This is part one of a series about games being distributed digitally. I will focus primarily on the Xbox 360 and the PS3. It is evident that digital distribution has changed some aspects of console gaming, and it has been in a positive way. Many games that have been released this generation would not have seen the light of day on home consoles if it were not for online digital distribution from the Wii, 360, and PS3.
When EA and Dice released Battlefield: 1943 a few weeks ago, many people were looking forward to the title. I personally had never played Battlefield: 1942 or any of the battlefield games before Battlefield: Bad Company, but I was lucky enough to get a voucher the game at E3. Upon its release, I downloaded it and started playing right away. The game was very simple, but very similar to Battlefield: Bad Company, so I knew the controls and how the game worked. As simple as the game was, I found it very fun and I played it for a few days straight with some Killzone 2 and Midnight Club: LA mixed in for good measure. What I wasn’t prepared for was how many copies of this game would actually be sold. After two weeks on the market, the game had sold 600,000 copies between the 360 and PS3. Battlefield sold for $14.99 on the PSN and 1200 Microsoft points on the XBLA. Just doing rough math, and using $15 to get round numbers, that means the game made $9 million in just over 2 weeks. I am sure the game will continue to sell, so the game will continue to make a profit week after week. Also take into consideration that 1943 used the same FrostBite engine that Bad Company used, and the fact that the game was dumbed down quite a bit, it is safe to assume that the game did not cost all that much to make. Assuming it cost one million to make the game, EA and Dice have still made $8 million worth of profit in two weeks, minus royalties paid to Microsoft and Sony of course. Not bad, not bad at all.
What does this mean for other developers who would like to use EA and Dice’s business model and try to turn a profit in the same way? Well, that depends on numerous things because things have to be set up accordingly for a game to sell that much in so little time. Those factors include genre, price, marketing, and consumer interest. 1943 is a first person shooter, likely the most popular genre on home consoles, and it was produced by EA which has a huge marketing machine behind it. Also 1943 was essentially a follow up to Battlefield: 1942, which was released on PC in 2002. So this game had many reasons why it was almost guaranteed to be successful. Many other games do not have these variables to guarantee success so developers have to do adequate research before hand and also market their game properly before its release to ensure that the game is visible and that people will actually want to play it. Many games, such as Flower and The Last Guy on the PSN, do not sell as well as games in other genres that people are more familiar with. Where these developers can benefit is by making a game that is new and innovative, much like Flower, but spend less money and at the same time get their studio recognized. Flower, and its sister game Flow, was developed by thatgamecompany, a small independent developer that decided to work on some innovative titles for Sony and the PS3. Companies like these can take their work and parlay it into bigger publishing deals that afford them more money to make games, whether its smaller scale games or a full disc based game. These companies can spend around $250,000 and turn around and make a few million with a small game released on the PSN or XBLA.
What hurts some of these games and their sales are the genre and the pricing structure of the games. There are puzzle games, FPS, TPS, strategy, fighting, and a slew of other games in different genres released on XBLA and PSN every week. Fat Princess, coming this Thursday to the PSN after a few delays, has been hyped for awhile. The question is: Will people show up and buy it, or just wait and see what others say about it? That is one thing that hurts the PSN over XBLA; PSN does not have demos for every game while XBLA does. This is where the pricing comes into play, especially if there is no demo, because who wants to risk paying $15 for a game that sucks, and remember there are no refunds with digital distribution my friends. I have yet to buy a game I regret buying but it’s because I don’t buy very many games that cost more than $10 unless I know enough about the game or all my friends who have played it tell me it’s worth it. Games range in price from $2.99 all the way up to $39.99 on the PSN store, while XBLA uses a points structure and most games range from 400 points (approximately $5) up to 1600 points (approximately $20). The pricing structure for each game, along with the genre, will have a direct affect on how well that particular game sells. From what I have seen and experienced, people are willing to take a chance on games that are $10 or less. Once a game hits $13 or above, people want to know more about the game and make sure it’s worth it before they buy it. When developers price their games, they should take into consideration the genre of the game they are releasing, how much feedback they have gotten about the game, whether it is a sequel or a new IP, and what other games will be releasing around the same time as the game they are releasing. Astro Tripper, for example, was $5 on the PSN and I purchased that game on general principle just because it was only $5 and it looked like something cool to play for short periods of time. Zen Pinball was another game that I purchased in part because I love pinball and it was only $10, had it been $15 I may not have purchased the game unless it went on sale later on.
The trends I have noticed are that games that tend to be more popular are games that already have an identity, such as Wipeout HD or 1943, and games that look interesting and are priced lower to entice more gamers to try the title out. Braid, which was also released on PC, for example reportedly cost the developer $200,000 to make, but it sold close to one million copies on the XBLA. That is a huge profit for a game that was made for so little money. Most of the games distributed digitally do not release their sales figures or development costs, but I would be willing to guess that they are making a nice profit from these games.
Check back for part 2 tomorrow where we talk about some of the top games on the XBLA and PSN as well as DLC and the direction that digital distribution is taking with more and more platforms and studios supporting it.