Long Live the Demo, or Why We Can’t Have All The Things

It’s been a  little while since I stood on the soapbox to serve as a distraction for the ire of the masses. Allow me once more to entertain you with news of the exciting events of our times.

Big time 800lb gorilla monopoly stakeholder Valve announced a week ago a wonderful u-turn on their famously awful refunds policy, and frankly, about fucking time.

Now you can get a refund for stuff that doesn’t work properly, which, if I’d only had the ability about 3 months ago, I would have exercised on my purchase of Alien Isolation because I foolishly bought it without realising it needed a DirectX12-era card and my cranky 6 year old rig could only pass muster at DirectX11-level. Fortunately for me I instead decided to buy a spiffy brand spanking new development machine instead with a whizzy new Nvidia beast in it and Alien Isolation turns out to be brilliant, so I’m glad I didn’t. But I digress.

In fact it turns out you can get a refund for games even if you don’t like them much. Or if you play them for a couple of hours and finish them. Or see enough that you reckon you might as well just get it refunded and try something else.

Right now there’s no real hard and fast rule about what you can get refunded – at the time of writing it’s anything up to about 6 months old, regardless of play time, depending on your luck. But otherwise it’s within 14 days of purchase and under 2 hours of recorded running time for an automatic, no-questions asked, no-quibbles money back guarantee.

This is actually quite extraordinarily generous. A whole lot of people have been merrily misquoting the EU laws on refunds without realising they are  in fact absolutely wrong (see here). There is actually virtually no protection in law for consumers of digital goods. Once you start downloading it, provided the vendor has met certain conditions, that’s it. Under EU law, no refund entitlement whatsoever. So what Valve have done is well beyond their obligations, and I personally think it’s awesome.

But what does it mean for the games industry ecosystem? Here we hit a few snags.

The main snag is, Valve have overnight utterly changed their business model forever (and when I say forever, I mean it’s because now this particular cat is out of the bag it’s never going back in). The model they have so carefully built up over the last 10 years is based on having millions of consumers utterly locked in to their delivery platform, Steam. They wave games under peoples’ noses, and flog them remarkably cheaply, on the basis that before, there was no refund policy. A sale was a sale. Valve had shifted some of the burden of risk in trying unknowns out by simply eroding the price to the point where games have virtually almost no value at all. What’s $10? Not even a Spoons Large Breakfast and coffee. It’s peanuts. Trivial. If you get something for $10 you can’t fail to be at least entertained by how bad it is for an hour, never even mind if it’s good. Well worth the money for shits and giggles, and you might even gain further entertainment by writing an amusingly insulting review of your experience. And they further compound the devaluation of games by dropping huge discount coupons so you can get games for a single buck. You can’t even buy a fucking chocolate bar for a buck! And of course, all those sales. So many sales. Much discount. So cheap.

And it was all based on this one thing: a sale is a sale, and that’s it. But that’s no longer the case. A sale is only a guaranteed sale after it’s been played for 2 hours. That’s a bit awkward because the median time game play for most titles on Steam is only about an hour, which does rather beg the question why they chose a 2 hour window, but that’s part of the meta-problem Valve has, which I’ll get to.

So overnight… suddenly all games are demos, now, for very, very cheap games. Whether there’s a demo or not. And not only the usual cripply demos where you only get levels 1 to 10. No, you get the whole game as your demo. That’s pretty awesome for consumers. It’s pretty awesome for me as a consumer (yes! you do realise I actually play games too, right?)

It’s not so awesome for developers though. Over the years, developers have been designing games lately that have been freed of one of the original shackles of design that were imposed by the old demo conversion model. Back in the day, we had to design games that crammed in all the awesome we could into the first hour or so, relentlessly attempting to make the game look like we could actually manage to make the next 50 hours of play continue throwing amazing stuff at you at the same rate as the first hour. We needed to hook the players and leave them wanting more by the time that hour was up. Needless to say, this model favours some sorts of game design over others, and of course there are ways to game it, but let’s not get into details. You design your game to convince people to pay for it after an hour of play (or less if you’re lucky) and what would happen is that for every 100 people who tried the game, about 1 would buy it. Some of the really clever guys could get this up to about 5 in 100 or more but alas we weren’t one of them as we weren’t really very good at it, making rather niche titles as we do.

Your success is driven by the “quality” of the players trying the demo – that is, the likelihood of them being a genuinely potential customer versus a random tyre-kicker – times the number of people you could get to try it out.

The problem is, as you can see, that most people don’t buy your game after they’ve played a demo. Most. As in, maybe 99% of them. The reasons are legion but frequently they boil down to the fact that a large number of them just aren’t actually looking for something to buy, just something to play for a bit before they move on. Then of course, a fairly large percentage just don’t think it’s their cup of tea. I expect there’s also a pretty significant percentage of people who just consume all the front-loaded shiny and then, after they’ve gotten that sugar rush… well, why pay for the bit after the paywall? You’ve already slobbered all over the lolly and found out just how nice it tastes. Go try another one.

The AAA industry noticed this and stopped doing demos of their titles years ago, because Joe Punter got his fix of shiny from the demo and then found themselves not too bothered about paying to see the rest because of course all the best shiny is right at the start. All the new and exciting. All the wow and look-at-that.

Then all the indies stopped doing demos too, for exactly the same reason, and partly also because maintaining demos is work and indies make generally so little money for all the work you’ve gotta be smart about what you actually work on. And why create a demo when it simply reduces your sales? Good old Valve with their lock-in and zero refund policy means you can pile up games and flog them for a few dollars and still just about pay the rent. Some indies have gotten extraordinarily rich, though sadly we’re not one of them.

But now, everyone has a demo. Whether we’ve designed for it or not. Whether we like it or not.

And our games are still utterly dirt cheap.

What’s the result?

Oh yes. That graph. Thanks to some fairly shockingly shoddy “investigative” journalism this graph was plastered far and wide across the gaming newsphere to the delight of shitbags everywhere who revel in our downfall for some perceived slight once upon a time.

It doesn't say what you think it says

It doesn’t say what you think it says



Look at that! Actual proof that Puppygames makes shit games. We got the whole gamut of predictable commentary from the internet based solely on the fact that no-one bothered to actually follow the conversation about the data behind the graph, ranging from the face-palmingly ignorant:

“Simple. Just make good games”

to the straightforwardly cruel and gloating,

“I love how these wannabe devs can’t accept the reality that they’re utter shit. There’s a reason you can’t sell your game for more than 10 cents.”

And there were even conspiracy theorists imagining that they were the vanguard of some enormous GamerGate army and that this was revenge on us for pointing out that Valve had devalued them to the point that it wasn’t even worth talking to them any more, and that people were buying our games just to refund them and spite us! Truly insane gibber.

No, the actual reason for the graph’s rather strange shape was that Valve turned off the discount coupon supply at about the same time, and as we make most of our sales through the coupon scheme, well, that’s where they all went.

What it left behind was quite interesting.

The little dribbly bit at the end showed sales of only full-price games, and a refund rate of about 55% for Revenge of the Titans. It’d be easy to be really upset by that but actually I’m rather happy, because firstly, it means half the people who played it liked it enough to keep it (well… so far anyway), and secondly, that rate is, ooh, about 50x better than the old 1% conversion rate standard. So hurrah! It’s all good. What a shame that the news outlets didn’t notice the data analysis we did and wrote their own headlines to put words in our mouths.

The Insane Evil Genius Of Gaben

Now, let’s look in to the crystal ball and see what will happen in the future. This is pure conjecture, so feel free to argue with me, except of course the comments are off and I’m not listening. Here goes:

Valve had created a bit of an albatross for itself with the old way of piling games high and floggin’ ’em cheap with no comebacks. Not only was there a rightly massive amount of bitching about being ripped off when something didn’t work and you wanted your money back, it was creating a real and insidious problem which was like a cancer gnawing away at the foundations of the industry. Games were being devalued to the point of … well, the App Store (or Google Play), and we all know how that’s turned out for everyone. The effect has been, in the last 10 years alone, that things that people were happy to pay $20 for, are now things that they get angry about paying $1 for. Or even anything at all. This has created the famous “race to the bottom” which we hear so much about. The race to the bottom has this notable characteristic: nearly everybody makes fuck all money, apart from a very few, who make obscene amounts. There’s a tiny shade of grey in the middle. We were just about positioned in that rare grey area of almost making enough money to sustain the business. Almost everybody else… is fucked.

With a curve of success shaped liked that, you do everything you feasibly can to try and get at least into that grey area, or maybe even the strike-it-rich and retire spike loaded at one end of the graph. And of course one of the things you have to do to get there is you’ve got to fundamentally change the games you design to coerce your chances. You have to engage in bullshit marketing practises (“build it and they will come” – really, now).

If you’re in the little grey patch that we’re slowly slipping out of right now you’ll also notice something else. You’ve got a hell of a lot of customers and most of them gave you almost no money. Like, a dollar or two. Maybe you’ve got 4 games on Steam like we have – woohoo, each customer you hook has made you $4! And that’s before tax and Valve taking their somewhat generous 30% (for the record: that’s about 10x what it costs to actually host, deliver, and process sales yourself as a one-man band). See this rather infamous article on the subject where I explain this. Now go back and read it again before you make the wrong conclusions – I really am sick to the back teeth of semi-sentient readers somehow getting the impression from that article that I’m insulting customers by telling them they individually have no value any more under Valve’s regime. Perhaps the follow-up article will help you understand. Got it? Good. Valve has done this to us. Valve has done this to you.

So you’ve now got 500,000 worthless customers. I bet half of those customers bought the game on sale or with a discount and then haven’t even played the games. Of the other half, some percentage have technical problems or just need their hand holding a bit (especially with Revenge of the Titans, which is a far more deep, complex game than it looks). And of course, they’ve paid actual real money so they all have a little crown and sceptre and assume that they’re the King and you’re a menial scullion and should run to do their every bidding. Even the ones you like to talk to… well, there are a fucking lot of them. You never get any work done because you’re too busy doing that thing that you always wanted to do as an indie developer – get close to your customers! Just ironically, there are too many of them now, and you just have to stop talking to them.

We now have overloaded developers, worthless customers, unhappy consumers, devalued computer games, no more demos, and a relentless drive to make free to play games (heh). What could possibly fix this utter car-crash of an industry? Who fucked it up? Who could fix it? What could they do?

It turns out Valve fucked up the industry, and Valve had the answer all along. You introduce a no questions refund policy unilaterally overnight. Suddenly everything is a demo. Suddenly consumers are happy because they get to see if games work and if they’re any fun for them before they commit to purchase. Suddenly, we’re only selling half as many games as we were at full price, and there’s virtually no point at all selling them at huge discounts, and this can only mean one thing: if we’re to stay in business – if any of us are to stay in business – we’ve got to put those prices right back up to what games actually should be to cover the cost of making them, and keep them there. That means at least doubling their prices for us to make the same (risible) amount of money. But look! We suddenly only have genuinely interested fans playing the games, and a hell of a lot less of them. It means that if someone actually buys a game then they’re really invested in playing it. It means that we can talk to fans at length again because there aren’t so many people clamouring for attention. It means technical support once more. It means games are no longer shitty disposable commodities with less perceived value than a chocolate bar, but worthy, considered purchases. It means individual customers are worth loads of money, and even if they don’t quite get to have the crown and sceptre they can at least have a cape and perhaps sit on a golden throne for a bit. It means making customers super happy and being really helpful and nice to them might actually be worth it again.

You’ll also be seeing the last, triumphantly firm reassertion that DRM is here to stay, as not one developer with an ounce of sense will deploy games on Steam without the Steam DRM. So, there’s that. I bet you can live with that though, because ooh look at all my achievements and badges.

Sadly I think you’ll also be seeing the last of bite sized entertainment like our arcade games. People consume the fun for a couple of hours and there’s no real obligation to actually permanently give any money for it unless you get addicted or want to see more content, and of course, we’ve designed our games for people who paid up front. We had a philosophy that if you paid for a full game, then you should damn well get to see everything you paid for, and not have to beg for it. A competent teen can see everything there is to see in Ultratron inside an hour, because we designed it like that. It was designed to be played over and over, not consumed – it’s chewing gum, not a biscuit. Not such a great fit for the demo model, which is attested to by its absolutely terrible sales when it was in demo form. This is probably the biggest shame of all, because they’re a style of game we love to make and play, but they might simply prove too expensive to produce to the level of quality we hold ourselves to if they can’t be sold.

One last thing though: Valve’s lumbering heavy handed unilateral approach to dealing with developers might swing a bit away from consumers slightly as they get the stats and tune it to make as much money as possible. I predict the refund period will drop to a week, and maybe an hour of run time. It might vary by title. It might be specifiable by developers in future.

Blog post too long now. TL;DR: Steam’s refunds are great for everbody, but only when the pricing returns to normal.


103 thoughts on 'Long Live the Demo, or Why We Can’t Have All The Things'

  1. “So you’ve now got 500,000 worthless customers. I bet half of those customers bought the game on sale or with a discount and then haven’t even played the games.”

    You’d already long established you hate your customers, but I used to be a big fan. I not only bought Revenge of the Titans at release, for full price, but I played it and enjoyed it. The art style is still one of my favorite for any modern 2D game (along with Stealth Bastard).

    Further, I often spoke highly of the game to my friends, some who bought the game as a result. I own every game release by Puppy Games. Yes, some of which I bought on sale, which apparently makes me a horrible person because you are greedy and entitled.

    Don’t worry, I will NEVER buy another game you release. I will NEVER recommend your games to friends. I will do my best to spread word of what a shallow, petty, and angry developer you are, and how little you care for your customers, your fans, or gamers in general.

    I hope you have your spreadsheet out to calculate how much reading my reply “cost” you.

    1. I feel this deserves a reply. Once again you have it in your head that we hate customers somehow. How exactly do we hate customers?

      Maybe it’s because we patch all our games repeatedly every time anyone finds a bug that we can fix, even years after release? No, can’t be that.
      Maybe it’s because we gave free Steam keys to all our existing customers when we brought the games out on Steam, even though they were substantially rewritten? Hm, no, not that.
      Maybe it’s because we engage in long discussions with players about strategy and game elements on the Steam Community Forums? No, don’t think it’s that either.
      Maybe it’s because we had a no-quibble money back guarantee on all our sales before Steam came along and spoiled the party? No, must be something else.
      Maybe it’s because we added whole new modes and tons of extra features to our games, totally free, just to say thanks and enjoy playing? Nope, don’t think it’s that either.
      Maybe it’s because we gave away 10,000 copies of our games on my birthday, just because it felt like a nice thing to do? Can’t be that.
      Maybe it’s because we open source our game code so people can monkey around with it and see what’s under the hood? No, still not that.
      Maybe it’s because we’ve helped out all sorts of aspiring developers over the years for nothing with Steam API libraries or LWJGL or just plain advice, just because we like helping people? Wrong track still I think.
      Maybe it’s because we’ve helped to raise hundreds of thousands of dollars for charity to help children with special needs and the EFF? No, can’t be that either.
      Maybe it’s because we tell customers the truth about what’s actually going on in the industry? Surely not that.

      Every time I see someone like you who posts out of sheer spite I’m reminded of the good things we do in the world and what shameful specimens of humanity some of the people who have given us money actually are. Please, take your money, and your friends, and fuck off. We don’t want customers like you any more. It was better before, when we only had customers with whom we shared a mutual respect.

      1. I’ve loved your games since long before they showed up on steam and I suspect that I will continue to buy and play them at whatever price point you decide to set; I’m sad to read that there will be less Ultratrons and Titan Attacks type games, but if you cannot afford to create such games anymore, so be it. After all, those games hold up to the aging process just fine.

        That being said, no matter how many times you state the opposite, it really does sound like you hate the unwashed masses who buy your games at reduced prices. I take your statement at face value that you don’t hate your customers, but the way you communicate absolutely broadcasts some manner of disrespect towards a large segment of your fanbase, even if that is not your intended message; if people continue to tell you that they feel you hate them, perhaps it is time to re-evaluate the wording used in these posts.

        After all, the written word is a tiny sliver of human communication; we were meant to communicate with each other face to face and a lot is lost when it is distilled to simple text. I myself am terrible at it, so I hope my message comes off as “a fan who wants to be helpful towards a favorite developer so that they make more money” instead of “entitled prick who thinks he is better than developer and proceeds to lecture them.”

        To perhaps communicate this in a clearer manner, no matter how many people agree that your message is:
        a large segment of us interpret it as:
        “eat %T@# and die filthy consumer God we hate you all so much”

        Again, all I am trying to communicate to you is that some of what you say sounds extremely inflammatory; you assure us that we are reading it incorrectly (or assume we do not read all of what you write), but either way it is indisputable that what we read sounds… well, inflammatory.

        Do understand that I am not suggest that what you write is anything other than what you say it is; I am simply saying that we interpret what you write differently than how you intended people to interpret it. Perhaps we simply can’t properly follow the writing because we’re not smart enough or because English isn’t our first language or what-have-you, but the end result is that misunderstandings are bred.

        1. Vast majority of people misunderstanding it seem to be from the States. I suspect it might even be deliberate, as even when one points out what it actually means, they like to decide otherwise. There have been innumerable people seeing this blog post for example who have derided us for whining about refunds in it and losing money. Go figure…

          1. Well, the States do have more people than the UK, don’t they?

            I’ve heard Brits tend to be more generally cynical in manner, so maybe that just comes off more whiney to Americans who can be plenty cynical, but don’t have it built in to their sense of humor? I’m from the States, and your rants (are they meant as rants?) tend to be right on the edge for me — I like them, but a little further, and I’d dismiss them in disgust, so it’s possible my threshold is just slightly higher than others.

            The other thing is, if people consistently think you hate them, it’s worth asking if there’s anything you’re doing to accidentally contribute to that perception. Someone mentioned this above.

            (Wait, you are British, right?)

            1. I absolutely think that there must be some difficult-to-qualify cultural divide between British and American style that seems to make Americans instantly assume we’re complaining about something when we’re not. Contributing to this is a general lack of patience, inability to read, and some severe comprehension issues…

              … but ya know, a leopard can’t change its spots, I’m just going to carry on being me and saying what I think, coz I can 😀 It might upset a few people but that’s their problem; they don’t have to read it.

      2. Maybe – I don’t know – it’s because you continually classify your customers as worthless?

        It’s interesting to notice that I:

        (1) have all your games
        (2) purchased Revenge of the Titans at full cost
        (3) purchased and gifted your games
        (4) never had technical issues or demanded a second of your time

        Fun fact: I didn’t even knew you had a twitter account, and I never tweeted at you. Yet, when someone pointed me to a link, I found out I was blocked. Mass-blocked by some gg-autoblocker, I image.

        I don’t know, maybe calling people worthless and mass-blocking people that never talked to you causes an image problem. Who’d know?

        Regardless, I like your games and will keep them in my account.

        1. You’d be one of our most valuable customers, then. I can’t stress enough that when someone writes an article on the internet about what you might at first think is directly aimed at “you”, if “you” don’t seem to fit what the article describes, then it is probably the case that it is not actually about you!

          Sorry about the blocker thing, but the account was being, shall we say, harrassed. It’s not a very useful tool for communication anyway. In fact I think Twitter might just be the second worst thing on the internet, just after 4chan.

          1. I didn’t feel it was about me, but that’s just me. But a lot of people did, and that’s understandable. Maybe it was the timing of the chart post + blog post.

            I find your posts regarding the “race to the bottom” to be quite interesting, and OTOH when I check my steam account with steam enhanced, I see that I did spend a very large amount of money on steam, and I haven’t played about 75% of my collection. And looking at it realistically, I don’t think I’ll play half 50% at all, ever.

            I find the current state of gaming to be very interesting because relatively smaller companies like Amplitude Studios can very high profile games that rival giants like Firaxis.

            But back to your post, the idea of all games being a Demo, and the 2-hour limit.

            I checked PuppyGames products and they all have an average playtime between 2-3 hours. I don’t know if they only count players who installed and played the game, but let’s assume that’s the case. This means that the median point of playtime is close to the limit by the refund policy. And I get why that’s a problem.

            But I think that adjustments can be made so that it works better for everyone. And this may ultimately be favorable to devs with good games, for a few reasons, like:

            – Players who wouldn’t risk buy your game just might, and even if a few keep it, that’s more sales
            – The bad practice of flooding steam with bad, unfinished or unworkable games might become less profitable. This is a problem of curation, and it’s a big problem.

            Well, in the end I hope it all works better for everyone. This market keeps changing. But before steam it was much, much harder to sell smaller games online.

    2. I continually fail to comprehend why people consider it greedy to consider something they and a handful of other talented and dedicated people worked on for months or years to be worth more than a medium meal at a fast food outlet.

      I’ll agree the wording was poor and sensationalist, but comon man. Indie game development is so many of our lives. People get passionate. When devs see that reality start to slip away from them, its OK to be emotional – lord knows customers get worked up for a whole lot less.

      What Cas wrote was great. I’ve always noticed (and done my fair share of complaining behind closed doors) the ridiculous race to the bottom indie is. The promised land is charging 4 times as much for one fourth the customers. I hope that is possible, but I just don’t know.

    3. Yutt, your comment is utterly ridiculous, totally hyperbolic, and entirely driven by a level of personal sensitivity that’s off the charts.

      Puppygames is commenting on the gaming market. The relationship between consumers and producers is shaped by the market. In this case, the shape of the market has everything to do with Valve.

      It has nothing to do with you.

        1. Thanks for your offer! I Already bought Titan Attacks on Steam. The game looks really great, and I don’t have any similar games that I remember. If you really want to do this, my username on Steam is moranar, but I’d like to keep buying your games.

  2. Oh no wait I just saw it, at least double huh? I’ll have to work a little harder to keep up then.

    1. I think the question that will soon float into everyone’s minds is, just how much more expensive are those AAA titles suddenly going to have to become when Bethesda can only sell half as many of them. Ahh.

      1. I am not concerned about the AAA games makers making money. They are more than capable of it.

        1. I wouldn’t be so sure… 90% of AAA titles used to fail last time I looked. Steam might have redressed that problem in recent years, but I think they’ve just poured cold water all over that.

      2. I worked on large publisher’s digital distribution platform (that everyone hates but still uses) a while back when they rolled out pretty much the same kind of refund program as Valve has now. Refund rates were in the low single digits for a AAA $60 title, so I’d be pretty surprised if things like Skyrim or Fallout 4 get hit hard outside of huge 75% off sales a couple years after launch, but at that point the base game is just an acquisition tool for DLC/the sequel.

  3. Hi, thanks for the read. I think you are missing one major difference between the demo and the refund policy, though: with the demo you had to spend extra effort to get the full product, which one may not be inclined to do (or even flat out forget, even if you liked the game), whilst now you need to spend extra effort to get the refund (personally, I would only do this if I was really unhappy with the game).

      1. I think you might be looking at this one wrong. A demo usually requires (small) effort to acquire and further effort to acquire the full version and even further to return.

        Valve’s old model, required no effort to acquire and impossible to refund.

        Valve’s new model maintains the effortless acquisition with slightly less effortless refund. I think you will see only the games lacking content or proper coding struggle.

        1. Well, that’s exactly what I think, although I think it will favour certain sorts of designs more than others.

  4. Wahhhhh consumers have rights on Steam now. WAHHHHHHHHHHH

    Remove your shit tier flash games from steam then you crybaby.

    1. See what I mean? I’m not sure people commenting on the blog realise I manually approve every comment.

      Just so people can see what they’re like.

      1. so you’re a coward and a bullshiter? fuck your games. Never buying anything you ever put out again.

          1. Please don’t stop. I hate people who post useless insults like that and I haven’t had my fill of hatorade yet.

  5. This is a great blog design. Just keep pumpin out your top notch games until you can’t anymore. I guess we’ll see what happens.

  6. I don’t think valve is the only one to blame for pushing down prices. There are also too many games coming out these days that competition is though. A lower price point is almost a necessity in order to get sales.

    Also Valves cut of 30% isn’t that high compared to the margin of physical copies. At least in grocery stores margin is over 50%.

    1. Definitely not the only factor in it, no, but probably the biggest factor by far I think. “Bundlegeddon” also – but remember that Bundlegeddon is in cahoots with Steam anyway. Steam keys at one point were like bitcoins.

  7. This was an insightful read. It’s a pity that many of your visitors focus on your tone on your tone and choice of words (“worthless customers”), completely missing what you are actually trying to say.

  8. Don’t want to side track the conversation, but want to point out that “begs the question” doesn’t really mean “raises the question.” Begging the question is a rhetorical fallacy where you base the proof of your argument on an assumption that the argument is true. It’s circular reasoning.

    “Opium induces sleep because it has a soporific quality.”

      1. It actually says “beg the question”. Just pointing it out, I still don’t understand that phrase fully, to be honest.

        1. I’d say it implies that the existence of the fact necessitates that we ask that question to elucidate its origins… or something 🙂

      2. “That’s a bit awkward because the median time game play for most titles on Steam is only about an hour, which does rather beg the question why they chose a 2 hour window, but that’s part of the meta-problem Valve has, which I’ll get to.”

        There, you shit-tier blogger!

        (ps, love the blog, keep it up)

  9. I always find it bizarre when someone on the internet has this attitude of “oh you didn’t understand what I REALLY meant when I said X, you have to read between the lines and understand my unspoken intentions to get what I REALLY meant to say.”

    Here’s the thing, though. People have every right to take what you say at face value. They have no further obligation to understand you or to read deeper into your subtext or whatever. If you communicate badly and people misunderstand you and misquote you because of it, well, that’s on you. Not on them.

    It doesn’t make you clever to make yourself be misunderstood.

    On the internet it’s on you to communicate as clearly and as directly as possible because bottom line, nobody really cares what you have to say. They care about what quotes or soundbytes they can mine from your post and paste on their Twitter or FB feed to get a bunch of likes and favorites. That’s it – that’s how you build an online reputation for yourself, and it really does blow my mind that some people refuse to understand this.

    In your specific case, yes you did build yourself a reputation that you hate your customers. That’s what you put forth at face value and that’s what people took away from it because they weren’t willing, or maybe even able, to search for your deeper meaning, or to mentally snuggle up to your intentions in order to get at what really makes you tick, like you wanted them to. (But of course the fact that you thought they’d actually do that was absurd to begin with.)

    Also, on a final note allow me to point out, at the very end of that Aftermath post where you make like you had this whole other discussion that you really wanted to have, and the reason why “I Be Playin’ Ya”, you write: “Now, I wonder what we’re going to do about the actual situation? That’ll be the subject of some other blog posts.”

    Blog posts which years after the fact have yet to materialize.

    I think we can all agree that that, more than anything else, shows your true intention and your true motivations when you blog. You’re ready to pick a fight, but you’re not ready to have the discussion you claim to want to have.

    1. And yet here I am, discussing it. Now, in the face of the evidence that there are actually hundreds (probably thousands) of people who did perfectly understand what the original “Worthless” blog post was about shows you that there may be some issues with your arguments wrt. “face value”. The face value of the post is that the market has devalued customers’ individual worth to the point where no longer have the relationship with customers that you might think we should have. It’s not our fault and I’d appreciate it if you don’t shoot the messenger.

      At no point have I ever stated that we hate customers. That very post actually specifically says exactly the opposite. The “face value” of which you speak is actually words put in our mouths by other people with an agenda. There is no deeper meaning in the post. It says exactly what it means to say.

      Ironically this post, upon which you are replying, is one of the “missing” follow ups to which you allude.

      My intentions are to tell you what’s actually happening in the industry, unlike many other developers who like to pretend it’s not and outright bullshit to you. Your choice of course if you want to see the rose-tinted view of it. Just as it’s your choice to read and respond (and thank you for actually taking the time to respond properly and with at least some critical thinking).

  10. Great post and awesome games. It’s nice to see some frank discussion about the topic of refunds and how steam affects prices.

  11. Do haters stalk your blog? Probably followed reddit here, as did I. I think it is sad that we are seeing the end of (successful) tiny and/or episodic games. I guess things of that flavor may get distributed elsewhere, but they might as well write them for MS Dos.

  12. While I found this post to be insightful, I’d like to discuss a few points:

    1) I got the impression that you immediately assume the worst and feel that everyone will abuse the system just because they can. If that were true, everyone would pirate your games instead of buying them – no matter how much you charge for the game, that doesn’t beat “free”. Since you state PuppyGames isn’t doing too badly, you must have enough honest human beings buying your games because they like them, or because they believe in paying for their entertainment – why do you assume this will change?

    Anyone who would buy Revenge of the Titans only to play it for 2 hours and refund it could have just pirated it instead – DRM-free, no up-front payment, no risk that their refund won’t be accepted or the funds will take time to be returned to their bank account.

    I think those people who find your games interesting and can afford them, will still buy them and keep them, even if you release games with <2 hours of gameplay and no replayability. After all, if the majority of people playing games were cheapskate assholes, singleplayer games of all budgets would have died off after bittorrent became mainstream.

    2) For the same reason as above, I disagree that the refund system somehow makes it suicidal to publish your game on Steam without DRM. It only takes one person to create a torrent, and anyone who wants to download a DRM-free version of your game at no cost can do so. Most games using only Steam as DRM get cracked on release day. Honest gamers will not abuse this. Dishonest gamers already have quick and easy ways of pirating your games.

    3) I don't think that graph should have been posted to begin with. It shows a dip across a very small time span, immediately following the introduction of refunds and right before one of the two huge annual sales on Steam – with so many compounding factors on such a small dataset, it's all but impossible to prove any correlation between refunds and sales.

    It is natural to expect a burst of refunds from people testing the system, and it's also natural to expect a dip in sales due to people holding out for the Steam Summer Sale, which is due to start tomorrow. Combine that with the reports of people getting refunds from way outside the allotted timespan and you have too many factors at work to talk about the long-term impact of the refund system.

    4) I don't agree that the 2 hour refunds bring back any of the problems associated with demos of old, and here's why.

    Actual demos require additional developer time to create and maintain. Depending on the nature of your game, you may have to create separate content for the demo to avoid spoiling the main game. And you have to do all that before your game is released, so players can actually try before they buy.

    With refunds, the main requirement is that the player must be hooked on the game within two hours. If you're still not having fun two hours in, there is something fundamentally wrong with the design (good reason for a refund?), or you are clearly not the game's target audience (good reason for a refund?). Even complex games with high learning curves should not have the player slogging through 2+ hours before he starts enjoying himself – not in a day and age where there are so many games available at such low costs.

    Overall, it's a good post. I'm glad it made me think about these issues.

    1. 1) I got the impression that you immediately assume the worst and feel that everyone will abuse the system just because they can.

      Not at all, I’ve never once mentioned abuse (in fact AFAIK only Valve have). To be absolutely crystal clear: I think Valve’s refund policy is just awesome. I’m a consumer as well as a producer. I don’t think the system will be any more abused than it currently is with torrents. People are still welcome to pirate away of course, but now Valve are giving them an actual safe alternative. Brilliant!

      The change we foresee is that, entirely reasonably, a fairly large proportion of paying customers will not like our games, which is to be expected. And there’s always those customers with dodgy rigs which just won’t run them, or perhaps they just can’t get controllers to work. It doesn’t really matter why. But this means that at the current prices of games where before we made $x per game, we now make $x/2, and clearly that’s not going to work for any of us as we’ll all pretty much go out of business overnight. It worked before because we were forced to charge a deliberately small price for games to mitigate buyer remorse and enable Valve to shift more copies. Now it’s going to have to shift back to a small number of high-value copies instead, which comes with all sorts of other benefits like incentive to proper support, decent customer relations, and customer investment. The people that buy games at higher prices and hang on to them are very valuable indeed, and those are exactly the sorts of people a business really needs to survive.

      After all, if the majority of people playing games were cheapskate assholes, singleplayer games of all budgets would have died off after bittorrent became mainstreamThat’s exactly what would have happened before, but Valve’s solution was to make games so cheap and so easy to get ahold of you’d have to be quite pathologically weird to want to risk a torrent, not to mention that Valve also includes a whole ton of clever little value-adds to your games like leaderboards, in-game overlay, achievements, badges, cards, coupon drops, etc.

      For the same reason as above, I disagree that the refund system somehow makes it suicidal to publish your game on Steam without DRM.
      My thinking on that is that gamers gonna game. It’s what they do. Gamers play to beat the rules! And if you could get a game for free without ever having any comeback, well, that’s what the average gamer will do, if that same average gamer is just going to torrent a game otherwise. So the old adage “locks keep honest people honest” probably applies.

      I don’t think that graph should have been posted to begin with. It shows a dip across a very small time span, immediately following the introduction of refunds and right before one of the two huge annual sales on Steam – with so many compounding factors on such a small dataset, it’s all but impossible to prove any correlation between refunds and sales.Indeed, we live and learn, but I wasn’t really to know it would suddenly explode all over the internet before I even analysed it myself. And now all those shoddy news sites have made a story out of it even though they’re all utterly, utterly wrong. For what it’s worth, although that graph only shows 1 month of data, it’s more or less the same for the previous three months.

      It is natural to expect a burst of refunds from people testing the system, and it’s also natural to expect a dip in sales due to people holding out for the Steam Summer Sale, which is due to start tomorrow.I don’t think we’re actually seeing either factor in our actual data. What we’re left with, the little bit on the end of the graph, that’s what our sales look like normally, when there are no coupon drops. (I tested this assumption last year, graph and numbers looks the same).

      Actual demos require additional developer time to create and maintain.This is indeed a great bonus. But it is still balanced with the fact that many games – most of ours – aren’t designed to lure people into thinking there’s something even better behind a two-hour paywall. Our games are designed to deliver all the important stuff within an hour or so of play, and then rely on replayability after that, which turns out to be poor for the demo conversion model but great for the stack-em-high, flog-em-cheap, no-refunds model. Some games such as visual novels and other story-based stuff is going to be almost 90% over by the time two hours is up, and that’s got to have a very serious effect on their refund rate… but we’ll see the numbers before we actually get worked up over it.

      More food for thought 🙂

      1. I think you may be doing the gamer audience an injustice here. You forget that a large portion of us have (mostly) grown up, being very much disinclined to do a shitty thing like refunding a game which we enjoyed even if we have seen all the gameplay. After all, you also don’t see many people refunding board games.

  13. Very insightful as it is always informative to read what various developers are thinking about Valve’s policies for Steam. While I don’t agree with the “demo” aspect, I approve you for having the courage to write this opinion down. I
    Personally, I think the whole current situation is a mess. Especially after reading about refunds that are given beyond the “official refund window” makes me wonder what is going on at Valve. Refunds are great but who moderates the requests? Probably the same people (or bots) that are working in Valve’s Customer Service department. Instead of stabilising the situation, they decided to expand.

  14. Great piece, best commentary I’ve yet seen on Valve’s new refund policy and its implications for the PC gaming market.

    It also brought Revenge of the Titans to my attention. I haven’t bought a Puppygames title since I enjoyed Ultron. But I just picked up Titans, it looks great. I look forward to trying it out for more than 2 hours. 🙂

    1. Drop by the community forums if you need any tips playing. It can be quite a hard game if you’re not expecting it. Thanks!

  15. I agree with you in everything.

    While I like being able to buy loads of games for a price too low to generate a buyer’s remorse and not playing them, I’m pretty sure the entire industry and the gamers themselves would benefit more with no-questions-asked refunds and games with a decent price. The games would need to have a certain level of quality to convince people to not refund, and it’s something Steam desperately needs now.

    From what I know of Steam, they’re trying to transform the store into a publishing platform. The idea is to allow any chump to put a game there to sell, with no Greenlight process or anything. But even now, where you need to buy a developer’s permit and get a game voted on Greenlight, the ammount of shitty games that popped out — lots of them made with Unity’s cheap assets, stolen images found on Google, and barely any work — is really destroying the reputation of the site. It’s becoming just like the App Store or Google Play Store where it’s full of shitty developers trying to con people into buying their cheap games and shrug off the loss. With refunds, anyone can reverse those transactions, discouraging those shitty sales.

    I don’t want another App Store or Google Play Store. I long for the days the Steam games were curated and presumed to have a minmum quality to be up to sale — even though Bad Rats and other Strategy First games were there from the beggining. But seeing that Valve doesn’t want to waste time evaluating the games and allowing anyone to self-publish, I think that creating a solid system that protects the consumers from con purchases would naturally push the quality of the games by itself.

    Of course, I think some games, by the way they were designed, will suffer quite a bit. I doubt there will be a perfect solution for a self-sustaining self-publishing store. But overall, I think the change will benefit everyone. You will get more valuable customers, I’ll get more quality games that I’ll actually play and Gabe will keep making rivers of money. All how it should be.

  16. Disclaimer: I am a big fan of your games, and not a hater here to spite you. Ultratron was one of the first indie titles I tried that I learned about on GameTunnel (remember that?).

    But I think this article is wishful thinking, and contradicts itself a bit. As you mentioned, AAA studios don’t offer demos anymore for a good reason. But their games certainly cost more than a few dollars and can offer more than an hour’s worth of play.

    I understand that a AAA studio will have higher costs to cover than an indie. But the point is the same; offering too much free content can significantly hurt sales, whether what you’re offering is “premium” or not. It’s hopeful thinking that there will be enough loyal customers who 1) don’t game the system 2) are willing to pay 10X more than they used to for the same game.

    I hope the best for you guys, but the idea that you’ll regain lost revenue just by raising prices is a bit too simplistic and unrealistic. Steam goofed here.

  17. The only real quibble I’d have with what you wrote is the implicit assumption that Valve cares about actually selling the titles in their catalog. While it’s not certain, there’s a reasonable amount of evidence that the thinking at Valve is that the goal is to a) generate Steam-game playtime, and b) monetize playtime. Most of that’s happening in the TF2/CS:GO/DOTA2 economies. The aim being to get people creating/trading/buying content (preferably UGC) in those game economies and essentially taxing the churn on the economy. Everything else (read: the majority of the Steam catalog) is there to acquire and retain people in the Steam ecosystem, and if some money is made of sales, that’s a bonus.

    At the end of the day, indies are probably going to have to address this in much the way AAA did, which almost certainly means DLC, which can generate sales with lower acquisition and development costs to increase margin, and disincentivizes refunds and piracy.

    Some folks are gonna go out of business, which is both sad and necessary. There’s a way larger supply of indie titles than there is demand for them, and prices probably aren’t going back up until a bunch of those folks (hopefully the crappier ones) go out of business and people don’t have 200 indie titles fighting for every player purchase. High refund rates are going to be one of their pressures.

    I’m kinda surprised Puppygames is seeing 55% refund rates, my gut feeling is a good undiscounted title is going to see low to mid single digit %s and 5-10% higher for games bought during the silly discount season (going by what happened when other digital distributors saw when they did this kind of refund scheme, which was on the lower end of that range, but they didn’t have the same uber-discount profile that Steam does), hopefully Puppygames’s rate comes down.

    -a AAA publishing suit

    1. Still 55% as of today. It’ll take a few months to get a real figure but this might not be far off. Interestingly the large majority of those refunds are for games that cost a dollar (90% off discount coupon from last week)

      1. Well, here’s hoping it pulls downward a bit. I will totally believe you’re getting hit particularly hard coming just on the heels of a high-discount coupon, it’s probably not a mystery that people who’ve made only the bare minimum of commitment to a title (discount purchase, no digital deluxe, no DLC) are showing low engagement/stickiness (it’s been true on every title I’ve ever worked on) and a high refund rate.

        I wonder if you got any baseline sales bump and your refunds are folks who wouldn’t have bought otherwise and there’s the possibility of net lift overall, or if the refunds are eating at your baseline, but it’s a) probably not easy to disentangle from the coupon and upcoming summer sale, and b) not the kind of intimate sales data you should share on the internet.

        Sadly, I worry it might be the latter, because you’re absolutely right that Demos are an utter waste of time, and haven’t driven sales lift in years.

      2. Dont you think that it maybe was impulse purchases and that peoples actually DONT LIKED that they got? You games was always quite niche ones and yes, there is peoples which dont like “pixelated” graphics and such stuff.
        Why dont you get your games to GOG and see how it will turn?

    2. For most games, fanboys downvote all negative reviews, even the lengthy and constructive ones. With Revenge of the Titans however, it looks like a crowd rushed through the Steam reviews for the game, marking all negative ones as “helpful”, even the single-sentence ones.

      I think there might be some mobbing going on, probably a backlash from people who misinterpreted the (admittedly) abrasive tone of some of these blog posts as contempt/mockery/personal attacks on their consumer identity…orr were simply told the developer is a jerk and did not do any research before grabbing their pitchfork.

  18. Wow – I love supporting indie devs. I give them as much word of mouth as I can, buy multiple of their games at full price and for the most part, get only thanks for my efforts by the devs. But I’ll never buy another one of your games. Your attitude is terrible.

    This sentence boggles my mind:
    “So, there’s that. I bet you can live with that though, because ooh look at all my achievements and badges.”

    I spent 6 years writing a novel. It’s on amazon. It has 7 5 star reviews. I’ve made negative $932.00 on it. Do you know why? There are a ton of novels out there. Good ones, bad ones, more publicized less publicized. When I got out of school as a software developer, I could’ve chosen to write, or chosen to program in the games industry or gone out and gotten a ‘real’ job. I did the latter. Maybe I’m a coward or maybe I’m a pragmatist. But I’ve never understood the idea that you should get paid a good wage doing what you want if what you want isn’t necessarily what others want.

    Is the industry perfect? No. Is the market perfect? No. Cry me a river. Stop shaking your hands at the sky and deal with reality.

    But I don’t expect to convince you based on your other blog posts and answers in this blog. Your mind about the world is made up. You’re clearly a victim in all this and people should pony up because… “It’s just not FAIR!”

    I was anxiously awaiting Basingstoke. Telling folks about it. Now, not so much.

    1. But people do want their games, yourself included. And they need money so that they can support themselves and keep making games for people like us.

      There was no victimhood expressed in the article. It’s not unreasonable to expect to be paid in return for something that fills a need, even if that need is entertainment. The problem with indiscriminate refunds is that players can get free entertainment without having to pay anything.

      That may sound all and well to you since you probably don’t think games are all that important. But when sales dry up and indie developers can now longer produce anything and get “real jobs” instead, you’ll be left playing the same repeated AAA garbage from the likes of EA and Ubisoft. Maybe then you’ll change your tune. Or maybe you won’t, and you will continue to play CoD or whatever recycled crap that will be in the mainstream.

    2. In fairness, he’s right about the DRM thing though. Everything has achievements these days because once Valve figured out that everyone happily sign up for DRM if it was a feature that provided value but also intrinsically required you to connect to a server and identify/authenticate yourself, and we, the rest of the industry, jumped on that shit. Because it’s way easier (and more profitable) to knock together a multiplayer component, or social connectivity, or achievements rather than screw around with all the weird toxic root-kit shit people used to do for DRM.

      No-DRM was a nice PR move for some folks, and I’m sure some dev’s honestly believe it, but for most games, Achievements/DRM are here for the long haul.

    3. I don’t understand what you’re talking about … what has your response got to do with my article? And why suddenly so anti-Puppygames?

  19. I was quite disappointed with the trashing you got on reddit at kotakuinaction yesterday, because you are one of the better developers that I have been happy to support over the years. You have always gone out of your way to make sure that customers got what they wanted. Getting steam keys in 2013 for all of the three games in the Ultrabundle that I had purchased in 2010 was hugely appreciated.

    It seems like some people cannot comprehend that the way that you talked about the business realities of game development does not mean you are insulting them personally. Any business that has more costs from adding new customers than revenue gained cannot continue.

  20. Your games are great.
    I have all of them since before Steam.
    You live in the truth.
    It is a privileged and enjoyable place to live in.
    But it takes sacrifice to get there.
    And most do not get it.

  21. Hi, any new info about Battledroid? I want play this game NOW !!! I cant wait , releasi it PLEASE !!!!!!!!!!!!!

    1. I’m currently saving up the money to make it! I’ve got a contract in marine seismic right now, making cetacean friendly oil exploration software. It’s great fun (though not as fun as making games), and pays well enough that I can save a bit of money each month to get on with Battledroid when the contract finishes in a few months’ time.

  22. As someone that actually likes your games, I find it odd that people claim you make shitty games. I understand not everybody is going to like them but I still find them fun. Especially Revenge of the Titans which I’ve already got a couple of hours in. I’m one of the people that would only refund a game if it was either broken or as bad as Slaughtering Grounds. Still, I find it odd when I look at your numbers.

    The low amount of sales being made after the refunds were announced could mean several different things. People weren’t able to get refunds in the past so the people that didn’t like your games were suddenly able to get their money back. I’ve even heard that one developer had a negative account because of refunds on the first day. If I had to guess then I’d say that this would balance itself out in the end and we’ll see if any devs are actually being harmed after the Summer Sale ends.

  23. I am just posting to say that while your games don´t really interest me I really like your blog.

    I am not really the target audience for your games, I think. I took a look a them and they don´t seem to be my thing.

    But you say things that need to be said without sugar coating it. You are doing something good here.

  24. Found this blog from Reddit. Wow, impressively straightforward and direct. I appreciate the honesty and no-bullshit attitude you take here, and you’re very even-handed in your assessment on what this means for game sales, IMO. Very respectful. Think I’ll buy Ultratron in respect of that. Seems fun enough. (On the Wii U- thanks for putting it on console!)

  25. Wow. I must have been living under a rock. People hate Puppygames all of a sudden? I wasn’t aware. Everyone I’ve spoken with loves your games. Maybe I just haven’t spoken with anyone about Puppygames in a while, because I’m genuinely shocked by this. Maybe I haven’t read the right blog posts or something, or I haven’t been in the right subreddits.

    I’ve seen nothing but love from Puppygames to its customers and from customers to Puppygames. I thoroughly enjoy all of your games, and even though Revenge of the Titans is way too hard for me I still enjoy playing it.

    As far as what the new refund policy will do, or how prices will change, economics just tends to work it out. Developers will end up charging what they have to, and customers will end up getting used to paying that much. Plus, it’s also possible that in the future people who would never have paid anything for the game because they didn’t know what it was like will actually keep it and not ask for a refund. Personally, I’m far more likely to pay for something if I have some kind of trial first. The problem with Steam games is that very few of them actually have demos. So, you never know what could happen.

    1. Aye, we’ve been public enemy #3435 for some time now largely thanks to my efforts to tell people what’s going on.

  26. Cas, you are incorrigible. I usually dislike people who are abrasive, but for some reason, I find it charming here.

    Also, thanks for that help with Steam API and LWJGL you mention — from my experience infrequenting JGO, it appears to be true. I think you’ve even helped me once or twice.

    I am relieved to hear the refund isn’t expected to hurt your sales much. Win-win-win for consumer-valve-developer (or at least win-win-meh) is much better than win-win-lose. I’d only read and fretted about articles about your graph rather, so it’s good to hear your own conclusions.

  27. I find this article and the comments an absolutely fantastic read.

    It just gives such a raw perspective on the industry that, when I was a child, was just getting started and was extremely limited hardware wise with expensive rom cartridges.

    Now, thirty years down the road from when I was a kid, there are now more games than you could play in a lifetime with more coming out every year.

    Even though only the newest games can take advantage of the newest hardware, it’s obvious that any game is in competition with every other game, not only from it’s own year….or from it’s own hardware, but from ALL hardware, all hardware emulated, all different versions, across all platforms simultaneously.

    Dare I mention *ngry B*rds on your blog, but one thing that amazes and annoys me at the same time is that a game I paid $1 for has continually grown even though I bought it 3 years ago now. The constant addition of new game modes and content would be a plus, ironically, if only they didn’t keep adding in advertisements for their other games, or age checks, or demanding I log into Apple’s game center. I only keep it around for my students to play during parties, but it’s strange to see the product I paid for…no longer exists.

    So even when you are trying to “improve” what you already have to keep going, you constantly risk alienating your older customers who are sick of all the new crap they have to put up with.

    But the largest irony for me isn’t steam, cheap games, or DRM; it’s youtube. Buying a strategy guide for a game was one thing back in the day, but now…just watch someone else play and beat it. And thanks to youtube’s comment system, along with reddit and steam forums, you can now know everything there is to know about a game without even buying it, including what problems it has and what is going to cause you to rage-quit.

    I passed buying up the H*meworld remake because they used the H2 interface for the H1 game and messed it up. $30 saved. Even though it’s on sale for $13 I won’t drop my money on it. I’d rather play the original in a VM if I have to.

    All of the games for the systems or computers I had that were absolutely impossible to beat, all of the Psygnosis games on the Amiga, or Impossible Mission on the C64, I never really enjoyed playing them but I always felt I had to win.

    They don’t even feel like ghosts past. I just stare in amazement thinking “why was I so obsessed with them anyway?”

    And that must be the largest irony, for now my son is almost one year old, but will I be introducing him to all of those classic games?

    Am*ga? Nope.
    PC Eng*ne? Nope.
    MS-D*S? Nope.
    C*mmodore 64? Nope.
    N*ntendo? Nope.
    G*nesis? Nope.
    W*ndows (3.1 – XP)? Nope.

    Will I dump a ton of money into Steam on new games or remakes? Probably not.

    What will I introduce him to? A few hand selected games that have lasting value but aren’t tied into major franchises and won’t drag him down the rabbit hole like Machinarium, World of Goo, Titan Attacks and maybe Command & Conquer 3 since it’s dead anyway.

    The simple fact is, though, it’s a different world my son will grow up in.

    P.S.I’ll gladly pay $19.99 for Basingstoke when it comes out if Cas asks for it. Even if there are heaps of cheaper or even free games out there, quality is more important than quantity and a good experience is worth the money.

  28. What if Steam adopted the GOG 30 Day Money Back Guarantee: “If, within 30 days after the purchase of your game, you experience technical problems or game-breaking bugs that prevent you from finishing your game, contact our customer support. They will do their best to help you fix the problem and if, at the end of their attempts to solve the problem your game is still not working, we’ll give you back your money.” ? I feel like a lot more unjustified refund attempts would be thwarted.

    1. The thing is… everybody was already doing that anyway. It was quite a burden though because of the sheer number of them thanks to all those bundles and Steam sales, and unfortunately it meant losing money. Or, put another way, it meant spending more time doing support and less time making games.

      I think that once games’ prices are corrected to once again support an investment from both players and developers everything will be fine again.

  29. I have never heard of you or your games, I am only here because I’m interested in this topic. If I get an reply to this I might be motivated to buy your games and see if they are any good, because it is possible that you just have shitty games that only a very small portion of people like for whatever reason. Sorry no offence but it’s true for a lot of these “indi games”.
    Before I try your games I don’t have a lot to say but here are my points.
    I don’t really care if I have to pay like $30 or more for an indi game, as long as it is good. I regret having paid $30 to for shitty AAA games. As a consumer what I care about is how much entertainment I get out of a game. Not how much money was spent on making it. So if you and other developers have to raise their price, so be it. I rather have a quality library than a library full of cheap regrets.

    I don’t see why there is suddenly a need for DRM. If I wanted to get a game for free guess what? I get a cracked DRM free version. Instead of risking a game having steam DRM and waste my time getting refunds on steam.

    Also, if you are relying on people buying your games on sale and never actually play them. I do not consider you to be an honest developer, and therefore I have no empathy for you. A game developer is an artist and should live by his or her skill at that art, not leeching off of steam sales. However keep in mind that in this imperfect world, tones of people make money through dishonest means, I just had sales people in my house trying to install useless filters on my water heater for dishonest reasons. People need to make a living and sometimes you don’t have an honest way to do it. I understand and I don’t hate them for doing that. I just won’t feel any empathy towards them.

    1. I don’t really care if I have to pay like $30 or more for an indi game, as long as it is good. I regret having paid $30 to for shitty AAA games. As a consumer what I care about is how much entertainment I get out of a game. Not how much money was spent on making it. So if you and other developers have to raise their price, so be it. I rather have a quality library than a library full of cheap regrets.

      That’s the hope, yes. What we don’t want is 50% of our “customers” just throwing tiny amounts of cash in our direction and then not actually playing the games, although it’s hard to refuse money 🙂 But worse is where another 40% of customers only make us literally pennies and then cost a fortune in time and effort to support. So in a nutshell – a small number of valued customers buying games at a premium is going to be better for us than large numbers of people buying games at throwaway prices.

      As for DRM… it’s all about convenience. Convenience is king. Cracked DRM free versions are not at all convenient for normal people. What is convenient is being able to have a guaranteed safe version of a game streamed to your desktop at super high speed (thanks Steam), test it out, and being able to return it if you don’t like it with about 2 clicks of a mouse… and there’s a little bonus if it’s DRM-free because it means you get to keep the game if you’re savvy. And if you know about torrents, cracks, and such things, you also are probably highly aware of this loophole in the Steam refund system right now. Steam becomes a perfect tool for obtaining free software for a certain sort of person. The question remains, how many of that sort of person are there? … and doubtless someone with half a brain will implement logging in their DRM free game that will give some hard stats on games played after refunding.

  30. Also I wanted to point out that if a game has nothing to offer for the first two hours. You probably shouldn’t have made the game that long. I don’t need a front loaded game neither do I need a rear loaded game. That’s why I don’t play MMOs because all the content are just so stupidly diluted to bloat play time. If I see one of your games doing that by not having anything to offer at at part of the game for two hours, guess what? I’m going to be disappointed.

  31. So I took a look at your games on Steam, I gotta say they look absolutely amazing. I have no doubt that they are at least decent games just from the amount of talent shown through the artful graphics. So at this point it wouldn’t make sense for me to question the quality of your games. However, my other point stands, that I think as artists, you really should be looking for people who appreciate your work, rather than people who were just drunk and bought those things on sale by mistake.
    Another problem I see here is that your games are just not about popular things if you know what I mean. I’m looking at the most recent game you have, The Book of Unwritten Tales 2, I look at it and I’m just like, man these guys know what they’re doing. I might buy this for my kids if I have them, or maybe my GF if I had one >.>… But I’m not gonna buy it because I’m just not into 2 headed cyclopes dwarfs. I know I don’t represent the norm of gamers, but you should have done the research and know what’s hot on Steam and what’s not, I’m guessing zombies and post apocalypse survival games?
    If that’s the reason you’re not making as much money you think you deserve, well I’d feel sorry for you but I am still for refunds. Because the pro still outweighs the con. I would still hope that you start making games with more popular themes and make better money that way. Instead of leaching off of impulsive buys from steam sales.

    1. Yep, agree with you on that one. Bundles and Steam Sales are probably no longer the way forward for us. But then again… neither is arcade games – we’re moving on to different sorts of games now (though I’ve still got an urge to make a couple of ideas…)

      If we were smart we’d make something with zombies in it. And crafting. And survival. As it happens Basingstoke has got two of these things in it, and a whole lot of corpses…

  32. The trend goes towards more and cheaper games. I have over 300 games in my steam library and I payed nowhere near the release price for about 95% of those games, either because I only buy during steam sales or I buy from websites like the one that features a royal penguin.

    Most of your games I bought either for full price or maybe for -25% off though. Personally I’m pretty happy as a customer with your games even though I don’t play any of them excessively. It’s more like scratching a retro itch that starts tingling every 6 months or so and then I fire up Ultratron or Droid Assault.

    The market gravitates towards owning more games at cheaper prices and as a customer I’m very happy with that. There are a lot of awesome games that I would (or rather could) never afford to play, if they didn’t enter sales once in a while. However, here lies the crux: If this weren’t the case, then what would my steam library realistically look like right now? 40 games maybe. The developers of those other 260+ games would not have made a single cent off of me. I would probably also not have bought your games at full price, because how much money I can afford to spend on games is not very variable, so I would have to be a lot more picky about what I end up buying. Realistically if users had to suffer release prices indefinitely, they would either resort to piracy or only save up for AAA games or 90+ score games which would hurt indies as well in a different manner.

    1. Totalbuscuit also has a good video about the impact of the new refunds with thoughts and replies from well over a dozen developers, many of them raise very good points.

      I think one of the problems that uniquely hits your game titles is buried their core gameplay. White the games are actually good, a single gameplay session probably won’t last anyone over two hours the first time people play them. So people might fire up Droid Assault for the first time and just play for an hour until they get killed and go “well I pretty much experienced what this game has to offer, I don’t feel like restarting it again for a second playthrough right now” and then they go for a refund. To be perfectly honest I think you should adapt your game design with that in mind in the future, the cat is out of the bag and it’s not gonna go back inside and you complining won’t change anything. The landscape has changed and you will ahve to adapt, but in general I think refunds are a good idea. I think it will change the gaming landscape for the better. We will tolerate no more Ass Creed Unity and Aliens BS.

    2. You can also look at it this way: Basingstoke looks cool and I’d love to try it. But the reality is that there are a lot of other awesome games out there and the reality is that I, like many others, have a monthly budget I can affort to blow on games and the amount I can spend is nothing you can influence.

      There’s three ways this is going to play out:

      1) Basingstoke is going to be absolutely fantastic, so fantastic in fact that I’m willing to play full release price to experience it right away rather than some distant time in the future. Best possible outcome for the both of us.

      2) Basingstoke turns out decent but not overwhelmingly awesome and is maybe a ~75-80 score title. In that case you might also see my money, but I will never pay the full release price for it. This has nothing to do with you, I simply have a limited budget and I can only buy so much games no matter what. My choice is to either buy a select few really awesome and new games for their release price, or a lot of different games for cheap that are mostly decent but older.

      3) Your new game blows or is solid but not awesome and you never discout it. In that case you’ll never see my money.

      1. To me it seems you wish back a supply and demand market that existed more than a decade ago. The reality is that the game- and especially the indie-market is simply completely oversaturated with new titles. The supply of games has increased dramatically and the demand for games has risen as well, but not to a point that meets the overabundance of new games. With some exceptions mediocre or solid-but-not-fantastic titles can generally only survive through sales.

        The market is oversaturated with games and the only way to leave your “grey zone” is to be innovative, take risks and make the next Spelunky or FTL. What you seem to loathe are simply the direct consequences of the current market, and I feel you are giving steam too much credit for creating this market, because I would expect it would have turned out to look like it looks now either way. We may see the supply of games actually shrink as mediocre titles will not be able to support their developers and people might not choose to develop games unless they have something really good going on because the financial risks of doing mediocre things become clearer and clearer. I really do wish you the best in this new market though, I hope you will be able to stick around and continue to make great games and hope some day you crack the Spelunky code and make something remarkable that will set you up for life and free you to try new things.

        1. I see the word “saturated” here and there and I’m not so entirely sure that it is an appropriate description of this market.

          We don’t see people complaining about all the books being written now, do we? And we certainly don’t see the price of books falling through the floor just because there are so many of them to choose from. What we do see though is that 95% of all books never make a bean (and thanks to having actual tangible reproduction costs, many of them actually make a loss). What most of these 95% of books have in common is that they’re rather difficult to actually find on the shelves in bookshops. That doesn’t stop people making them though, and it doesn’t stop them being on the shelves… just… harder to find than the 5% that make all the money. Thus it is with Steam.

          The titles that Steam decide to promote make (literally) 100x to 1000x more than any comparable titles that they don’t decide to promote.

          What makes them promote a title?

          Well… we’re not entirely sure. We’ve never had any promotion from them other than briefly appearing in the top 10 sellers lists.

          1. The game and the book market are different though, you can always self-publish your game and if it is awesome and unique enough chances are people will flock to it sooner or later. Books are different in that regard, if a book is self-published and neither on Amazon nor in Barnes and Nobles it might as well not exist – at least with regards to its distribution and the kinds of profit it will make.

            I guess you could argue if an indie game is not on steam, it might as well not exist either, unless it is extremely good and “sells itself”. (Minecraft never was on steam because it didn’t have to be). However, unlike with publishing a book you can always get onto steam if you pass the greenlight barrier, and that bar is fairly low. God there is some garbage on steam.

            I get your point about “saturation” though. Especially with digital goods it’s hard to tell if this particular market is “saturated” or not, the way you could tell that a market is saturated if you sell fridges and discover that the reason they all rot in you warehouse is that everyone has one already and most people don’t need two. I doubt the way you can discover whether a market is saturated or not is by simply asking the consumers though. People don’t complain about too many books being written, because how would they even know when that is the case, and I think the same applies to games. I think in the context of games we may have reached saturation, when a decent game cannot turn a profit despite being a well-made title measured both by its quality-to-budget ratio and its quality, whilst also being reasonably marketed.

      2. On a complete side note, is is just me or are British developers extremely lazy and comfortable when it comes to reinventing game formulas. Every UK developer I know of apart from you guys seems extremely lazy when it comes to reinventing the wheel. Team17 and Firefly with their Worms and Stronghold games come to mind, they make one fantastic game and then rehash the same shit for the next decade, and not only do they not improve on their games, they actually get gradually worse.

        While the quality of your games is good and each offers completely different gameplay mechanics and while I definitely can’t accuse you of lazyness like many other UK devs, I still find it amusing that your games seem “conservative” in the sense they all seem to take place in basically the same “universe”. But without a compelling narrative layer to those games I can never get invested in that universe, while I love it for its pseudo-retro graphics there is no benefit to sticking to the same universe if people are not invested in the lore that particular universe.

        1. It’s not laziness, it’s because we’ve got a little “universe” and we like to explore it and fill it out with more ideas and things. The continuity is nice. We’re not doing it out of conservatism, it’s just because we like it 🙂

          1. It wasn’t necessarily a criticism so much as an observation, I do like it’s atmosphere and artstyle a lot as well, so I wouldn’t mind to revisit it again during and also after Basingstoke. It would be nice if there was a fun and imaginative narrative layer with characters and feels though.

            I’m always disappointed in fiction when intelligent aliens or robots are more or less anthropomorphized and follow all the usual cliche’s. I think it’s a wasted creative chance, if artists and creators don’t seize the opportunity to explore what a completely different kind of mind would think and want and do. Not that your games (apart from RotT perhaps) were necessarily appropriate for anything like that. Maybe I was too inspired by “Three Worlds Collide” short story I read a few years ago, but regular aliens are just too damn boring. I only completed Mass Effect 2 and never touched 3, but one of the absolute best parts of the universe they creted is that (at least some) aliens are not just humans with a weird skin, but that their different minds were explored. The conversations with Legion were the absolute high point of the entire game for me.

  33. I really enjoyed this article and would like to add another point, from the customer point of view.

    I enjoy sales. Or at least I have until the recent times. It was like a child dream come true : “amazing games, raining everywhere, for a cheap price!”. Then I started getting used to it. Then I started to get actually wary of buying full price, because I have a crazy backlog, and some time-eaters that I keep coming back to anyway (looking at you, MOBAs). So I found myself pretty often in the situation that I buy a game, play around half an hour, then don’t get the time to play it more… and then it’s time for -50%, or -75%. Or worse, a bundle. So I feel silly for “wasting money”, that I could have “saved” by not buying on release.

    I have 700+ games on Steam. More than a hundred are hidden because they are poor games (sorry for those devs), or games I have no interest in playing. Another hundred is in limbo in the “backlog” category. Games I didn’t even find the occasion to try to determine if I want to play them or not. I’m tired of that. It’s too much.

    As an adult with a newborn, I simply can’t process this amount of games. So coming back to having only a few quality ones would be great. And having the possibility to get a refund if a game doesn’t satisfy me after trying it would go in this direction. Then I’d have no problem about price being doubled even, if I spend some quality time on it.
    I would end up with less games, but games I actually can get around to playing.

    Because it’s stupid, at some point, I have a lot of games that I want to play, even, but there is always a new deal somewhere. The backlog increases, the money value decreases, as well as the perceived value. Games become “one more row in Steam”. I used to want to have all my games on Steam to have all in one place, to make it easier to organize. Well I tried to organize with categories and hiding, it’s no use. I end up recently buying more on gog.com, to have games in a place which is not overcrowded.

    Like I said, ridiculous situation, game overload.

  34. Just wanted to say thanks for making awesome games. I hope the Steam refund thing will allow you guys to continue making awesome games.

  35. A lot of angry nerds getting upset that someone is pointing out how the “every game is a dollar!” mentality is slowly bringing down PC gaming. People cry and shriek when developer after developer either jumps ship to the Iphone or to consoles, then they cry and shriek when someone has the audacity to suggest that you should actually pay more than a dollar for a video game.
    What do console gamers and Apple people have in common? They tend to be more willing to pay real money.

    It’s done. It’s over. Steam asked us if we wanted to permanently relegate PC gaming to a distant third and we all said “YES” because it meant getting Skyrim for 5 bucks.

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