My name is Tera Nguyen. I am a Producer, passionate in using spatial computing technologies to enable new forms of entertainment, education, productivity, and social interaction. In Jan 2019, I started writing this blog series that aimed at helping indie developers price and market their VR games as well as setting the right expectations for consumers on upcoming VR content.
Through the lens of gamers
In part 4, I identified different customer groups within the adoption bell curve of VR. I also listed out the pros and cons of different pricing strategies and distribution channels that are available to VR creators.
In this blog, I will delve deeper into the player’s mentality, how much they are willing to spend on a VR game, and what that means for VR creators. Asking players how much money they are willing to spend would likely result in a lower price range than they may really spend, so I looked for various factors that affect the player’s perceived value of a VR game instead. I interviewed hardcore and casual gamers at Carnegie Mellon University’s Entertainment Technology Center — a graduate program for developers from the age of 20–30 working with emerging technologies, and found the following criteria:
- Critic score (generated from press and industry professionals’ reviews)
- User ratings
- Number of user reviews
- Game state/model (Early Access or Regular Release)
- All my friends are playing
- Influencers/streamers on Youtube or Twitch
I used conjoint analysis to evaluate the importance for these criteria by putting a monetary value on each criterion and asking respondents to decide between two similar but different games. This makes it possible to assess each factor without directly asking for is value. The survey was sent out in April 2019 to my graduate program’s student community, Schell Games, and some enthusiast groups on Facebook, which gathered a total of 109 responses from gamers and game devs between the ages of 21 to 45.
The conjoint analysis is modeled as followed:
You are debating between an Early Access game and a Regular Release game. Although both have very positive user reviews, you hesitate of getting your heart broken over a half-finished mess. Which one would you be more likely to consider?
77 respondents (70.6% of the participants) picked Regular Release $24.99.
32 respondents (29.3% of the participants) picked Early Access $19.99.
How about the following?
61 respondents (55.9% of the participants) picked Regular Release $29.99.
48 respondents (44% of the participants) picked picked Early Access $19.99.
31 respondents (28.4% of the participants) picked Regular Release $34.99.
68 respondents (62.3% of the participants) picked picked Early Access $19.99.
The conclusion of this result is, between two similar games, respondents are willing to pay 50% more if a game is a Regular Release instead of an Early Access. This means an Early Access game can charge 50% more after it leaves Early Access.
I followed the same question format for other criteria and used information from current top-selling VR games on Steam as benchmarks. Here are the exciting results:
- Respondents are willing to pay 75–100% more for games with a ‘Very Positive’ review compared to games with a ‘Mixed’ review.
- Respondents are willing to pay 25% more (but not 75%) for games with approximately 2,000 user reviews compared to games with 600 user reviews.
- Respondents are willing to pay 25% more (but not 75%) for games with an 82 Metacritic score instead of 74.
- Respondents are willing to pay 50% more for a Regular Release game than an Early Access one.
- The majority of respondents that I surveyed with are not influenced by streamers/influencers on social media.
Survey result analysis
1. Respondents are willing to pay 75–100% more for games with a ‘Very Positive’ review compared to games with a ‘Mixed’ review.
According to this study, you can almost double your revenue by having a “Very Positive” review compared to having a “Mixed review.” This means, it makes monetary sense to prevent having a “Mixed” review on Steam. Obviously, creating a great game should be your ultimate goal, but there are additional ways to further influence your game’s review rating.
. Identify happy and unhappy players before they leave a review
VR devs can strategically and creatively develop a mechanism (similar to Net-Promoter-Score) that works with the gameplay to examine how happy players are with the game before they write reviews. Not only can this strategy enable devs to encourage happy players to write reviews, but they can also have immediate fire-fighter solutions to avoid the unhappy players from leaving negative reviews, such as fixing their problems or offering a refund. Criteria for this mechanism might vary from game to game, but could be identified from game testing.
. Build an exclusive online community for players/fans and devs
Treat your early adopter players as co-creators. They are your biggest supporters and they want their voices to be heard. You want to listen to their feedback early and answer their concerns, before they leave a review on Steam. Have signup-only demos for early adopters to try the game before it is released and create an online channel like Steam Chat, Discord, or Reddit for these players to communicate with devs. It is important that you have a dedicated specialist who can address the questions and document them effectively to discuss with developers, as having developers handle the community responses directly will probably overwhelm them.
. Getting buy-ins from the players through content marketing
One way to influence players and bring buy-ins is to reveal the behind-the-scenes of your game. Think of how a magician increases the audience’s engagement by giving a tease on how his tricks are being done. If the audience learns something from you, they will be more likely to buy your product. Since the world is still figuring out best practices for VR and AR, you can create periodically digests on your design lessons, development processes, or game mechanics that your team is most enthusiastic about. Doing this additionally helps educate gamers on VR development (and why it should be priced differently from PC and console games). You can use your company’s blog, Twitter, Steam’s announcement, or Facebook to publish these content.
. Turn your enthusiastic players into advocates
Treat your early adopter players as influencers who are willing to advocate for your game and have enough knowledge about the game to do so. You want to create opportunities for them to talk about your game on social media, blogs, and forums. Engagement strategies vary depending on the game content, such as special programs, challenges, collectibles, and in-game bonuses. The more these player-generated posts feel like part of a community, the stronger your influencer marketing campaign will be.
For more information on how to use influencers for your VR game, please stay tuned for my next post — part 6.
2. Respondents are willing to pay 25% more (but not 75%) for games with approximately 2,000 user reviews compared to games with 600 user reviews.
To put things in perspective, Beat Saber (launched in May 2018) has 15,704 reviews as of July 2019, Gorn (launched in August 2017) has 3,800 reviews, I Expect You To Die (launched in April 2017) has 715 reviews, The Mage’s Tale (launched in March 2013) only has 66 reviews. All of these titles are top-selling on Steam.
The survey results indicate that VR studios could make 25% more in revenue if they have roughly 1,400 additional (relevant) reviews. I mention the word “relevant” because Steam has a system to eliminate review bombs. However, since VR is still a niche industry, it is also unclear how many user reviews is high enough.
3. Respondents are willing to pay 25% more (but not 75%) for games with an 82 Metacritic score instead of a 74.
According to this result, a high Metacritic score brings an additional 25% in revenue to your VR game.
Creating a great game definitely ensures your chance of having a high critic score. However, finding ways to get your game discovered by professional reviewers is still the first step.
. Build strong relationships with the press
Create invite-only events or send an early build to VR editors to ask for their feedback before the game is released. Studies have shown that people are more enthusiastic about a product if they have a feeling of ownership. You can find notable VR editors from sources such as Gamasutra, VRgamecritic, UploadVR, RoadtoVR, Voices of VR Podcast. If you want to additionally raise awareness outside of the Early Adopter group and reach out to the Early Majority community, you can also look into Techcrunch, Forbes, WSJ, NYT, Wired, and Vox.
Editors and critics usually appear at networking conferences. You can promote your game by giving out free demos at conferences such as GDC, E3, SIGGRAPH, AWE, and CES. I would also look into enterprise XR conferences if your game features training/educational content, such as the XR Summit ISE and the Games For Change XR Summit.
. Find a sponsor
You can also leverage sponsors with robust marketing power by submitting your game to their competitions, meetups, and funding programs. Not only does this get your game to the hands of innovators and early adopters, but it also gives you the opportunity to expand your network and receive support from platform developers. Some of these programs include Oculus LaunchPad, the Knight Foundation XR Challenge with Microsoft, and the WRX Venture Fund.
. Being a launch title
Many headset manufacturers subsidize studios to release launch titles for their headset. Being a launch title increases your chance of being featured on the store’s main page and getting players’ attention. The amount of studios receiving support from headset manufacturers varies; therefore it is much easier to get a featured spot if your title is released around the same time with the headset’s launch. Most top-selling VR games on Steam as of 2019 were released in March, April, or May, which was around the launch date of the HTC Vive, Oculus Rift, Oculus Go, and Oculus Quest.
Interestingly, I have also found that only 9 out of 50 Vive launch titles are top-selling games on Steam as of early 2019, 11 out of 83 Oculus launch titles are top-selling on the Oculus store, and 4 out of 28 PSVR launch titles are top-selling on the PSVR store. This means being a launch title gives you an advantage of being discovered, but it still largely depends on your game quality and other factors to be popular with the crowd.
4. Respondents are willing to pay 50% more for a Regular Release game than an Early Access one.
This means an Early Access game can charge 50% more after it leaves Early Access. There are multiple methods to identify the highest price possible for your Early Access game. What’s most important is to identify the player’s perceived value of your game instead of the cost to make it.
. Targeted ads
You can do A/B testing with Facebook ads, examining multiple pricing options for the audience to pre-order. Show the ads to VR headset owners and members of VR-focused pages. Put a trailer of your game on the ads and pick a competitive price tag based on how much similar games cost. You can evaluate the success of your price based on the amount of people who click to pre-order the game from your ads. You can even customize the trailer to appeal to different target groups, including VR’s Early Adopters(hardcore gamers) and VR’s Early Majority(the rest of the hardcore and casual gamers).
5. The majority of respondents are not influenced by influencers/ streamers in their purchasing decision.
Since my respondents are from the age of 21 to 45, I assume that they are not the target group for influencers/streamers.