This particular article is aimed at those releasing their first PC or console game as a new indie developer - so it will be more focused at students or recent graduates but also those that have just entered the industry. Some of this may apply to mobile and other forms but as always conduct thorough research and understand the unique properties of your project. Also please note this is assuming no DLC or a free-to-play model, just the traditional once-only get the game payment strategy.
Indie games are at a very unique position right now compared to AAA games, especially when it comes to pricing. While AAA titles need to stick to the classic Recommended Retail Price of $99 AUD (PS4, XB1) we're used to or risk being perceived as inferior if cheaper or overpriced if more, the indie game is able to enter at a large range of price points. In this article we hope to help you decide the optimum price for your upcoming game.
Compare your game to others
Check out where your game will be launched and see how your game compares to others and what they are pricing their game for. Now yes your game is probably unique and has particular differences but just focus on the core experience and reasons the player will wish to play your game. For example Portal is a "first person shooter" mechanically but in terms of what the game is it's more a puzzle game with comedic commentary, as such it probably shares more with the Stanley Parable than Call of Duty. You can also compare other marketing strategies and tactics to see what worked for them and more importantly why they worked.
While your game is being developed you might not only be able to see potential holes in the current market for game types that aren't available, or done well, but also for different price points and how you could make your game fit into these. This could be done by greatly improving and adding features to charge more, or conversely stripping the game down so it's more accessible and cheaper.
It's really surprising how little accurate research goes into indie game production. Actually take some time out to plan to conduct marketing research (not just on pricing) as well as the logistics as to how you will do it. This could be at student showcases, email surveys, or a myriad of other options. Early on you should be able to narrow down who your future potential customers are (not just by demographic type but also by their player type, games they like and other elements to give you an edge). After all an early step to making a good game is knowing who you're making it for!
A practical way to conduct pricing research
A quick check indie devs can do is to show all, or part, of your marketing materials (such as screenshots, descriptions, trailers, gameplay) to potential friends, acquaintances or even strangers (Just be sure they fit your target customer) BEFORE they play your game and simply ask them how much they would pay - try to get an honest answer. Preparing a website or ideally a mock example of where your game will be launched (ie Steam Page) and showing it to people can be a great idea.
QUT Games & IT Student Showcase - a perfect opportunity to conduct research
At a student showcase after showing people your marketing materials you ask them to fill out a survey on a tablet or just ask them while playing. You could simply ask if they're familiar with the genre, other similar games they have played and work out their age etc to quickly work out how they fall into your customer mix (or don't), and then follow up on the research questions you need to ask. Extra points if you get permission to send them follow up emails (to either promote the game when it launches or to ask for extra survey responses). Also ask those that are simply watching the game being played at your event as to how much they would pay for it - as they would be more reflective of a YouTube or Twitch audience.
You can then double check this by asking how much they would pay AFTER playing your game (or substantial demo etc.) and see how they compare. Just remember as with any research to factor in any biases (such as skewed results when asking in person and not anonymous) and the way the research is conducted (such as leading questions and middle choice bias). In general the more research the better, as well as being able to interpret the data and dismiss factors irrelevant to your game.
Too many developers just ask their players after they have played a demo - which is a problem since most likely 99.9% of people finding your game on Steam, PS4 etc. have not played your game and therefore give heavily inaccurate results.
With this method you can also identify particular materials which help customers review your game more favourable (such as particular levels, screenshots, or moments of gameplay) which can then be used in your store page, website, presskit etc.
For example if you are expecting to sell the game for $14.99 (US on Steam), and they say $9.99 before but then $14.99 after playing, then you know that perhaps the materials you're using for customers to evaluate your game could use some work. Alternatively if they say $19.99 before but then $9.99 after then either your game needs additional work / issues to be addressed or to tone back your marketing materials to better reflect the actual game (this depends on your ethics though).
Ideally you want the perceived value to be the same pre- and post-purchase and to match as close as possible with your actual price as this means you have delivered a game that meets your player's expectations as well as not under priced your game.
(Although it is also good if they are willing to value the game higher post-purchase as it gives the overall game a much more favoured response which can help with delivering better reviews and recommendations).
Should I offer a discount at launch?
This really depends. If your game has been covered in like every gaming site and outlet, Youtubers are excited to play it and the hype train is in full motion etc then (assuming you've priced correctly) you should not offer a launch discount. If there is enough hype and those willing to buy your game at launch and to support you then you are simply short changing yourself by offering it cheaper. This will also depend on your particular niche and company / personal goals.
If people are excited to play your game it is justified to ask for a reasonable price.
On the other end of the spectrum if you haven't been focusing on PR, influencers and other ways to attract attention then you should consider offering a discount as this will prompt people to check out your game while it's discounted (so they avoid paying more when it goes back to normal, or avoid fear of missing out on a good deal) and hopefully generate more initial sales - and launch time is critical for your game.
$9.99 (and under) Steam Traps
It might be super tempting to just price your game so it goes into Steam's categories such as '$9.99 and under' however this might not be favourable. This is due to price perception - when things are cheaper we tend to perceive them to be less valuable and therefore we think they are not as good. The inverse is also true. The conventional thinking is that pricing your game under $10 makes the subconscious register the game as cheaper since it has fewer digits ($x.xx versus $xx.xx). Now since so many games are priced using this strategy it has created a sort of classical conditioning where people will instantly dismiss games that fall into this category.
Posted by SteamSpy on Twitter 5th June 2015
As we can see from this (oudated - trying to find a newer one) graph most games (the blue bar) fall into the $8.00 to $9.99 range, yet the average number of sales (orange bar) is quite low. The main reason is that most indie developers automatically price their game into this price category, and well honestly a lot of games at that bracket aren't good... so therefore a lot of people simply dismiss it. Instead try to create a better game that is worth more and ensure your marketing materials and assets reflect that your game deserves to be priced and bought for more. As always look back to your customer to see the price they are willing to pay.
Some recent articles circulating online (such as this one by PC Gamer) suggest indie games are too cheap, however that doesn't address the real problem. The real problem is creators not being able to show that their game is worth paying more. Actually take the time to research the industry and how your customer perceives your marketing materials to ensure you're pricing correctly to have a better chance at your game being successful.
In next week's article I'll discuss how value factors into customer perceptions and into pricing your game...with Mario Kart 8!
Goodluck with the game development!
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Written by Kaydos
Kaydos has been collecting moons in Mario Odyssey.
So many moons!!!
If you want to talk video game marketing hit him up at firstname.lastname@example.org