When selling a game, its price is one of the biggest factors that affect the game’s success. You might think that pricing your game higher will net you more profit, but it’s not quite that simple.
Setting a price for your game is a complex combination of factors, including how much your studio invested in the development, which markets you’re releasing on, and how likely the players are to agree with the price versus entertainment value.
Pricing is a complex topic, for sure. Below, we try to make it a little bit simpler.
The major factor that defines how much you should charge for your game is the financial model you have. It is usually comprised of the following:
With this in mind, make an estimate of your expenses. Then, add what you’re hoping to earn to that figure. Now consider how many copies you’ll need to sell to break even. It’s a good idea to look into different numbers since actual sales may be different than what you expected.
Let’s say you aim to make $400,000 to cover expenses, including Steam’s cut and local taxes. That means you will need to sell 20,000 copies of a $20 game. If it’s priced a bit lower at $15, you’ll need to sell 27,000 copies. The more the better, but will people pay that?
Here’s where you will also want to consider your target audience’s purchasing power. Or, more simply, how much they are willing to spend. This can depend on their age, status, income, and the regions they live in. If your game is sold for $20 in the US, users in other countries may pay more or less than that, depending on where they live
Take Metro Exodus, for example, with its current base price of $39.99. In Argentina or Kazakhstan, it’s half that, while in Japan it is almost $60. You can, of course, set one price for all regions, but this will prevent some potential buyers from purchasing your game, which may result in fewer sales overall. With Steam, regional pricing can be set automatically, so you don’t need to bother with checking local currencies.
Another thing you should look into is your competitors. Check other titles on the store that fall in the same category to see how much they cost. They don’t have to be of the same genre. It can be similar in its setting, gameplay features, or the main character archetype. If your tactical strategy game features Lovecraftian elements, other titles with the Great Old Ones should be considered, too. Ideally, you will want to fall within a price range expected from these games’ communities. Pricing too low or too high will likely scare them off.
Games releasing the same week or in the same price range should also be considered. A user with a spare $10 may be browsing Steam’s “Under $10” category looking for a good game to purchase. The same user may also check out new titles and see if there are any games in their price range. If they find an appealing offer, they’ll often go for it.
You need to keep this in mind when comparing all the different kinds of competitors you may have. It’s also worth checking how these titles sold. Maybe users complained about last year’s tactical strategy game being overpriced? Maybe a Lovecraftian RPG seemed to cost too little to be considered worthwhile?
Some say that things like game genre, multiplayer support, or replayability dictate what the game is worth. However, this is not entirely true.
The thing is, people expect a certain level of quality for certain prices. They know that $60 is a fair price for a franchise blockbuster, featuring realistic graphics and a story that will keep players on the edge of their seats. On the other hand, they wouldn’t expect the same level of detail from a $15 top-down shooter. Great gameplay, perhaps, but with pixelated graphics.
You need to keep in mind how much you’ve invested in a game. For instance, if you’ve been developing a single-player shooter but decided to add a few online game modes. This adds to the shooter’s development cost. Similarly, instead of realistic graphics, your game may feature hand-drawn 2D visuals that look as impressive as an artist’s painting. Their creation will also have taken a lot of time and money.
You can consider pricing your game higher than its peers if it offers a better value for the money and there is something that distinguishes it from the rest of the pack. Think about what your unique selling point may be. Other than great graphics, this can be advanced destruction physics, a soundtrack created by a popular musician, or a million lines of dialogue. Perhaps the game features a long story campaign, nonlinear plot, or tons of side activities.
Take Final Fantasy XV, for example. A complete playthrough could take up to 100 hours with a $60 price tag. However, players may complain if the story is too short for the price. For example, the Playstation 4 exclusive The Order: 1886 took players just about 5 hours to beat and offered nothing new for a second run.
Having notable developers on board or being a notable studio with a few good projects can play a role too, but if your project came out of the blue and you claim it’s worth full price, this may seem suspicious and buyers will look for more trusted titles. It’s not worth overpricing your games just because there is a notable name on the cover. So do it carefully.
You should also consider the state your game is in. For example, if you’ve launched your game in Early Access, it’s in a raw state, players are reporting bugs every day, and content is limited — asking full price may not be the best idea. However, you can increase the price after leaving Early Access, which we’ll discuss further in this article.
All in all, try to strike a balance between what the game offers and what users are willing to pay for that.
Whether you want to sell additional content or introduce several game editions with various bonuses, the same principles apply as with pricing a fully-fledged game — just on a smaller scale.
Consider the amount of money invested and how many copies you should sell to break even. At the same time, think about what you give to the players. Ask yourself, does this DLC have any practical use? Does it provide users with more gaming experiences or does it simply feature additional customization options? What do other studios charge for similar content? Determine prices based on your answers.
Some of the less consuming expansions are additional characters or classes. These can offer a new game experience for base content. Plus, their price isn’t high — as usual, such DLCs cost$10 or less. Take Pathfinder: Kingmaker — The Wildcards, for instance. It adds a new race, class, and companion for $6. While Darkest Dungeon’s Shieldbreaker will cost you $4 and Borderlands 2’s Psycho and Mechromancer are each priced at $10.
For the price of $6, you can buy Shao Kahn or Sindel fighters for the latest Mortal Kombat installment
If your expansion offers more than that, such as new missions or locations, it makes sense to set its price higher. You’ve spent more resources on its development, after all. Varnhold’s Lot for the above-mentioned Pathfinder: Kingmaker features a bonus campaign lasting around 10 hours and adds new content. The story costs $12 at launch, with a later drop to $9. Stranger Sins added new quests and gameplay features to Graveyard Keeper, extending gameplay to up to 12 hours, all at the cost of $10.
However, some downloadable content may seem overpriced. One such example is the Rise of the Necromancer DLC that Blizzard released for Diablo 3. All it did was add the Necromancer class, while its price was $15. Not everyone was happy about it. As for story content, Company of Heroes 2: Ardennes Assault featured a single-player campaign that cost $40, which some users found “ridiculous”.
New content can simply add cosmetics to your game, so it’s better not to price such additions very high. True, some users can buy expensive in-game items for the prestige, especially in online games. However, it can be considered bad practice to add expensive cosmetics items to single-player titles.
You can also release different versions of your game like Deluxe, Ultra, Gold, and so on. Basically, these are bundles that include the main game and various bonuses, such as in-game items or season passes. When pricing them, follow the same principle — try to find a balance between what you give and what users pay. However, if you release an enhanced version of your game, don’t make current owners pay twice; it’s better to give it to them for free. For instance, original Mafia 2 owners were given the new Definitive Edition for free.
Over the lifecycle of a game, its price can be changed several times. It happens relatively often when talking about discounts. For instance, you can offer a launch discount, which is usually 10-20%, and join holiday events and weekly sales throughout the year.
It’s best to plan your discount strategy and make sure you increase discounts step by step. Setting a 75% discount when your most recent discount was only 30% may not be welcomed by your followers. Read more about discounting your game in our guide here.
Keep in mind that offering a high discount shortly after release can lead to a backlash, especially if the game is a AAA title. Fallout 76 received a $25 discount just two weeks after its October 2018 release, which made many owners feel frustrated. As a form of compensation, some of them were offered 500 Atoms, Fallout 76’s in-game currency. Unfortunately, not all of the players managed to get it — and even for the ones who did receive it, the actual value of this gesture was just $5. The game then finally dropped from $60 to $40 in 2019.
Permanently changing a game’s price is not uncommon, either. Most often, developers lower it after a year or two when the game has passed its sales peak and few would consider paying full price. This way, a price drop can incentivize new purchases. For instance, Pathfinder: Kingmaker dropped from $40 to $30 after two years since its launch.
The size of a reduction and how soon you apply it depends on how well your title has been doing so far. Sometimes the initial pricing doesn’t prove to be selling or the game was met with criticism due to bugs and little content. Making the game cheaper early on may avert the situation a little. That way, Carmageddon Max Damage dropped from $30 to $20 just a few months after launch, followed by another price cut around half a year later.
The price can also be increased over time, which often happens with titles launched in Early Access. These games are in a raw state; incomplete and buggy — not something you would pay $60 for. On the other hand, this is your chance to build a strong community and get constant feedback that can be used to improve the game. Plus, it’s a chance to start earning money early on, adding to your development budget.
If you want to know more about launching in Early Access, check out this article we published.
However, as your community grows, so do your plans for the game. You may want to not only polish your product but also expand it with new content, including gameplay features or missions. One such example is Deep Rock Galactic, which got a price increase in late March 2019. As its developers explained, “…we want to keep expanding on DRG for longer than we initially planned — and with that in mind, we feel perfectly confident in raising the price a bit to help fuel development.” On the other hand, the developers kept the price when the game left Early Access in May 2020.
Price increases can also be gradual, happening over years of development. This was the case with Motion Twin’s Dead Cells. The game launched at $17 in Early Access back in 2017, which was followed by a minor increase in January 2018 — while still in Early Access. A month before the final release, the roguelike platformer was priced at $25. This, however, didn’t prevent the title from selling 2.4 million copies on all platforms as of September 2019.
Dead Cells gathered a large community and sold well while it was still in development. Early on, developers at Motion Twin said that the game’s price could go up over time due to more content to be added. And so it did. The action-platformer constantly received updates.
Some titles, however, double the price and go up to the AAA standard $60. That’s what happened in the case of We Happy Few. The first-person adventure game started as a $30 Early Access title featuring little content. Later on, the price increased to $50 with a big public update. Finally, on launch day a year later, the game was priced at $60.
Developers at Compulsion explained their decision in an announcement, but players still met the price hike with negativity. The $30 price was fine for a raw product that didn’t even have a story mode, which was later added only in 2018. However, being full-priced, We Happy Few didn’t provide the same quality and amount of content as, say, Tom Clancy’s The Division.
This is why, if your title is in Early Access, you must talk to your community and explain that there may be a price increase early on — and why. Perhaps your game has only featured gameplay and now you are planning to add a story campaign or more levels. A roadmap can help you be transparent about that. Show players what they will get for a higher price.
Be sure to make an announcement before the price goes up. A month or a couple of weeks in advance will do. That way, you can boost sales since players will want to catch the last chance to buy the game at its current price.
When pricing the game, you should also consider a few other factors. For instance, when you want the money. This can be stable revenue, sporadic bursts of cash, or perhaps a big boost at the start along with whatever comes after. Think of what you want from your community. Do you want them early on, from Alpha builds to final release, or are you okay with them buying your game, playing it once, and coming back only for other titles of yours? Depending on your needs, you will choose a different approach to pricing and sales.
As Heart Shaped Games founder Scott Brodie says, pricing your game high can maximize your sales revenue on launch and will get you more profit from sales. Even if you discount your $30 game by 50%, this will still be more than half of a $15 title. Plus, players will see your game as a premium product.
On the other hand, a high price means the product will reach fewer players since the majority won’t be able to afford it. With a premium price, players will also expect more from the game, and if it doesn’t meet their expectations, they will complain about it. This can affect reviews, and with negative reviews, your game is less likely to get featured on the chosen platform.
You can reach users who didn’t buy your game at full price during sales while setting different discounts. Keep in mind, however, that those who have already purchased the game can get disappointed if you discount it shortly after release. So it’s better to wait a couple of months and not make a large price cut.
You can also choose not to discount your game for some time while pricing it reasonably. This ensures stable revenue and earns early buyers’ trust since they know they won’t feel like they wasted their money a few weeks after.
If you choose this option, it’s best to notify the community of your plans so this won’t catch them by surprise. Unfortunately, this can cost you some buyers who tend to purchase during sales as well as the lack of getting featured during sales events.
This is the case with Nintendo titles, as well as Vlambeer’s Nuclear Throne that only recently went on sale during the COVID-19 quarantine (not counting Humble Bundles).
Choose what suits you best and form the price based on the aspects we’ve described in this article. When releasing a game on Steam, you can set whatever price you want. However, the platform’s algorithms can analyze your product and suggest a price that may work better. The choice is yours, of course, but taking Valve’s advice can help you avoid underselling your product.
Giving your title the right price can ensure its future success and your community’s attitude towards you and your product. However, earning money is not the only thing that you should be keeping in mind. Your game should be worthy of the money people are going to pay. They have expectations based on the price, be it quality, game size, or gameplay features. So don’t disappoint them.
Be sure to take into account other games on the storefront. The same genre, however, is not the only factor to consider. Titles releasing on the same date or of the same price tier are your competition as well. That’s why you should look at how your title stands out among these. Your unique selling point can help buyers make their decision when going through several games.
It’s also important to choose a pricing strategy for your game. You can opt for setting a fair price and only offer discounts after a year — or even never. Or choose a higher price and participate in sales whenever possible. The choice depends on when and how you plan to get revenue, whether it’s a stable income over time or many sales at launch.
The most important thing to remember is that whatever price you set must work for you and your buyers.