For us, the customer, there is a common school of thought that the cheaper something is, the better. But this isn't always the case. Numerous tests from retail industries across the world have found that when customers buy something for less they form less of an attachment. They’re less invested and in turn less inclined to give the game a chance. This can be shown with the PlayStation Plus games given away, with high attach rates and yet often 90% of players don’t even make it through the tutorials.
It all boils down to the psychology of consumption. People are complex and we aren’t merely herded around by cheap prices. The more we spend on a game, the more driven we will be to get our money’s worth, known as the sunk-cost effect. We are more likely to consume a product when we are more intensely aware of the cost, of the work we had to put in to purchase it.
In particular, if an indie dev or publisher wants to build a following and be known for its quality products, it’s important that customers don’t just buy their games but also consume them. Developers rely on satisfaction to drive further sales, spread word-of-mouth, or to have a successful sequel. It means nothing to pick up one their games for 90% off in a sale, never play it and thus ignore their next game.
There’s also the matter of quality to consider. A dirt cheap price point doesn’t inspire confidence. Quality is worth paying for. It’s part of why we’ve seen a general trend towards the bigger indie games adopting higher price points. The Witness launched at £30. Hellblade was £25. Back in the Xbox Arcade games, £15 was seen as the absolute upper ceiling. Having played and finished The Witness though, there’s no doubt in mind that it’s a game worth £30. All told it took me about 25 hours to finish. Yet it attracted widespread criticism for its pricing. No one batted an eyelid at Resident Evil 7, a £40 game that can be finished in eight hours.
Gamers have historically had quite a narrow focus when it comes to indie games; that they aren’t worth as much because they didn’t cost as much to develop. That’s counterintuitive. Destiny may have cost $500 million to make, but it also sold 18 million copies plus a metric ton of expansion packs. The Witness would have still cost millions to make, yet even with its expensive pricing the million or so copies sold would have only brought in around £20 million. Should you have to pay $50 for a cinema ticket to see Guardians of the Galaxy 2 and $25 for Dunkirk, just because Guardians' production costs were double Dunkirk’s? Regardless of their development cost, indie game pricing has to be more on par with AAA in order to succeed. You get the occasional indie gem that does it all on a shoestring and a £5 asking price, but the vast majority are charging little and selling few.
I would argue there’s a case to be that made that indie games should cost more, rather than less. It’s a method that could foster even greater quality in the indie scene. The best indie games are worth every penny as much as their AAA counterparts, and yet we have a collective brainfart when trying to draw parallels between Call of Duty and Rocket League. In all my years spending £50 on Call of Duty, I have never got anywhere near the value I’ve got from spending £15 on Rocket League. To my mind Psyonix would be totally justified in charging £50 for Rocket League. Knowing what I know now, I wouldn’t regret my purchase one bit.
Looking at the flood of cut-rate games on Steam these days, I believe there’s an argument to be made that quality indie devs should be able to confidently price their games much higher, and that there’s no need to disparagingly say something’s not worth $40 because it’s an indie product.
What are your thoughts on this, does a higher price for a game inspire confidence in you? Are you more likely to play a game if you spend more on it? Let us know!