Indie Games Marketing 101 pt. 3 – P2P distribution model

Indie Games Marketing 101 pt. 1 – figuring out the game itself and its audience

Indie Games Marketing 101 pt. 2 – F2P distribution model

The most obvious thing to do after writing about the F2P model is to write one about the P2P model. This one seems to be way more intuitive and natural since you pay for the product, but everything has its pros and cons. Without further ado, let’s get to the topic.

P2P – the most obvious distribution model

I’m going to be using The Binding of Isaac as an example in this case, because it covers a bunch of intricacies, which, aside from the game itself, allowed it to be a financial success. source: altermmo.pl

I’m not going to talk about the history of the distribution model, because it’s as old as the humanity itself. The customer pays in order to get the product (the video game in this case). That’s about it. Go to Steam, add a copy of The Binding of Issac Afterbirth to your cart, pay somewhere around $10 and you’re good to go. You (usually) own the copy of the game in this case since you paid for it and you can access most if not all of its features without making any more purchases.

While at its core this model is very simple, there’s a handful of things you need to consider before choosing this distribution model.

When is the P2P model the way to go?

Firstly, you need to think about the platform your game is going to be released to. The P2P model is the most prevalent in the PC and console markets. Why not the mobile market, which is worth the most, though? Most mobile games usually are not made in order to keep players enthralled with the story or whatnot – they are made to keep their players in the gameplay loop and, since there’s a lot of free games which are similar to each other, people will most likely opt for the free ones. And that’s completely natural. Let’s talk about Minesweeper – one of the most oldschool games. It has no story and pretty much no personality and no story. The pure example of focusing on the gameplay loop. Nobody has reinvented the wheel when it comes to Minesweeper and it’s not a surprise, that a vast majority of the player base would chose a free Minesweeper that displays ads every now and then instead of a P2P one, which offers pretty much the same experience, but without ads. Because of this, it’s also more profitable for the devs to focus on UA (user acquisition) in the F2P environment – more players equal more money flowing in and the P2P model, although it provides big one time payments, doesn’t have this kind of longevity under such circumstances.

I love playing Minesweeper, though. source: Isabella Ting on Medium

Because of this, we may start building a list of when going P2P is the right thing to do:

  • your game is not (exclusively) a mobile game,
  • it has a certain degree of complexity which renders it to be more than a mere gameplay loop – such complexity may range from the plot through the mechanics of the game, the gameplay and so on,
  • the game is not going to have a very strong or numerous F2P competition,
  • the game is able to provide a vastly better experience than similar F2P titles,
  • there’s no competition altogether in this niche (extremely rare and unlikely to happen, unless you come up with a game so different from others, it belongs to its own genre, I’d say).

Naturally, the game needs to be good as well.

Some genres like racing simulators, fighting games and turn-based strategies also have a strong custom of using the P2P model, so you should find out how the games similar to yours are distributed to the market.

This gem, although not very complicated (and telling a dumbed-down story from a comic book), is a fighting game, so it was obvious to distribute it in the P2P model. source: trueachievements.com

The biggest pro and con of P2P gaming

Let’s say that you’ve conducted your pre-launch marketing and PR activities well (more about them in the future instalments of the series) and your game is off to a good start. Your sales graph could look something like this (PoLI stand for Point of Losing Interest, a term I coined in the previous instalment of Indie Games Marketing 101):

You may count on a pretty big profit and a lot of units sold in the time of the release and that’s, obviously, great, but after reaching the PoLI, your sales will wain over time and your game will either be forgotten or will become a cult classic over time. Such a process makes the model quite risky, as you will have no stable income for your studio in the long run. This is something you want to avoid, as you wanna make the most money with the game. There are some ways to mend it, though and we’ll go through them now.

Design of the game itself – I mentioned The Binding of Isaac for a very good reason earlier in the article. It’s an action dungeon crawler with randomly generated dungeons, loads of collectables, enemies and unlocks, so even after investing more than, say, 250 hours in the games, players will most likely still have some challenges in front of them and will be aware that the game is still going to be engaging and surprising, because of the RNG. Sure, it could be hard to implement in a strongly story-driven title, but compromising on this part and building lore through some vague imagery could entice people to keep on playing the game, to discuss it on the Internet and to recommend it to their friends, driving further sales.

Sales – temporary lowering the price of your game may convince your potential players to finally make the purchase they’ve been thinking about making for a while. If you want to make it as effective as it gets, make it pretty significant, time-limited and you can also throw in a little freebie of some sort. Games on sale are often boosted in search engines of online marketplaces like Steam or GOG, so that’s also a nice bonus.

DLCs – TBoI strikes again. The original version of the game won’t be counted in this case, because it was entirely remade with Rebirth. So far, the game has obtained two extremely big paid DLCs, Afterbirth and Afterbirth+ and the third one, Repentance, is going to be released on March 31st. In the meantime, though, Edmund McMillen and the team at Nicalis decided to introduce Booster Packs in 2017. These were basically popular mods provided by TBoI’s modding community incorporated into the game a few at a time in free updates. While paid DLCs often provide a decent flow of money, you still need to get new users and to keep your old users (it’s easier to sell a DLC to an already existing customer, than to convert a completely new one). There are also season passes, which can make your revenue flow steadier, as you are able to plan them in advance.

Multiplayer modes – while games age over time, you can still keep (and get) a lot of players with multiplayer modes and frequent updates. Look at World of Warcraft and Call of Duty games.

And here’s the second graph, which includes sales and big DLCs.

Sure, I didn’t include any exact values or reasons behind holding sales, but this is how the graph should look like. Sales, DLCs and such help with generating sales peaks. There’s also another method of making your product more profitable, but it’s very controversial and it really demands a separate article – IAPs (in-app purchases). While selling vanity items and even parts of content within your game is a (kind of) accepted practice, you need to keep in mind, that you shouldn’t go overboard with IAPs, as it may backfire in a massive way. On the other hand, IAPs in P2P indie games are unheard of.

Hello EA. Do you remember this shitshow back in 2017? source: slashgear.com

Note: I’m going to talk about the distribution of your game without a publisher in the next part of the article. We’ll also skip physical distribution. since you can pretty much forget about it without a publisher, thus we’ll talk exclusively about digital distribution.

Where to sell your game?

Digital distribution is a pretty easy way of getting your game out to people at a low cost. The process generally looks like this:

  • you make the game,
  • you gather all of the promo material such as screenshots, trailers, a description of your game and so on,
  • you submit the game and the promo material to a marketplace,
  • it gets accepted (or rejected, which means you probably need to fix something within the game or the submit form),
  • the game is purchasable on the platform now and the platform gets a rate from your sales.

The most obvious digital marketplaces are:

  • Steam,
  • Epic Games Store,
  • The Humble Store,
  • GOG,
  • stores made for their respective consoles, like Nintendo eShop for Switch.

You can also sell your game independently, from your own website. Such behaviour has three important characteristics:

  • you are going to obtain all of the sales revenue for yourself (minus taxes and other possible fees),
  • it is going to be much harder to sell your game, as you won’t have access to all of the discovery features on marketplaces. You’ll also need to set an online store,
  • it may be possible that you won’t be able to sell your game to a platform at all (especially on consoles).

Personally, I’d recommend allowing such a possibility if possible, but would rather focus on marketplaces, having it as a secondary means of sales.

Setting the price of your game

How much the game should be? This is a very good question with no fool-proof theoretic answers. We can say that most P2P games on the market or sold in „pricing tiers”. Some are sold for $5, others for $10, $15, $20, $30, $40, $45 and $60. Based on the strength of your IP, the amount of content in the game and the quality of it, it’s usually a good idea to aim for price tags between $10 and $30. Indie games are often pretty cheap, but let’s not be too crazy and do not fall into the pit of lousy jRPGs from RPG Maker for a dollar on Steam. You should also check how similar games are priced and then give it a shot. Set what you believe to be an appropriate price and then adjust it. The question from the beginning of this paragraph is „the price of the game should be calculated with data regarding profit and revenue – prices should be tested and the best one is the one which maximizes the profit„.

Summary

The P2P distribution model is very simple on the outside but presents a lot of interesting, yet often hard challenges. If your game is good enough and you will be able to provide new content in order to make the game viable in the market for extended periods of time (and your game is not on mobile), then go for it.


Thank you for reading this article. I hope that after reading the second and the third part of Indie Games Marketing 101 you’re able to figure out which distribution model is more suitable for your game. I think that the next article will be about strictly marketing matters, as distribution models are strongly tied to your game’s economy and may depend on your publisher.

You can follow me on Twitter or add me on LinkedIn if you wanna talk about game marketing and anything else. I may also be up for some marketing consulting, so hit me up if you’d like to hire me 🙂

Indie Games Marketing 101 pt. 4 – Pre-Release Brand Awareness – CLICK TO READ!

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