Steve Swink’s spaceship is better than Kyle’s

The Farbs Cave is abuzz with excitement. I’m playtesting my current game, which means it’s nearly finished. Every day I post a new version to nice people who play it and send me feedback. I sort this into tasks, future tasks, and obscenities, and set to work implementing everything in the first pile. By the end of the day the game is ~10% better. The next day I wake up, turn on my computer, and run the whole cycle again. At this stage in the process every change has a huge impact, and seeing my game improve this quickly is incredibly motivating. It’s easily the most exciting part of game development. My only sadness come from knowing it must end. I must cut the apron strings, steel my gaze, send this puppy off to market and plant a new cucumber. Or must I? Perhaps I could CAPTAIN this feedback loop… FOREVER.

You see, the underpant-gnome chart for game development usually looks like this:

1) Make game
2) Sell game
3) Profit

But what if I tried this?

1) Make game indefinitely
2) Sell subscriptions to indefinitely developed game
3) ???

If I charged a subscription to play my complete but constantly improving game, my game would improve constantly and I would earn money through subscriptions. What’s more, I’d stay in the fast paced go-getting world of the feedback loop. I’m not yet sure about this plan, but it’s very tempting. Should I try it?

<3 Farbs

24 Comments » for Revenue, Revenme
  1. Adam says:

    1) make game indefinitely
    2) sell game
    3) make profit
    4) keep improving game?

  2. Fernando says:

    No. Give me the game.

    And then give us free DLC =)

  3. Steve Swink says:

    Damn skippy my ship is better.

    Man, I can’t wait until the world gets to enjoy this.

  4. Turgid says:

    As long as you retain the option to keep your game at a particular version if I don’t want to subscribe (or if I stop subscribing), I’m in. I think a lot of people are more comfortable with owning the games they play…but then again I’m not an MMO player.

  5. Movius says:

    Another possible alternative – I think you’d have some luck selling a subscription to your works in progress. eg) have free releases. But subscribers can play new games as they are developed.

    of course, this assumes: a) games will be playable as you develop. b) you keep working on similar-scale projects to this and your previous ones.

  6. Farbs says:

    @Adam – That’s definitely a possibility. It’s a bit like an extreme case of the subscription model, ‘cept you pay for the whole subscription up front.

    @Fernando – Pay my mortgague and we’ll talk.

    @Steve Swink – <3

  7. aA says:

    Definitely an interesting plan.
    And then when you reached the point that you feel like you need to move on to another project, you could easily afford some sort of programming monkeys.

  8. Derek says:

    I like Adam’s idea. Seems like it’s working for Cortex Command and Minecraft!

    Also, this game looks awesome.

  9. Farbs says:

    @Turgid – I was probably going to use sitelocked swfs, so players couldn’t actually download the game anyway. Hrm. This is an interesting angle.

    @Movius – My stuff is usually only fun in the later phases of development, so I’m not sure anyone would want to pay to play it it. Apart from Fishie my stuff has been too small to warrant payment, so I’m moving to larger projects now. Cool idea though. I have thought about letting people subscribe to everything I do rather than a particular project, which is kinda where you were heading.

    @Derek – I dunno still. I’d really like to let players try it out cheap ($2 a month), then have some opportunity to keep getting revenue from the diehards.

  10. Curunír says:

    I liked Adam’s idea more than the one in the article.

    On the other hand, subscribing for a low fee sounds very interesting.
    Whilst MMOs go for the draconian “high cost now, high cost later” method, this actually sounds humane.

    I think I still prefer that you distributed the game through Steam or similar, for a one-time cost, wouldn’t feel like I’ve brought anything for my money otherwise. What kind of payment method did you plan to use?
    Finally, updating the game and viewing it as a service while only demanding an one-time fee seems to work for some companies, like Valve. People like the product and recommend it to friends. Since it still feels up to date their friends buy it.

  11. Adam says:

    “@Adam – That’s definitely a possibility. It’s a bit like an extreme case of the subscription model, ‘cept you pay for the whole subscription up front.”

    With a subscription people who subscribe from the start might have to wait for cool features and may have to pay a few payments while they wait, while other people can get new the new content straight away from their first payment, by subscribing later. Which might annoy some people.

    With a one time payment then improvement, everybody pays the same and everybody gets the same, regardless of when they start playing. This could also mean that people don’t hesitate buying the game if they know whatever improvements you make, they’ll get them – instead of waiting for more stuff before buying.

  12. andrew says:

    Let me be honest: I firmly believe that subscription based pay models are ALWAYS a bad idea. I like to buy a game, and then be able to enjoy it without worrying about another peyment coming up. Just move on to other ideas bro.

    Also, you never sent me a followup email about the beta in question, which was ok whilst I was on vacation, but is not so anymore. Or, just release it and you will have your first sale right here. Ive said it before: You`re living my dream.

  13. Farbs says:

    I’m sensing resistance to the subscription idea :)

    I ought to explain – I’m proposing to build and maintain an evolving gameworld, not a fixed player experience. If you come back in a week you won’t just find more game, you’ll find a different game. New fleets arriving, old fleets moving on. New conflicts, new alliances. This won’t be a game that you finish and plonk on the shelf. It will be a game that you come back to every few days to see what’s going on. If you subscribe two months after launch then you’ll miss the first two months of content. It’s more like Animal Crossing than Half Life.

    @andrew – Playtesting is most valuable for gathering first opinions. This means it’s best to introduce different testers to the game at different times in development. Your name is on a postit marked “Round 3”.

  14. Derek says:

    There’s a relatively big mental hurdle with subscriptions. I think most people would prefer to pay a larger one-time fee than small monthly fees.

  15. Steve Swink says:

    Subscriptions and single-buy versions are not antithetical.

  16. Farbs says:

    I think you’re right. I have a bunch of work left to do before this all becomes a problem anyway, and it sounds like most games attempt several business models before finding one that really works.

    Also, for anyone else who was wondering:

    Pertaining to antithesis, or opposition of words and sentiments; containing, or of the nature of, antithesis; contrasted.

  17. Ugly Duck says:

    I think you’ll find that people won’t like subscribing for a single game, even if that game is very, very good. It’s a good premise and I believe the problem is finding the right angle. Think of the Magnatune method; providing most of the content for free with nothing sold and no irritations. The subscriptions and albums sell via customers’ trust and appreciation for the service. I recommend seeking out some indie developers who are like-minded, including their supported games in your catalogue and paying them based on hits.

    Just an idea. Start with a very low subscription price which is permanent, rewarding early subscribers. Say $1 a month. Maybe even less. Something so ridiculously small that no-one would miss it. Increase the cost (for new subscribers only) as the value of the service goes up. This means that two interesting things happen:
    1. People who subscribe early feel more incentive to keep their subscription
    2. The service can grow or shrink to whatever cost is required.

    You can still give out free and paid versions of the games, subscribers get to keep the games they download even if they cancel, you can hand out little bonuses like soundtracks and concept art, new developers can add their games to the catalogue and so on.

    The only significant problem I’ve come across thus far is keeping it manageable. Once you hit 1000 subscribers, I think it’d become less personal. So you’d have to find a way to let the community manage itself.

    Looks like a fun game, so good luck with this :).

  18. Andrew T says:

    It sounds like what you actually want to do is develop an episodic game. Sell the initial game at the $15 price point, and then release an episode every month or two that costs a couple of dollars? It’s like a subscription model but with more control in the user’s court. Every episode would have to have content that wouldn’t be rendered obsolete by a future episode, though.

  19. Chad J says:

    @Andrew T – While selling episodes is OK, I think it makes more sense to sell the development of the episodes. This concept of “owning” games is extremely flawed. Games (the computer kind) are 1s and 0s on a harddrive. They are about as scarce and as difficult to reproduce and distribute as the air we breathe. The difficult part is the development, while the physical form is a trivial detail. I feel that as long as people don’t GET IT, both developers and consumers in all forms of digital (games, music, art, software, etc…) will continue to suffer from unfair deals.

    @Farbs – I hope you make this subscription model work. I’d be unsurprised if there are some complicated rules to deal with corner cases and gotchas. Many people will point these out and tell you your idea sucks. They may be right to point out the problems, but wrong to suggest it won’t work. The product model of business itself has plenty of rules to deal with its shortcomings, even when it’s the right idea.

    One thing I like about this subscription model is that it encourages quality over quantity in game development, and at the same time is fair to the indie developer.

    Now to rant a bit: I’m actually a little disappointed about the idea of making the game browser locked. It reminds me of oppressive DRM measures that all too many use to try and compensate for having the wrong business model. Then I have to spend a lot of extra effort (cheesey hacking) to liberate the game from the browser just so I can play it offline.

    Anyways, good job on the game. I like it. I will subscribe when I have the money.

  20. Hammer06 says:

    Hey there, great job on this game thus far. Gratuitous amounts of awesome.

    Once you get to a point where you feel somewhat satisfied with where the game is at, consider the following:

    –An iPhone app of this game
    –Homebrew to the PSP
    –Nintendo DS development

    Yes, all well into the future, but I could all but maybe the PSP becoming feasible.

  21. Farbs says:

    Hey thanks Hammer,

    I’m probably not going to branch out into non-flash development myself for a while, as there’s a lot more of the game I want to explore and I can do that more easily by not changing platform. I am talking to other developers about them making their own CF spinoff games though, so you may see something yet. If anything comes together I’ll be sure to post about it.


  22. MrAndrewIan says:

    T-Shirts anybody?

    Have to say Farbs, keep the subscription cheap, keep the updates coming, and I believe people will support you. I have know idea how many people have purchased the game at the $20 mark, but I have and I would still be willing to pay a bit more to be playing in a dynamic environment. With all the cr@p that I end up spending my money on anyways, I am really pretty happy to be supporting a gaming community that I have been a part of for somewhere around 15 years.

    You’ve made us an excellent game. I look forward to whatever you choose to focus your future efforts on.

  23. Darroch says:

    Farbs, I think that subscription is a very good idea if you can conform to the current players:: the people who are and have been supporting you through the stages where the game is not big; give them a code or something for maybe free gameplay, or greatly reduced sub fees… and make new players get a teaser gameplay mode or a trial, then have to pay a full fee.

    I’d reckon that, 5usd or so every x w/m would be a reasonable price, and maybe 2usd w/m for longtime supporters.

    Also, maybe include a higher priced sub fee (10usd every x w/m, 5usd for supporters) for access to CS as well ^^

    But yeah, sub fees = ossum for you, and if you can compramise enough then everyone’s happy.

  24. Heimmrich says:

    And better yet, in the most optimistic case, you keep pirates at bay since people will (probably) rather enjoy the newest version of the game, that can be provided better and faster by the source.