Some months ago, Reflexive (now owned by Amazon) decided to try to undercut the competition by lowering the prices of their games, most of which ended up at their new price point of $6.99. This is a far cry from $14.99-19.99 which up until recently was the going rate for an online casual game. Some of the other online publishers had already set a low price point for their ‘club membership’ offerings which works something like a volume discount. I thought the ‘club’ idea was an acceptable way to lower prices and still increase revenue, but permanently lowering prices to $6.99! That’s a hard pill for us game developers to swallow.
So Invadazoid was effectively put in the online bargain bin… “That’s OK.”, I thought, “It’s an older game and it had trailed off in sales anyway.” What bothered me more was that my arcade site (which is almost entirely made up of games from the Reflexive affiliate network) was no longer profitable. I complained to Reflexive, but they told me that the new price should increase the volume of sales so I may even see an improvement in overall sales revenue. I believed them at first because I saw an initial spike of sales for that month, but within another month it was back to the norm, only now I was selling the same amount of units for less money while paying the same amount for advertising! I finally decided to do what I could to make the site break even and keep it going for traffic’s sake, if nothing else.
More importantly than all that, this has opened my eyes a bit… Are the other online publishers going to be able to compete with these prices without lowering prices themselves? Where does the cycle end? In my opinion, this marks the beginning of the end of casual games being developed by lone-wolf developers or even small teams… we just can’t afford it any more.
So I say, “Screw the casual market!” Remember why we (game developers) got into this business?… to make the kind of games that WE want to play! Let’s make games that we’re passionate about because this passion shows in our work and players notice.
To this end, I’ve recently started working on a new game in the MMO genre. While there are plenty of offerings in this market, it’s something I’ve always wanted to make and I don’t think this market will climax as quickly as the casual market did because the barrier to entry is so much higher. I’ll be posting more about the game specifics as time goes on, but its still too early in the development cycle to spill the beans.