Game Business Models

The G-Meister

Giga Slime
As I'm sure most of you have gathered by now, I'm making a game. Currently the migration over to Java is going well, but I've still got a lot to learn. However, that's besides the point I want to have a chat about.

So before we talk about money and the consumer, let's set a few things out. This game doesn't need any funding. Given I'm still in education and most likely will be for the next 5 years, I don't have any plans to take this into a full time job... ever, really. The game is a puzzler and will operate on a level based system, meaning I can vary the amount of content provided. It will allow mods, have a level editor and possibly have a randomly generated arcade-like challenge. Let's also say I'm releasing the game on Steam and Steam alone. Also, I know nothing about business, I'm only making assumptions in this thread as to what I think is logical.

This gives us a few things to take into consideration:
  1. User ratings. The better people rate the game, the more likely people are to buy it. Although this largely depends on the gameplay, the business model can have an impact.
  2. Life cycle. The quicker people get bored of it, the less support it has and therefore less new people buy it.
  3. Cost. Probably the largest factor and influences the other two greatly.

The first thing I'm considering is the game being free (not free to play, ever). This usually draws in a very large amount of people if the game looks somewhat decent, but can make some pre-judge the game as cheap and tacky. I think the former outweighs the latter.

The thing is, I would like to make some money out of it. If the game has an upfront cost, there is often a smaller player base, but I would assume they tend to be older and more dedicated. I would never do microtransactions as I feel that gives people an unrepresentative experience of the game, and can put people off instantly (me being one of those people).

The other option is paid DLC. This allows the base game to be free and for me to make some money, but it comes with more complications. If I provide too little of the game and lock most of it behind DLC, people will think of it more negatively and it will harm ratings, and therefore the player base. This then harms the ratings and leads to less sales. If I put too little of it in DLC, people simply aren't going buy it... well I guess they will actually, and probably more so than if I put more behind.

The final option is voluntary donations. I haven't done any research into how well these have done in the past, but I gather that they can be quite successful.

I guess you can combine these in multiple different ways, and I am inclined to go down the route of "free, no DLC, donations" so everyone who plays the gets the whole experience, but then Steam won't get a cut anywhere, and they may be unlikely to let me publish the game. What do you think?

Keeping the playerbase up

There are quite a few ways to do this as well. Achievements give people something else to do if they feel like it, and give players an extra reward for playing. However I think that requires a bit more discussion, so I might bring that topic up in another thread later down the line.

An active modding community (which will thrive if the game is free) improves replayability, as well as adding theoretically infinitely more content. I have plans to make modding very easy and accessible which will assist this, but may counteract the point of having any DLC. It is possible to keep modding communities alive by setting up categories like Most popular (of varying time intervals), Most recent, Random picks, Developer's picks and the like, although this will require a dedicated server to set up... unless Steam Workshop does that for me.

With a simple level builder, I guess a daily challenge keeps people coming back as well, but I doubt I'll be able to keep that up.

Competitive leaderboards on the set levels encourage speedrunning, but then you run into the issue of hackers. This will probably be quite significant if the game is coded in Java, especially if it's free.

Any other suggestions? I'm sure there's loads of other things that could be done.

Early Access

The last thing I want to talk about is early access. The positives of this, like in SoG, is that you can people to bugtest for you and you get opinions and suggestions from the fanbase. However, I think this will only be possible if the game is paid for during the early access period, otherwise the influx of people may be overwhelming for a single person to regulate. This may then harm release downloads.

I'm not sure the game would benefit massively from early access either. I guess I'm a pretty decent bug tester myself, and I can always ferry the game off to the people here or to my friends to get some feedback. Are there any other ways to get it to work?

Any feedback is greatly appreciated, hopefully this gave some ideas to other game devs and sparks up some constructive debates.

~G <3


Hoi, G!

First I considered giving you a educated and structured reply, but then I realized this would only work if I had very detailed information on what type of game you are making, which, understandably, you may want to keep to yourself. So, instead, I will just throw in some thoughts, based on what you said, which hopefully contain some useful things for you to consider.

First off, setting the pricing depends (among other things) on how much you want to invest into advertisement. Yes, advertisement is really, really, really, and I can't repeat it often enough, really important. As I mentioned in some other thread with a similar topic, the market is currently flooded with indie games (although it doesn't take a genius to notice that). And so it makes it really hard to stand out. You probably notice this best when browsing through Steam specials during sales, where you have never heard of any of those titles and then just judge them by their thumbnail and name. Only if a consumer had heard about a title at least once somewhere, might it get his attention (and only his attention, which doesn't necessary mean he will purchase it), otherwise your game will simply drown in the endless tides of nameless games. So, depending on your type of game, you need to consider to invest some time and money on advertisement - here is the question whether or not it will be worth it for a puzzle game.

The thing is, puzzle games are mostly played on mobile devices, and mostly by female consumers. So you might want to carefully think about the platform you want to use for your game. If it really is a puzzle game, Steam will probably get you nowhere, as powerful a tool it is. Again, I'm only putting in random thoughts - I don't know what kind of game it will be. In any case you will want to decide on what audience your game is most likely to target and then plan accordingly. Females are more interested in colorful games, games with social aspects and/or such with a good story. So, for example, if your puzzle game is complicated and a sinister one, you will only get a part of the male audience and a part of the female audience, which is not optimal. But then again, if it's just a hobby that also might be fine - man it's really difficult to analyze based on assumptions :D In any case, the question here is whether or not you want to go casual, or target a specific audience.

About DLC. Considering your game can have "infinite" levels, I wouldn't discard DLC so quickly. It depends on which pricing for the full game you will ultimately decide on, though. I think DLC is a very valid option for your concept here. I can't tell you much about donations, though, unfortunately as I have no experience with business models relying purely on donations - I think an income estimation with a donation system is completely impossible. Personally, I donate often enough if I see potential in something but I have no idea how that translates to masses.

The idea of leaderboards is a good one as competition is always good for the business. If there is a possibility to have a competitive aspect to your game, you should definitely make use of it. But, yeah, as your said yourself, Java has a huge beard, so it's pretty susceptible to hacking. I can't help you with that, though as my programming experience only involves stand-alone applications (no multiplayer, no API for social networks, no built-in microtransactions). Meh, I'm better at other things :p

Phew, I hope I could give you some information to work with. Have a bloody nice day, mate! ;)

The G-Meister

Giga Slime
Wow, thanks for the detail man! Definitely some helpful stuff there :D

I didn't realise that puzzle games were largely female audiences. I guess I was just riding off the assumption that most gamers are male, but I guess I can rethink my ideas. Due to the simple art style I'm going for (literally almost the same as the web based demo) I can steal Downwell's idea of colour palates which you can recolour the game with. I guess I'll need to either scrap any story or make it fit in to a wider audience. I'll have a think.

I think mobile gaming is a no-no. The market there is flooded with free games so it's very hard to get any money out of it unless you go for micro transactions. However, although a lot of indie games get lost on Steam, "Free" and "Free to play" stick out like a sore thumb in price listings. I guess another advantage of Steam is, if I can get the game greenlit early and then set a release date, it will be advertised to people while browsing their queue.

The other options I have for advertisement are giving away copies to YouTubers (which may go swimmingly if the game stands out enough) and... investing, which I'm never going to do without any prior research.

The main plan was to go casual, just because I want to make a game, but any slight deviations I can make that will get extra sales are always welcome.

I'm not opposed to giving away any extra information about the game seen as it's a very niche idea (not the sort that could really result in a spin off). If I add one extra thing it's that each level will consist of anywhere from 3-10 puzzles in a row, but often there will be a time limit, so it's more of an action puzzler. I reckon I'll probably offer both casual and hardcore modes, the former of which removes time limits. I guess that hasn't got much to do with business though :p


I guess I was just riding off the assumption that most gamers are male, but I guess I can rethink my ideas.
This is actually a common misconception. In recent years the numbers of female gamers increased rapidly and are already catching up with males. There are even studies that say there are now more female gamers by now than males, however considering the gaming industry has become such a gargantuan behemoth, it's hard to tell where those numbers come from exactly. In my personal opinion (not based on research), women are slowly setting the new standard for an average casual gamer. If you look at their psychology, it actually fits in very well (I hope I don't insult anyone, just thinking objectively). They usually like to try a lot of things out, prefer to keep their options open and are less susceptible to addictions than guys and all that easily translates to gaming behavior.

Here's a chart I found of demographics for Bejeweled:

Puzzle games are just something that you can easily play inbetween doing other things, where you can basically start and stop playing whenever you wish, which is why I think they appeal to females so much. Note that this is again for mobile games. You can't play a Steam game while traveling, which is when most people spend their time doing trivial things. So, if you want to go casual, I would really recommend to at least do some research on whether or not it would be possible for you to make your game available on mobile devices. I personally dislike smartphones and instead use a 10 year old Nokia phone that already survived two Samsungs, whereafter I stopped buying those. But the market is the market and casual games run hand in hand with the mobile device industry at the moment and this shouldn't be ignored.

The G-Meister

Giga Slime
Damn, match three be popular o_O

I guess if I was originally going for a more sinister aesthetic and an action orientated puzzler it would pull away from the more casual side of things. However, the controls will be almost completely mouse exclusive, so a port over to mobile would be fairly easy. I don't know how DLC would go down with mobile though, and modding capability is practically gone. I guess there's no harm in having multiple versions though, and for the main levels I was even thinking of putting old school unlock codes for the levels in which could provide cross-platform capability, although then you get issues with achievements.

Anyway, I'll look into some sales figures for the mobile market (which I gather is bigger than Steam) and see if there's any programs that allow Java to run on mobile. It looks like I've got some planning to do!

Thanks for all the help bud, greatly appreciated <3


As for females and puzzle games - my mum used to play mobile game called Bubble Pop. She was doing it in her free time or while making a cake etc. So it applies that it's something you can do inbetween.

Personally, I'm going to make a mobile game and use ads and microtranslations. Lots of people do this on mobile and if the game is really good, it doesn't bother that much. Honestly, if I make this game, it will be only to make money. It's a simple enough idea to not require very much work, but it has probably some potential. I'll of course try to make ads and payments least annoying as possible and make playable content available for free players. I'm just saying that mobile market is dominated by games that make money from 'free2play' or ads and there's nothing particularly bad about it. Games are meant to be fun and if they are fun (and not annoying) - then it's ok.

Back to your game, DLC and mods can co-exist, depending on how much of the game you expose to modding. If some feature requires diving deep into source code, it's unlikely some mod will mimic it if you make it DLC. Also, some modding features and tools can be DLC too.

Also, if you want to make leaderboards and worry about hackers, that's a problem in Java. Source code can be easily decompiled to see how you connect with your server. However, there's one thing in Java you can use - JNative. It allows to use in Java compiled code from a different language (C for example). You can encrypt your server connection into machine code, which will be (hopefully) hard to uncover. The problem is - you lose part of portability, because you need to compile the native code for each platform. (although pure Java can have portability problems too)

Anyways, good luck with your game! I'm making games too and done few of them already, but I'm trying to set up some website (currently my games are found across different forums). My website prototype sits on my hard drive for about 2 years already and my biggest problem is that I'm not sure how to name it :bag:

The G-Meister

Giga Slime
Thanks dude! And yours too, hopefully you'll cash in one day and ride off the money for a year or two :p

You mean like, naming the website? In terms of the code to name the website or an interesting name for it? If you're stuck on anything I'd recommend W3 Schools. If you know how to navigate the site, practically everything you might need is there.

I'll definitely take a look into anti-hacking options... or just consider dropping the leaderboards idea. I was actually reading up about compression into JAR files, and portability options are already an issue. I think you need to compress it on the operating system you intend to launch it on, which is a bummer, seen as I don't have a Linux PC or a Mac.

The problem I have with micro-transactions is that games which contain them are often built to push you towards them. Clash of Clans will always be my favourite example. It draws you in by being free, and upgrades being quick and cheap. Steadily, upgrades take longer and longer and cost more and more materials. Raiding becomes expensive and you have to check as often as reasonably achievable to make sure your resource machines don't fill up.

I eventually got to the point where I was checking back every day at morning and evening to find nothing had changed, and I was practically wasting my time. At this point, for those with less time and patience but more money, buying what is practically premium currency becomes even more appealing. This is what coaxes people into paying.

If you are making a game with micro-transactions, do it like that. I wish you the best of luck, but I won't ever play it :p


You mean like, naming the website? In terms of the code to name the website or an interesting name for it?
I mean an interesting name. You know, since I have serious plans about game development (like company and stuff), I'd like to come up with an original name that I could use in the future too. It would be nice too if the name allowed to make a simple logo. Also, I'll aim for my website to have darker theme, so I can't for example call it 'Unicorn Rainbow Games'.

I came up with few names, but they are either too ridiculous or already taken :bag: The last one I'm using is Stormoth Games (like moth of storm). Whether it's good that's another matter (the longer I 'use' it, the less I'm sure about it though), but I have idea for logo and no idea how to draw it :bag:
My website is almost ready btw. I used Wordpress and all I need now is some finishing touches.

The G-Meister

Giga Slime
I mean, you can always do a rebrand if you need to. I guess the issue then is a change of URL. If you've got an idea for a logo, even if it's just basic stuff like a colour scheme or a quick sketch I might be able to do a few mockups for you.