Assigning a Value to “Indie” Games

Do you know what my first reaction to seeing that The Witness was released yesterday: it wasn’t to go straight out and buy it. Instead, I sat on my hands staring at that £30 price tag wondering if the game was worth that much. The reported high quality of the game being a none factor, I found myself hung up on the cost to purchase the game. But considering what early reviews have to say, £30 is apparently a steal.

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We’re at a point now where video games are as inexpensive as they’ve ever been, and yet we’re all still talking about our value for money and independent studios overcharging. People complain about the free games they get with services like PS plus and Games with Gold because they’re not getting the £50 triple A releases.

Independent video game development is in a better place than it’s ever been before. Making your own game is not only doable but getting it published and out into the world for people to play is an almost trivial task. As more people start creating video games though, the term “indie” begins to swell and encompass far more than it originally intended, making it so some games find themselves with a certain undeserved stigma attached when selling to a certain audience.

Any game not a shooter or open world action RPG these days seems struggle with breaking free of an “indie” label when it comes to getting recognised, some see these games as cheap novelties and little else. The constant driving forward of graphics and power from mainstream developers has done nothing but widen this gulf. It’s a shame, but mainstream perception has made the heavily marketed games the most played titles throughout a year, while technically superior or simply more enjoyable games from smaller developers find themselves only just getting by.

psplus1It’s because of this perception that we get people complaining that a £12 indie game is this month’s PS Plus title. It bleeds over into the more knowledgeable gamer communities though. Steam is a fantastic derive that allows new developers or incredibly small dev teams to put out their little games for people to play, these people don’t often charge much and as a result people start to form an expectation for the prices of things. So when an independent studio asks for £30, people start to wrinkle their noses.

The contradiction here is that while some will complain about the price of these new releases, they’re not prepared to wait for the price to inevitably go down after a few weeks or months. Impatience to play the newest thing before it goes cold is one of the biggest problems. Steam is a minefield of sales and price cuts, games that were hugely popular less than a year ago, find themselves going for almost nothing by comparison during these sales. It would be easy for these complainers to just wait until then to play these games, but by then the game won’t be topical anymore and will probably end up getting forgotten by most.

team-summer-flashWhose to say what the value of a video game is anymore. If anyone has the right to do that then it’s the creator. They know exactly how much time went into making their game and if they believe that their game warrants a higher than expected price tag, then they’re fully within their rights to charge that.

Value for money is purely an objective term to rate a piece of entertainment by in my opinion. Different people put entirely different prices on their entertainment media, two people could have the exact same amount of joy from a single product but assign entirely different values to that experience in hindsight. It’s a strange way for people to judge a game when their perceived value of it is theirs and theirs alone.

Look at the collectors editions that come out for major releases, all that have additional content, season passes and physical items with them. These can more than double the price of the games, and yet people will still snap them up without knowing if they’re going to like the game or not. At the other end of the spectrum you get mobile games like Clash of Clans, games that make huge amounts of money from the “Whales” despite advertising themselves as free to play.

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The best example right now is an independently developed game called Star Citizen, a game that on its pitch alone has been able to collect over 50 million dollars from crowdsourcing, and it’s not even out yet. In a game where individual ships can sell out in minutes for $2,500 of real money, then can anyone look down at an independent game developers anymore these days, and accuse them of price gouging.

By all accounts, The Witness is a fantastic logic based puzzle game. Reviews from all sources hail the game as being something everyone should endeavour to play. It might not be action orientated, but it looks amazing, is intellectually stimulating and has a reported 80 hours worth of content in it. If that’s not a game worth dropping £30 on, I don’t know what is…

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