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Indie initiative hopes to prove developer-controlled pricing is good for everybody
Indie initiative hopes to prove developer-controlled pricing is good for everybody
May 24, 2012 | By Tom Curtis

May 24, 2012 | By Tom Curtis
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    13 comments
More: Console/PC, Social/Online, Business/Marketing



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.


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Comments


Daniel Campbell
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Remember back in the day when there were TONS of games for really cheap? The quality could would vary wildly...and since these cheap games games sold for so cheap, some quality (but more expensive) games didn't sell well. Remember then? The mid 80's? Wait...that didn't end well did it?...uh oh.

TC Weidner
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it wasnt tons of games for cheap back in the 80s, it was just tons of sub par regular priced games. Reviews and so forth were harder to come buy back in the day, so many people were angered by paying premium prices for junk. So it wasnt cheap prices that caused the collapse back in 80, it was non discounted third party junk software.

Daniel Campbell
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Although I do believe that some gamers are becoming less and less willing to pay full price for a game. Even with reviews and such, most people are more likely to buy a game for $20 rated at 70% than they are to buy a $60 rated at 80%.

John Flush
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I think the problem with that statement is that the industry reviews drive the sales. Marketing hype drives sales. Reviews at that point are unnecessary. Does it even matter what Diablo 3 scores? Mass Effect 3? the next COD? nope. What do reviews provide again? a bonus structure to developers.

Reviews need to die and developers need to be able to price things how they want. Do that and have a good game and you will get a fanbase that grabs hold and sticks with you to the end. Almost Human, for example, has my business and attention for everything they release now. Good use of a $12-15 game.

Daniel Campbell
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I agree. I'm just being a bit of an troll right now. My apologies. I'm just in a bad mood regarding all the 38 Studios thing. It seems like the large game developer is quickly becoming extinct and that terrifies me. I honestly believe we need new hardware to drum up interest in AAA games again. People are quickly becoming bored with this generation.

TC Weidner
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you make some good points, I am curious as to how all these 1 dollar app games are going to effect the overall market and future. As casual gamers become more numerous, and as many delve into the hobby fuller, will they be willing to pay 60+ for a game? Interesting times, games have become cheaper and cheaper in a society where many things have doubled in price over the last few decades, games have done just the opposite.

It will be interesting to see how it all shakes out.

Lennard Feddersen
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I think the days of new hardware coming to the rescue are nearly at an end. When most players can get great games for <$10 and usually free on the iPad & PC then I don't see the numbers for the big hardware, big $ dev. and big $ games that need to carry the aforementioned.

Daniel Campbell
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That's a very solid point I hadn't considered yet. Are the days of dedicated consoles starting to come to a close? I can see the coming generation being successful, but there is definitely validity to your ideas regarding people's willingness to purchase expensive new consoles when they already own devices that support cheap games.

Granted, there will always be the "core" crowd who will buy the consoles, but the "core" segment of the market seems to be shrinking, or perhaps more "focused”. With AAA game prices being so high, they are unwilling to take risks. They KNOW they like Call of Duty, so they'll buy that. They don't KNOW they like the new game from XSeed though, so they are unwilling to fork over the high investment.

Lennard Feddersen
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Oh, forgot to mention, I love the Because We May concept and have price dropped my Financial Guru's Value Pack to support the initiative.

As an indie. I love the fact that Apple & Steam have said that 70% is the new normal when, 5 years ago, all of the game portals were saying dev's get 25-30%.

Lars Doucet
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The price thing is something I've been thinking about a lot. My game, Defender's Quest, is normally $6.99 and we priced it at $2.99 for this sale. A lot of other Indie RPG people price their stuff at $10, $15, or even $20. The two competing arguments seem to be "price low, make it up in volume" vs. "I'm a niche title, I need to price high because I literally CANNOT make 1,000's of sales." I'm not sure what the right answer is and I think everyone should do what works best for them.

For me, I just looked at my own purchasing habits. For pretty much forever, I've spent about $80 a year on games. Back in the day, that meant getting one or two games a year. Nowadays, I buy about 10-15, and I enjoy picking up smaller games, Indie games, and older games on sale.

So basically I picked a price point I would be able to afford myself :P So far it's worked pretty good.

Daniel Fosco
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Yeah, as a newcomer to PC gaming I find myself following this same shopping pattern: between indie bundles, steam sales and 6 months old AAA titles I've bought ~50 games in 18 months for probably less than $100.

Keep following this pricing scheme and I'll keep buying :)

Daniel Campbell
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Thinking about things in a bigger "pie in the sky" mindset, it's all about getting your product out there. If you really believe games are art, if you believe in your product, you should just do your best to get it into the hands of the people.

I've always heard that if you really enjoy making games, make them in your free time and price your stuff cheap. Don't depend on them to make a living. If you go forward with that mindset and pour your heart and soul into the games, you'll be happy whether your making money or not. Your criteria for happiness shouldn't be beyond a barrier, but before you reach it. Shawn Achor says it better than I do.

http://www.ted.com/talks/shawn_achor_the_happy_secret_to_better_w
ork.html

Christopher Enderle
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I've heard the sentiment that publishers/marketers (basically the salesmen) don't think that developers could sell their game out of a wet paper bag and that decisions such as pricing are best left to the professionals. Perhaps they're just trying to justify their existence or is that sentiment really true?

This initiate seems like it would be pretty threatening to the people holding the purse strings and potentially self destructive. I mean, it's a lot easier for 5 publishers to agree to a standard price than it is for 1000 developers to agree on anything.


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