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No One Really Knows How Much Games Cost

Look at the Steam forums for almost any game. Between the bug reports and the arguments, you’ll see a near constant refrain: this game is too expensive; $20 for this?; I’d buy it if only it was $15 or $10 or $5 or whatever is cheaper than it is right now.

If you’re a developer, this is frustrating – and this response from one of the developers of Brigador is a good and funny explanation of why.

Brigador is a cool, isometric mech combat game, which looks like someone took the art style of the original Command & Conquer, modernised it and made it destructible. It’s currently in early access and I wrote a little about it here.

Hugh Monahan is one of the game’s developers, and he responded to a recent request that they lower the price of the game from $20 to $15. The response begins:

We have spent 5 years making Brigador, if you include when we started building the engine.

5 years.

Much of that has been working full time, 6-7 days a week, 8+ hours a day. Even at a very conservative estimate that’s over 10,000 hours of work per person, and there are 4 of us. We did not do a kickstarter, we do not have a publisher. We have funded this entire project out of pocket.

He goes on to describe the scale of the game, which includes “2 hours of original music, over 100 different enemy units, a story campaign, a free play mode” and a playable landmass comparable in size to Grand Theft Auto 3. He then lists things which are more expensive than the game, which includes a plunger, the Point Blank remake Blu-Ray, and a Nickelback poster.

It’s bad enough there’s a Nickelback poster worth more than the game we’ve spent the last 5 years building, worse still to have people come along and announce that in fact our game is only worth about as much as this other more common Nickelback poster. I hope you can understand the frustration this inspires.

The post then more seriously breaks down how, after Valve’s cut and taxes, they need to sell around 50,000 copies to be able to pay themselves and their contractors a decent wage, before stating that they’re “not asking for pity or charity”, but that they hope people understand why it costs what it does.

Monahan isn’t the only developer to recently respond to this kind of post on the Steam forums. Ten days ago, Jane Ng, environment artist on Firewatch, responded to a post from someone trying to decide whether to refund their game with similar reasoning:

We were excited, but terrified. We felt free, but were constrained. I have been in this industry for 15 years almost, and this is the hardest I have ever worked. We all gave it our all, to make this weird thing, and we had no idea if it was any good to anybody else. All we could do, was try the damn hardest to make something we are honestly proud of. At the end, if this was a commercial failure, all we have got is what we have made. Nobody could take that away.

So yes, I am sad when people think this game is not worth the money we asked for (which we thought was a fair ask). It makes me feel like I failed them. It is ok if people don’t like the game, but it affects me personally a lot, when people feel like it was not -worth- the time they engaged with it.

Players never see all the effort that goes into make a finished game, of course. Nor should they necessarily need to, since as Monahan points out, it’s not reasonable to expect people to “buy a game just because people worked hard on it – it’s possible to struggle valiantly and still make poo.” I haven’t played enough of Brigador’s current build to ascertain whether it’s worth your money yet. I liked Firewatch, but as Ng points out, “I don’t know your financial circumstances. $18 might be a lot. Or even it isn’t a lot, why shouldnt’ you try to get the most out of it? That’s a fair desire.”

But there’s an issue when there’s a demand, even before a game is finished, for prices to be discounted. It’s a race to the bottom that benefits no one. Developers taking the time to explain where they’re coming from can only be a good thing.

For what it’s worth, in both these instances responding had a positive effect. The creator of the Brigador thread responded to say that they’ve bought the game, and has edited their original post to be a recommendation to others to do likewise. The creator of the Firewatch thread edited their original post to say that, “I have made my decision to keep the game. Campo Santo had more balls than Donald Trump on steriods to make this game, and they deserve the money.”

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Graham Smith

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