The topic of pricing for marketplace or asset store plugins is not one that I enjoy talking about and I shouldn't really have to talk about it. After all, the choice of pricing is mine alone to make and those that find the pricing prohibitive can simply not buy the product. With that being said, I still get asked about pricing a lot due to the relatively high price of my recent plugin 'Motion Symphony' and instead of answering each person individually, I have decided to write this post to firmly declare my stance on the topic.
I'm going to break this post down into several sections which each touch on one aspect of the topic. I believe there is a lot to it and as the publisher I've thought about it a lot.
Disclaimer: This post is based on my own experiences as an asset publisher.
First of all I want to address entitlement. In the last 15 years the world has been conditioned to experience an abundance of "free" stuff. You can see this on the mobile market, Unreal Engine is free, Unity is free, Epic Games gives out free games all the time. Even things like Spotify and Netflix give extremely cheap access to media that you pay a lot more for in the past, on a relative scale.
Here's the difference: these big companies are multi-billion dollar corporations with alternative income streams such as:
Marketplace / Game Sales cuts (12% - 30% cut)
In-app ads / purchases cuts
Royalties for games that make over a certain amount
Premium / pro subscriptions
Premium support contracts
Alternative / secondary services like online servers or version control
Fortnite (in Epic's case)
So you see, there is nothing benevolent about these companies making their products free at face value and they aren't losing anything by doing so. While I do enjoy the accessibility, they are making more money with a free entry point than they would with a paywall.
Let's take a look at what options I have through the marketplace:
Initial purchase price (minus 30% on Unity, minus 12% from epic)
That's it! I can't get royalties, there is no premium option. I can't charge more for a AAA studio than I can for an individual or indie. On the marketplace I can't charge per seat. Even on the Unity Asset Store where I can charge per seat there is no way of verifying or policing this. There is no DRM so pirating is also an issue.
Imagine if I made it free but then locked certain key features behind a micro-transaction paywall. I'd not only feel dirty but many people would be furious. Either way I don't even have this option as it is not permitted by the store policies.
While I strongly believe that Epic and Unity need to work on making better licensing options for publishers, I have to make the most of what I have and that is the initial purchase price only.
The Value of Work
This section continues on from entitlement in the way that many people don't understand the value of work. Perhaps they only understand the value of their own work and not that of others. Either way lets dive into it.
Motion Symphony took me more than 1 year to develop, not including research and previous work to learn motion matching for myself. To pay an employee for a year that's a lot of money and you can't consider just their paycheck, you need to consider benefits and overheads as well. This will very quickly ramp up the cost > $100kAUD for that person in a year, give or take depending on their position. If you work 5days a week, 11 months a year that comes to a whopping $385AUD a day which is $125AUD more than Motion Symphony.
So for the same price as paying that developer for <8 hours you get 1 years worth of their work.....
It sounds like a pretty good deal to me.
Note: These 'calculations' will vary between country to country. However, since I am in Australia, it is only relevant for me to base my pricing on what I need to get by in Australia. Cost of work in other places in the world is irrelevant.
Support and Sustainability
This one is very simple. You cannot expect good support on a very cheap asset. It's simply not sustainable for the developer. Sure this may result in bad reviews from time to time but the publisher is already too busy working on the next product because they aren't making enough money selling the other one for pennies and dimes.
Support is a huge factor for me and it is a part of my product. I give it happily through solid documentation, tutorial videos and direct support through discord. For me to sustainably continue this it needs to be worth my time.
Not Enough Developers In The Ocean
There's simply not enough developers in the ocean to be selling things so cheaply. Low prices rely on high sales numbers to succeed. When the potentially number of buyers is so low then there is a problem. That's doubly so if you consider that not everyone needs / wants your product for their game.
By setting a higher price then sure, less people will buy the product but there will be a slow and steady burn.
Discount sales are an excellent marketing strategy that significantly boost sales. In fact, I have used them plenty of times with my first few assets as a way to get started in the market. However, I have discovered that it comes with some serious implications and also un-desirable outcomes which I want to un-pack.
It's not so much a problem that discount sales exist, it's more the frequency of the sales and the massive discount tags attached to them. At least every three months a 50% sale is occurring on a large number of assets/plugins. With this in mind most users simply wait for a sale and then impulse buy (I'll get back to impulse buying later).
What is the problem with this? Well if the sale occurs so frequently then you are basically saying that the discounted price is the real value of the asset. The normal price becomes an artificial 100% markup for the sole purpose of tricking people into thinking they are getting a deal when the sale comes around. Publishers might not purposefully be intended or thinking this but that is what is happening.
This also results in very irregular sale patterns. Everyone is waiting for a sale so the income fluctuates to ridiculous levels during a sale to below average sales afterwards because most people are holding off for the 50% discount. If you avoid the sale then you only need to make half the number of sales and since there is no discount the income shouldn't fluctuate as much. With that in mind I intend to inform everyone now that I do not plan to put Motion Symphony up for sale for a very long time.
Look I get it, sales can be a real boost to your product and I don't think I would have been able to get started without them. However, it's not the path I want to go down going forward.
Another major issue with sales is impulse purchases and they are the bane of my existence. While you might think that a business person would want you to "buy buy buy!!" no matter what, it couldn't be further from the truth in my case. Let me explain.
Impulse buys usually mean the consumer does not really understand what they are buying, especially if it is a code plugin. There is ample information on the store page, the publicly available documentation and F.A.Q but they simply don't read it or don't take the time to understand it. Once they get the product they quickly find it wasn't the "Make Game" button they thought it was and either demand un-reasonable levels of support or request a refund. In both cases this wastes both my time and the buyers time. Nobody wins.
For this reason the higher price of my plugin also serves as a barrier to impulse purchases. While some still do it, for most people it gives them pause to think, consider and decide if they really want the plugin.
I never want people to buy my asset if it isn't something that they can feasibly use. I'm just not that kind of business person.
I Worked Hard For This, I Deserve It
I don't mean to sound cocky or big headed by saying this at all but it must be said. I worked hard and took great risks to create these products. I left my well paying and stable Civil Engineering job with a massive pay cut to change careers. I worked tirelessly through many frustrating and sleepless nights to get my products to where they are today. There's nothing wrong with me saying I deserve it and if you have a problem with that then I recommend re-reading the section on "Entitlement".
Everyone deserves to get paid for their hard work and marketplace publishers are no exception.
So as you can see, I have thought a lot about this stuff and the price isn't just "Me Greedy". I think most people in the industry understand this well enough but there are always a few that make posts like this necessary.
Anyway, I do not wish to talk about this topic any more. It is what it is! and I won't be changing my view on it anytime soon.
Good luck with your game development adventures!