Hi everyone. A couple of weeks ago we talked about free-to-play games. Well, today we’re going to be talking about the opposite, paid-for downloadable games and what pricing structures are fair.
From a gamer’s point of view, one of the first things you notice about buying downloadable games is that, while it’s often far more convenient than buying a physical copy, you do get less actual ‘stuff’. After all, a physical release comes in what is hopefully a nice box, with a game, inlay, manual and sometimes even a lovely selection of collector’s edition swag. Not only that, but if you get fed up of the game you bought you can sell it on to someone who might enjoy it more. Not the case with almost all DLG offerings (although there could be some changes afoot regarding the resale of digital games.).
As a developer, while downloadable games are often - but not always - smaller in scope than retail games, they still cost the same amount to develop in terms of man hours spent. While you do save money on distributor/retailer margins, the online store you sell through usually still takes a cut, plus the price tends to be far lower (with games on iOS for example most common being free or a paltry $0.99 / £0.69. )
The main advantage of distributing and selling downloadable games is that you don’t have to worry about (i) finding a publisher or multiple distributors, (ii) manufacturing and shipping stock or (iii) returns from vendors who’ve failed to meet their own sales projections for your game. Also, anyone with access to your game’s online store(s) of choice can find that game and buy it.
Of course not all download games are priced at the same level. On some online stores prices have been going up recently, for example, Xbox Live Arcade on the Marketplace this past year or so have seen the typical price for a new Arcade title rise from 800 Microsoft Points (£6.80GBP) to 1200 MSP (£10.20). This suggests that gamers are getting more comfortable with buying more expensive games through download services.
I find it quite hard to quantify what exactly makes a game good value except on a case-by-case basis (it’s probably a good thing I’m not involved in pricing decisions then!) One of the seemingly most usual quantifiable measures is the number of hours of gameplay any one game provides, but that seems like a poor measure to me. Not only does it under-value highly re-playable games, it also ignores the fact that some games would not be as good if they were longer. Journey, for example, feels like it is the perfect length and would certainly not be improved by drawing out some of the sections so they take longer. So pricing games by ‘volume’ of content alone perhaps is not the best measure of value.
Some people tend to base pricing on genre, which seems equally strange to me. Rayman Origins was, in my opinion, one of the finest games released last year (well if you’re not counting any of ours ^_^) The game itself looked beautiful and in terms of gameplay it was one of the best platformers I’ve played in years. Yet for some reason it was viewed by many as not being a full price game because it was a 2D platformer. Bizarre.
Quality is also a difficult one to price on. Aside from ‘quality’ being difficult to quantify, quality is also something you can’t really be certain about until after you’ve tried the final game. Even if you accept review scores as a good measure (something that is another topic of discussion in itself) it doesn’t always work out that well. OMG-Z is a good example of this as despite being rated in the top 10 PSP games of all time by Metacritic, above many full price games, I don’t think gamers would consider it great value if we decided to sell it for £20, even though many lower scoring games are priced at that level. We think £2.49 (OMG-Z’s current price), is a really fair price (and you should totally go onto PSN and buy it if you haven’t got it already. ^_^)
So, what does make a game good value at its current price? What factors do you look for when deciding if a game is worth buying? As a consumer it’s a decision I find fairly easy to make when buying games, but at the same time I struggle to define what my thought processes are when making that decision, so I’d definitely be interested in hearing your thoughts.