The second conversation is the game’s price point. At $5.99 on the App Store, plenty of people are quite loud in their surprise, shock and confusion at what is considered a “quite high” (quoted from a conversation I had) price for an iOS game. Most of the apps and games on the App Store tend to be within the one or two-dollar mark, and this means that anything above this heavily weighted average is perceived as expensive.
When having this conversation with a bunch of developers, or I should say, when eavesdropping on this conversation between a bunch of developers, it was brought up that because of 868-HACK’s asking price and the starting difficulty of the game, it was presumed that it probably hadn’t sold that well, despite being a very well-designed game and being worthy of all the success. All of it.
I wanted to find out if this was the case, how 868-HACK had been selling. So I questioned Michael Brough on this topic of pricing, the App Store and what people’s outside perceptions might be. The answers are impeccable. So, have a read of the interview that people will refer to as…
Statik: There’s been mention of 868-HACK being quite an expensive game for the App Store. Do you consider that to be the case?
Michael Brough: There’s definitely a vast ocean of games at $0-$2, and so going higher than that breaks with people’s expectations. Obviously, there have been complaints. But if you look, there are quite a few games in higher price bands, particularly board game conversions. Pretty much every review mentions the price; it’s a running joke by now (SHOUT OUT TO CARTER DOTSON).
Statik: How did you go about finding the right price to charge for the game on the App Store?
MB: I’m not going to claim that this is the “right” price by any means. Basically, I’m running a long on-going experiment to try to figure this out. The first game I released on iOS was Glitch Tank at $2, and it sold hardly anything – like thirty copies in the first three months, which was pretty confusing for me because, seriously, THAT GAME. The response I got from some established developers was that it was silly of me to expect anything better at that price; App Store is for $1 or free (SPOILERS: THEY WERE MISTAKEN).
So for the next thing, I tried Zaga-33 at $1, and, hey, it sold more, a thousand copies or so at first, and another thousand later. Not terrible for that.
But, okay, I spent a lot longer on 868-HACK than Zaga. If it was to sell a similar amount at a similar price, that would pretty much be a problem for me (financial situation: my wife supports us both, and we’re fine for the moment, but she’s on a temporary contract and might not be able to keep affording to support me, so what I make from games now is not a matter of immediate survival, but determines whether I’ll be able to keep making them later).
I asked some developer friends what they thought, and they thought the price seemed reasonable. Some were pushing me to go higher, but I felt like any higher would be courting a lot more complaints about the price, and that would stress me more than it’s worth.
Something important about “experimenting” with prices: it’s really easy to get into a really sociopathic mindset where you’re trying to tune one number to maximise another number, and you lose sight of the fact that you’re experimenting on actual human beings. I’m not sure to what extent there are real ethical concerns here, but that mindset itself seems harmful to me; got to be careful.
Statik: How has this pricing model worked out for 868-HACK so far? And how does it compare to your other iOS games?
MB: It has worked VERY WELL. I am not shy about numbers; it has sold almost 3000 copies already, which, wow.
It’s hard to pull apart how much effect the price has had because I’ve received quite a bit of attention since my last release. But basically, it’s significantly more copies than my other iOS games, and at a higher price too that translates into enough money that I can keep going. YESSS.
Comparison: Corrypt‘s sold 1,859. I’m not sure how fair a comparison that is because Corrypt had a free PC version, and this hasn’t had a PC release at all yet (barring the seven-day jam version), and when it does, it will be paid.
Statik: Was it risky for you to set the price as you have for 868-HACK, especially as it might be considered quite a tough game to get into?
MB: How I see it, it would have been riskier for me to set the price lower. Like I said above, expecting similar numbers to the previous games I’d have a problem, whereas if it’s too high, I can always drop it or do sales. Actually, with Zaga at a dollar, I was finding it pretty annoying that there was nowhere lower I could go for a sale without being all-out free (AVERTED:
But, hey, also I think the trends towards low prices (App Store, bundles, etc.) are pretty harmful. Short-term, it’s been nice for customers to get things cheaply and nice for developers to cash in on quick sales, but long-term, it limits who gets to make games and what types of games get made. So many people have such backwards ideas about how selling things works, as I’ve seen in the responses to this price.
There was an otherwise lovely review recently that unfavourably compared the price to that of a AAA iOS game, – but really, they can expect to sell a heck of a lot more copies, so they can afford a lower price, even with their higher production costs, and chances are their iOS version is a loss-leader anyway.
I see it as important to improve the general understanding of how pricing of digital goods works to create an environment where independent artists can thrive making unique personal work for smaller audiences. So even if I’m taking a hit in the short-term (which is unclear), it’s for THE GREATER GOOD.
Statik: Do you have a price in mind for the upcoming PC version of the game, and what different elements do you consider when pricing a game for the App Store and PC (or are they the same)?
MB: Okay, the cool thing about PC is that (at least through some stores) you can set the exact price. There I was thinking, “Hey, this game has a number in the name; wouldn’t it be cool if the price was the same as the number? $$$8.68-HACK,” and then I log into the App Store thingy, and the only options it gives are round multiples of $1US, with weird unfair conversions to other currencies to keep it fairly round in those too.
I DON’T APPROVE OF THIS KIND OF PRICING.
It’s using a psychological trick that has been reliably demonstrated to produce more sales. When I see .99 on the end of a price, my response is, “Why are you trying to hypnotise me into thinking your product is cheaper than it is? I do not consent to being treated like this. Please desist.” I am not entirely comfortable with using stores that force these prices, but I do it anyway because I don’t have great alternatives.
But yeah, that’s the main thing I have in mind – that I can put whatever price I like! So fun! Less playfully, sure, I think practically, you can set a higher price on PC, and people will accept it (I think mostly because a PC is a larger object than a telephone).