I don't know a lot, but I do know this shit about game fans: they like playing games, they are down to spend some damn bucks on said games and lots of 'em dont' have time to play 'em all.
I don't know a lot, but I do know this shit about game devs: they like making games, they like people playing their games and they need money - to buy like food and butt paper and stuff.
Another thing I know is that more and more dudes and chicks are making more and more games and getting like super good at it so more and more of my time (and probably yours) is occupied with of stupid shit like going to work and as a result my backlog keeps getting bigger.
And those goddamn game devs keep saying wild ass stuff like, "No, like thanks for the support and all of that but like I need MORE food and butt paper. Also shoes are nice."
Well then what the fuck are we supposed to do ya'll?
Unfortunately, I'm beginning to think that there really is a hard limit on the number of guys and gals that are willing to roll the dice on mortgaging their house because "Goddamn it, I like Ghosts and Goblins and i'll be damned if those sons of bitches over at Capcom are gonna keep fucking dropping the ball on making another version of what my hazy memory believes that game to have been... Muh, muh, muh childhood." And then Battle Princess Madelyn comes out and no one buys it because it's not Ghosts and Goblins. (I don't know or care if that was the acutal situation - sub in Super Metroid/Symphony of the Night for G'n'G and 50% of the eshop for Battle Princess Madelyn if you're salty and you'll catch my drift (I also rather enjoyed Battle Princess Madelyn but I refuse to work any harder for that 'joke')).
So in this picture Madelyn is game developers, the ghost dog is hope and gamers are the giant crab... or something.
Now I don't spend inordinate amounts of money on games, but I spend plenty and being as a lot of that is on indie games, I reckon that if I kept up my current daily play time and spending habits I'm going to be in hospice with the nurses noting my finals words as, 'Noooooo, not yet! I'm not ready! I need more time to finish WARGROOOOOOOOOOOVE!"
If you don't have a huge backlog, the rest of this thing is gonna be me explaining how I think that we could make the games you buy cheaper, maybe help make some game devs a bit more cash and help you smash on your backlog. But oh right, this doesn't apply to you so keep a stepping Mr. Badass I'm So Cool I Can Excise Self Control - your index portfolio... probably doesn't need attention because it's well maintained. Go buy some khaki slacks.
Alright, now that Mr. Business Lunch is gone we can discuss my ideas(mostly because he'll probably tell me that I don't know shit about economics and I don't like looking stupid).
My basic suggestion is - god, please hang with me slightly older folks so you can hear me out- to emulate the record industry. Clarifying statement: some aspects of some examples of the functions of modern indie music labels.
Before I break this down keep in mind that moving forward, I'm going to focus my points on the way the Switch eShop market functions, I know the situation is a litte different with every online store, but it seems like the Switch is the console that indie devs largely focus on. Well that and the PC, but the PC market place is just one with which I am simply less familar. I believe that my points are largely applicable anyway, but just want to be upfront with this.
Now we know that there are a few factors at play that seem to impact how games sell on the eShop, outside of just straight interest:
1. There is a visibility problem. -- Once a game gets deep enough in release list it essentially disappears except when it goes on sale. However, that has gotten to the point that even putting a game on sale only winnows down the competetion to a scant 300 - 500 games. To add a little perspective to that figure, the NES had 715 licensed games. As of this writing, applying the qualifiers of being on sale while also being a Switch game puts you in the company of 378 games. As a developer if you are willing to cut into your profits you get the benefit of being in the rarified air of MORE THAN HALF OF THE FUCKING NES'S ENTIRE FUCKING LIBRARY!
About how many games are on sale right now.
2. There is a perception issue regarding value for indie games. -- It's been pretty firmly established that indie games should not be priced much beyond approximately $24.99. Oh sure, sure you can give it a fucking whirl at $34.99 if you want, but have fun explaining that move and the resultant sales to your wife Karen who is already pissed as shit that you threw a second or god forbid third "for funzies" mortgage on the house to fund Scott's 2d Off-Road Rad Times Romp: A Homage to Ivan "Ironman" Stewart's Super Off-Road EX. Most would probably agree that the sweet spot is right around $14.99 or $19.99 because it's still in that impulse/drunk-yet-relatively-guilt-free-purchase zone. It's also high enough to push you away from the $9.99 and below price point that usually indicates it's probably definitely shovelware bullshit. Don't believe me? Ask the Mechstermination dev how that $12.99 price point worked out for him.
3. The content problem is a problem. -- Most gamers seem to have a sort of porn style "I KNOW IT WHEN I SEE IT" mental ideation regarding the amount of content they should be getting for a specific price point. Take Katana Zero as an example. It reviewed great, but man, once people found out that game was like 4 hours long, holy shit you'd have thought the devs shot everyone's collective dog and asked everyone to pay them back for the bullets. If you pick the wrong price point for the content on offer, a huge portion of the audience is going just going to wait for a sale. Creating a balancing act between the price, your content and your budget. So assuming that you've picked wrong, the functional release date for a huge portion of the potential audience for your game is whatever random day that sale drops (and that assumes you've slashed your price enough to actually rope those people). Now of course that is the consumers right, but as a dev, you didn't just not make the money that constitutes the price reduction, but for smaller titles in particular, you lose out on any of the buzz your game may or may not have generated. Even worse, you've rescheduled the discussion and resultant free marketing of you game even further back on the calendar and to when the game is priced cheaper than you would like. You've sacrificed word of mouth for a $5er from some of your most dedicated fans. That'll be good when you put it on sale in a month to increase visibility and those same customers feel like they got burned for supporting you.
4. As the average age of gamers continues to climb, the audience as a whole is and will continue to gradually shift from a scarcity of dollars to a scarcity of time. -- I know I've personally passed on games I was genuinely interested in and had the money to buy 'em simply because I knew that since it wasn't going to get played that day, it was only going to the backlog gulag to never be heard from again. Probably. Bet you have too.
Basically what I am envisioning is a situation wherein indie developers take a big fucking risk and completely upend the business model as it functions now.
How do I suggest they do this?
If devs were to focus on making much smaller projects that they can initially price even lower and then banding together with other developers to release the gaming equivalent of compilation albums to create a value proposition to reach new players instead of simply slashing prices in a neverending race to the bottom.
First, lets take a look at visibility. Have you ever heard of a little band named the Wu-Tang Clan?
Well if you are not in the know on the Wu, let me explain it to you briefly and probably incorrectly (now you "Actually, blah blah blah fact checkers can't say shit. Well... you can, but you'll look like an idiot).
Essentially the RZA was a dude who knew a bunch of dudes that were good at making raps. he too was good at making raps and also beats. But instead of saying to himself, "The RZA needs to get his and fuck you guys," he gathered up all of those dudes that he knew that were good at rapping, formed the Wu-Tang Clan and use their talents to make the most slamming tracks he could. Then, bening the mastermind that hs is, the RZA slowly rolled out the various band members solo projects and in doing so turned every single, record, appearance, t-shirt, whatever for each of the 9 members into a de-facto advertisement for the main band's albums and in turn the main band's work fed into the solo projects popularity.
Did it work? Well, who do you know that is a fan of just one member of the Wu-Tang Clan?
It worked so well people bought dumb fucking pants like these.
So that is the old Wu-Tang switcheroo. The reverse is what indie devs need to look into doing.
Wherein individual devs, instead of trying to gain visibility by slashing prices, package their games with other developers of a like mind and create compilations of games and sell them together. The unit price might be less for sales that way, but it can't possibly be less than the return on slashing the price of your game by like 98% or whatever shit devs are doing now. Not to mention the popularity of one developer would help pull up the profile of others and vice versa. It increases your visibility in the eShop by at least the number of games that you are smashing together (assuming 100% public profile parity, in reality it would be even more).
Is that basically the concept behind Humble Bundle and UFO50? Yupppppppp. So I guess that would show some interest on both the consumer and developer side now wouldn't it? Maybe.
Oh yeah and I forgot to mention the fact that this function is already built into the eShop. Publishers already offer discounts if you already own some of their other games. Create a publisher that is essentially a collective of developers and you're basically done.
Now the bundling concept doesn't really work so great when you are talking about doing something like putting together 3 games for $14.99 individually and selling it for like, I don't know, $39.99. But what if we talk about the same concept as before, only all of those game originally cost like $4.99 and you are bundling 10 games for $39.99. Each individual developer is only effectually cutting a small amount of money out of the equation, but could be looking at a lot of the same benefits regarding visibility that a steep price reduction may garner. This strategy would also remove a lot of the questions regarding the quality of the product provided if it's bundles with a bunch of games that the palyer already knows are solid games from solid developers.
Doing so also creates a more collaborative development scene as the success of one game does not preclude the sucess of another, rather the rising tide lifts all boats. Additionally this would provide more established developers the opportunity to put another newer or under appreciated developer over the top like in professional wrestling or when a band/comedian/whatever brings a lesser known band/comedian/whatever as an opener. And as a gamer, I'm always down to check out a recommendation from someone who's work I respect.
"Did that motherfucker just blast past the part where he suggested developers may want to consider slashing their price by 2/3rds and thought I wouldn't notice?" "No, but I wanted to stroke your ego a little bit by making you feel smart."
But seriously, do it devs.
Specifically dumb shit like this.
I don't want to purport to know more about budgeting for the creation of video games, but that hasn't seemed to stop a lot of people that work at actual companies and get paid to do so do so that's what I'm going to do, so here we go!
I'm just thinking of it this way, take your $14.99 game and cut your content in half -- at least-- and why shouldn't you? It's a $4.99 experience, people don't expect 100 hours for that. Bam, you've now emliminated half your budget.
Now, I'm gonna take a wild guess and bet that for a lot of devs they are looking at most of their sales coming at either full price or when it's been reduced to basically nothing. For sake of arguement, we'll assume those sales from the early adoptors and real penny pinchers largely cancel each out and your sweet spot for making the most money from the most sales possible is going to be around the 50% discount mark anyway. So the bulk of your sales are essentially at a $7.49 price point. Or you could sell half the game for $4.99.
Let's also consider what the effect of being for sure, for sure an impulse buy would be on your sales? How about the effect on review scores because you've striped out all of the filler? What about just the pure number of reviews you'll get? It's gonna be a lot easier to talk a site into reviewing a 3 hour game that isn't going to get a ton of clicks versus the same game that is 25 hours long, and as a site EIC, which one do you think is gong to be a better use of my writer's time? How many more customers are going to see those reviews and think, 'what the hell?' when they see that price point? Have you now increased the number of people talking about your game at the time of launch when you can see it for full price, with half the content for 2/3rds the price you were going to get on average anyway?
Not to mention that smaller games with less content made for a lower price point can explore ideas that simply can't be done right now because the idea maybe cannot shoulder a lengthy "full" game experience but could be intriguing for a few hours and you can do so because the expectations for what you are getting for your dollar have been realigned. Can you imagine the sales numbers for Untitled Goose Game if that motherfucker had busted out the gate with sligthly less content and a much lower price point?
Refocusing development from an emphasis on value would engender a situation wherein you can actually play more damn games because they aren't going to be packed to the gills with filler content to justify a price point that they had to hit to indicate a certain level of quality.
That backlog that most of us seem to develop is in part because there is simply not enough time in the day. Straight up, if your game is longer than 20 hours to get though the main story/campaign/mode/whathaveyou I'm not playing it. Well I might, but it probably won't happen. The games that can reasonably be completed in a few sittings or less usually get played. My Switch is home to a lot of shmups I love and a lot of RPG's and Metroidvanias that I've heard are really good. The lower price point and lower play time really lets gamers spread their interest and money around and actually play through a lot more games.
Which is kinda the point right? To have people play the game you made?
That's enough words about something that will never happen.