(…) if Machinarium sold for just $10 more, a price I would still pay for the game, many gamers would instantly be turned off of the title. Not because they don’t feel the title is worth their money, or even because they don’t think it’s worth $30, but, rather, because they are accustomed to getting indie games at super cheap prices, despite how much money, effort, love, and creativity was put into the title.
John Jackson responds to this that the problem is not that indie games are under-priced but that AAA games are over-priced. And to some extent, he is right. He just doesn’t seem to realize, however, that what you’re actually paying more for when buying a AAA game in a store is not the game itself but the wages of the shop attendant and the truck driver, the heating of the store, the bribes to get shelf space, the advertising and marketing, and in some places additional taxes. If you subtract all of this, you are indeed only giving $20 out of the $60 you paid to the developer and publisher of the game, the same amount as you pay to an indie developer who sells their games via digital download from their own website. This sounds fair (as long as the customers can accept that most of their money goes to other things than the actual production of the game).
If AAA games would be sold online, and not through expensive retail, their price could be the same as that of indie games.
But what should that price be?
The $10 that we charge for The Path will probably not be sufficient to cover its production cost, in the end. But if we had charged more, in the current climate, a lot less people would have bought it, likely resulting in an even lower return on investment. Many independent games suffer from this problem. Gamers are only prepared to pay a small amount of money for an indie game. But because the games are very niche (the very reason to buy them in the first place), they often don’t sell enough copies to fund their own production. As a result, quality levels drop (iPhone, I’m looking at you) which makes high prices even more difficult to justify.
For a consumer, of course, low prices are nice. And it would be possible to keep prices low while retaining the quality of the products, if games would sell in higher amounts. This means increasing the size of the audience. Given that the audience for games is currently a sort of mega-niche, there’s definitely potential for expansion.
But expanding the audience seems to be very difficult.
For games to attract new audiences, they have to become different (new controls, new themes, new formats, etc). But the core market of gamers is extremely reluctant to accept innovation. They love their hobby and they don’t want anything to change. And if games are not successful with the core market, the chances are slim that they will ever reach an audience beyond it. As a result, ironically, only mega-corporations like Nintendo can afford to innovate. Because their massive marketing budget makes them independent of core market success.
So, ironically, the desire of gamers to preserve their hobby, will ultimately destroy it. By refusing to pay higher prices for their games and simultaneously resisting change in the medium (which would lead to expansion of the market and thus justification of low prices), they are effectively destroying the thing they love.
Buy more indie games. Indie games serve both the function of retaining the traditional qualities of games as well as expanding the format to appeal to new audiences. And pay more for indie games. So they can afford to be as niche and special as you want them to be. And don’t whine about a few Dollars more or less. The survival of a species is at stake!