2009-05-07: No Horse Armour
One of the questions I asked in the feedback form for dev 8 and 9 was about the intended distribution model for SE:SS. As I have stated before, I intend to release the basic game for free, and sell expansion packs that add more content.
While a lot of people were happy with this idea, a lot also had their reservations. The reason for this, as far as I can tell, is that a number of large game publishers are abusing the idea of "episodic content" to more or less fleece their customers: They release a game, and then pump out dozens of minor add-ons which they hope people will buy.
For example, two people mentioned a case where Bethesda Softworks released a $2.50 add-on consisting of nothing but armour for your horse. Other examples mentioned are Half-Life, where the first episode was "meaty", but the second one was not - and cost the same as the first. Another one is Spore.
They appear be to thinking: "If we do add-ons, we can chop up the gameplay into lots of little bits to sell to the customer at a higher price, and end up with more money for no extra effort. And we'll just keep on cranking out more content until no-one buys it anymore."
This is not what I want to do.
In the rest of this post, I'll explain why I want to use the "expansions" model for selling SE:SS, but first some promises:
So why the expansions?
I've spent about half a year of development time on Space Exploration so far. I expect to spend another three months or so on the game itself, and then maybe another three doing nothing but writing encounters for the first expansion. I will then release the game and the expansion. If the expansion does well in terms of sales, I will start work on another expansion. If not, I will move on to another project. Assuming people really like the game, and I have enough ideas, I might do three or four expansions, spending maybe a year of my life doing nothing but writing content for the game.
So I could spend that entire year up-front and release all of the content rolled into one release people can buy, and which costs about as much as the three or four expansions put together. (That is, about as much as a normal shareware game.) But if the game proceeds to sell badly, I will literally be unable to buy food, and will have thrown away a year of my life. Which is a rather depressing outcome.
So I want to have a dialogue with my customers that goes something like this:
Me: "I made this game, do you like it? If you do, I'll spend more time making more of it."
For the customer, the end result of a game with expansions is the same as if I'd done a single big release, or a small release followed by free upgrades. Customers get X amount of enjoyable game playing time for Y money. The difference is just that with expansions, it happens in instalments of say ¼ X game play for ¼ Y money.