Do we understand anything about pricing video games?
Way back in the Seventies when I owned a software house, I went to a few computer stores that were selling microcomputer business systems. we had pretty goo accounting software, plus tools for customizing input and output layout to match customers' current paper systems. I suggested to the computer store owners that, rather than buying individual copies of each program, they license them from us for an annual fee and then bundle the software into the price of the computer, plus a hefty upcharge for customization--which would take any competent, or semi-competent, programmer and afternoon to a full day. They did everything but pat me on the head and go "There, there, little girl, go play and let the big boys handle the business." They were convinced that bundling software into a system and then selling the system already loaded was a losing idea. Within two years, Osborne offered their first-ever portable personal computer, with software already bundled into it--DOS, WordStar, a couple other programs. Your remark about the likely reaction to telling game developers of yesteryear to give away the games and sell the 'upgrades' to make more money than selling the program reminded me of it.
If it can comfort your decision, I will pay way more than 25$ to play your next game.
Your opinion sure has changed. I remember back when you explained how niche games needed to charge more, because of their niche small group of fans. Talking about needing to get paid for your time, you can make 100 million dollars charging $3 for a game, without dlc or cosmetics. Getting paid for your time has nothing to do with what you price your game at, you price your game at what will maximize your profits. If you are trying to come up with pricing ideas by extrapolating how many hours you want every user to have to work morally pay for your game, then you are simply doing it wrong.
$20-25 is not too much for a video games because these digital intrinsically worthless games are worth anything and nothing simultaneously, but it is enough to price many people out of buying, some of these people might pirate I guess, but throwing around the accusation when they are probably more likely to just go pickup one of the amazing $1-5 dollar games is uncalled for.
Also, we are at a interesting transitional period in game sales. We have hit a progress ceiling, games from 10 years ago look and play like games from today. And a lot of 10 year old games are being sold for cents on the dollar. Why would I pay new game prices when I could go pickup the best game of 2015 that is probably on sale for $5, has 200 hours of game play, and 5 years of modding and community support behind it? Your niche fanbase very well may have played every single similar game, but everyone else has a huge library of games they never got around to playing or are in their own niche and are uninterested.
As a game developer (programmer) I have an intrinsic reaction against exploiting this kind of cosmetics, but really it's not because it doesn't work or even that it's a bad idea, it's just that it feels cheap because of how I view myself and my work.
I spend months making games, and I'd like to think I know what I'm doing, and do it well.
That game might make money, or might not. I'd like to think that what I'm doing has some bearing on that, because it's a lot of work and I've spent a lifetime on those skills.
When someone sells a gun skin that took an artist (maybe, at a push) a few hours for $70, and makes a mint, that's depressing because very little effort made loads of money whereas a lot of effort can (quite frequently) make no money. The ultimate end of that of course is NFTs, where you can sell the shiny guns without even needing to bother making a game at all.
But it's only depressing because it highlights the lack of a connection between time/effort put in, and money got out the other end, and that was always there. Much as I understand intellectually that the customer doesn't give a toss how much effort went into making something, they only care about the end result, it still viscerally feels wrong. But that's totally a me problem, because I make games, put effort in, and want there to be a link between the two.
FWIW, I've been playing your games since Exile, back when I was a broke college student and all I could afford was the huge free demos. I remember the thrill of finally being to afford to buy my first game and actually finish one. That was Avernum 3 and I've bought everything since (direct from you, as I assume you get more of the revenue that way than you do through Steam or where ever). I would totally pay $25 for Queen's Wish 2. Or $35. Not $70 though; I'd wait for a Steam sale on that one. $40 or $45 ... dunno, maybe. $50, we're definitely back in Steam sale territory.
There's your non-representative n=1 research study of the day.
In the Indy scene people are willing to pay a lot to make a change to the game for everyone which is is there own personal thing. For example several players (including myself) paid over a thousand dollars to add new customer designed taverns to the game with their own quests in the game Sryth. This something only indies can offer as the additional costs of making something noticeable are small enough that enough people can found that will pay.
I feel like there's another lesson about tiered pricing options to be gleaned somewhere here -- not just about raising prices in general, but a way to profit from letting the customer set their own price. Dunno, maybe that only works if you have a Valorant-level megahit on your hands.
You already do Deluxe Edition options (Hint book plus cheat options, I think) -- you could also put the Scrolls of Absolution from your Kickstarter tiers on Steam and the other storefronts, maybe?
I dunno if how deep I want to sink into the pudding of "inflation." On one hand, I hear it used as a justification for upping AAA prices, even though AAA profitability is the kind of insane that makes explaining mod economics to og id look perfectly sensible. Buuuuut… small scale, indie profits (with a few astronomical exceptions) aren't.
These adventurous souls are more like… artisanal craftsmen, not digital mega moguls. Cost of existence applies to them – they haven't and likely never will unlock life's coveted infinite money mode. And, as time goes by and the industry becomes more corporate, not just in terms of scale but slime, it does make an argument for supporting those who have some decency to speak of.
Moralizing aside, the model of "pay money, get thing" is one I'm inclined to support. Ownership has become increasingly fleeting overtime. "Pay money, get limited access license to non-guaranteed thing as determined by the property rights holder and their wherewithal to bother keeping servers humming" is far more objectionable than, "hey, sorry, but I'm gonna need a few more bucks this time."
What I think you are really looking at is the drive to games-as-a-service. What these games are really selling is the ability to get something cool and show it off to the other people you play with. If we were talking about offline doom weapon skins there is no way anyone would pay these prices.
Also, we can thank mobile for normalizing spending hundreds of dollars on free games.
If Valorant charges $70 for a skin that's purchased by 0.1% of their userbase then they get 7c/user, far less than your $20/user... I think your post is talking about whales and long-tail distributions. I paid $200 for "The Conqueror" so I'm one of your whales. What percentage of your users are whales, vs what percentage of Valorant's?
There are so many metrics that it's hard to know which ones to analyze. I wonder if maybe Valorant and Spiderweb Software have roughly comparable per-active-user revenue? Beyond that it'd be hard to meaningfully compare.
I wonder how much of your customer base you would lose charging $50 or $40, and running the same routine discounts down to your normal discounted price of $15.
I remember way, way back last millennium mailing a check to Spiderweb Software for a... I think it was a $25 game, and it was very exciting. Clearly, those days are over.
I think it is very hard to be a pioneer, especially because the risk is very real.
I don't think it's as simple as "if people couldn't pirate the game they would pay more for it, and not complain about the price being too high". I do agree with you that the dollar for value in the video game industry is extremely good, but your aren't just competing with movies and music, you're also competing with Instagram, Facebook, TikTok, and EVERY OTHER VIDEO GAME out there, including the MASSIVE free games. So of course some people are going to play Portal 1 and say "The cost is just too much for the amount of game you get, I mean I never paid a dime for Valorant and I have 1000s of hours in it, Portal only gave me 4!" or "Yeah, your 40 hour indy game is $20, but I can buy The Witcher 3 Complete Collection for $10 on a sale and get 200+ hours on the first playthrough".
Not saying you don't have a problem with piracy, I obviously have no idea of your company finances and such. Anyway, I enjoy your games, so thank or making them.