First of all an update: work on Planet Stronghold 2 continues smoothly, I finished chapter 3 and all the “old romances” routes! But I still need to write the last chapter and part of the new romances routes. And of course, the editor needs to fix the game texts. Considering the current wordcount is 280k words, the full story will exceed 300k words for sure lol
Now back to the blog post topic: you might have noticed that subscription programs are popping up like mushrooms recently. Apple has its Apple Arcade. Google Play followed suit with Google Play Pass.
On desktop, we already have the Humble Monthly that for a fixed monthly fee gives you games each month. Microsoft is doing their Game Pass thing too. EA and Ubisoft have already a subscriptions for their own titles. And let’s not forget that Epic is giving away free games every week.
It’s the end of the world and we know it
So, is this the end of the world? How does a small niche indie survives in middle of all this? I will share some thoughts, but of course it’s just my opinion and you should take it with a grain of salt!
First of all, game devaluating is nothing new – since the first bundles showed up, that was a thing. The main difference is that with the bundles you saw the games included and a price, and then you could decide if to buy it or not. With these subscription models in practice you rely on Apple/Google/etc to pick the games for you.
Now I must make a confession: I am both Humble Monthly subscriber and Gamepass too, and maybe I’ve played 10% of the games. But I’m not the typical gamer – I stay subscribed mostly to check the game trends, what’s selling, since games picked for those offers give you (the developer) a good idea of what is popular / is selling.
In case you don’t know – some services pay a flat out fee to the developer. I know some figures and I must say, that if one of my games was picked for them, I would be very happy, since the upfront money would cover the “potential future copies lost”.
So, it’s not necessarily all bad for developers, even if of course you need to be careful about what you sign and how much to ask. No, in this case the main hurdle is getting in. Since they hand-pick the titles, we’re again in a on/off – yes/no situation. Your game is accepted? Good, here’s the cash and you can keep making games. Your game is not? You have to sell it the “old fashioned way”. Which for now, still works! But in future? That is not certain.
Give me a thousand fans!
For a niche game author like me, there’s really not much hope to get in one of those offers. Then, what’s left? the good old “thousand true fans” theory that I borrowed from Jeff Vogel (Spiderweb games), and to be honest I’m not even sure if it’s his own idea, but I heard first from him!
He says that to keep going, you only need to have a thousand of loyal fans that will (more or less!) buy anything you make. Then doing a simple math, if a game is $25 x 1000 fans = $25.000. Which, to be clear, is really NOT a lot of money once portals’ cut, taxes, expenses are taken into account, for a game that took you a year to make. But that is a sort of “safe money”, then there will be also the other non-fans potential sales.
Of course that’s easier said than done! While I am lucky enough to still have many fans, all those enticing offers might take away some, also simply because not everyone has enough money to buy/support all their favorite authors (I know this well since I was a teenager too once!).
Anyway my summary is: those subscription models probably are here to stay. The few titles going in will be blessed and get good money. The gap between the 1% of devs making lot of money and the remaining 99% will grow bigger and bigger. Many companies will go bankrupt, including many indies, but I still think that “pay-once” full price games won’t go away, as well as seasonal sales and discounts. They simply coexist one next to another.
A final consideration
Also a final consideration: people who like games and spend money on them, now with $9.99/month can get most of the AAA titles and famous indies with the various gamepass. Which means they can actually save money. Money they can use to buy niche indie games like – totally random example – mine, which will very likely never end up in one of those subscriptions services! So maybe, there’s still some light at the end of the tunnel.