Fair game pricing

I’ve written about piracy a while ago and hypothesised that players are more likely to pirate a game if it is expensive and, inversely, more likely to buy game that’s cheap. I’ve thought and read more about this topic, and I think that I may be close to an – at least in theory – fair pricing scheme.

For some reason, almost every game developer is blogging about game length today, which lead me to an older yet insightful post by Jeff Vogel. Vogel suggests a pricing scheme for independent games that takes the following factors into account: The length of the game, how niche the game is and how much money the developer needs to live. This is a pretty pragmatic scheme, yet I came up with a slightly different one from my point of view. I essentially claim that the primary factors for a game’s price should be its length and its quality. They influence each other: Artificially lengthening a game reduces its quality, while increasing the quality increases the effort required for each hour of gameplay.

There is at least one problem I didn’t consider in my previous post: I’ve used the amount of $5 as an example of cheap, but what’s conceived as cheap is relative. Consider a car: $5 is cheap for a car. Heck, $500 is cheap for a car. $500 is, on the other hand, unbelievably expensive for a video game. But it’s quite cheap for Adobe Photoshop. See where I’m getting at? It all depends on what people are willing to (or: used to) pay, so I will try to consider this in my scheme. If there is really a trend towards lower game prices, $5 will some day be rather expensive for a game and people will be more likely to pirate it. That’s a disturbing trend, and if all developers reduce their prices hysterically, this will lead to a chain reaction endangering the whole industry.

So let’s not make it cheaper, let’s make it fair. In my opinion, a price is fair if neither producer nor consumer feel ripped off and if both basically agree on the pricing scheme. Here’s what I think should work, illustrated with highly unscientific formulae:

If you calculate your game’s price from its quality and length, you will probably get to a nice sum:

dream price = quality * length

If it’s too high, you can reduce quality or length, at least in theory (as many of the game length posts today, I’m in favour of reducing length instead of quality, but neither should become extremely low). If it’s too cheap, you probably need to increase either.

If you then, after careful consideration of your target audience, determine the average price people would be willing to (or: are used to) pay for a game like yours (this takes Vogel’s niche factor into account), you can use that and the average price you personally assume to calculate a price that might be perceived as adequate:

fair price = (dream price * average price) / personal average price

If multiplying the result with the expected number of sold units leads to an acceptable amount, why not try it?

But how to make that long story-intensive $60 game cheap to avoid piracy? I think that releasing a game in several episodes of (naturally) reduced length and hence reduced price is a viable alternative.

This is more from a player’s viewpoint than from a developer’s: I’ve never sold a game and never depended on it financially, so I can’t dismiss Vogler’s final factor: How much the developer needs to live. I will probably sell a game someday and see for myself. In any case, I think that the topic of pricing deserves careful consideration from both developers and players – that’s the only way everyone can think of the prices as fair.

2 Responses

  1. While I agree with you on most parts, I can’t quite imagine how the length of a game can be shortened or lenghtened for quality purpose. Take a text-based adventure for example, as I experienced with Persona 4 the raw playing time of 80 hours can be reduced to 30 by simply skipping text events and not leveling much. Kids may need a much longer time to read, and if you’re playing level based games like World of Goo it could take you hours to finish one level if you have a bad day. You can, of course, determine an average gaming time – but still, I wouldn’t know how to add or subtract one hour from a game.

    Additionally, as with books or movies, if something can be shortened, it usually is better that way. If you can shorten the text dialogues, you probably should do it, if there are scenes you can take away without destroying some inner logic of the game, then you should do it as well. You can raise the quality fairly much by shortening. 8D

    Its a tricky subject and I haven’t found a good solution for myself yet. I think, the most important thing is covering expenses and work-time. Maybe pay someone else for stuff you can’t do and some new equipment. If you have to live from what you’re making it is fair to take 20 bucks instead of 5. 20$ are ridiculously cheap for a game these days. If people are willing to pay that amount is another question.

  2. Well, it’s a bit hypothetical to actually take away an hour of gameplay, it’s probably very difficult to do that. All of the math above is a means of communicating my idea, not something that can be hacked into a calculator. How to turn “game quality” into a discrete number? Probably very difficult as well.

    I fully agree that stuff should be shortened if it is possible to do so without sacrificing meaning, that’s true for programming as well. But that’s my point: If you add some expendable content (like 90% of the ridiculously long and boring dungeons in the otherwise awesome Persona 4), you’re artificially inreasing the game’s length, but at expense of quality.

Leave a Reply