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Vic Davis Interview

February 11th, 2010 by Troy Goodfellow · 8 Comments · Blogs, Cryptic Comet, Indie Games, Industry

Over at Game, Set, Watch Phil Cameron conducted an interview with Vic Davis, the genius behind Armageddon Empires and Solium Infernum.

GSW is one of the best newsblogs on the internet, partly because it is so willing to giving space to indie games in a serious way. This is part of their IGF/Gamasutra mission, I suppose, but they could always give it up and go the way of other newsblogs. They don’t.

This interview treads the usual “getting to know you ground”, so you guys probably already know all the stuff Davis talks about. My favorite bit is where he jumps into the tired-but-never-exhausted debate over what an indie game should cost.

I actually thought hard about going with an even higher price point for Solium Infernum….in the $34.95 range. Seriously though, I think that a higher price might even be better but I have yet to test it out. I like the thought of winnowing out the people who are going to buy based on impulse and then not enjoy the game. My games are an acquired taste. It saves us both a lot of time, money and effort in the long run….and I can focus on my niche. I only want customers who feel they got some value for their purchase.

All that said, Solium Infernum is on the lower end of the price spectrum for niche strategy games (but is admittedly on the high end for and “indie buzz” game). But pricing in the games industry is undergoing a tremendous amount of turmoil. You have AAA games debuting at $60 and then a race to the bottom depending on the “success” of the game. You have a downloadable casual market that has just imploded in the Great Portal Wars deflation and you have services like Steam that offer huge volume moving sales while adding continually to already large catalogues. For a small developer or you might even say hobbyist like me that’s scary….how do I fit in? I basically just pick my price, stick my head in the sand and try and make games that justify the price to a small niche audience.

Thirty dollars is more than fair for what is a really original design. I think the days of expecting indie developers to be happy with shareware or twenty dollar price points are well behind us and thank God because this is where PC gaming is going and where strategy games are.

(Yeah, I complain about how some wargame companies charge too much, but that’s more rooted in how derivative and unoriginal so many wargames are. There’s a difference between thirty dollars for an original design and fifty for what amounts to new scenarios in an old engine or a re-release of a ten year old game.)


8 Comments so far ↓

  • Ginger Yellow

    I have to agree. SI is a game you either get or you don’t. It has a demo, so it’s not like he’s asking people to buy it blind. If you get it, you’d be willing to pay at least as much as it costs. If you don’t you probably wouldn’t be willing to pay even a fiver. Dropping the price by $10 or $15 wouldn’t persuade enough waverers to buy it to justify the lost revenue from committed fans.

  • Punning Pundit

    I can only speak to my own experience, but for me, that $30 price point is kind of the magic line. I will risk $10 without a thought, and $20 if there’s some good buzz. But $30? That’s a lot of money…

    In fact, I snapped the game up when they had the $5 off sale a month or so ago. Even that much of a price drop made it a no-brainer for me. I do wish it were on impulse or steam, though…

  • Scott R. Krol

    Games are luxury items and even on the upper end of price points on PC games all one has to do is skip going out to lunch for a few days and you’ll have the money. Developers need to stop worrying about whether they’re charging too much. Set the price at what you think it’s worth and don’t worry about the moaners. There will *always* be those that gripe about a price.

  • JonathanStrange

    It’s precisely because games are optional luxury items and not essentials, that developers should be concerned about their pricing policies. I’ll snap up a game for $20 even if I’m only mildly interested, for $30 a game would have to be more compelling for me to forego going out to lunch several days.

    It doesn’t matter so much what the indie developer is happy with receiving; it’s what customers are willing to pay. He HAS to figure out if the extra sales generated by a lower price make up for lower per unit sale. That’s a tricky thing to judge; blithely dismissing budget-minded customers as “moaners” impossible to satisfy is not an optimal solution.

    I’ll pay for a quality downloaded indie game; not because I care one-way-or-the other about indie developers but because I want the game. I liked Armageddon Empires but the setting of SI didn’t particularly interest me. I might’ve bought at $20 just to look at it and play a few times despite the demo not “doing it for me”.

    I understand and sympathize with a developer not wanting to give away his product. I think he’s making a virtue of necessity though: if he thought he could triple his sales by lowering his price to $20, I think a smart developer would.

    Niche status be damned.

  • DavyRam

    With respect Mr. Strange, if you’re asking developers to be rational about things instead of sentimental (which is probably what they’re doing anyway, its their income after all) is it not the more sensible to err on the high end of what you think your game is worth rather than low? After all, to decide on what the optimal price point is you need data. It’s surely far, far more possible to pick a high price point then lower it later if sales have sufficent, sustained impact than to raise to a higher one. Davis merely said he “liked the thought” of winnowing out people outside his niche, not that this was his primary consideration.

    There’s a very relevant post on the spiderweb software (I think) blogs on this subject. The geneforge games seem a bit pricy to me, but apparently the data shows that sales only produce a short bump in sales and after that the income in sub-optimal. I suspect where you’re selling is a big factor. A game on steam has far more chance of attracting sufficient impulse buyers with a lower price point than a personal site which only people interested in the genre are likely to find anyway.

  • JonathanStrange


    Heh. I’m not asking developers to do anything. It’s their right to charge whatever they want. I do agree it is easier to lower a price than to raise it and that one might do better to initially err on the high price side – those, along with getting data – are pretty common-sense ideas that I wasn’t arguing against anyway.

    No, I was arguing that if customers think your price is too high, then a developer who’s thinking a bit about maximizing his profits or revenue, would be careful before dismissing them as complainers who wouldn’t buy the game at any price, wouldn’t like it anyway, or appreciate the originality and uniqueness of his game. It may that his game is a niche game and lowering the price wouldn’t generate enough extra sales to increase his haul. I think in Vic Davis’ case, he has to be careful about too low a price: it’s not like he’s a huge conglomerate with plenty of new games in the pipeline.

    Ironically, I think a lot of us would save money if games were more expensive. We’d think twice about buying a game unless we had a strong interest in it. Instead of eight or nine $20 (or less) games a year, we’d buy one or two $50 games that we were fairly certain of.

  • Sarkus

    Mr. Davis could probably release his next game at a higher price and do quite well given that he has established a niche group of fans now. That would put him in the same category as certain hard core wargame developers who figure only their established fans will be buying so charging a lot is just fine.

    But the problem with that approach is that it doesn’t grow the audience. That’s the risk with pricing high. Now I’m sure someone will argue that you can price high and later drop the price, but you lose at least some potential sales with that approach. The guy that would have bought the game at a lower price when the message boards were buzzing may hardly notice the game is cheaper down the road. This is particularly true of smaller titles where sales on Steam and such don’t generate the same level of interest.

  • Kingdaddy

    If I were Vic Davis, I would charge $2 more per unit, and use the added revenue to pay someone to write a better manual.