Online distribution has certainly given smaller developers more freedom in how they develop and launch their games, but 2D Boy co-founder Ron Carmel (World of Goo) believes that some of these digital channels suffer from unfair pricing restrictions, and he's started a new initiative to change all that.
Today, Carmel launched a new promotion called "Because We May," during which developers from all over the industry will lower the prices of their games on the platforms that allow them to set their own prices. The week-long event celebrates platforms like the iTunes App Store, Steam, and Google Play, but Carmel thinks other app stores have a long way to go.
"The idea [for "Because We May"] arose in a moment of frustration during contract negotiations with a distribution channel that makes draconian demands on pricing control," Carmel told Gamasutra. "The purpose of this promotion is to show channels that relinquishing pricing control to developers can be good for them."
Carmel noted that on most console-based channels, platform holders reserve the right to set their own pricing for any given title. Not only does this system deny developers the ability to organize promotions and sales, it can even lead to some real financial consequences down the road.
For example, Carmel noted one particular instance where a developer lost money because they had no control over the price of their game.
"I know of one release where a console owner unilaterally changed the price of a game right before launch, despite the having settled on a different price with the developer ahead of time. The developer vehemently objected to the change, and was overruled. This caused significant financial damage to the developer," Carmel said.
"I won't claim that these channels are doing something wrong, because what's wrong for developers can be right for a distribution channel... But I will say that I think their practices around pricing are sub-optimal at best, and in some cases exploitative and insulting."
Carmel hopes that his Because We May promotion will raise awareness about how developers benefit from controlling the price of their games, and if all goes well, he wants the more restrictive distribution channels to take note.
"In the broadest sense possible, I'd like to see distributions channels treat developers with more respect... If you are in a developer-facing role at a large distribution channel, I'd like to suggest an exercise: read through your own agreement, considering it from a developer's perspective. Would you be comfortable making these demands face to face? Do you expect the developer to push back or sign it as is?"
Over the next week, from May 24 through June 1, Carmel's Because We May promotion will highlight the distribution channels that give developers that sought-after control. There are plenty of great options out there for smaller developers, and Carmel wants to make sure they get their due.
"If you examine the distribution agreements of the most successful and fastest growing distribution channels among small developers (Steam, iOS/Mac App Store, Google Play), you will see they have one thing in common: They are fair and reasonable agreements that don't require any changes or negotiation."
Coincidentally, some platforms have already begun to offer more choice to developers, as just last week Microsoft's Xbox Live Indie Games service altered its terms, allowing developers to change their game prices every seven days, as opposed to every 90. It's not quite the complete freedom Carmel is pushing for, but perhaps it's a start.