Interesting Pricing Model (“Sell Development Version”)

I see in one thread about different indie games, mentioning a pricing model where players could purchase development version for discounted price (that helps developers get money during the development), and get the upgrades (and the final version) for no additional cost. I think that’s pretty interesting idea for pricing, but of course comes with some questions:

  • What can you promise? If you promise to provide more than you eventually will, do the customers get money back – or were the customers just buying the development version? How do you communicate this to customers (and ensure that people don’t assume that all new fancy ideas will get into the game)?
  • How you keep people interested? Providing a proper schedule where you add new stuff frequently (every week? month? 6 months?) can help this, but how do you ensure that people will keep playing the game?
  • How do deal with the customer support? Handling a community, sales, support, ideas and everything takes time. How players will be able to influence the development? What communication methods you will use? How much time are you willing to spend into this?
  • How low can you afford to go? A rule of thumb is that discounts are good for bringing traffic in campaigns, and good for volume purchases, but keeping low prices might not be as good for revenues as having higher prices. It can work, but this type of thing could be considered. (Yes, I’m opening the can of worms here).
  • How do you know when the game is “ready enough” to be sold? (Answer is: you really don’t before you put it online…)
  • What if you change the game so that some new feature makes people irritated? If they bought the game for specific feature X, and now you introduce not so fun feature Y (not so fun for some player), can the customer ask for a refund since he was thinking that the feature X wouldn’t be touched?

All these questions can be answered (and have been by some indies for example), and I’m also dealing with some of these in my own zombie game’s development – so certainly this was an interesting approach into selling the game. There are potential problems, but it sure is a nice way to fund the game right from the beginning.

Juuso Hietalahti


  1. Could always include a pre-release bonus. That and some other general bonuses that could be given to people who support the process.

    I generally like the idea, but I might put it like $10 for the WIP (work in progress) version and $10 later for the full version, for a normally $25 game. It combines a payment plan with a discount. Then there is leaving the option of having both on the same computer, just in case a person really likes the WIP gameplay.

  2. I would handle it like this.
    You get a discount for buying the development version, but there is no guaranty that future version will be produced, contain all the features the development version contains.

    The right time to sell development versions would be when you normally would start beta testing. Its almost feature complete, the biggest bugs are fixed and you need a lot of people for proper beta testing, letting them pay you to test your game is great ;)

  3. This is type of pricing is an integral part of our development model. To put it simply we sell the game from day one (at a cheap price). Basically if you like the current state of the game you can buy in, if not you can wait but the price will raise as the quality of the game gets better and better.

    We typically release on 2 week iterations (this seem to work for us) with the occasional vacations etc.

    Yes, the customer takes a risk when buying in at an early stage (hence the cheaper prize). If something happens we might not “finish” the game etc, or introduce feature Y as you describe; though this has not happened yet :)

    The integral part here is that players interact with and influence the developers. That is our core idea, our core value is to embrace change not fear it.

    You can read more about this in about Spell of Play Studios, and check out the TWTPB forum for an example of a game going from 8h prototype to full game at $19.95

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