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Customers are worthless - Puppy Games

Customers are worthless - Puppy Games

Mon 18 Aug 2014 4:11pm GMT / 12:11pm EDT / 9:11am PDT
BusinessDevelopment

Dev says de-valuation of games has led to de-valuation of users, product support not worth doing for indies

"You are worthless to us."

That's a line from the latest blog post of Puppy Games co-founder Caspian Prince, titled "Because You're Worthless: The Dark Side of Indie PR." It's a sentiment directed at customers, and one Prince paints as the outcome of a handful of industry trends in the past decade or so.

When Puppy Games was founded in 2002, games from small developers could sell for around $20, Prince said, and there was money to be made there. There was a downside in that many customers required technical support from the developers to get games running on their particular computer, but that was offset by the game's initial asking price. (Prince joked that the studio charged $1 for the game and $19 for support.)

However, there was a series of "cataclysmically disruptive" events with the rise of Steam, Big Fish Games, and the Humble Indie Bundle. Prince puts the approximate value of an indie game in the market today much closer to $1. Puppy Games titles like Revenge of the Titans or Ultratron may carry a $10 price tag on Steam, but Prince said "nobody" buys them unless they're heavily discounted.

"Where once you were worth $20, and then you might have become a fan and bought another 4 games off of us for $20, you were worth $100," Prince said. "We only had to fix your computer for you once, as well, so the next four games amortised the cost of the initial support... Now you're worth $1 to us. If you buy every one of our games, you're worth $5. After Valve and the tax man and the bank take their cuts, you're not even worth half a cup of coffee."

Prince offered a bit more nuanced take on the value of customers a bit later on, and underscored one course of action for other indie developers to take in light of these trends.

"Customers all think they're worth everything in the entire world to us," Prince said. "The funny thing is, you are. Without customers, we're dead in the water, homeless and living in a cardboard box outside Berko sewage plant. But individually, you're like ants. And all of developers secretly know it and don't talk about it. You're not worth supporting. It's far, far better to completely, totally ignore support, if you want to make a living."

As for concerns about fallout from the blog, Prince doesn't seem to have any. Elsewhere in the post, he talked about the expected reaction to his sentiments.

"The more we argue, the more we bait the trolls, the more we seem to get into a death spiral of internet hate... the better it is for us," Prince said. "There is no such thing as bad publicity. Phil Fish may have turned in to a gibbering bearded recluse but now he's a famous gibbering bearded recluse. Phil Fish only has to tweet a fart and it'll be all over the internet. Given that discovery is the #1 problem for an indie developer (and always has been), you can see that the more infamous and terrible we are ... the more money we make."

48 Comments

Christopher Bowen Editor in Chief, Gaming Bus

457 734 1.6
Popular Comment
OK, so this guy's a dick. Next!

Seriously, if it's getting to the point where people have to be openly hostile to their customers to get attention and make sales, things are truly jacked up.

Posted:2 months ago

#1

Brian Lewis Operations Manager, Aeria Games Europe

134 84 0.6
This is a sad reality in todays gaming market. The premium game market has some allowances for customer support. Todays more cuthroat market does not have such allowances.

The best approach is to always make your product as bug free and stable as possible. However, when things do not go as planned, you can only provide indirect support in the way of bug fixes/improvements as the cost of direct product support is more than the ARPPU of a customer.

Edited 1 times. Last edit by Brian Lewis on 18th August 2014 5:55pm

Posted:2 months ago

#2

Andreia Quinta Creative & People Photographer, Studio52 London

227 602 2.7
Popular Comment
I don't think doning the 'asshole' armor works as well as he thinks it works. Look at Fez, great game apparently, but the dev is a douche so I never picked it up really.
Then again I might be wrong, I'm just one ant.

Edited 1 times. Last edit by Andreia Quinta on 18th August 2014 10:51pm

Posted:2 months ago

#3

Steve Wetz Reviewer/Assistant Editor, Gamer's Glance

213 529 2.5
No Andrea, your viewpoint is not only valid, it's very important for indie developers, many of whom develop personal relationships with their communities. When you are a four or five person indie game team, you are your own PR section, so to depth charge your own client base is nonsensical, much more than when a PR firm who isn't developing the game does it.

This guy just doesn't understand his own field. Sure, the economics of indie sales have changed. Welcome to business. New and fresh products the consumer hasn't seen have inherently higher profit margins, then recede over time. This is called "regression toward the mean," and it happens everywhere - the price/profit margin analysis of oil is a fantastic example, even if it isn't a creatively driven one. But note that no one argues that we should stop producing oil due to pricing or profit margin - all arguments against oil production are environmentally based.

This doesn't mean that your business is doomed to fail - it just means that your business needs to be more efficient. Reuse art assets and generic audio. Use these "bundles" you hate so much by packaging in a demo for your next product. Evaluate your costs and manpower. And understand that business cycles are often cyclical in their innovation - before the indie explosion, the main complaint of developers was that game budgets were climbing too quickly and games were taking longer to produce. Then the indie boom happened and suddenly a game with signicantly less investment was nearly as valuable as a 50 million dollar budget game. Now we're on the other end where market saturation of indies and the advent of Early Access have lowered the percieved value of an indie game. This doesn't mean that it will always be so - we're just primed for the next innovation.

Posted:2 months ago

#4

Eric Pallavicini Game Master, Kabam

306 209 0.7
Reuse art assets and generic audio
Since I am one of the worthless customer (yes bought the Puppy Game I have on sale) and checked others from the studio, well they definitely do that. :)

Still, while i find their games concept pretty good (and if I had more time on my hands, would give others a try - next sale I agree again) I don't get the complaining. Life is hard for everyone (well almost everyone) but like Mr J. Wayne said it is even harder when you are stupid, so try not to (don't go full, you never go full)*.

Saying it is too costly to support Indie games is a thing, blaming customers in the context of "everything can be found cheaper somewhere or at some point" which affects the industry (not only indies, which recent rise also comes with fierce competition) may not be so right. There are concepts out there like crowd sourcing, many fans will do the job you cannot pay for if you give them the chance and a bit of recognition, so why not allow the volunteers to help with that?

As for there is no such thing as bad publicity, it may be a risky path... If it was working so well, everyone would do it.

EDIT: *i mean that as.a general rule.

Edited 2 times. Last edit by Eric Pallavicini on 19th August 2014 8:31am

Posted:2 months ago

#5

Eyal Teler Programmer

89 87 1.0
@Andreia Quinta. the blog post specifically mentioned Phil Fish (the developer of Fez) and how what he said didn't hurt him one bit, and in fact he's one of the most successful indies. Which just goes to prove that you're indeed just one ant.

Posted:2 months ago

#6

David Canela Game Designer

58 106 1.8
the correlation between fish's dickishness and his success is flimsy, at best. we don't know how succesful fez would have been if he'd been nice. furthermore, fez was critf2fically acclaimed way before his twitter spats. I'm playing it right now, it's simply a great game.

Also, while saying inflammatory things will get you lots of media attention and name recognition, keep in mind that publicly dickish people have suffered in other ways (apart from Fish, Orth comes to mind ) , so even if you sell a few more copies, it might not be worth it on a personal level.

Posted:2 months ago

#7

Eric Pallavicini Game Master, Kabam

306 209 0.7
From what I have read in GI's comprehension of the blog post, I was about to defend Puppy Games here, but after reading the whole blog post, I can't do this anymore. The author is exactly the kind of troll he is complaining about and in the end he makes it very clear, that he only wrote the whole blogpost, just because he hopes it will get him media attention, even if it's bad media attention.
Well, Trolls are wonderfully disturbing and extremely useful creatures. We call "trolls" many things that aren't. Someone I know wrote a very short and insightful blog post about trolls and I will link it here for your consideration.

Posted:2 months ago

#8

Alfonso Sexto Lead Tester, Ubisoft Germany

822 654 0.8
Well, from now on I'm going to be Worthless to Puppy games. Both to their actual projects and any future ones. Because you know... customers do not like to be insulted.
Now I don't feel like paying that 1$. Quite the PR work right there!

Pro tip: Do A game I want to play and I even pay over 20€
Pro tip 2: The Forest, Rogue Legacy, Plague Inc. get it?

Edited 2 times. Last edit by Alfonso Sexto on 19th August 2014 12:50pm

Posted:2 months ago

#9

Saehoon Lee Founder & CEO, Pixellore

60 41 0.7
By replying here. I have already contributed to his scheme. Oh wait i fell for it.. darn.

Posted:2 months ago

#10

Roberto Bruno Curious Person

104 69 0.7
"Good old Phil is sitting pretty on a giant mound of cash the likes of which you will probably not even be able to comprehend, let alone earn in your lifetime. For every one of you that enjoyed denigrating him and thrilled at insulting him, there are now another thousand people who listen to every word he says. When he walks into the restaurant where you pitifully scrub the floor like a servile wretch in order to pay for DLC in DOTA2, you’ll call him sir."
Well, way to show off how much of a miserable, arrogant classist you can be.

I'm sorry but given this premise i don't even want to argue about how much merit your complaints could or couldn't have.
Maybe if developing games isn't working out so well for you, you should consider going to scrub floors for a living as well, because people surely don't own you money as a divine right.

Edited 1 times. Last edit by Roberto Bruno on 19th August 2014 4:39pm

Posted:2 months ago

#11
I'll spend $20 on an indie game if I perceive it to be both innovative and substantial enough to be worth the price (e.g., World of Goo, Little Inferno, Braid, Bastion). I won't pay $20 for a game that is, at best, an old format repackaged as a new game and/or a casual game.

For example, Revenge of the Titans was, essentially, little more than a hybrid tower defense/RTS game. It had no plot to speak of, the graphics were casual game quality, and I have absolutely no memory of the soundtrack. If you're selling a game that could easily work as an app on a smartphone, a game that I will most likely play when I'm on the can, then I'm not going to pay premium for it.

Other indie developers have become incredibly successful because they offered high-quality, innovative games at a reasonable price point. In this day and age, you can't release a fun, but forgettable little game for $20 when I can go on the app store and buy 20 similar little games for the exact same price, if not for free.

Posted:2 months ago

#12

Barrie Tingle Live Producer, Maxis

387 196 0.5
Popular Comment
I'm gonna play devils advocate here as someone who has been on the front line of gamers wrath... It is interesting to read these comments as much as it is the actual article. I read the blog and he makes some very valid points about what you can/can not say to the public. Communication is basically censored and moderated to say the right thing in the right way or forever regret the article/response.

We know PC games are following mobile games in the race to $0. That isn't sustainable. How often do you read comments on gaming sites about a game that just came out and all you see is "I'll pick this up when there is a Steam sale"? That is the mentality of gamers right now, why buy for full price when we know in a few months there will be an offer for 50% or more off the price. For indies coming in at low price points, those sales are almost to the point of giving away their game and as he says, you can't sustain a business or provide support with a bank balance of $0.

Some comments above like "Make a game I want to play and I'll pay $20", that is all good and well but when you have a budget of next to nothing, creating the next big thing is even more difficult. Clones are released to generate income for the next project which could be that next big thing. Yes you can only expect to sell your game at a reasonable price for the game you create but Steam shouldn't be dictating that price to the developers (on the blog and in its comments it seems this is something Valve is doing but I wasn't aware of, that would be a good article for Games Industry to investigate)

I bought Fez at launch on Xbox 360, Phil Fish was brutally honest which some take as obnoxious, did he always do the clean cut PR thing? Of course not but that doesn't stop his game being one of the most stand out indie games to date. Personally I would have bought Fez 2.

As the blog states, Phil often said what no one wanted to hear or expected to hear because no one who made games had ever said anything like it to the public before. His main mistake was retaliating to the trolls which caused things to escalate out of proportion.

/end mini rant. OK everyone back to work :)

Posted:2 months ago

#13
I hadn't heard of them before today. But now there's an email in my inbox from gamesindustry.biz with a link to an article about their blog post which II clicked and I read the article and even clicked the link to their website. I'd say the job of the blog post was pretty much a giant success!

Posted:2 months ago

#14

David Canela Game Designer

58 106 1.8
Popular Comment
@Barrie Tingle
you see, that's something that really annoys me and it happens a lot: some guy is very vocal, rude and insulting. Maybe there's also a sliver of something true in his statements.
He gets called out on it.
Then tons of people idolize him as a martyr for "telling it like it is" and just "being brutally honest".

sorry, that is bullshit. that one little uncomfortable truth hidden between all the insults is not what he's being critizised for, it's all the unnecessary crap around it.

Beware of people who proudly wear the "I'm just brutally honest, deal with it" cap; they're usually just too lazy to be polite and don't care about other people's feelings and try to spin that fact into something positive..

Posted:2 months ago

#15

Sasha Yelesin Student

54 34 0.6
"The more we argue, the more we bait the trolls, the more we seem to get into a death spiral of internet hate... the better it is for us," Prince said. "There is no such thing as bad publicity."
That's funny, I remember Microsoft backpedaling after their horrible E3 2013 conference. If one of the biggest companies in the world realized telling customers to "shove it and buy" isn't sustainable, Puppy Games should straighten themselves out, and quick.

Posted:2 months ago

#16

Nicholas Lovell Founder, Gamesbrief

196 198 1.0
Of course, his fundamental argument is that the life time value of a user is $1 (or perhaps $5) because he sells them whole games for an upfront price point of $1 a go. If only there was a way of making games that allowed you to offer variable pricing to your customers and have a higher life time value...

Posted:2 months ago

#17
He only did this to get media attention.

And it worked, that very fact proves his point.

However if to take his general point more seriously regarding customer support. It's true you can't offer every individual proper support at $1, the best you can do is put money into testing and generic website based support.

Posted:2 months ago

#18

Nélio Codices Co-Founder and Managing Partner, Battlesheep

2 1 0.5
Welcome to business.
Yes, this perfectly sustainable business where everyone is doing great.

Posted:2 months ago

#19

Barrie Tingle Live Producer, Maxis

387 196 0.5
@David Canela
That is totally understandable too but if you go back to the root of what Fish says, like the very first post he has on a topic, it often carries a message which has truth to it (yes some things he posts is total bull too but lets not sweep everything he says under the rug as flame bait). His main mistake is that people respond to him in a way he doesn't appreciate or he gets carried away and his original messages get lost along the way while he starts throwing insults.

SOME of his posts I would defend, others I wouldn't touch with a barge pole, I definitely don't idolize or feel he is a martyr in any way.

Not saying every post he makes is gospel but he does get a lot of flak either rightly or wrongly. That is the joy of the Internet right, everyone has an opinion to share :)

To end, Fez is a great game. You should play it if you haven't regardless of feelings towards Fish.

Posted:2 months ago

#20

Paul Jace Merchandiser

942 1,428 1.5
What he should have said is this: "customers are only worth heavily discounted prices to us, averaging around a $1"

I think that would have gone over much better.....or not.

Posted:2 months ago

#21

Eric Pallavicini Game Master, Kabam

306 209 0.7
Well a studio of 3 people, 4 games, selling 200k copies a year (even averaging between 1 and 5$) should still suffice to cover the costs and give each one a salary of 30k £ a year. I am really no expert, could such an estimate be accurate (have no clue how many were actually sold nor about the company's costs)?

In the case it was, the guys are working on something they have a passion for and are their own bosses (it shows in the games in my humble opinion). Ok you can't buy a yacht with that and show off, though many people would not complain so much about such circumstances.

Edited 2 times. Last edit by Eric Pallavicini on 20th August 2014 9:15am

Posted:2 months ago

#22

Paolo Giunti Narrative Designer

38 82 2.2
What he says might be true, but his wording just sucks.
There's "we can't afford to provide proper customer support because of this situation, please bear with us", which gets fans to sympathize, and then there's "You're worthless to us 'cause you buy our games discounted."
Very well, sir. I'll see to it that i don't buy them then..

As for the media attention, that will be short-lived (people will soon forget when the next drama comes up). Those who will remember him in the long run are those he alienated with his hostility.

Edited 1 times. Last edit by Paolo Giunti on 20th August 2014 10:41am

Posted:2 months ago

#23

Klaus Preisinger Freelance Writing

1,136 1,174 1.0
Look at his argument in detail.

Before:
He sold a $20 game, but part of the revenue went to employing a person who made sure that customers were given support, which they required to make the game run properly. Typical Windows PC insanity.

Today:
Games can no longer be sold at $20, meaning people need to be cut in order for the developer to stay operational. Obviously you can't cut the people making the games, so you need to find ways to cut the person supporting them with their installation problems. Being able to install a game without help from a trained PC game installation specialist is a good thing, a necessity one might even say. If that tragically leads to lower prices instead of higher profit margins for the dev, then cry me a river.

Also:
After being too dumb to install a game, video publishers "fixed" my computer which then made me buy more games from the same publisher, at which point they no longer had to fix my computer, which is why revenue for support instead started feeding profits?

"Ahh, hello EA tech support, you see, my computer broke down, but I bought Titanfall in the past and I really am looking to buy Fifa 15 on Origin, so I figured you should fix my PC, maybe dispatch a tech support guy to my house, repair the parts, or help me order replacements online. Hello? .... Hello... EA tech support?"

Posted:2 months ago

#24

David Canela Game Designer

58 106 1.8
@Barrie Tingle
I actually am currently playing Fez :). Honestly, I don't tend to care that much about internet celebrities one way or the other, as I'm well aware of how arguments can get out of hand online and internet personas only represent a small aspect of the real person behind them. All I am saying is that there's a bunch of people who tend to get involved in flamewars and catch a lot of flak and then somehow get this huge underdog bonus merely thanks to numbers, when their behaviour equals that of every single troll in the internet masses that they're fighting with.

In german there's a saying "the way you shout into the woods is the manner it will echo out of them".

Posted:2 months ago

#25

Dan Howdle Head of Content, Existent

280 810 2.9
"This guy's a dick"
You know, the truth is no less true just because we don't want to hear it. It's braver to consider the whole than to isolate the soundbite that sticks most in the throat and wave it about like a contextless shitty stick.

Posted:2 months ago

#26
Popular Comment
I haven't been here in a while but it should maybe come as no surprise I do actually read the news...

"This guy's a dick" Coming from an editor-in-chief - really, what more is there to be said of Christopher Bowen's opinions with ingenious and insightful commentary like that.

It's rather a shame that the actual message of the article has been lost under the petulant rantings of angry internet men wanting to be insulted to get a fight. A careful re-reading might actually reveal the real message to you, but I shall spell it out.

Firstly, we're not broke, or anywhere near going bankrupty. Nor are we unsuccessful, with 679,254 units shipped on Steam in the last four years. I'm afraid this renders a lot of the "make a game I want to play, you know, something good" and "make a game worth €20 not €1" arguments rather irrelevant and you'll have to rethink your entire counterargument.

Secondly, the post was not actually about Puppygames. It was not about our customers. It was about all developers and everyone's customers. Nowhere did it state that we hated customers. Nowhere did it say that we don't value customers. What it does state is that customers are worthless. They are worth pennies. Their repeat business is worth pennies. Not for us. For everyone. And the ramifications of this are that support is fucked. For everyone. We'll see support on Steam (and indeed the Steam store itself) fairly rapidly over the course of the next 12 months or so degenerate into something rather similar to the App Store and Google Play. Consoles to follow not too long after I suspect.

We're escaping the whole sorry mess by reinventing our business once we've got Basingstoke out of the way and moving to the much-maligned free-to-play model which Nicholas has probably quite rightly identified as one of the very few viable models that will survive the forthcoming extinction level event fomented by Steam, bundles and consumer behaviour.

You are welcome to shoot the messenger, and indeed, I will sleep soundly without your dollar. It cost some people more in time to write in anger that they won't give us a dollar than the dollar itself. Staggering.

I'd love to talk in depth about the analysis and ramifications of the article with anyone who'd like to discuss it though.

Cas :)

Posted:2 months ago

#27

Brendan Sinclair Staff Writer, GamesIndustry.biz

23 34 1.5
Hey Cas, I don't have your direct email but have reached out through your website and Quarter 2 Three account so we could have that in-depth talk about the ramifications. Get back to me if you're up for an interview.

Posted:2 months ago

#28
Hi Brendan - I'll be in touch in a sec.

Posted:2 months ago

#29

Eric Pallavicini Game Master, Kabam

306 209 0.7
Oh no! Need to refill my pupcorn now! :)

Looking forward to that interview...

Edited 1 times. Last edit by Eric Pallavicini on 21st August 2014 8:57am

Posted:2 months ago

#30

Justin Biddle Software Developer

159 484 3.0
@Caspian.

Regardless of your underlying message which I did get and understand it is true that the way you presented will alienate people and therefore bury your message. The very fact people have reacted the way they have proves this and shows that the valid point you were making has unfortunately been lost. Think for a second of the reaction on this site. It consists mainly of those who work in the same area as you. So they are more willing to listen to the underlying message. And there reaction has for a large part been unimpressed. Now imagine how your customers who do not have actual experience working with the industry will read it. It's hardly going to endear them towards you neither will it effectively get the message you wanted to across to them

Posted:2 months ago

#31
Hi Justin, that's almost exactly the opposite of what has happened. The cataclysmically shocking presentation ensured the post went viral by goading just enough Angry Internet Men into trying to pick a fight, in turn bringing in people with half a brain cell who understood the meaning of the post to argue on my behalf. It was an absolute success.

My actual customers couldn't give a shit about the article, and reading between the lines, it barely matters if they do or don't. They're worth 10 pence each, after all. Fortunately most of the intellectual debate occurring is between developers, aspiring developers, and generally intelligent people with a grasp of comprehension.

Graphic proof of how it all works is in the giant sales spike we've had since. The long term effects are likely to be measured in the tens of thousands of dollars over the years (if not hundreds).

In any case... we'll be out of paid soon enough, and in to free-to-play, as Nicholas describes. Then we'll have some really properly valuable customers to look after.

Posted:2 months ago

#32

Mariusz Szlanta Producer, SEGA Europe

31 27 0.9
Well Caspian, I think you still got it wrong.

Your current customers are the same customers you are going to serve with another business model. They all made sound economical choice that does not make them worthless but it does make your business model outdated.
Offer them something they value and they will start paying.

Responding partially to Barrie's comment, it is not people's mentality that changed but rather economical reality. There are way more games available today to play even by most dedicated players and because there is no way to restrain supply, then clients must be won on field of service and careful messaging that can be offered by games as a service model. F2P is the best suited for that but is not the only one.

Scarcity of attention turns people into chancers. I'm willing to bet that vast majority reading this thread bought few games on Steam that never even got installed. Games were bought because they were cheap on vague promise of graphics, similar genre or on a whim. These games would have never been bought in full price.

There is also illusion of unlimited pool of players out there. Well, it is not. Millions of these players, the most valuable ones, are already playing WoW, LoL, DoTA, WoT and other well serviced games.

User acquisition costs are high and F2P requires much better product/service than traditional business ever thought possible. Violating your seed customer base is not the best idea and current spike in sales is based on the same slim interest like 2 pound buys and it's light years from loyalty needed to be successful in F2P.

Edited 6 times. Last edit by Mariusz Szlanta on 21st August 2014 1:00pm

Posted:2 months ago

#33
Statistically speaking, almost all of our customers are "new" customers. Almost none of them have any "brand loyalty" whatsoever. We have a 100k newsletter subscriber base that we can announce new products on which attains approximately 20% open rate and some smallish proportion thereof buy new things that we announce on it (30% perhaps?) but if you work out the percentages, even for a "full price" (ho ho) release at $10, it amounts to just a couple of months money for a studio.

Wresting existing f2p players onto our own game is of course the big challenge but everyone eventually moves on (WoW is now in steady and rapid decline according to Blizzard themselves) and new customers spring up at approximately the same rate as babies are born. So the market is still pretty lush and ripe, but not in the paid games arena - you're absolutely right that it's quite saturated now.

Posted:2 months ago

#34

Eric Pallavicini Game Master, Kabam

306 209 0.7
Hello Mr Prince,
Statistically speaking, almost all of our customers are "new" customers. Almost none of them have any "brand loyalty" whatsoever.
Having bought the expansion of "Revenge of the Titans" long after buying the game itself proves that you are wrong to some extent (not like your studio's been operating for decades, nor that each of your products appeals to the same type of gamers - therefore I believe this argument is a bit biaised). I have been loyal to your brand and Puppy Games was on my map since i purchased my first product of your company. Ok statistically, I may be worth nothing either. :)
So the market is still pretty lush and ripe, but not in the paid games arena - you're absolutely right that it's quite saturated now.
There will still be customers to serve there (core gamers as some call them). It is probably a shrinking market share for sure as the industry switches to mobile and games as a service (without going into details). But I do not, for one, believe it is dead whatsoever (not saying you did that say, let me be clear). Niche markets have never been where the big bucks are for sure, though the audience of those markets is much more loyal, dedicated and less prompt than the "mainstream" audience to abandon you from one day to the next. They may be worth more than a buck on the long run, much more.

Just like any Gold Rush, the rise of the indies was meant to reach that saturation. Eventually F2P may follow the same path at some point, regardless of the platform.
Graphic proof of how it all works is in the giant sales spike we've had since. The long term effects are likely to be measured in the tens of thousands of dollars over the years (if not hundreds).
So you re-invented online marketing? While I am not exactly surprised. I am wondering about the long term effects in other terms and metrics than money. As long as your products are irreproachable, it may indeed work even further.
In any case... we'll be out of paid soon enough, and in to free-to-play, as Nicholas describes. Then we'll have some really properly valuable customers to look after
Then you will have much more customers worth 0 pences to look after. Sure you will also have some that may individually pay your studio's monthly running costs for months, if you get lucky enough. Then I guess it will all be, beside monetisation strategy, about how the game plays and requires you to take good care even of non-payers. Hopefully for you it will all work as you expect. As you mentioned WoW, I guess this Draenei quote is appropriate "May your days be long and your hardships few" then.

Edited 3 times. Last edit by Eric Pallavicini on 21st August 2014 3:58pm

Posted:2 months ago

#35

Dan Howdle Head of Content, Existent

280 810 2.9
I agree with Caspian. On all counts.

Getting caught up on the words 'our customers are worthless' is missing a veracious and commendable criticism of the swirling, overbrimming toilets that masquerade as digital vendors. Gamers are too busy picking through the poo to acknowledge the giant hand reaching for the flush, let alone what they stand to lose once it gets there.

Bravo, I say. Bravo.

Posted:2 months ago

#36

Todd Weidner Founder, Big Daddy Game Studio

415 988 2.4
Well I think Caspian misses something here.
. I agree with his point of the limited returns thanks to the race to the zero price point makes it seem as if, customers really arent worth spending time and money on since they are only worth potentially 5 bucks. BUT is that really the case? The point I think Caspian missed here is this, Indie customers are not only your customers but they are also your PR department. We indies dont have huge or any PR and/or advertising budgets. Games get sold via word of mouth, via actual social media interaction and so on. To get your customers to be good PR people we have to engage, and invest time with them. They have to like you, root for you, and in return they just may bring a whole new slew of customers with them, and so on and so on.

So really in the indie world a customer isnt just a customer, he/she is a potental big component to our PR team and should be treated accordingly IMHO.

Edited 2 times. Last edit by Todd Weidner on 21st August 2014 5:45pm

Posted:2 months ago

#37
No-one has ever said that you can't talk to customers, just that it's now fundamentally a net loss, even if you consider any supposed viral effect of friend networks.

The reason you indies don't have PR or advertising budgets is because you haven't yet realised that you actually need to pay for these things if you want them. Word of mouth happens whether your customers are worth 10p or £100 each. And it all pales into irrelevance next to the power of being featured on Steam in any way at all.

It's too easy to get bogged down fooling ourselves into thinking that individual customers make a difference. They do not. Once upon a time they did. Now there is only one strategy which is to acquire thousands and thousands of customers and leave them to it.

I do wish I was wrong but this is the actual reality of today, not a dystopian near-future.

Edited 1 times. Last edit by Caspian Prince on 21st August 2014 8:54pm

Posted:2 months ago

#38

Todd Weidner Founder, Big Daddy Game Studio

415 988 2.4
even if you consider any supposed viral effect of friend networks. supposed? there is nothing supposed about the power of "word of mouth" advertising and recommendation. It is without a doubt the most powerful and influential advertising there is. Nothing can or does make someone decide to purchase more than a friend/family/colleague/associate recommendation.

But sure go ahead and think that you can just sell and ignore, watch where it will get you in a few years.

Posted:2 months ago

#39

Eric Pallavicini Game Master, Kabam

306 209 0.7
@Caspian

While you seem very confident in your views (yes economy has always been a question of numbers and mathematically speaking business growth is related to "large numbers" indeed) I am wondering if yo are ready for the transition you plan to achieve to F2P business model as there it is even more about larger numbers and paradoxically individual customers who make the difference.

A data driven, service based business model (that is also pretty saturated and market shares are being held by companies with much more marketing power than what you can reasonably expect of a small indie studio) will require more resources than what you need in "paid digital sales business model" and I really hope for your company that your vision of reality also made you anticipate (or find a work around) that.

Posted:2 months ago

#40
I think I may have not emphasised enough that this conclusion is not about treating all customers as worthless, but understanding that you can afford to ditch marginal, irritating, broken or abusive customers with relative impunity in the new market economy.

Very much like how App Store developers treat customers. Have you had a productive and useful relationship with developers on the App Store lately? No! You probably don't even know how to contact them. Well, that's my personal experience, but I have a feeling that's the way of things to come in the "Steam paid" games category.

Posted:2 months ago

#41
(Actually this is why the article starts out by telling gamers they're not very nice people: because, by and large, the ones that waste your time are not)

Cas :)

Posted:2 months ago

#42

Eric Pallavicini Game Master, Kabam

306 209 0.7
Actually this is why the article starts out by telling gamers they're not very nice people: because, by and large, the ones that waste your time are not
The toxic part of any internet community, or more specifically gaming-related online communities is a very vocal infinitesimal part of such a community. Ignoring those very few and very loud customers is an approach you can have (unless you are a community manager) if you don't have the resources to deal with them. The potential damage they can do to your brand is usually pretty minimal as most your other silent customers either will never read what those say and keep enjoying the product like if nothing happened, while the few who will read what those toxic users have to say about your product or your company know it is simply crap.

One of the first rules of community management is to never consider your community as stupid. You will have some dumb and vocal customers, you will have some angry and bored kids who hold the universal truth and will tell you how bad you are doing because they know better, you will get burned by flamers/haters who do that for the sake of it. You will have potentially sociopaths and wanna-be-criminal people making serious threats and wishing you to fail personally and professionally (some may even engage in cyber campaigns). You may even attract some trolls (and I mean real trolls, not the generic "all goes in" if you really do something "wrong", though that would be a chance to learn what is actually wrong in your community and what your brand actually misses).

The point being that you can perfectly refuse to do support (and by that I am referring about customer, technical, community management) if you can't afford it - if you communicate clearly on that and provide minimal technical advice (even if it’s just the same old “please install some actual video drivers” response). You can perfectly refuse to do product support (patches, updates, fixes) if your product is provided in a statistically acceptable rate of being properly working on the platforms it is supposed to run on - the industry started like that didn't it?

Re-reading your blog, it shows you have a common knowledge of online communities, which means unfortunately general misconceptions and prejudices (in example your hotchpotch on what is a troll for you shows it). If you (general you) want to do community management (whichever part of it), you need to understand what that means to be a community manager. A community manager first command is that he is part of the community, he's not next to it, not above, not below, he is fully integrated in it. So when a CM criticize his/her community, he/she criticize him/herself first. When he/she blames the community members, he/she blames his/her own lacks and own mistakes, because in the first place he/she let or made that happen. So if a community manager tells his/her users their are [anything] he/she is actually him/herself that [anything]. Dangerous path to take as you will understand, as another thing a CM has to keep in mind when considering his/her community is that only a small percentage of the whole community is passively participating and even a smaller part of that is actively participating and judging a whole community on what a very few vocal users say is a very good way to actually wake up REAL trolls (as said here above) and end up in some PR/Consumer Communication nightmare.

I get the point about the devaluation of the digital products, with sales, bundles and so on. What I don't get is the way you chose to present it.

EDIT: Previous edit were done to correct some wording/spelling mistakes. This last one is to provide a precision. Of course in any online community there will also be users that do not consider themselves as members of the community (or any community most of the time) and hence will consider that no social contract or rules applies to them. Those have to be dealt with differently than even the most difficult community members and not to be confused with as the later can be educated.

Edited 6 times. Last edit by Eric Pallavicini on 22nd August 2014 2:13pm

Posted:2 months ago

#43
I've been saying much the same thing as Caspian regarding the direction that Steam will go or even has gone already. I said it before about the App Store. Hell even the same arguments where used against Piracy decades ago "Make a game the customer thinks is worth 20 dollars and they will pay it etc"

The problem is that people just refuse to accept the reality if it's one they disagree with. You simply can't beat free and unfortunately that's going to dramatically change the types of games that are made and the way we play them.

Posted:2 months ago

#44

Todd Weidner Founder, Big Daddy Game Studio

415 988 2.4
but understanding that you can afford to ditch marginal, irritating, broken or abusive customers with relative impunity in the new market economy.
this has always been true however, you just reply to their crap with a over nice form reply that "their opinions and thoughts are important" and you thank them for contacting you, and you ignore them.

But to be honest, I do agree with you that this latest monetization scheming and race for the dollar price point will indeed come back and bite the industry in the ass. Its short sighted and it not even remotely practical long term.

I based my career around two incredibly important words uttered to me years ago about how to make money in software ... Reoccurring revenue.

Customers matter, but to work to acquire them and get them to purchase, but then only charge them a buck, my god, we might as well put games in the gumball machines outside of supermarkets.

Posted:2 months ago

#45

Eric Pallavicini Game Master, Kabam

306 209 0.7
Customers matter, but to work to acquire them and get them to purchase, but then only charge them a buck, my god, we might as well put games in the gumball machines outside of supermarkets.
I am a bit of a Darwinist. for me If the environment changes, species have to adapt (which may means transform themselves or transform their changing environment or migrate to a more suitable environment if any exists)

What both the F2P model and crowd-funding campaigns highlighted is that indeed "Customers matter" because some of them are not only happily willing to support your product by giving you much more money than how you would traditionally value your work. What crowd sourcing highlighted is that customers may also be willing to support the product for free by taking of some workload from you if they find any kind of direct (i.e. they play the game) or indirect ties to it (i.e. they like to serve the community). Crowd sourcing also applies to PR/Marketing campaigns, or as we call it "word of mouth" or on the internet "virality" which may greatly reduce the cost of acquisition and make up for the initial investment.
@Todd - you mentioned that yourself in a previous post
even if you consider any supposed viral effect of friend networks. supposed? there is nothing supposed about the power of "word of mouth" advertising and recommendation.
I based my career around two incredibly important words uttered to me years ago about how to make money in software ... Reoccurring revenue.
Every sustainable economic strategy should be like that (key word being sustainable, although we may argue raking in capitals, leaving the old company behind and recreating a new company may also be a valid strategy in terms of "reoccurring revenue"). Applying discounts and sales may affected consumers perception of value of a product or family of products, not like we don't know it by historical experience (not like we haven't seen depressions just in the last 100 years, and most economical crashes have a lot in common when it comes to what causes them).

What I did not get 2 or 3 years ago when many industry related people were against the F2P model and opposed to people who were saying it was the future (meaning the only future - which was never true in my opinion) was the fact the debate mainly was about knowing who was on which side and then rumble. I was hoping at the time more detached criticism (or objective analysis) which I mostly failed to see in the threads and conversations I was involved in. I was hoping people would share and discuss alternatives or hybrid solutions, obviously the people who were ready to fulfill my hopes were already at work and not discussing their plans.

Let me mention sort of randomly "Warlock 2: The Exiled" (or "Godus" which is supposed to become some hybrid F2P as well on top of being paid early access) which includes a shop, where you can get DLC's directly (some of them being exclusive to the store, some of them being accessible via upgraded edition on steam). We're just one step away from having boosters, and well all the panoply of the F2P monetisation deployed in a paid game, aren't we?

It is amazing, you could sell the Extra-Difficult IA DLC and then boosters. Make a online/social ranking (even for a game played offline - which already a lot of games do) and you got every incentive required without the need of cutting content from the base game (which would feel unfair to the customer used to pay for ). I am just being silly here, but you get the point: There are ways.

It is not a matter of liking it or not, it is a matter of adaptation. Such examples (only a few I know, there's probably more and diverse ones) demonstrate there is - and always was - a way, and the studios that did anticipate that early on are there or nearly there already.
But to be honest, I do agree with you that this latest monetization scheming and race for the dollar price point will indeed come back and bite the industry in the ass.
For the studios that don't adapt or find a workaround, yes it will be difficult although some exceptions will most likely exist. For the consumers most likely yes in any case. For the industry itself, not quite sure yet as it will find a balance as a whole.

Edited 1 times. Last edit by Eric Pallavicini on 22nd August 2014 11:28pm

Posted:2 months ago

#46
I think I may have not emphasised enough that this conclusion is not about treating all customers as worthless, but understanding that you can afford to ditch marginal, irritating, broken or abusive customers with relative impunity in the new market economy.
I think that was obvious but the individual likes to think he has the power of the crowd behind him and he simply doesn't which is why you can ditch them and some people really don't like that.

Frankly if you seen where customer support is going for almost everything this is already well known in all industries.

Edited 1 times. Last edit by John Owens on 26th August 2014 3:17pm

Posted:2 months ago

#47

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