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Indie games = Toys in cereal boxes?

Ballistic Frogs' thoughts about indie games pricing, sales and bundles.

Hello gamedevs, players and people who are just hanging around,


Psycho Starship Rampage, our roguelike-like space shooter has been out on Sept. 28, 2015. For the last few weeks we have been hard at work, testing, hunting last bugs. So as to offer the best gaming experience possible.


For us, this release does not mean the end of the project, but a kind of beginning. Of course, we will help the players with any issue they may have and solve potential technical problems, if they arise. Especially, if Psycho Starship Rampage becomes a (relatively) popular game, we will be very happy to add more content to it. And by that, I do not mean selling DLC. I do not mean re-selling the same game with a couple more items packaged as a brand new bullshit “shiny metal ass edition”. No, an update is an update, the players buy our game, they do not have to rebuy it for a brand new plasma cannon that fires purple bullets instead of blue ones. All additional content updates will be free. Period.


The true subject of this post is the price of Psycho Starship Rampage, and the prices of indie games in general.


Our game has been launched at $9.99, and we will not participate in sales and bundles for a long time. We settled on this price after much thinking and care. We think it's a fair price. There is quite some talk about the price of games these days and at Ballistic Frogs we have strong opinions about that subject. Psycho Starship Rampage represents at least 20 hours of fun for $9.99 (and much, much more if you want to master every weapons/equipments we have created). It is the price for two pints of good beer in France. Two beers will not last you longer than one or two hours. $9.99 is not expensive relatively to all the work and love and sweat we put in this game. We are a team of four people, some of whom work full-time, and the game took over a year to develop. Quality work takes time, and thus money. $9.99 is not a lot of money, but when the market keeps lowering game prices, it is actually undercutting quality creative work, giving developers less space to maneuver and take risks, and we, as a community, as gamers, are hurting the life-force of what we love - video games.


Let us be very clear: we are not against sales and bundles. We might participate in them some day. Alkemi's point of view may seem a little extreme, but I understand it. More, I applaud it, because their business model allows it.


However, if one day Psycho Starship Rampage is sold on sale or in bundles, it is going to be quite some time from now. When? Well… Not too soon. That means when the game has had some shelf life and loyal buyers, who paid the full price, have been able to enjoy it. Honestly, I am shocked to see how quickly developers can reduce the value of their work. Sometimes it is only a month after release. How does it look for players who bought your game at full cost when it was released? What happens is this: when too many developers do that, it becomes reasonable to think that a 50 % sale is a good price for a new game. That’s perfectly understandable…


But NO! It is not a good price. Yes, you might gather more players more quickly (and yet I am not entirely sure), but it feeds a vicious circle which reduces again and again the value of games. That creates a more difficult market for the next games. When sales come too soon, players will always wait for sales. We are shooting ourselves in the foot. According to Steam Spy, the median sales of a game on its release is 4000 copies. Of course! Why buy a game at full price if you can have it at half price (or less) in three months? So many players have their Steam account full of non-played games now, they can easily find another one and wait for three more months. And early buyers can feel utterly betrayed and disgusted by such a policy.


In short: it is short-sighted and hurts the whole market, starting with developers, and thus players on the long run. So, we will not participate in this. Maybe we will lose buyers whom - I can understand them - want a rebate. So be it.


Moreover, it is known that Steam key resellers wait for bundles and big reductions to buy games... and sell them later for a profit. There is no way I will offer these people a way to make money on OUR work. Yes, like everybody, I bought games on bundles and during sales. And I will do it again when I will have time to play. But only on games that have been released at least a year ago. Bundles and sales then give these games a second life - and that’s what their role should be. But how many times have I seen on Steam a game that was released three months ago with its price already cut 50%?


Yes, I know there are too many games released nowadays. I know it is hard to make a living if you do not run sales/bundles. The game will not be profitable on the short term. BREAKING NEWS: those games which go on sale too fast do not either. Every day there are at least one hundred games going on sale on Steam. (And, strangely enough, some games would seem to increase their price just before going on sale, so as to take advantage of that big “50% off” tag....) Hoping for the sheer number of buyers to compensate for the low price is a very risky strategy, and even worse, it wears out every time someone uses it.


Please do not mix small indies like us with the triple III. They have started a long time ago, got experienced and made contacts in the game business, and they now have a strong fanbase that helps them a lot to spread news and information about their releases. When they go on sale for the first time, they know the low price will be compensated by the number of buyers.


So what is the solution?


We will be maintaining and selling our game on the long run. The very long run. In the meantime, the harsh reality is: we cannot rely on our game sales (which will be too random). So we have to find ways to make a living. There are multiple ways: have day jobs, take regular development contracts for regular industries. And maybe one day, if we keep making good games, we will make a living with them. But, as in all crafts, we will also be spending less time honing our skills, and all that because games cannot be sold at the price developers ask for, which mean less room for creativity and thus more sparse games, less risk, and so on - all the faults the playerbase has been pointing out at the AAA games for 10 to 15 years now.


My point is this: games do not die one week after release. It is, on the contrary, when they come to life, it is just when the work of selling them starts. Of course, being featured on the main page of the Steam Store is an incredible boost in notoriety (and sales). But that is when developers should keep working on promoting their work, contacting the press which does not cover games before or during release, youtubers that do not know of your existence. If the game is good, it will be shown; you have to keep at it. Yes it takes time, yes it is hard, but every commendable job takes time. Ask a professional musician, photographer, or writer.


To wrap up: for all these reasons, Psycho Starship Rampage will not go on sale during the first six months after release. Likely for a longer time. And even afterwards, do not expect a 50% sale. And after multiple sales, maybe some day, a bundle.


This is our game. We worked hard to make it. This was an ambitious project for a team who has a day job during development. We had, like all other game developers, lots of issues to solve. We invested time and money in it. We poured our hearts in it in the hope the players have as much fun as possible and took care to make the price accessible to everyone. I do not want it to be seen as a cheap bonus toy in a cereal box.

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