Priced to Die

“Why We Should Fear Ourselves More Than Pirates”

So now that I’m seeing reports of SOPA and PIPA having been defeated by overwhelming negative opinion many are breathing sighs of relief. And others are cursing violently (but generally silently).

Among game developers and writers, my two primary areas of interaction, opinions are mixed.

Many are worried about piracy eating into their revenues. For freelance writers and indie game developers it does not take a lot of piracy to put a stranglehold on their revenue stream.

Still I think there’s a larger concern than pirates for content creators.

Why We Should Fear The $0.99 App and Novel

One interesting thing I’ve noticed since promoting my writing on various forums is the almost insatiable demand for novels that readers seem to have. While at first this is incredibly encouraging I quickly realized that for many this demand was paired with the reader’s demanding incredibly low prices, or even free work.

I’m not talking about people who think eBooks should be cheaper than print books. I’m in that camp. The prices on some titles are ridiculous. I’m talking about what appears to be a large number of vocal consumers who will not spend more than $0.99 for a novel or game.

Indie writers and developers have been praising the App store or Kindle self publishing because these tools have given them more exposure than they could have gotten a few years ago. This is a good thing in my opinion.

What’s not good is that to get consumer attention there seems to be a mad rush to have low prices and often free content. In the short term this seems to benefit authors, game developers, readers and game players.

But it will not last.

Why Not?

I am asked occasionally why I do not start up my own indie game development firm. I have over ten years of experience on AAA titles as well as experience on smaller projects. I have art, design, sound and programming contacts.

But it is incredibly unlikely that I would ever start an indie firm up because I doubt, unless we lucked out and created a blockbuster, that it would ever be profitable. And that’s gambling; I don’t gamble.

For every major and moderate success with the Apple’s App store I suspect there are thousand of complete failures. And not all of these failures are crap titles, they are high quality goods that are not being noticed and cannot be noticed unless priced too low to be profitable.

To be blunt I doubt I would be able to pay my employees the money they would deserve.

Likewise I’m skeptical how many self publishing successes we are going to see in the realm of self publishing.

What’s Gonna Happen?

App developers and those self publishing for low prices are creating an expectation in the consumer that these prices reflect the effort put into creating the content. As the years pass this expectation will become even more pronounced.

For both books and games I suspect we will start seeing more copying and less originality. Both authors and game developers, in an attempt to be profitable at such low price points, will try to minimize risk. To do this they will copy tried and trued gameplay and narrative and flavor it just enough that it is not a blatant rip off.

If I were creating a title entirely on my own and with no expectation of making money I might risk being original. If I had a team depending on success to feed their families I’d copy an existing design and try to improve on it.

Of course nobody knows what will really happen but I think content creators of the future are going to have to find other ways to subsidize their product. This might mean advertising or blogging revenue or something more creative.

I’m considering carving my next novel in the walls of a cave and charging people admission to come and read it.