Pricing an Indie Game Must Be Hard

Indie game developers have it tough.  First, they have to create a game worth playing  – a challenge in itself and something that some AAA developers struggle with despite having seemingly bottomless pits of money.  Next, they have to market their game enough to make you aware a/ of its existence and b/ to convince you to consider playing it.  Then, they have to do the hardest thing – make you part with your money in return for the game that they have created.

The idea for this article came to mind quite some time ago when I picked up Doorkickers for about £10.  I didn’t love it and took to Twitter where I made a comment along the lines of it being over-priced for what it is.  The developer personally responded to me, asking me how much I thought all of their hard work was worth.

I didn’t have an answer.

I still don’t have an answer.

It is difficult to quantify the value of any game, let alone an indie game.  Do you quantify it by the amount of time and resource put into developing it?  Or, do you quantify it by how “good” it came out?  Or, by how long it is?  Or, by the replayability?

Until that point, I’d always told myself that I’d be happy to pay about £10 for a decent indie game that I’d spend a few weekends with.  That no longer represents good value for an “okay” experience.

A cursory glance at Steam (during the current sale) reveals that The Witcher 3 is on sale for £7.49, Grand Theft Auto 5 is on sale for £12.49, and Dark Souls 3 is £9.99.  If I didn’t own those titles, how can any indie game realistically expect to compete with them on price or experience?  Despite being several years old, those 3 titles alone are still flagship games, setting the bar for similar games being released today.

It must be tough for indie developers to not even be able to compete with AAA developers on price, as their great but ageing games start rapidly falling in price within a year or two of release.  These days, indie games have to be something truly special to be worth buying for any amount of money, otherwise, they run the risk of being discarded as clones of X, or not as good as Y.  It’s a tough world.

I have nothing but respect for indie developers who not only have the drive to learn game development and actually create a game.  It’s something that few of us will ever do.  This isn’t an article to tell indie developers to sell their games for £5, or £1, or let them go for free.  In truth, I’ve come to realise and accept that the value of a game is rarely linked to its purchase price.

While some AAA titles have been worth picking up on day one at full RRP, I have bought dozens on the first day just to find myself putting them down before seeing the credits roll.  On the other hand, I’ve spent £10 on Rocket League and spent 220 hours with it, spent £10 on PlanetSide 2 (just on cosmetics) and played it for 131 hours, and paid £20 for Rimworld and played it for 71 hours.  With the limited game time that I have available to me, these relatively low amounts of money have afforded me months and months of enjoyment.  Paying more money doesn’t guarantee a better experience.

How much should an indie game cost?  How much is an indie game worth?  How much is any game worth?  I’m sure there are big-budget statistic-based organisations crunching numbers and still struggling to justify their resulting figures.  The fact is, being a game developer is tough, and being an indie developer is even harder.  If you see an indie game that piques your interest, support the developer and take a chance on it.

What is the maximum amount of money that you would pay for an indie game vs. a AAA game – if there even is a difference?