As Death Ray Manta SE releases this week onto Steam I figured now is as good a time as any to detail the current plans around pricing and discounting for the game.
Whilst I’m loathe to say that anything is set in stone (this is videogames and I’ve been working it long enough to know not to deal in absolutes), it’s currently as close to being set in stone as can be.
Pricing and working out a bundling/discount policy is an awkward thing at the best of times. Whilst there’s a lot of advice around what you should/should not do when making and selling a game it’s not unusual for a lot of this advice to be more generalist and well, not all games suit generalist advice, right? Shortform, compact, budget games like Death Ray Manta are especially awkward to fit into traditional videogame selling advice because traditional wisdom assumes that you’re making a certain kind of indie game and with the intention of making as much money as you possibly can from that videogame. This rarely, if ever, fits the stuff I do or the way I work.
That’s not really to say I’m making anything particularly exceptional, more just most advice around selling games is very, erm, ‘interesting’.
My aims with Death Ray Manta SE are a bit more complicated than just “make a game, make some money” and I hope that by the end of the week the [stuff that I can’t talk about right now] will make this abundantly clear. I also want Death Ray Manta SE to be affordable to as many people as possible. It’s designed, always was designed in this incarnation, as a budget game. Think along the lines of the Mastertronic of the olden days, the Firebirds, Players and what have you. If you’re not that old, have a quick google or something.
This route, of course, demands a low price. You can’t have a budget game that isn’t cheap really. That would sort of miss the point a tad, right? Of course, things get more complicated by me needing to eat (always handy) and wanting to make sure that my work has value (which is needed for me to sell games and eat). Like I say, this stuff is messy and sorting out pricing around this is messy.
So after much consideration and weighing up amount I expect to sell vs amount I need to carry on making videogames and a few other things, I settled on £2.79. It’s under three quid which keeps it in the affordable range but it’s not *too* cheap as to be entirely disposable and not *too* expensive that I’m asking silly money for a short game. To be fair, it would have been £2.99 but I couldn’t be bothered manually working out the price difference across who knows how many other currencies to keep things reasonable so £2.79 it is.
After Valve have taken their cut and the taxman’s had a go, that leaves me “a bit of money per copy”. If I launch at lower, I’ll have to sell a substantially larger amount of games just to get by. That’s a bigger ask than the internet often assumes. Like, the sort of big ask that’s somewhere close to miraculous to pull off given the sort of numbers the kind of games I make tend to sell anywhere.
In a nutshell, if I charge less money I’m just going to make less money rather than attract loads more people. So.
Obviously, I anticipate that for some people this is simply too much money. And I don’t mean this in the weirdly traditional games industry way that “people are entitled” or whatever, I mean this in the rather literal “some folks really find three pound for a videogame a bit of a struggle”. I’ve spent a lot of my time on this planet where three pound isn’t a coffee (as I believe is the favourite go-to for ragging on people who struggle to pay for games), that’s a day or two days or more’s food. I get that and I understand that and where possible, I want to make sure there’s going to be ways where I’m not excluding these folks as I go on.
With that in mind, I’ve obviously had to consider how and when I’m going to discount the game and what, if any, bundles the game will appear in.
Bundling in 2015 is a mess. It’s no longer the case that most bundles will bring you a good payday. In a lot of cases, developers would probably be best ignoring a lot of them entirely as the days of bundles as having any sort of prestige attached to them are long gone. It’s only Humble that provides what I’d personally see as ample recompense for shifting thousands of copies of a videogame at a percent of a dollar. With that in mind, Death Ray Manta will only appear in one bundle within the first twelve months of launch and that will only be if the bundle is a Humble Bundle.
In the land of “never say never”, I’ll of course add the caveat of “unless something drastic changes and there’s another bundle or way of bundling that seems worthwhile”. Just not under the current industrial-scale-bundling model. That’s generally more exploitative than useful at this point and I don’t think it’s a healthy space for a lot of devs to play in. Not that something not being healthy ever stops them, obv.
To counter this a tad, I will be joining Steam sales within the first twelve months and beyond. Rather than go straight from “a little under three quid” to “that’s less than a Freddo Frog”, I’ll be using stepped discounts. Or in clearer English, as time goes on, the amount I’ll discount from the game will increase but for the first twelve months or so, expect the sale discounts to be minor rather than drastic. A ten percent, fifteen, twenty, twenty-five percent here and there.
It’s already a budget game at a budget price so I don’t want to be pricing at “hoping enough people buy it that I get a single pie” prices for a while. Contrary to internet wisdom, just dropping the price doesn’t bring all the boys to the yard. Sadly, that’s milkshake and when you get to my age, you don’t have much milkshake left. Besides, it’d break my heart to see “a game I spent time making: 7p” or something, y’know? Even the tattiest game in my collection is worth more to me than that.
Not Everyone Has Money To Spare
Now I realise that this still might not be satisfactory for a lot of people. So even though I will be gently reducing the price during sales times and the discounts will be deeper as time goes on, even though I’ll happily agree to be in a Humble Bundle and sell my work for a percent of a dollar, either someone might miss that bundle or still find the price a little out of their league.
Well, given the start price it’s probably not going to be too long before it falls under your “yeah, that’s doable” threshold I’m sure. I’d absolutely recommend that if you want the game but money is a problem, hang fire and it’ll be down to some level you’ll be happy to pay. If you’re concerned the game costs too much now for what it is, the same! Hold fire, it’ll be cheaper before you know it.
Mind, there’s always the chance that even having a quid to spare on a videogame is, like, just unreasonable right now. Maybe you could find a way of trading for it or asking a friend or maybe you just can’t. I get that.
Well. I think at this point the fairest thing I can suggest for both of us is you go and torrent the game or whatever it is the kids use to get hold of copied games these days. I’m not saying this to get you to sod off or to be rude to you, I think honestly, this is the best bet for both of us. You get to play the game, I get the knowledge that you’ve played the game because you wanted to play that game. I know full well that it’s not cutting into my bottom line because I’m old and not silly (plus, like I say, I’ve had a limited spend myself for most of my life). If you like it and you want to pay me when you do have some money, the game will still be on Steam and elsewhere and you can do that. Consider it a trial if that makes you feel better about it, right? I trust you to support me later, aye?
I am absolutely OK with folks going off and doing that. Obviously, obviously, obviously, my first preference is for folks to come right along and give me some money but hey, sometimes stuff doesn’t quite work out like that, yeah? So please, if price is that much of an issue, torrent/copy or whatever my game. However! If you do acquire a copy for nowt and you like it, if you could tell someone else you really liked it and point them at my store page on Steam or wherever, I’d appreciate that a lot! Word of mouth helps a great deal. (Obviously, they themselves might then go “ok, well I’ll go over here and grab it for nowt” but that’s the chance you take isn’t it?)
But if you are rich
On the flipside of the coin, I’m also aware that folks might want to give me *more* money for a game than I ask. To that end, Death Ray Manta will also be launching on Itch.io on the same day it launches on Steam. Itch is great, safe and a nice alternative marketplace to Steam. Handily when checking out, you can choose to add a few quid on top to tip or treat the developer. As a developer who isn’t going to say no to being tipped or treated, this is great, obv.
Are we there yet?
So yeah, that’s it. That’s my pricing, discount and bundling policy for Death Ray Manta:SE. In short, it’ll launch this week at an affordable price. It will be £2.79 full price and be discounted during sales when possible. I’m happy for it to appear in a Humble Bundle so that folks who want it very cheap can have it very cheap and well, if that’s still out of someone’s price range, there is an alternative route out there for them to take. It will not be in other bundles from this point on unless something miraculous happens that changes the fundamental nature of how we bundle videogames in the year of our Molyneux 2015.
I hope, if nothing else, my reasons for all this pricing guff is laid out clear. Now though, it’s back to preparing for kicking this damn game out the door. It’s all a bit exciting. Someone hold me down.