Customers “are worthless” is a phrase that caught our eye this week, from a piece on the Puppy Games blog describing the devaluing of individual customers that accompanies the devaluing of game prices.
“Where once you were worth $20… Now you’re worth $1 to us. If you buy every one of our games, you’re worth $5. After Valve and the tax man and the bank take their cuts, you’re not even worth half a cup of coffee.”
It’s a lengthy post that deserves to be read, and even though we’re talking to indie developers day in and day out, we can’t speak fully to the economic and creative realities that they face. But that question of “worth,” so easily tossed around, is one with a lot of different facets that never really gets the consideration it should.
Here’s the rub – the customers who spend $1 to purchase your $20 game were never your best customers. An overwhelming number of games are bought off Steam and never even booted up. Steam prices are so low, they’ve created a new threshold – the price you’ll pay to just own and never use a thing. Those people were never going to spend $20 on your title.
We live among a surplus of great games. People who create great things deserve to find success for doing so, but sadly, that’s never guaranteed. Let’s face it: the demand is highest not for great games, but for mind-blowingly amazing and original experiences. The very best games will attract the very best customers – the customers that make the whole effort economically viable. Perhaps in this market, specifically on Steam, games that are merely great attract less than the best.
The success of independent Early Access titles like Rust and DayZ across Steam shows that the audience willing to pay the absolute most money asked for a game still exists (so eager, they’ll spend full price for a product before it’s even finished). That audience won’t just hand you its time and money, though. They have a lot of choices – too many choices. PR and marketing bring customers to the front door of the club, but will they pay the cover charge? Yes: if you prove your worth to them.