"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."