammer Games
You guys are all right of course. I guess when I say that $1 per hour isn't a bad way to go, I mean as far as as baseline(or starting position). I don't know what else is a good metric to start with unless you try something like man-hours or budget, but those are just as far varied as playtime. In reality there isn't any perfect metric that solves the issue, there are too many other variables in play.
 

ChrisC

Member
Tying value to individual hours is nonsensical to me. A incredibly polished 5 hour experience with a ton of variety, and unique custom content thrown every minute that constantly introduces new mechanics and ideas, is far more valuable than a 30+ hour game with grindy, repetitive, copy-pasted content that wastes the player time. I honestly and genuinely hate this idea of "dollars per hour" as a measure of quality. Short games can be ****ing fantastic and are not even necessarily easier or cheaper to develop. So why should they be automatically cheaper to purchase?
I completely agree. I guess I mean more like hours of enjoyment. A game that takes 30 hours that is only fun for 2 of them wouldn't be worth $30.
 
My opinion an indie game should cost around a $1 per hour of game play. This is my own metric and obviously has some leeway.
At this rate, Civilization, Diablo, XCOM and Goldeneye would have costed me more than a car, between them 😂
Thank god they were not "indies", tho one could argue Civ is almost a 1-man thing.
 

HalRiyami

Member
Here's a good GDC talk about selling on Steam (I think it's the source of your article) and one of the key points is to not underprice your game (at 13:00). It seems that buyers prefer higher priced games ($15) over something priced lower because they associate price with quality (I know I do).

Think of it like this: If you, the developer, value your game at $5, why should any potential buyer value it higher than $5? You're essentially telling me you put $5 worth of effort into your game, and that's just not appealing.
I reckon a game with a base price of $10 that is going for $5 (50% off) sells much better than a game with a base price of $5 because people expect to get much more out of the $10 game than the $5 game. Personally, I think $15 is a good price point for any proper indie game. You can go higher but don't go lower since you can always discount your game if sales aren't up to your expectations.
 

Zizka

Member
Very insightful and sound reasoning to go by.

It seems that buyers prefer higher priced games ($15) over something priced lower because they associate price with quality (I know I do).

Yes, me too. That’s what I said about paying under than 10$ for a game. If I sold under 20, I’d feel in undervaluing my work.
 

Yal

🐧 *penguin noises*
GMC Elder
Here's a good GDC talk about selling on Steam (I think it's the source of your article) and one of the key points is to not underprice your game (at 13:00). It seems that buyers prefer higher priced games ($15) over something priced lower because they associate price with quality (I know I do).

Think of it like this: If you, the developer, value your game at $5, why should any potential buyer value it higher than $5? You're essentially telling me you put $5 worth of effort into your game, and that's just not appealing.
I reckon a game with a base price of $10 that is going for $5 (50% off) sells much better than a game with a base price of $5 because people expect to get much more out of the $10 game than the $5 game. Personally, I think $15 is a good price point for any proper indie game. You can go higher but don't go lower since you can always discount your game if sales aren't up to your expectations.
Seconded. There's some evidence that suggest that people basically will not care about price (within reasonable limits) so you won't actually get a larger audience by releasing your work for cheaper, you'll just earn less money per sale... and also drag the willingness to pay for other people's work down, because it now looks disproportionally expensive compared to the averages. So you basically harm yourself and everyone else in the field by underpricing things, with no benefit.


Re: Little Nightmares 2* in particular, it's basically all story and no mechanics, so it has basically no replay value once you've seen it all. Most players these days don't replay (or heck, even finish) games, but it still makes it seem less valuable. And the way basically everything in the game is handcrafted setpieces that don't reuse content at all - basically the absolute opposite of "emergent gameplay" - just makes it seem like a wasteful, unsustainable production in a business sense. The steep price point (for a short indie narrative experience) probably is absolutely necessary to make the game break even because of this.


*I'm judging the game using only the first game - which I've watched in full - as a reference point, I've not experienced LNM2 but I have no reason to expect it to depart from the first game from what I've seen
 

Zizka

Member
So you basically harm yourself and everyone else in the field by underpricing things, with no benefit.
I agree. Once an outstanding game sells for 5$,everyone and their mom says: “I bought x for 5$, why should I buy y for 10$?” It’s unhealthy and creates a ghetto mentality for indie games.


And the way basically everything in the game is handcrafted setpieces that don't reuse content at all - basically the absolute opposite of "emergent gameplay" - just makes it seem like a wasteful, unsustainable production in a business sense.
I think it goes with the genre. I believe Out if this World was also like this and criticised for its length.
 

pixeltroid

Member
I just looked up Little Nightmare 2 and based on the screenshots alone, I don't think it's something I'd pay 30 bucks for.

Like Yal said, it looks extremely story based. In fact, it looks more like an animated movie more than a game. I can't even tell what the games main mechanics are because I can't see any enemies or combat, just detailed sets and some interesting scenes. But what is it about the gameplay that makes it worth $30?

Maybe the gameplay is actually amazing, but I don't see it in the screenshots. :-/
 

muki

Member
Hard to say.

Inside was over $20 ($25 cdn) at release and is a roughly 3 hour game. I remember being a little hesitant to pay that much for 3 hours, but after I played it, was glad I did, and would have easily paid $30 had I known how good it was.

How dense you can make the gameplay for the pricetag is not the only value, in my view.
 

Zizka

Member
It depends how you define a 'game'. Walking simulators are considered games, like Gone Home while having no discernible game mechanics. They're interactive stories I guess which ended up being assimilated as games. I'm not saying it's a bad thing, the concept of "games" is just a lot broader than it used to be.
 

Yal

🐧 *penguin noises*
GMC Elder
I'd say - with 100% conviction - that game storytelling can be objectively good or bad, and this deserves to influence the perceived value even if the game has no gameplay ambitions. There's games where the storytelling directly conflicts with the game mechanics so you either suffer through the story to get to the gameplay bits (e.g. any modern Final Fantasy game just bombards you with unskippable cutscenes any time you do anything, Dishonored punishes you with a "bad ending" plot if you play the game in the most fun way, Dear Eshter just being a book but requiring your input to progress it)...

...and then there's games where the gameplay mechanics are used to tell the story in a way traditional media can't (Undertale having dying characters make slow weak attacks that are trivial to avoid so your adrenaline peters out and you don't even feel any joy in defeating them; What Remains of Edith Finch codifying the monotony that drove a character to suicide and contrasting it to a much more engaging fantasy world, and forcing you to play both side by side so you can feel their inner struggle; Gothic having quests from your inquisitor higher-ups be deliberately about stopping the truth from being known, so intentionally failing them and going rogue is the only way to figure out what's actually happening, causing you to live the protagonist's inner battle between duty and curiosity in your mind).

Having no gameplay mechanics means you lose out on the most powerful way to deliver your story in game form. At that point, you might as well just make a movie so you get complete control over the delivery, instead of having those pesky audience members meddle with your A R T. Though... "If the weakest link of your plan is human error, you begin to see humanity as a problem."
 
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