App Pricing: An Internal Monologue

In case you’re new to my blog: I’m currently in the process of making my first iOS game. It’s short, casual, and is clearly made by a beginner (is that a polite-enough way to say “amateurish?”). I’m hoping to release it sometime this summer and have been thinking a lot about pricing models for iOS games. What follows are some of my loosely-organized thoughts on that subject.

Customer Expectations

People who like to play short, casual games tend to expect them to be ad-supported, free-to-play, or just plain free. However, the developers that I follow, respect, and want to emulate, tend to express disdain toward those pricing models and prefer to promote games that are paid-up-front. Because of this, I feel torn between a niche group of thoughtful, intelligent iOS gamers whose respect I would love to earn, and the general public who couldn’t care less about the indie games market and just wants free games. And the thing is, I’m just a beginner, which brings me to…

Who am I?

Nobody knows who the heck I am. How could they? I’m not known for anything because I haven’t published anything. I have no fanbase, no credibility, and no experience. If I make my game free with ads and localize it as much as possible, there’s a good chance that it could get quite a few downloads. As someone currently wallowing in obscurity, one of my goals is for as many people to play my game as possible. And if people don’t like it, that’s fine—I can learn from it and move on.

However, if I price it at $0.99, even with the best marketing in the world, there’s a good chance that no one will download it. And if no one downloads it, I’ll never know whether or not they like it. I won’t know how to improve. Most of all—I’ll probably be discouraged from making a second game.

Determining Value

From what I understand, if you undervalue your work, no one is going to take you seriously and if you overvalue your work…well, no one is going to take you seriously then either. Online publications are severely criticized for paying very little (sometimes nothing) to their contributors in exchange for “exposure.” I mostly agree with the criticism; however, I also wonder: is there a point where gaining exposure is worth giving away your work for free? What if that work is your first effort? What’s the best or “proper” way to get noticed? Is there value in just “getting something out there” into the world, even if it’s not the most polished thing ever?

Ads are Icky

Advertisements make me feel gross. However, I’d like to make at least $50 off of this game, so I guess I can’t afford to be principled? Gosh that sounds horrible. I’m trying to keep it as least-scummy as possible: banner-ads only (no interstitials), never during gameplay, with an option to pay to remove ads. Honestly, it still makes my skin crawl. And I’m also concerned that it may push away one of my target markets: young children. Games with ads are bad for young kids because they touch the ads accidentally and get taken out of the game and don’t understand what happened. I guess I would just encourage parents to pay to remove the ads? That feels kind of scummy too. Or maybe it’s just business. ¯_(ツ)_/¯

Changing Models

It seems like it would be difficult to switch my app from being ad-supported to paid-up-front if I changed my mind down the road (after release). Will the people who paid to remove ads be angry that all of those who didn’t now suddenly have an ad-free experience? I guess the only example I have to go by is that of Overcast. I paid for Overcast’s extra features, which are now free for everyone, and I’m not mad about it. I mean, I suppose someone would be unhappy but maybe it wouldn’t be so bad?

Anyway, the article that got me thinking about all of this is “Indie Developers Have Always Needed to Treat Their Businesses Like Businesses” which is a very good, concise read.

tl;dr: I absolutely believe that indie studios should charge good money for their games and apps. I’m less sure of what solo, hobbyist devs like me should do, especially with our first games…the ones that we’ll look back on someday and think “wow, look how far I’ve come!”

More Quirky Animal Games

A few days ago I wrote about my excitement for the upcoming games Night in the Woods and Home Free. Since then, I thought of a couple more animal-related games that are currently in development that I find appealing:

Petting Pets

Petting Pets screenshot

© 2015 Curiobot Corporation

I am a complete sucker for pet games, and this one couldn’t be more straightforward: it’s a game about petting adorable pets. The art style is colorful and fun, and awhile ago the dev team (@PettingPets) asked their Twitter followers to send in pics of their pets along with their names, so hopefully there’s a pet named “Daisy” somewhere in there! The game will eventually be released for Android and iOS.

Sausage Sports Club

I gotta say that this has been one of the most amusing games to watch as it’s taken shape. Sausage Sports Club is a collection of multiplayer sports games starring sausage-shaped animals (and I’m pretty sure those dogs are corgis). The mariachi music and the hilarious physics get me every time! You can track the development of Sausage Sports Club by following @cjacobwade on Twitter and it looks like a website is forthcoming.

Shepherd Dog

I was browsing devlogs yesterday hoping to be encouraged/inspired and came across someone working on a low poly herding game. Obviously it’s very early in development and that title is likely not final, but it was fun to find someone who’s working on something similar…and yet very different. I’ll definitely be checking in on this project from time to time to see how it’s coming along.

Bored With All The Games

I love listening to the gaming podcast Isometric (if you love video games, you should check it out!). One of the popular refrains on the show is that violence as a primary game mechanic is getting really, really old. I whole-heartedly agree, and have a rather long list of other things that I’m also tired of in games, such as wizards, spells, dudes with swords, dungeons, the mere mention of mana, and the bastardization of any verb to make it sound like “flappy” (i.e. crossy, jumpy, etc.).

I know I just described the entire fantasy RPG genre and pretty much every iOS game, but bear with me.

There’s been an interesting resurgence of point-and-click adventures games lately (which I realize aren’t for everyone). Games like Broken Age and Armikrog are funny, poignant, and visually unique. In a world where everyone and their dog is making 8-bit retro dungeon crawlers, achieving uniqueness shouldn’t be that hard. And yet.

I was scrolling through my RSS feed this morning for the first time in a few days and decided to start with the 140 unread articles from TouchArcade. As I scrolled through the new and upcoming iOS game releases, I was struck by how many of them just looked the same to me. I swear some of them even have the same hooks:

  • Battle epic bosses
  • Over [insert stupidly high number] challenging levels
  • Collect treasure
  • Unlock [number] unique [characters, levels, modes, etc.]
  • Customize your hero [this usually means “buy new outfits via IAP” and also the hero is probably a dude]

Obviously, there are plenty of games that don’t slavishly follow this formula and for those I am thankful. And I’m not saying that Corgi Corral is some sort of amazing innovation—it’s not. In fact, it’s already been done. But it seems like video games are stuck in an endless cycle of nostalgia, with every new creation paying homage to some beloved childhood experience. There has to be a way to break free of that.

With that said, here are 3 games I’m looking forward to that don’t remind me of anything from the past:

Night in the Woods

  1. Night in the Woods. Is NITW a point-and-click adventure or a platformer? The answer is yes, and also, who cares? It features animal people and seems to nail the feeling of living in a small, dying town (which is a pretty common experience, but who makes games about rural communities? nobody, that’s who).
  2. Home Free. There are games out there where you can play as a dog, but none that are nearly this ambitious. I just hope that the developer digs deep in his heart and decides to add corgis to the game, even though we didn’t meet the short-legged dog stretch goal. ;)
  3. Wandersong. I just backed this one today, because it looks really interesting and fun. Music-as-a-mechanic is way more appealing to me than just another run-of-the-mill hack-n-slash.

I was about to say “I’d love to see more games like these,” but that’s exactly the problem (everyone copying each other). So I guess I’ll say that I’d like to see even more games that take risks in terms of visuals, story, mechanics, and length. For all of you working on something you think is totally weird: keep up the good work!

Disclaimer: Every night, my husband and I play Call of Duty multiplayer for a couple hours. And you don’t even want to know how many hours I’ve sunk into Guild Wars 2. So it’s not like I’m totally anti-establishment or whatever.