At the Community Games launch party in San Francisco a few weeks ago, the most common question developers would ask me: what should my game cost?
There are several arguments to be made about price, especially given that Community Games is a new, untested service that runs parallel to Xbox Live Arcade.
I waited until ex-Insomniac Games employee Nathan Fouts decided on a price to ask him his thought process. Fouts now heads Mommy's Best Games and launched the "Contra"-like "Weapon of Choice" as a Community Game this week.
The price he chose; 400 points. But he wanted to charge more. Friends, family and Microsoft blocked him from doing so. Why?
"'Weapon of Choice' is for sale at 400 points," Fouts began explaining to Multiplayer over e-mail. "We feel this is a bargain, but the right approach for a new platform with an unknown developer. Even though I worked on games like 'Resistance: Fall of Man' and 'POSTAL 2,' people who see 'Weapon of Choice' may not know this. In a sense, I’m starting over."
Just because he's starting over, though, doesn't mean he's not confident in his work. He wanted to charge more -- but here's why he chose not to.
"Over time I’ve talked the price issue through my wife, and lots of friends and colleagues," he said. "Those arguments included: Community Games is an untested platform, how will the average player react?... The concept of ‘you get what you pay for’, therefore an 800 point game ‘must’ be a great game ... Is our game long enough to warrant a 800 point price tag? ... Will gamers compare CG [community games] to XBLA [Xbox Live Arcade] and not pay as much because there are no leaderboards or Achievements available?... At what price is it an impulse-buy versus a thought-out purchase?.. Do we price our game for our target market or focus on building a larger fan-base?... And on and on."
The potential pitfalls proved too much for Fouts. He looked at what games like "Castle Crashers," "Braid," and "Bionic Command: Rearmed" were offering and decided he shouldn't get too ambitious with pricing this time.
But while 800 Microsoft Points might have been too much for him to gamble on for "Weapon of Choice," his preferred price point wasn't even an option.
"Community Games is an untested platform, how will the average player react?"
"I think the most frustrating part in pricing has been the quantized price points," he said. "Microsoft does not allow for user-defined price points like 799 points or even 100 point increments like 500, 600, 700, etc. For a bigger game like 'Weapon of Choice,' only having two options, one of which is double the first option, makes the decision difficult. I felt like we could have priced the game at 600 points and received no backlash from consumers as they compare our game to other downloadables."
Plus, if "Weapon of Choice" somehow bombs, Fouts has nowhere to go but up. If a Community Game is over 50MB, Microsoft does not allow developers to go any lower than 400 Microsoft Points. His next choice, the one he ruled out in lieu of comparisons to Xbox Live Arcade, is 800 Microsoft Points.
"I hope Community Games will allow for more pricing options in the future as well," he concluded.
For just $5 though, "Weapon of Choice" is a bargain. If you haven't tried it yet, what are you waiting for? Fouts will be reading; let him know your thoughts.