The irritating case of Hadean Lands pricing on Steam

(Cases that are "curious" are as overdone as things "considered harmful". This one is just a nuisance, but I still have to solve it.)

When I started planning HL for iOS, I figured that I'd charge $5. It wasn't a casual-tiny price, it wasn't full-on-desktop-game. (2010 was early in iOS history but we could already see what "race to the bottom" meant.) I wrote up the Kickstarter page and offered $3 as the basic backer pre-order level -- "a $5 value!" So that was pretty well locked in.

During development I decided to release the game for Mac and Windows as well, but I kept the $5 price point. I'm not sure I had any hard logic for this beyond "I don't want to think about it." With a dash of "nobody will complain if it's the same price everywhere." I've had a couple of limited-term sales, but HL has basically been $5 since it launched.

Now I'm (slowly) approaching a Steam release. Scary! And worth revisiting my old assumptions. Should I raise the price?

(I'm not lowering the price, don't be silly.)

The good example on everyone's mind this week is Stephen's Sausage Roll, which launched with a $30 price-tag and an equally brazen attitude of "I'm worth it". Or, more, precisely: "Do you want this particular kind of puzzle? Are you going to jump up and down on it until your knees catch fire? If so, I'm worth $30 to you. Everybody else, just walk on by."

Also, as my friend Chris noted: "if this was a $5 game i'd just put it down and say 'whatever, too hard' [...] but being invested means i have to play it." Buying a game is buying into the game. We all know this, but the difference between $5 and $30 really throws it into the spotlight.

So maybe this all describes Hadean Lands too? Parser IF is niche appeal in a nutshell. Maybe I should kick it up to $7 or $10 on Steam. Or more?

I asked around my IF friends, and several of them said sure, they'd pay $10. Of course, they all own the game already, so it's not exactly a useful sample!

Many factors collide here.

  • What price? Dare I go beyond $10?
  • Do I also raise the iOS price?
  • Do I also raise the Mac/Win price? (On Itch.IO and the Humble Store.)
  • I'm adding the journal and map features (which exist on iOS but have never been seen on Mac/Win). I could say it's an "enhanced version" because of that.
  • I'm also fixing some minor but long-standing bugs. It's probably asinine to call it "enhanced" on that account, though.
  • I really don't have time in my schedule to extend the game in any way (beyond the journal and map UI).
  • When it comes down to it, will Steam users come after me in a torch-bearing mob for raising the price of an already-released game? Or is "new to Steam" good enough?

(But one major point of the "I'm worth it" strategy is to signal to the torch-bearing mob to go elsewhere, because they wouldn't be interested in the game to begin with! SSR has a delightfully high rating on Steam, because it's only purchased by people who want it.)

Comments? Opinions?

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17 Responses to The irritating case of Hadean Lands pricing on Steam

  1. Wade says:

    I'd never be part of a torchy mob, but my basic thing is if I don't have a game, and I see the game is cheaper in one place than another, I'll definitely buy it where it's cheaper. The easiest justification in my mind to raise the price for Steam is if the game has enough new/different stuff, which you acknowledge this can't/won't.

    But - obviously the point of selling on Steam is that you're on Steam. This is a big deal for those gamers who wouldn't buy outside of Steam, or basically - gaming = Steam. There'll be people who are Steam-only, see this game appear, decide they want it and won't blink or even check to see if the game is available anywhere else. And in writing this, I'm starting to think they're the main, or maybe even the only, audience to consider for this particular release.

    Personally I think the major price hike idea is not bad, either, for the same reason as in the previous paragraph, and because of the other example you mentioned.

    Just don't call it 'A New Beginning: Final Cut', ala my Feb 14 blog rant.

    Unrelated - My experiences as a player with Steam have all been bad. I've paid for games that haven't worked for 2 years and still don't run on machines they're being sold for. Australia just sued Steam successfully in court for their refund policy.

  2. HD says:

    I think it's best not to raise the price. HL is worth more than $5, but it would be such a pain explaining to the angry Steam crowd why it would make sense to raise the price. If you do raise it, I don't think it should go beyond $10. Again, not because isn't worth more than that, but because HL has the opportunity to be a lot of people's first parser-based IF and

    • HD says:

      (woops, got cut off)
      ...[less-than] $10 games have a better chance of getting big.

      [Blog software choked on the less-than symbol, sorry. I have edited it so as not to be cut off. --Z]

  3. anon says:

    You under-priced. You would have sold exactly the same number of copies had you priced it at $10. The target audience would have paid. Under-pricing, or pricing low to attract sales is a fallacy for a 'unique' service or product. It also serves to set expectations for future products. Pick a price point (9.99?) and stick with it. The product, if it has a market, if it is good enough, will sell.

    It is a common mistake for the 'creator' of a product to underprice it. It is a combination of self-doubt, lack of experience and doubt about the market and the consumer.


    • sep332 says:

      I agree with this entirely, and would add that since this is the first parser IF many people will encounter, you're anchoring the price they expect to pay for any future IF, not just yours. For the good of the IF community, don't set expectations too low.

  4. matt w says:

    I would guess that if you raise the price on Steam but not on other platforms, there will be people who complain about it. This may follow from a more general principle.

    One thing I would do is, if you're planning to sell it for more on Steam and raise the price to match on other platforms, you could advertise a Last Chance to get it at the old price on the old platforms before the Steam launch happens. That might sweep in some sales from procrastinators who've been meaning to get around to this but haven't, and would jump on it for the old price. Not that I know anyone like that.

  5. megazver says:

    You wouldn't be the first dev to raise the price from mobile. Some people will grumble, but most will get over it. Anyway, it's much easier to start high and drop down if the sales are low then it is to raise the price after release. I'd start with $10 and see how much that sells.

  6. Tablesaw says:

    Think of it as finally ending the months-long sale you've been offering.

  7. Whichever prize you choose should be higher than what you actually want because then you can afford to be constantly participating in Steam sales, lowering the prize to what you really wanted all along. There is really no downside to having a high sticker prize because the higher the prize, the more impressive sales you can run! (75% off on Hadean Lands! Don't miss this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to get it for only 10 bucks!!!!).

    Seriously, Steam sales are so ubiquitous nowadays that hardly anyone ever buys games at full prize anymore. If you don't participate in those sales, you are losing out on a major promotional opportunity, so make sure to leave some slack in the prize.

  8. Andrew Plotkin says:

    Thanks for all your comments. I'm going to be out at all day so I can't reply at length right now, but I'll check back in tonight.

  9. Alan says:

    If you raise the price on PC, I would definitely rebrand it as the Enhanced Edition or perhaps Director's Cut to cut down on the grumbling. Since you're going from providing something simple (is it just a gblorb?) to a full app with additional features, it seems fair.

  10. One piece of feedback regarding raising its price on you've given potential customers loooooads of time to get it at $5. You've gone above and beyond in that respect if you want to raise the price on Steam and Through these blog posts you're even giving potential customers that see it a heads-up that it might be raised soon. That is very cool of you and very customer-friendly.

    It's worth more than any of these prices being discussed, of course -- sometimes it helps just seeing that said in text. It definitely is. You're a craftsman at this stuff, at the top of your game.

  11. Matt W says:

    I say go with at least $10, maybe even $15. To me a $10 price point signals a level of polish that Hadean Lands most certainly has. I game lots (~400 games on Steam), didn't do much IF at all before playing HL last year, and it's no exaggeration to say it was my favorite game of 2015. Steam also commonly offers sales as a way to promote your product, and if you're already down at $5, where do you go?

  12. Andrew Plotkin says:

    Okay, almost everybody agrees that launching at $5 is a flat-out mistake. (No offense to HD, but the crowd is against you here. Similar stats from my private conversations.)

    One person advised me to put down $15 as the "real" price but do a $10 launch sale, and repeat the sale at whatever interval maximizes revenue. That's probably good advice -- it would bring in more money than a fixed price -- but I don't have the stomach for it. I want to be thinking about my *next* game dammit. Also, it turns my focus back towards the "generic" sale-scarfing Steam user, rather than the niche audience of people who really want to be playing IF right now.

    Therefore, the new plan:

    - Release an update on Itch and Humble, but with the new interpreter (with journal and map). No game file fixes. Free upgrade for people who already have the Itch/Humble version; keep price at $5 for newcomers. This is a soft-launch to shake out bugs. Carefully explain that the price will be going up to $10 in two weeks.

    - Two weeks later, release on Steam at $10, and also update the Itch/Humble versions to $10. These releases will include game-file fixes (which means save files will be incompatible with all previous releases).

    - Do not touch the iOS version at all. It will require extra engineering to do that and that's a lower priority. I figure I will leave the iOS version at $5 forever, because (a) it's really only getting game-file bug fixes and (b) it's not weird to have an app on mobile at a lower price than Steam.

    • Andrew Plotkin says:

      PS: $10 might be $12 or $15 depending on how much I nerve myself up.

      Also, the thought about "player investment" has gotten me inordinately amused about the idea of adding Steam DLC which is literally just a printable certificate saying "I solemnly swear to finish Hadean Lands without looking at any hints." And charge $25 for that certificate. No achievement, no in-game or interpreter mechanic -- pure honor system

  13. Dave says:

    Any self-employed tradesman will tell you the fastest way to failure is to undercharge. I believe independent software developers are slowly re-learning this lesson.

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