The slow death of $60 single player gaming


“Thriving,” huh? Not quite the word I’d use to describe an industry where the only ways to find success now are to work with a major publisher, hit it big on Kickstarter, be an existing success story from years ago, or cheat. We can barely go a week without another new article from an indie dev griping about how difficult it is to sell games in this market.


If those “indie” developers are making shovelware, then their demise can’t come fast enough. OTOH, there are plenty of indie hits like, idk, MINECRAFT? Terraria? FTL? Darkest Dungeon? Sure some of them have industry experience, but those developers had no previous record of success on their own, so they aren’t basking in reflected glory.


Your examples show just how bad the situation is - the most recent game there, Darkest Dungeon, had its official release almost two years ago, after a year of early access, and a successful Kickstarter before that. Every other game you mentioned is at least five years old. Where are the indie success stories from 2017? What major indie games have we even seen in 2017? Cuphead, which was backed by Microsoft? Rime, which was backed by Sony? Night in the Woods, a Kickstarter winner back in 2013? Rain World, which was successful on Kickstarter and ended up with a publisher? Even established devs can’t ensure success - look at The End is Nigh, a new game from the developer of wildly popular games like Super Meat Boy and The Binding of Isaac that came out a few months ago and saw very little press.


It’s easy to dismiss the games you don’t notice as shovelware. but that’s probably more from you not having noticed the good ones rather than them being absolute crap. Having a good game by itself is not enough anymore to make it a success, and you are probably missing a lot of really, really good games that are not even on your radar (and thus why they are destined to fail).


2007, 2009, 2011, Jan 2016.

You have to remember, these are all games released before the great indie explosion. There were more games released in 2016 on Steam than in the history of the platform in all the years prior. That’s how many games there were in just 2016. I don’t know about 2017 numbers, but certainly after Darkest Dungeon came out, it’s become a LOT harder to get noticed, even if your game is awesome.


As usual, it depends what you mean by “indy,” but Divinity Original Sin 2.


Another enormous Kickstarter success, and a sequel to an incredibly popular entry in a long-running series, so yeah, not the best example - not quite along the same lines as clinging to the definition of “indie” that includes Valve, but still not good for showing the strength of the “thriving indie game industry.”


The whole indie success thing is a great topic for a thread. What ARE the indie games that are success stories in 2017? It seems like Golf Story on the Switch may be one. Snipperclips sold well but that got Nintendo backing IIRC. Tumbleseed looked awesome but may not have sold as well as hoped. Kamiko is superb, especially for $5 but it’s not a hit.

On other systems? Has there been a true hit that’s truly Indie? PUBG had like 50 devs on it. That’s not indie. Pyre is a Steam top seller. Heat Signature has had a good start. Either of those could probably be put in the “hit” category. What else is there that actually released in 2017?


Looking at my list of games played:

Hollow Knight
Nex Machina


The clearest example of this phenomenon (multiplayer games not needing the same flawless execution) seems to be Ghost Recon Wildlands. Admittedly I’ve not played it myself, but every review I read and podcast I heard pointed out many serious flaws, any of which would have sunk a typical single-player AAA game. And yet the thing sold like gangbusters, apparently purely on the basis of the jump-in-and-shoot-up-shit-with-your-mates gameplay.


Yeah, I wasn’t sure about Nex Machina. That didn’t seem to be a top seller. Hollow Knight is like page five of the Steam Top Sellers so it’s probably legit. Absolver… I dunno? Has it sold well?


Nex Machina isn’t the best example of an indie game, since in over twenty years, Housemarque has released a grand total of two games that weren’t published by someone else (most often Sony), and Nex Machina, a collaboration with industry legend Eugene Jarvis, is the second.

Hollow Knight is another Kickstarter success, and Absolver has a publisher, insofar as Devolver counts as such.

It’s rather interesting that despite the initial Kickstarter hype from multi-million-dollar campaigns largely dying down and despite so many high-profile failures, we’re still seeing so many developers resort to crowdfunding, and still seeing a good number of those devs find success and eventually release a game.


The reason I stopped buying games at $60 was because I felt ripped off when I would buy said game and get like 10 hours of game-play out it. If a game comes out for $60 buck and I know I am going to get a lot of hours out of it, Ill buy it. However, this kind of thing is rare these days. Story-driven FPS games are the worst offenders for being short and expensive, so those I tend to wait on for a deep discount.

Strategy games like Civ tend to get bought right away, although Ill never buy a Civ game unless people tell me the AI is decent first.

Basically Ill not buy a game for $60 anymore unless I have a good amount of faith in the game or developer to deliver many, many hours of entertainment.


I would much rather spend $60 on ten super-tight hours than on two hours of initially-cool stuff followed by 198 hours of the same thing over and over. The problem is, the latter sells better (because of this weird idea that ten awesome hours for $60 is a bad rate) and takes less effort (because it’s incredibly difficult to make a game that’s amazing for ten hours in the first place).


Yeah, even though I still don’t really understand all the cost/play scaling that goes on, a two-hour movie costs twelve bucks. Ten hours is therefore sixty bucks.


That is you. I will not play 198 hours of a repetitive game. I am not even sure Ill play 10 hours of a repetitive game.

Movies cost a bit less where I live, and I super-rarely go see movies anyway. I frequently buy and play games.

The reason I scale it the way I do is that there are a huge number of games that give a tremendous amount of value for the money vs time spent. Then there are some that do not.

Let me make up a hypothetical example:
If 9 out of 10 games deliver 1 hour of fun for every $2 spent, then how can you justify the 1 out of 10 that cost $10 for every hour spent? All other things being equal, like quality / enjoyment per hour.


The cost per hour thing has always been a lame argument. One meal can cost $5 in a fast food joint, or it can cost hundreds at a fancy restaurant. Some people pay $6 for a latte every morning. You can buy a book for $10 and get dozens of hours of enjoyment out of it, or you can spend $10 on a movie ticket and get an hour and a half of special effects blasted into your face. I pay about $10 a month for Netflix and binge tens of hours of programming at once.

The price people feel is fair for a game is subjective. Some people buy Madden or Call of Duty each year and play that one game all year long for hundreds of hours. Some people buy a couple games a month and sample an hour or two of each before moving on.


Really? Ok, lets say you have a budget. You can only spend $X per month on games. You are telling me, hours of entertainment per dollar spent is a “lame” measurement? I think it is THE measurement. I assume of course the game you buy is actually fun and enjoyable at whatever ratio you spend your money on.

Anyway, this is my explanation of why people do not spend so much money on $60 games these days. I know it is my main reason, but I could be like the only person on the planet to feel this way.


“All other things being equal” is absolutely never going to happen, so it’s not something you can consider for an argument - as @Ginger_Yellow mentioned above with Ghost Recon: Wildlands, the multiplayer games that are selling like mad often get away with problems that would sink any single-player game, but because they’re multiplayer and rarely campaign-based, the “replay value” is through the roof compared to a single-player game, particularly one that doesn’t go for the easy “pad out your playtime by adding lots of collectibles and sidequests” route.

Multiplayer games are also far more likely to get away with heavy reliance on microtransactions, like the $3 keys you need to open the loot crates that randomly drop while playing, or the loot crates themselves combined with low drop rates for the specific cosmetic items you want, or even just booster packs in a card game. (As a Magic: The Gathering player, I’m certainly guilty of that last one, but at least I get a physical item I can resell if I get that lucky drop. The Mana Crypt I pulled from a booster pack a couple of weeks ago could pay for a $60 single-player game if I wanted it to!)


No, I’m saying it’s a lame argument when people use one extreme or the other as an objective justification. “$60 is too expensive for X!” is lame because it may indeed be too much for you, but it’s peanuts to someone else. On the flip side “$5 is a great deal for X game!” is not universally true because to many, the cost of playing the game in terms of time is still too high. You value what you value.