We'll Make Your Gun Shiny For Only a Hundred Bucks!
Do we understand anything about pricing video games?
I am old and slow, and the games industry moves very quickly. Thus a new trend can easily take over the entire industry for years without my even noticing. Then I find out about it and get shocked and startled and everyone justifiably mocks me.
While I was recently chatting on Discord with some young gamer friends (I'm not entirely out of it), they got really excited about something. Turns out, a new set of guns were about to be released for the shooty-game Valorant. These new guns will have fish on them.
To be fair, the tiny aquariums are adorable, but I personally prefer my firearm to not have a barrel full of water.
Surprisingly, I know something about Valorant. I spent an evening playing it with my friends, which revealed me to be the Worst Gamer In the History of the World. Don't worry. They made sure I knew it.
So, Valorant is free. These upgrades are entirely cosmetic and optional. I asked them how much the new fish guns would likely be in human dollars. They guessed that the entire set would be about seventy US dollars. Which surprised me.
I am not a neophyte. I've know that cosmetics have been a big part of the business for decades. I just had no idea how much they can charge. I thought, foolishly, they would be cheap! I certainly didn't know that the most fashionable skins can easily set you back hundreds of dollars.
I have spent every moment since then trying to incorporate this shocking knowledge into my worldview.
Again, I Am Old
I wish I could go back in time to when all of us nerds were super-excited about the release of Doom. I would hitchhike to id Software's headquarters and tell them, "Yeah, I know you want to sell this game. But did you realize you can make way more money giving the game away for free and then charging people to make their guns cute?"
They would have thrown me into an asylum.
Meanwhile, I Scrape For Pennies
It's easy to shake your head at me, I know, because I'm so sheltered and ignorant and all of that. But do people really grasp what this means for games pricing in the industry?
For example, a whole new game from my company is twenty bucks. That's IT. Because of inflation, my next game might well have to be $25, and I am AGONIZING over that price increase, and I know I'm going to get all sorts of crap for it.
AAA games are now up to $70, and nobody will talk about that price with anything other than rage.
Meanwhile, Valorant will put fish on your guns for that much money, and they have Zoomers lined up out the door.
I've been seeing this phenomenon for a long time: No matter how good an indie game (or any game) is, no matter how cheap it is, a few Steam reviews will always say it's too expensive.
And yes, every great once in a while, an indie game is too expensive. Almost never, though. We still provide, in terms of fun per dollar, one of the best values in entertainment. And yet, we are always told we ask for too much.
I'm pretty sure I know why this is. You won't like it.
Most Gamers Don't Want to Pay ANY Price
Suppose someone says to me that my $20 game costs too much. Unless they are utterly simple, on some level, they know this isn't true. If I'm going to do this for a living, I have to charge enough to stay in business. Buy my game or don't buy it, your choice, but everyone knows I need to get paid some time.
But here is what I think.
When someone says, "$20 is too much for your game," that's not what they are saying. What they are saying is, "I want to pirate your game, but I know, deep down, that this would be wrong, and I am trying to generate a moral justification for enjoying your labors for free."
When Valorant come charges X dollars for a pretty gun, they know that people can't pirate it. You can buy it or not buy it, but it's on their servers, so you can't steal it. That is what enables them to charge so much more for a cosmetic upgrade (as opposed to a full game). Turns out, people will pay a lot for video games, if they have too.
The Moral of the Story
I don't have any actual opinions about Valorant. I don’t have the right. They are big and rich and successful, and I am invisible to them.
I'm thinking, as always, of small software developers and what helps them stay in business.
When you release an indie game, there are people who will buy it and people who will pirate it. The second (huge) group of people is lost to you. Don't let yourself be influenced by their thoughts and ways.
Instead, ask yourself: "What is the price I can charge honest people that is fair and will keep me in business?" And here, the lesson of the fish guns is: People routinely pay more for less. Don't psych yourself out. Don't charge too little. Don't accept the justifications pirates use to take advantage of you.
I really hate raising my prices, but I hate a lot of things that are happening in the world right now. Indie games all around are raising their prices. I've been seeing the $25 price point a lot lately. In the end, we need to charge fair rates for our time.
If I ever feel like fresh humiliation and play Valorant again, I won't have a fish gun. I'm an old crank, and I get more fun knowing I'm using the ugly basic skins and playing for free.
We have announced our next game, Queen’s Wish 2: The Conqueror, an all-new, innovative, Empire-building indie RPG, coming late Summer. Wishlist it to be told when it is released!