Things we learned about DLC from our previous games in the Sanctum series, and why we decided to go with completely free updates for Goat Simulator.
Our relationship with DLC at Coffee Stain has been quite rocky. For Sanctum 1, we initially decided to do tons of small DLCs where you could buy a tiny additional piece of content for $1, and we’d let players choose themselves what content they wanted to buy. That didn’t turn out great, after only a few months, we had a clustermess of 10 different DLCs, each priced at $1 each, new players had no idea what to buy, and just adding every single one to your Steam cart was a nightmare. For Sanctum 2, we decided to do a Season Pass with big expansions that added tons of more content. That was better than in Sanctum 1, but still not quite as good as we expected.
For Goat Simulator, we have decided to do completely free updates. These are the reasons why:
This might be seen as the least important reason, but there’s a reason I put it first. You might argue that companies aren’t charities, and that everything that costs has to be recouped, but having a good relationship with players is the best long-term investment you can make. Since we don’t have a huge marketing budget, we have to rely on word of mouth to spread our games, and dedicated fans are far better at spreading awareness about your game than any paid ads. Finally, if you sold so few units that you can’t afford to invest money in free updates, then you probably shouldn’t do DLC either since you won’t have that many potential buyers.
You could still do better financially than if you sell DLCs
This might surprise you, but free updates can in some cases make more financial sense than selling DLCs on Steam. If you’ve released a new DLC, your total target group can never be bigger than the amount of people that own the game already, as new DLC isn’t very interesting for someone who has never played the original game (especially if the main part of the DLC isn’t available until you’ve beat the base game, like in Sanctum 2). If you release a free content update as a patch and alert people towards your new update, you’re targeting both your current user base, and also everyone else that doesn’t own the game to the fact that you’re actively updating your game for free. This is especially true if you’re lucky enough to be featured on the Steam main capsule - if your DLC is featured, your main target is your current user base, but if your free content update is featured on the main capsule, your target group is the entire Steam user base of 70 million users that haven’t bought your game yet. Terraria topped the Steam sales list when it released its huge 1.2 patch for free.
The age of retail is gone
Or more accurately, there never was an age of retail for us indie developers. On Steam, you don’t release the game, make all your revenue, then go working on something else. You normally make the majority of your revenue after release during summer and winter sales, midweek madness, weekend deals, etc, so it would be crazy to stop working on a game merely because it’s released. People might not buy your game full price right after release, but if you keep adding content and supporting the game with free updates they might pick it up on a sale.
It’s less hassle
Releasing a new DLC involves some overhead, and that’s really something we noticed for Sanctum 1 with its gazillion different DLCs. Getting in touch with Valve to get a Steam ID, setting up four different capsule images along with a store text and taking five new screenshots takes valuable time that you could spend on something else, such as making free updates.
I really can’t stress this enough. The last few years there has been a growing distaste for DLCs and countless discussions about how it’s affected industry practices. I’m not going to comment or discuss that because that isn’t the topic of this blogpost, but I’m objectively stating that providing free updates can be the reason why someone on the fence ends up buying your game to support this type of game development. Having a ton of DLCs on the other hand, might prevent people from buying it on mere principle.
Bottom line is you naturally want to do what’s best for your company. Some DLC strategies have been extremely successful, but the value of free content updates are often overlooked, when they might actually be the best way to go both for your company, and for your fans.