Puppygames co-founder: customers "are worthless to us" | PCGamesN

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Puppygames co-founder: customers "are worthless to us"

Puppygames

Times have been tough over at Puppygames, leading to the developer switching from development of free-to-play Battledroid to an arcade roguelike called Basingstoke. The developer has four months of money left, but Battledroid still had a year of development ahead of it. 

Perhaps that was the impetus for co-founder Caspian Prince’s blog post, today, where he laments the supposed de-valuation of games. “You are worthless to us,” he says in regards to customers. Specifically, he means that a sale has become so insignificant, netting the developer so little, that it barely has any value. 

“Once upon a time, back in the early 2000s or so, games would sell for about $20 or so,” Prince said. “Some developers did really well at that price point – I mean really well. Most of us didn’t do that well, and made beer money, but we carried on making games anyway because that’s what we liked to do, even if nobody wanted them.“

But when Steam arrived, and then things like Humble Bundle, it was “cataclysmically disruptive”. 

“The upshot of it is, within 5 short years, the value of an independent game plummeted from about $20 to approximately $1, with very few exceptions,” Prince continued. “Steam is great! You can sell loads of games! But only if they’re less than $10. Technically Valve don’t actually dictate the prices we charge. Actually, they do. Utterly. It’s just not talked about. In fact technically, I don’t think anyone’s allowed to talk about it.”

Prices aren’t the only place where he thinks that devs are at Valve’s mercy either. “That’s how much we sell our games for. One dollar. They’re meant to be $10, but nobody buys them at $10. They buy them when a 90% discount coupon lands in their Steam inventory. We survive only by the grace of 90% coupon drops, which are of course entirely under Valve’s control. It doesn’t matter how much marketing we do now, because Valve control our drip feed.”

So a dollar, then, which isn’t quite worthless. Maybe even more if the customer buys all of Puppygames’ titles, so possibly even $5. But that isn’t going into the developer’s pocket, of course. “After Valve and the tax man and the bank take their cuts, you’re not even worth half a cup of coffee,” Prince said. 

Yet, customers still mean the world. 

“Without customers, we’re dead in the water, homeless and living in a cardboard box outside Berko sewage plant,” said Prince. “But individually, you’re like ants. And all of developers secretly know it and don’t talk about it. You’re not worth supporting. It’s far, far better to completely, totally ignore support, if you want to make a living. Developers don’t like to talk about it, and they certainly don’t want to make customers aware of it.”

Appropriately gloomy stuff for a Monday.

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I think indie developers should stop counting these people as part of their customer base and calculate accordingly.

These bargain gamers may very well be the same people who wouldn't buy their games at all before the were the Humble Bundle and Steam.

I'm observing this behaviour when I buy games, myself. I've been happily paying 'full price' (~ 20$) for smaller games and continue to do so to this day, but there are certain titles that I'd only buy, if they're on sale or in a bundle. Or not at all.

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Gwathdring's picture
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Yeah, me too ... the unfortunate reality though is that not everyone is wired that way. And that's not their fault!

For quite a few people, the mere existence of a lower price tier is enough to lower their valuation of a game even if they would otherwise have bought it on release.

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TsunamiWombat's picture
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This just smacks of sour grapes. The sad fact of the matter is, 99% of all games made, regardless of quality, will not become smash hit successes.

QQ more, there are plenty of people saying that steam sales make great for their games. And if you don't like it? Just don't participate. Indie games are at a lower price point usually anyway.

Wahh capitalism should only be unfair in MY favour wahh

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Ocid's picture
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Well PuppyGames hasn't released anything recently so its no surprise that stuff isn't selling. Although their games are fun (Revenge of The Titans being probably my favourite tower defense game) they aren't exactly original or going with the current market trends.

Why wasn't Battledroid fired up on kickstarter? It looked a lot more interesting than another rougelike.

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Gwathdring's picture
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I'm not a big fan of their games, either ... but that doesn't mean these aren't issues worth taking seriously.

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Empyre's picture
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Supply and demand hurts.

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Tessian's picture
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I have 200+ Steam games and I have never seen one of these mythical 90 percent off coupons. Not sure how I get in on that deal, why do you hate me steam? I am pretty sure I paid more than the ten dollars Revenge of the Titans is currently at, when I bought it. I think the concept of coupons is sound, if it leads to someone giving you good feedback and convincing others to buy the game at full price. I guess it depends on how many coupons Steam is giving out? Anyhow I liked Revenge of the Titans enough that I will buy another copy and gift it to someone.

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huw's picture
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Amongst my collection of (unsolicited) coupons I have an 80% off coupon for Montague's Mount (whatever the hell that is). I'm sure there must be some 90% coupons floating around. I've no idea how Valve decide to distribute them; in this, as with all things, that tiresome company are as usual completely opaque.

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Njoy420's picture
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Aww he is mad that we get cheap games, thanks Valve for dem cheap gaimz

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13th |UKCS|'s picture
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How to alienate your customer base in one move: Criticise them. That is always a smart move

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Bad news! I loved their Revenge of the Titans. Probably the best tower defence game that I have ever played.

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subedii's picture
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"You're not worth supporting. It's far, far better to completely, totally ignore support, if you want to make a living. Developers don't like to talk about it, and they certainly don't want to make customers aware of it. Some developers right now are bristling with public-relation-inflating indignation, waiting to burst into my castle in shining white armour championing the cause of their customers, and how they treat their customers like royalty still. But I know, and they know, they're only doing that because it's actually yet more Dark Side of Public Relations. It's a lie. "

This is a pretty disingenuous style of argumentation. Forget what point he's even trying to make for a second. He is literally stating "This is the truth, and if you disagree you're lying". Basically he accuses anyone outside of his own viewpoint of being disingenuous, that he is the sole truthbringer or... something.

Pre-emptively calling the other guy a liar who doesn't believe their own point should they state a position that's not yours is... pretty freaking pretentious to be honest.

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vandal's picture
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Super Meat Boy made their Indie devs rich. It's all about the product. Yes, I like my bargains as much as the next man, however, if a game is worth it, I'd pay a tenner or more for it. A remake of Space Invaders with nice graphics is not really worth £10 or more to me. Maybe their next game will be upto it. If it gets finished. I hope it does.

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Serizawa's picture
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do a good game its sells no matter what price, do a worthless one nobody will buy it. that was really pathetic on their part, think if people only buy it at 90% this tells wonders of your product. blaming costumers and steam only make you look bad, sorry to say 'puppygames' but you wont be missed.

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Gwathdring's picture
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Not exactly.

Well marketed, well hyped games sell no matter how "bad" they are. Good games don't sell unless they find an audience.

Further, people don't just buy things for what they're worth. They balance what the product is worth with what they can afford to pay with what else they would rather buy.

A customer who would be willing to pay $10 for a game might not pay $10 if they know they can get away with $4 in a few months.

Puppygames isn't blaming customers; they're certainly blaming Steam, but I think their comments with respect to seem are self-evident and have been discussed by customers and developers alike for quite some time now. Puppygames isn't breaking new ground by saying this, and it makes a lot of sense. But they're not blaming customers; they never said "This is your fault and I hate you" they said "this is how it is, and I'm sorry if you don't like it but you getting cheaper games means you're not, individually, worth much of our time."

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Serizawa's picture
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i agree with most of what you said. but we cant compare a indie game vs hyped "AAA" games with a big publisher behind them, i for one never hear of this company or game before this article and i watch gaming news on a daily basis. been on steam is not enough to promote your game you need to show us why it is worth $10 or whatever the price, promote it well and IF the company show me why they deserve it like the witcher series, larian studios, grim dawn, kps, trails in the sky(xseed, i triple dip on this one) between others i pay full price just to support the company. without a publisher do to the marketing they have to do it themselves and marketing is not a easy thing to do. i just saying that blaming the platform for your failure is a bit pathetic, learn from it and see if you can improve, A bad workman blames his tools.

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Jezcentral's picture
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Marketing is usually where Indie devs fall down the most. People who only buy your game in a bundle, or in a sale, are the long tail. If you want your game to make a splash, you need to get out there and sell it at launch. Get yourselves known. Which, y'know, he's just done. :)

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Serizawa's picture
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"Get yourselves known. Which, y'know, he's just done. :)" in a very bad way, at least for me, they are now on my never buy list together with ubisoft.

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Jezcentral's picture
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Hmm, have you read the original blog post, Serizawa?

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Serizawa's picture
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yes i did, but if you agree with them its fine he does make good points. my issue with this is that he only say that because the game flop, have it sale well he won't say a word. its the attention whoring that pisses me off just look at the title. but yes the steam issue is real but its not the only factor.

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Gwathdring's picture
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I don't see where I ever compared indie games to AAA games.

This isn't a workman and his tools. This is a workman and someone else's highly contrived and heavily structured system of presenting the workman's work to the workman's customer.

Even as developing games is getting more and more accessible, getting those games to an audience is getting more and more problematic. Systems like Steam are very opaque to developers and audiences alike. Games that are borderline scams are sold right along side medicore games and great games with really no way to tell them apart. Steam's aggressive discounting has permanently skewed the way customers value games, too, and Steam has created an enormous and dedicated fan base that simply will not buy their games elsewhere.

How is discussing the ways in which that is a problem "a workman blam[ing] his tools?"

I'm not saying we owe it to these people to buy their games! I don't like their games. It's not our job to make their living for them. But it is our job to, as people who enjoy and love games, make sure the systems in place for getting games to us produce games we like in ways that are as economically and socially responsible as possible.

Surely you want a system in which game developers can afford to give a crap about you as a customer?

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Serizawa's picture
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"Well marketed, well hyped games sell no matter how "bad" they are. " those are AAA games and i never say you did compare, i did. i understand your point but still steam is just a market place where your product is on display as long steam exist, but is your job to promote it not the community and all that they did is blaming everyone but themselves, he just keep crying about how customers are cheap and don't want to pay full price, that is a lie, make it worth and we buy it.

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Gwathdring's picture
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That's a lie too. "Worth it" is a concept that is just as dependent on the environment of the product as it's quality and it's marketing.

Steam controls a lot of that environment for a lot of developers.

The discount culture started by steam has made it very difficult for any game to convince audiences that games can be worth their list price. Cheaper games means lower profit magins which means you have to sell more units to stay in the black. Steam has been breeding an audience that wants cheaper game.

I'm not defending Puppygames, I'm not saying people should buy their games.

But some of the things they say in their rantings make a lot of sense and deserve to be talked about on their own merits.

Steam doesn't give games an even shot. Saying Steam doesn't have any responsibility to promote your game is misleading--Steam promotes some games without being asked and leaves others to languish; Steam pretends to be a big impartial market-place but it is really quite crafted and curated--it just does a bad, somewhat unpredictable job of those things and shoves discounts into the market-place until both customers and developers have to accept those new prices as the new paradigm.

Money isn't fixed. One dollar doesn't have the same value for every customer, or in every store. It changes based on inflation and a variety of complicated social factors. As such, you cannot separate customer culture and market culture from assessments of value; it's not simply a matter of making a good enough game and working hard enough to convince people said game is worth a certain amount of money.

If it was, Puppygames would probably still be in trouble. I'm not defending their games, and I don't feel sorry for them. That doesn't make them wrong.

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Serizawa's picture
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its seems that im defending steam on my comments, that was not my intention, steam did save pc gaming but not without fault their customer service is horrendous one of the worse i ever seen and yes they do not promote games fairly, just look at the store page see if any new releases are show nope only top sellers, pre-orders and early acess. my problem with this is "t doesn’t matter how much marketing we do now, because Valve control our drip feed." that is pure bullshit, they can try bring it to you-tubers, social media or whatever? they will stay at the mercy of steam by choice and no matter how many mistakes steam(Valve) has it still a market place that sells games if you don't agree with the model don't put it on it in the first place(which is a complete suicide). this is my last reply i see no more need to talk about this, i just want to say that you are right, there is plenty of issues, but he claims that steam fuck him over, costumers are cheap and generalizing every developer to suit his opinion(we don't have enough evidence for it be stated as a fact).

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Gwathdring's picture
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Fair enough. Sounds like we're on the same page, but we emphasize different aspects creating the illusion of disagreement. :)

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Honestly, I usually don´t buy games at their full price no matter what. Partly because I am a student and partly because I know it will be in sale in two months and it will cost me half the price.

There is also the issue with quality. I bought games at full price based on the promo etc., and I was really disappointed with the product. These games were marketed well and have big promo and everything... and I bought them - obviously - but they were worthless and bad.

I´ve bought Revenge of the Titans at their full price because my good friend told me about it (the only exeption ot buy games for their full price is my friend´reference) and it was certainly good. Puppy Games are small studio but their games (or at least the one that I have played) are worth the money. Really: 90% of success is good promotion and it is really hard to get it. It even doesn´t relate to quality or interesting ideas. Some critics also affirm that they don´t read huge part of their mails, even that they sometime randomly click on the game and liked it. But if they haven´t done it, this game wouldn´t be reviewed. Really wake up to the real world where money spent for advertising and lies in your promo makes your living.

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