In October of 2013, CastleMiner Z was approved through Steam Greenlight. Prior to the PC release, this game was the all-time best-selling indie game on Xbox Live. It’s also the first of its kin to surpass a million downloads on the console.
Still, despite its success, its release this week on Steam was met with community backlash. Obvious detractions are pointed towards the game’s similarities with Minecraft, even if CastleMiner Z is much more of a shooter, like Ace of Spades, for instance.
Another point of criticism stemmed from the game’s pricing model. On Xbox Live, the game retails for $1, which is admittedly cheap. Steam, however, has a price range of $9.99, with a 15% discount at the moment. Complaints were so vocal that the developer even turned to the discussions by asking community feedback on its price.
I asked developer DigitalDNA Games where the difference in price comes from. Thomas Steinke replied with the following words:
The Xbox Indie system has a strict pricing structure and a defect in the way that it presents games. For this reason, it is virtually impossible to release a game there for over $1. Despite this, CastleMiner Z was released at $3 and was one of very few titles to be successful at this price point. The game has been on the Xbox since 2011 and since has been reduced in price to $1.
I also included a question in regards of what the additional costs would be for the PC release, since ports can easily hide some expenses not seen to the audience. In reply, Steinke mentioned:
Bringing the game to Steam was an expensive endeavor. Besides the engineering that needed to happen, the path to Steam is not assured, so the increased marketing expense to get the game through the Greenlight process dwarfed the original cost to get the game on the Xbox initially. For instance, part of this was building up our own distribution channel on our website.
Having done this, I can tell you that I am simply unable to give the game away on our site for the $1. Based on per unit costs associated with a purchase, we would lose money on every unit sold. It is not uncommon for other games from the iPhone or Xbox indie games to have a different price on the PC, because they are much different marketplaces and eco systems.
That’s certainly true. Different platforms come with different requirements, such as Steam’s need for approval or development kit costs on consoles. Therefore, I asked to elaborate exactly how the decision of a distribution channel on www.digitaldnagames.com would aid in the PC release no Steam. Steinke continued, stating:
Our website is a digital marketplace where we can sell our games, and in the future, the games of other indie developers. Also, we could sell games to countries that Xbox doesn’t support. For example, currently we are very popular in Chile and Brazil; countries where indie games were not supported by Microsoft.
We currently have about 300,000 users and growing rapidly since we opened it in July 2013.
The Xbox is a marketplace where you can make a game and simply put it up for a $100/year fee. On Steam; your games needs to build a huge critical mass of the PC market, before you are even allowed to be published. Despite being the best-selling Indie title on Xbox, the PC marketplace was largely unaware of us. Building up our PC Marketplace made a huge difference.
To give us all an idea of how this all contributes to a slight price increase of between $7 and $9, depending on your views, I asked for a ballpark figure on what all this infrastructure costs. Steinke went on to say:
The initial creation of CastleMiner Z cost about $10k, [while] the cost of building and promoting our digital marketplace, to build a critical mass around the PC version, was closer to $100,000, which, although doesn’t seem like a lot of money in terms of game development, is a bigger risk than we have taken on any project up to this point. We didn’t ask for any crowd-funding from our fans for this and took on the risk entirely by ourselves.
Logic states that revenue from the original Xbox release would be somewhere in the millions of dollars. Before you start mouthing off on the futility of that risk, however, remember that people also need to live. They need food, water, electricity and many other features to sustain themselves and produce a game. Throwing up $100,000 is still a ton of cash, certainly without the certainty of seeing revenue.
Buy CastleMiner Z on Steam. It’s a best-selling game for a reason and $10 is not that huge of a drop for nearly endless gameplay.