A Series of Ramblings

Blogging when I remember to

F**k the Indie Game Race to the Bottom (Dollar)

“I CAN’T BELIEVE THE WITNESS IS $40. AND HOW DARE HELLO GAMES CHARGE $60 FOR NO MAN’S SKY. AND UGH THOSE INDIE DEVS WHO REFUSE TO PUT THEIR GAME ON SALE AND EXPECT ME TO PAY MORE THAN $15 FOR THEIR GAMES. WHO DO THEY THINK THEY ARE!?” Well, they think they are people creating a product who believe in that product’s value and don’t want to conform to some arbitrary pricing standard you believe in. I hate what we as a community have done to devalue games. And don’t think big publishers and indie devs haven’t taken notice. In a world of free-to-play and mobile games, massive Steam sales, and the always popular “I’ll wait for a price drop”, it’s hard to convince people to pay full price for a game, and even harder to get them to pay a bigger price then they assume a game is worth.

But how even did we get here? Well… a combination of things. One being the inherent “standard price” of a AAA game. Nowadays a full price AAA game on PC or console will run $60 at launch, with 3DS/Vita games being between $20-$50. And we’ve come to relate that price with that kind of game. What even does it mean to be AAA? Who knows, but I can assure you most people can tell you what isn’t, and thus isn’t “worth the price”. Next up, the inevitable price drop of a AAA game. Want that big game that just came out? Okay with waiting until it’s cheaper? The market’s got you! If you can wait 6-8 months, that AAA will cost you 1/3 to 1/2 what it was, and if you’re okay with missing the big wave on release, you don’t have to pay full price! Then of course is the Steam sale. Oh the bane of many wallets, the Steam sale is technically never-ending. Weekly sales, flash sales, seasonal sales, it goes on. And when good games can be gotten for for 50-90% off list price, why ever consider full price at that point? Granted, Steam sales are set by the devs and affect both indie and AAA games, but it really colors a game’s perceived worth when a short indie game that costs $15 has to compete with getting something like Fallout: New Vegas and all it’s DLC for $10.

“BUT AN INDIE GAME SHOULD ONLY BE UNDER (enter amount here) BECAUSE IT’S MADE BY A SMALL TEAM ANYWAYS!!” Why? That’s a dumb argument. In other areas, we pay more for the fact that an item is made by less people, and are under the impression that there was more time and care and devotion to making a quality item and that’s what we’re paying for. Think of it this way: Odds are we get a Call of Duty or Battlefield or Assassin’s Creed every year. Such games are made and produced by loads of people, and have large marketing budgets. We assume such a game will cost $60 at release (even though the game might just be nothing more than “well we took last year’s game and put it in a different place), and have $40-$80 worth of additional DLC over time. So, we’re looking at a real “full cost” of a AAA game of $100+, and might be buggy, broken, or offer maybe 15 hours worth of gameplay. But because it’s a AAA game, we accept these things and don’t question it.

An indie game might however offer hours upon hours of gameplay (see N++, countless well-made tower defenses, etc) or something unique, be polished upon release and release on time, and be genuinely enjoyable, but because it’s not up to arbitrary AAA standards, it’s not worth more than $15 at best (seriously, price one at $20 and watch people flip out. Price one more than that, and they’ll lose their mind). But why? Because it’s not as pretty? Because it doesn’t offer the same sort of experience? Because only a handful of people worked on it? Those are all dumb reasons and you know it. Sure, it might not be a price you want to pay, but on the other hand, you have to pay me to get me to play CoD. I’d sooner buy a dozen weird indie games at full price than give EA or Activision or sometimes Ubisoft my money. I don’t think the grunt level devs of a AAA game are to blame for a game’s price/DLC/rushed delivery/etc, but if a group of indie devs put something out and think “Hey, we worked for the last 3 years on this game and it offers at least 40 hours of gameplay on a single run through, and we’re thus going to charge $40 for it”, I think that’s fair. And if you think that’s an unfair price, that’s fair too. But to say it doesn’t “deserve” to be priced that high just because you don’t want to pay the cost is pretty dumb.

Time and time again, we’ve spoken with our wallets, and game makers have responded. On the AAA front, that has meant DLC, season passes, microtransactions, and more. But indie devs? We just scream that their games aren’t worth that much, when they may very well be. Thus, I applaud the “gall” of The Witness and No Man’s Sky for breaking the modern indie game arbitrary price point. I support Metanet, Jason Rohrer, and countless others who want to avoid deeply discounted sale prices and instead present their games at the value they’ve deemed appropriate and refuse to budge. We should reward small teams who give us something new and refreshing in a video game world of remakes and endless sequels, not punish them for daring to be priced differently than we’re used to.