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Indies need to start charging more for games - Steam Spy

"Stop undermining your game because somehow you think it's not worth the asking price," says Sergey Galyonkin

Indies face enough challenges on a daily basis. Just ask Good Shepherd's Mike Wilson. So why do so many indie devs charge so little for their hard work? That's the question asked by Steam Spy's Sergey Galyonkin, who points out this week that the average indie title in 2017 is priced $8.72 on Steam. Moreover, during the last Summer Sale the average price dipped to a "mind-boggling" $4.63. Beyond that, average sales are at their lowest at 21,000 copies, he notes.

Plain and simple, "indie games are too damn cheap," says Galyonkin, who adds that it's not fair to categorize games that don't sell over a million units as failures.

"...to have a sustainable market for indie titles we need to accept the fact that most of them will not sell hundreds of thousands of copies. Therefore, indie developers need to ensure their games are still profitable with a smaller audience," he says.

And that, of course, means indies need to charge more per copy with that smaller audience to make sure their projects are profitable. Galyonkin points out that in most other entertainment industries, the independent creators can charge almost as much as the big companies. They don't feel pressured to offer consumers bargains.

He continues: "Yes, your indie title may only appeal to a small subset of gamers. Yes, you might not be ready to charge $59.99 for it like the big guys do- and they actually charge more per user with their collector's editions, in-app purchases and season passes. So please, stop undermining your game because somehow you think it's not worth the asking price. Add value if you think that is the case, not lower the price.

"I applaud Jonathan Blow's decision to sell The Witness for $39.99. The game is sitting at 460 thousand owners on Steam Spy right now with discounts, sales and everything - and it never went below $19.99 on Steam! Do you really think it would've sold 4 times more if he charged $9.99 from the start? Somehow, I doubt it."

Aside from Steam Summer Sales and normal, everyday sales, Galyonkin sees a problem with launch promotions for indies. Right from the start, too many indie creators are selling themselves short.

"Instead of discounting your title from the start, maybe invest some time into explaining why it's worth the price you are charging for it," he says. "It's obviously harder than just slapping $9.99 tag on it like everyone else does.

"This is especially true for pre-orders. I see many indie companies offering discounts for pre-orders, sometimes going as high as 33%. Why would you charge your most loyal fans less? Maybe, instead of asking for a lower price, add more value to the pre-order, like the big guys are doing? Early access to the game, extra content like a soundtrack or a playable prototype, even an exclusive achievement is better for your fans than just charging them couple of dollars less. They're pre-ordering your title not because it's cheap, but because they believe in you and want you to succeed, so let them help you."

Indies who charge more are undoubtedly going to hear it from some players, but that's okay. Jon Blow had to deal with that on The Witness and it worked out for him.

"Just remind yourself that if someone can't afford your game right now, they can always buy it several months later when Steam Sale will inevitably encourage you to discount it," concludes Galyonkin. "If the game is worth the gamers' time, it's also worth their money."

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Latest comments (4)

Hugo Trepanier Game Designer, Behaviour InteractiveA month ago
Does that take into consideration that many indie games are also very short? You can't expect to put a full price tag on that with current expectations. Even a moderately higher $39.99 will get your game bad reviews if the duration does not justify it.

I buy and play a lot of indie games but oftentimes the low price makes them more appealing for that impulse purchase.

About a 3rd of Steam games are never played by their buyers. I don't have numbers to back my claim but I wouldn't be surprised if most of these were purchased at low prices on impulse -- that's money in the developer's pocket they would never see with a higher entry point.

My point is not to advocate lower or higher prices, just the opposite in fact: we shouldn't generalize and price everything the same. Some indie games are well worth the 40 bucks, others are just fine sitting at 6.
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Jeff Kleist Writer, Marketing, Licensing A month ago
If you give a AAA experience, price accordingly, but $5 is too much for a lot of indie games. $14-19.99 seems to be the sweet spot
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Luke Parkes Lead Technical Designer, Bohemia InteractiveA month ago
Averages lie.

A very large number of games on Steam are indeed priced very low, but this doesn't mean they are inappropriately priced or undervalued - many of them are years (if not more than a decade) old and as such have long since had their prices adjusted accordingly. Many other games are small scale productions by individuals or groups of hobbyists, and they don't need a high price tag to make a decent return on investment.
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Craig Page El Presidente, Awesome EnterprisesA month ago
I'm pretty sure for most indie games on Steam, if they charged $39.99 they would never have more than single digit sales, their refund rate would be between 50% and 90%, and their reviews would be 100% negative because of the price.

Jon Blow is a really bad example, because he's already had a big hit, he's known, he gets media coverage, and he has an existing fan base because of that.

Also not a good idea to "add value" to pre-orders by giving them achievements later players can never unlock, because any future achievement hunters will avoid your game.
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