I thought that folks are buying ΔV: Rings of Saturn because they wanted to play it - and could not otherwise. That sounds about right, doesn’t it? You don’t have a product, you can’t enjoy it. It all makes sense.
Except that it is wrong.
But, let’s first get the scope out of the way. When I read articles like this, the first thing I always want to know is - what kind of game the guy (or gal) writes about? Does it compare to mine? So, here are some basic numbers:
This is a mostly solo-developed fully independent game, still in the late stages of its early access. For the scope that I am operating in, I found these numbers to be wildly successful - but I can see how they can look meh for bigger studios. Adjust the findings for your own case accordingly.
So, back to the original thesis. People buy the game because otherwise, they would not be able to play it. They pay for the privilege of access to your work, right? This is why having a demo is bad - they give out a part of the experience, so you’ll ultimately sell fewer copies.
These were the statements that were “common knowledge” when I first started making the game. But I really felt like I wanted to have a demo, to give players a taste of what I am making - so against all the advice, I shortly released a time-limited demo.
I found no negative impact on my sales. In fact, I found them somewhat bigger than before the demo. And I was happy, and I kept the demo up-to-date in my build system, so every new game release came with a new demo release - which I thought was a really smart idea.
Until one time, a bug snuck in this way, and I found that I accidentally removed a time limit on the demo. And when I found that, the time limit was not there for months already - and no ill effect could be seen on the sales. That got me a bit confused, but I decided to keep it that way. The demo was still limited, you could only see the spaceflight stage, without all the station goodies. All according to the plan.
But then I noticed that some players, after playing the demo were still wondering - is there more? ΔV is a quite deep game, once you get down to it, and lots of players spend over 100 hours enjoying it - and you simply could not do that with a single mission, with no access to the station. So I figured - let’s just make the demo with all the content, but you can’t load saves. This is a multi-hour, multi-session game. Players will get hooked up, they’ll want to play more, and they’ll buy it then.
And it worked! Exactly as expected, sales went a bit up, and everything went great.
A while later I figured - hey, this worked so well so far, why not extend it a bit more? Let the players load the game while in the demo, for an in-game month. That will get them hooked even more, and they ultimately will still buy to experience more, right? I went ahead and did that, and as my sales went up, I felt really smart.
And then… then the war broke out. I was kind of devastated, as this was next door to my native Poland, and I felt like shit - making money from entertainment when people next door are dying. I went ahead to join the Humble Bundle for Ukraine (you see all the retail units), but I was still not satisfied, still felt like I could do more.
So I decided to give away my game for free. The demo now has exactly the same content as the full game, with no differences - except that I ask people to donate to charity instead of buying my game. Because I felt that this is a more important, and more direct approach - rather than me processing all that and donating in their name. So, the game is now free. It was this way ever since the war broke out.
And you know what happened to game sales? They increased a bit.
Now I see that I was wrong about the whole concept, about the whole why the players pay me. They don’t pay to get access to my work - they can have it for free. Hell, they could have it for free before that - there is nothing you can really do to stop people from playing your game for free.
But they still chose to pay me, because they want to. Not to get access - they already have that.
They pay because they appreciate the work we make and because they want to express that. They are buying DLCs that they are now intending to play just to show their support and appreciation.
I got this all backwards initially, and honestly, I think the industry also has it backwards. Players will pay us because they want to, not because they need to.
And, for the record - this is an opinion, based on my experiences with my own game. Feel free to agree or disagree. Ultimately, opinion is like an asshole - everyone has their own. Should you have extra questions, feel free to ask.