Ever Wondered How Games With Gold And Playstation Plus Games Get Selected ? – A Mad Fellows Interview

In our first interview with Mad Fellows we talked about their game, Aaero (which we rated highly).

Yesterday we learned that they will soon release New DLC for their hit-indie game and we wanted to do a follow-up interview. Since me and Paul had so much to talk about we split the interview in a few parts. While talking to him I thought of an interesting question:

Do you happen to know how Microsoft  &Sony go about selecting their Games With Gold and Playstation Plus games? Do they reach out to developers or is it the other way around and how does the compensation work?

Bit of both, really. You can ask them to be considered for it, I think. Then I guess they offer a buy-out in return for offering it to their subscribers for free. They have to pay based on its potential. If the game in question is likely to sell loads and therefore lose lots of sales by being given away they have to agree what’s a fair price to pay to the devs.

We’ve not had a game in either of these promotions yet but I understand that it’s something that you can register your interest in during submission. I assume it is then a case of the developer/publisher and platform holder coming to an agreement between themselves what a fair fee would be in order to offer the game for free to their subscribers for a limited time.

How do you think Microsoft/Sony choose the ones to reach out to? And why would a developer be interested in reaching out to them?

I guess the platforms would be looking for titles that add value to their premium services for their subscribers. The motivation of developers to include their games in these deals however, is something I am better placed to shed some light on.

For a brand new title, releasing into one of the free programs may seem counter-productive for a developer. However, if the price is right, it is guaranteed revenue. In a market as unpredictable as video games, guaranteed money is difficult to turn down. In the case of something like Rocket League, originally a PS+ title, it’s a fairly safe assumption that the exposure they received from having an instant install base on the PlayStation has paid off many times over since. It’s obviously an awesome game too, though. We’ll never know now what would’ve happened if they hadn’t released for free at first but it’s hard to imagine it being any more successful than it is now.

Being visible on the store fronts is by far the most effective way to market an indie game. The ‘New Releases’ and curated seasonal sales and promotions slots on the store drive sales like nothing else we have encountered so far.

Being in the PS+ and Games with Gold line-up guarantees both instant visibility for your game as well as a hefty install base of players.

There are always a load of indie games being released every week and gamers’ time and money are very thinly spread at the moment. It’s all well and good to release your awesome game that’s absolutely worth £19.99 at that price… But with so many titles out there, how many will drop that sort of cash on something that isn’t either heavily discounted or something they absolutely HAVE to play straight away with their crew, like your Destiny and Battlefield titles.

I agree: My backlog is immense and I’m currently only playing the games I’m writing about, the only games I pick up are the ones that are discounted so much I’m afraid of missing out on a good deal.*

* check my article on Black Friday deals

This brings me to my main point with all of this. An observation I made during the very early months of Xbox Games with Gold is now very obvious to most consumers and is beginning to change how the platforms think about which games to secure for the free deals.

I’ve been an Xbox Gold subscriber since the start. When Games with Gold started, there weren’t that many indie games on the Xbox 360. As a result, when the free games were announced, I’d usually already got them. This then means that I’ve essentially robbed myself of a free game each time it happens. Without being too dramatic about it, I was being punished for being an early adopter of indie games. I wasn’t getting the same value from my Gold subscription as those that just didn’t buy indie games.

Eventually, I noticed that rather than thinking ‘It’s only £9.99’ for a game I’d been looking forward to, I started thinking ‘It’ll probably be free next month’. Before this, it’d be unthinkable for me to have something like INSIDE released without me insta-buying it. Buuuuut… When I’ve bought Limbo twice and then been given it another few times on different platforms… It just makes sense to hold off for a while. As an indie developer, having this realisation is a big problem. If I’m thinking this, so are other gamers that I need to buy my game!

Yes. I’ve caught myself having the very same thoughts a few times. And it doesn’t help that games are dropping in price faster than ever. It feels bad to spend a lot of money (on a game that you’re not playing right away) and then seeing it $20 cheaper half a year later.

Then comes the mega-sales. A while ago, you just couldn’t get a decent reduction on console games at all. When you did, they had to be years old. However, when everyone starts waiting for free games, publishers start discounting them to get them moving. As you can imagine, seeing a game go from full price to 50% off within the space of a few months, coupled with the thinly spread time and money, compounded by the fact that slightly older games are being practically given away and clogging up everyone’s backlog of must play titles… it means that anyone paying full price for a game does so knowing full well that what they’re paying for is just the opportunity to play it sooner rather than a bit later. This isn’t the best news for indie developers… Or any developers, probably.

Which is probably why publishers are trying to look for money in other places. DLC, Loot crates…

Now, that’s never an excuse for premium loot crates, in my opinion. Being sly and trying to weasel money out of gamers rather than offering a quality experience in return for a fair price isn’t what I got into game development for. But, that said, you can see how the situation I’ve described above probably turns many an EA or Activision management minion to the dark side in order to get the spread sheets to a point where they’re able to present them to their overlords… I mean, it’s going to upset the development team who have worked hard to make a great game… but dealing with those guys is better than being dropped through the trapdoor in the boardroom into the shark tank. I’ve digressed a bit here. Um… where was I?

Oh yeah, developers putting their games in free promotions. That was it. So, in the current market, giving your game away to a large and guaranteed install base, getting some prime space on the store fronts, then perhaps offering some premium content for those that really enjoyed it and wanted to play more is a very viable strategy. It beats leaving it to get covered in digital dust in the full price downloads section… Which doesn’t even exist.

Thanks for your insights, Paul! It’s driven me to reach out to Microsoft, Sony and some of the developers that have had their game in those line-ups. Would be very interesting to get their feedback.

We’ll have the next parts of our interview with Paul up soon but as you can see it was too much to contain in one article. In the meantime, please check out Aaero:


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