Feb 24

Weekly Update #499: Pricing

As mentioned in last week’s blog post, there are a couple of topics I’d like to discuss as we slowly edge closer to the completion of our next murder mystery visual novel GENBA no Kizuna and therefore its release. One topic I’ve already covered is how exactly it compares to our previous project SHINRAI – Broken Beyond Despair. So, if you’d like to know more about what you can expect from GENBA, how it differs from SHINRAI and in what ways the two of them are similar, you can read all about it in this post right here!

Now, as you could already tell from the title, today, I’d like to get into the topic of pricing. It’s something I’ve been asked about before, which has been on my mind for a very long time now and which is, of course, a very important decision factor for potential buyers as to whether or not they’re going to get our game (or at least when they’re going to get it).

Let me start off by stating that a price has not fully been set in stone for GENBA yet, so I still cannot give you a precise number! However, I do know a price range which I’ll get into later, so that you’ll at least get an idea as to what you can expect. That said, the primary point of today’s post is more to delve into the various thoughts and factors that go into the decision-making process and why it’s so difficult to pin down what a project like ours should actually cost (the secondary point being that it sometimes feels as though, especially as an indie dev, you kinda need to justify why you’re charging any money at all in the first place…).

But without further ado, let’s jump right into the topic at hand!

SHINRAI’s Pricing

First off, let’s take a little look back at August 2016 when SHINRAI was about to be released. For a long while, I had been struggling with setting a price for it, too. As a matter of fact, I literally changed it one last time on the day before the release, increasing it from 12.99$ to 14.99$.

  • Visual Presentation:

Back then, I had tried to look at VN projects on Steam, which were similar in scope and quality to ours, but 2016 was a much different time with way less indie VNs on the platform, as it was still a lot more difficult to even get on it in the first place (thanks to the much missed Greenlight system). As such, I couldn’t really find that many fitting, comparable results, but the few that did kinda fall into the same category as SHINRAI seemed to lie somewhere in the 10 to 20 dollars range (if they weren’t outright free).

As someone who’s always been ridden with self-doubt and who doesn’t have all that much confidence in the things I do, I figured that 20$ was just way too much. While I was confident in the mystery aspect of SHINRAI and that people would enjoy it if they were to give it a chance, I didn’t feel the same about the visual presentation. And of course, that’s one of the primary purchase draws, especially for a “visual” novel. People look at the screenshots and infer from them the general quality of a game. The visuals aren’t high quality? Then the rest of the game probably isn’t either!

Now, sure, just like you should never judge a book by its cover, you should never judge a VN by its screenshots, the original releases of Higurashi and Umineko being the perfect examples of that. But alas, the visuals are really all you have to go off of before a purchase, so it’s not like I can really blame buyers for this approach. Especially since SHINRAI was our very first project, meaning that we were complete nobodies and people therefore had no idea what to expect in terms of quality for the story and writing.

  • Effort Compensation:

So, because of those reasons, a lower price seemed to be the way to go. However, there was also the fact that Natsu and I had spent a significant amount of time on this project. Three entire years worth of working on it for ten to twelve hours on average a day, including weekends and holidays. With that in mind, we also felt like we did deserve to be properly compensated for our efforts.

All these thoughts eventually led me to 12.99$ which seemed fair enough to me. So why then the last minute 2$ increase…?

  • Revenue Cuts:

Because of the cut Steam was going to take from our revenue. The industry standard is 30%, so a little less than a third, but I tend to round it up to an actual third for some easier math. If the platform was going to take a third of our sales, that’d mean that Natsu and I would also both get a third and, looking at it through that lens, things started to feel unfair towards us again. Surely, both she and I deserved at least 5$ per sale for all of our hard work! Thus, I increased the price to essentially 15$ for an even 5-5-5 split.

Initially, I regretted that decision and felt really bad about it, even greedy to some extent. Which, looking back now, seems so very silly.
Still, I was so worried that such a “high price” would result in next to no sales. But thankfully, that wasn’t the case! So, in the end, I was glad to have gone with 15 dollars!

Besides, I figured that you can always make something cheaper after its release, not only through sales but through a permanent price cut. However, you can’t make it more expensive! Well, at least not without drawing some ire, haha. So that’s another thought that went through my mind back in the day. If it wouldn’t sell at 14.99$ at all, there was always the option to just go lower after the fact.

GENBA’s Pricing

So, let’s move back to the present! Almost eight years later and with one successfully released project under our belts, what are the thoughts that go through our heads when it comes to pricing GENBA now? Honestly, a lot of them are still the same. And a whole bunch of new things to consider have been added on top! Let’s go through some of them one by one.

  • Scope, Size & Presentation:

First of all, it should hopefully be clear from the screenshots that the visual presentation has increased a lot. GENBA may still not at all scream “AAA VN”, but I do think it looks significantly better and more polished than SHINRAI. It also offers way more interactivity/ gameplay and it’s an overall much larger project. In fact, it’s essentially twice as big as SHINRAI! For that reason alone, you’d think our first instinct would be to therefore double the price. I mean, it makes sense, right? SHINRAI was 14.99$, so if GENBA offers twice as much content, it should be 29.99$! But this is where we get to the point again where I begin to feel that’s way too much…

By now, a lot more VNs are up on Steam and there are a lot more projects we can compare ourselves to. Unfortunately, the problem is that their pricing is all over the place. You have crappy indie VNs for 30+ bucks that last only a few hours, while the Umineko Question Arcs are up for 22.99$ and Danganronpa (which originally started out at 30+ dollars) has received a permanent price slash, now sitting at 19.99$.

So, when I look at that, I obviously feel like… I can’t put up GENBA for 20 to 30 dollars, if you can get something like Umineko and Danganronpa for the same price or even cheaper… at least that’s what a lot of people will argue. I mean, we still regularly have players tell us that SHINRAI isn’t even worth 14.99$ and that you should get it only at a discount, so yeah…

This kinda makes me feel bad again about charging more.

  • Platform & Publisher Cuts:

Once again, there are also the revenue cuts to consider. For the platforms that are going to sell the project, whether it’s Steam, Sony‘s PSN Store, Nintendo‘s eShop or Microsoft‘s XBOX Store… they all still take 30% of the earnings.

Something that’s new, however, and which was of no consideration to me back in 2016, is the additional cut taken by the console publisher. Of course, just like SHINRAI, we want to eventually release GENBA on all consoles again. But for that to happen, we need help, as we do not have the means to port anything ourselves. And for console porting, the industry standard sadly is… a 50% split.

In other words, after the platforms have taken 30%, the rest is split 50-50 between the publisher and the developer. And in Gosatsu‘s case, there is then one more 50-50 split between Natsu and me, resulting in each of us only getting around 17% of the revenue per sale. And that once again feels immensely unfair to me, given how we are the ones who dedicated so much time and effort into even creating the project in the first place!

Granted, the PC release will not be affected by this, so you could argue that we could sell the PC version for a specific price and then just sell the console version for a much higher price to make up for the publisher cut. However, I don’t like that idea, because I don’t want anyone to feel screwed, just because they want (or only can) play GENBA on a different platform.

So yeah, that’s a new consideration that needs to go into choosing the right price.

  • No Soundtrack Income:

Another thing that’s been on my mind is that, this time around, we also won’t be able to earn some additional cash through the soundtrack release. With SHINRAI, the music was composed by my dad who kindly passed on any sort of financial compensation, therefore letting me split the OST revenue between Natsu and myself as well.

With GENBA, however, everything Steam isn’t greedily taking for themselves, I want to go to our composer Solo Acapello this time.
As a result, we also need to keep in mind that we can’t potentially make up for a lower game price through soundtrack sales.

  • Discounts:

One interesting thought that has been brought to my attention recently is that some publishers already take into account the fact that their projects will mostly sell during sales events. So, basically, what they’re doing is to pick the price they want to sell their game at when it’s X% off and then determine the base price from there. You want your project to sell for 10 bucks during a 50% sale, for instance? Then set its base price to 20!

Of course, GENBA will sell significantly more during sales as well, so… what would be a good discount price then?
(Kinda even makes you wonder what’s even considered the “true base price” now, haha…)

  • General State of the World:

Finally, one other major thing to consider is that 14.99$ in 2024 are not at all comparable anymore to 14.99$ in 2016. Especially in the last couple of years, everything has gotten a lot more expensive. Here in Germany, when I go grocery shopping, I now pay twice as much for the exact same items I used to buy two years ago. I’ve already started to buy and consume way less, but just when I thought I was doing well with saving money, my city randomly decided to increase the property tax by a whopping 250%, so all the money I did manage to save and put aside by eating a lot less has just been taken away from me by our mayor!

And, of course, all of that’s happening while the wage from my day job has remained exactly the same since 2019.
A day job I’m not even sure how much longer I’ll be able to keep, because my supervisor has already told me that, in the coming years, I will lose it to artificial intelligence (I’m working as a translator).

Long story short, being able to earn money just to live is more important and more difficult than ever, which is why it’d be neat to earn a little something through VN development. Developing GENBA has taken an insanely long time. However, one of the reasons I’ve been able to work on it at all is precisely because of the money we earn through SHINRAI. It made it possible for me to get by with only a part-time day job. If I had needed to work full-time, well… who knows how far along GENBA would be now, ahahah…

So yeah, if we do want to keep developing more visual novels, ideally while also reducing the development time, which would require hiring more people to help us… GENBA obviously needs to earn us some cash.


In an ideal world, I’d honestly love to just throw out my projects for free, but that’s sadly not how it works. We need to charge something and it’s gotta be more than what SHINRAI currently costs. Of course, I do fully understand that it’s not just me who’s financially struggling. I’m sure that many of you guys also need to consider very carefully whether you can even afford non-essential purchases like some random indie VN. So, when GENBA comes out and you’ll say “that’s too much” and decide to wait for a sale or skip out entirely, I certainly won’t blame you.

But what all of this boils down to is one seemingly very simple question:

What is a price that’s fair both to customers, so they’ll feel that they get their money’s worth, and to us as the creators, so we’ll feel that we get adequate compensation for our hard work after all the deductions made by other parties…?

Sadly, it’s not a simple question to answer and I am still going back and forth between various numbers. Once again, I fear that, by going too high, we might shoot ourselves in the foot and have no sales at all. That’s true even more so now than back in 2016, just because of the insane explosion in indie projects that have flooded all platforms. When we got SHINRAI on Steam back in the day, it truly felt like a miracle. Now, however, it’s much much easier to release your own project, meaning that there is a near infinite number of other VNs available, creating much fiercer competition. Why buy ours when you could also spend your money on all these others that might even be cheaper?

I will continue to give it some more thought, so for now, all I can tell you is that you can definitely expect it to be more than 20$ but certainly less than 30$. I think one of the last big decision factors for me will be the reaction of our beta-testers. Once people have played the full game, we will hopefully be able to determine the right price.

Anyway, this was a much longer post than I expected it to be, but again… there is a lot going into a decision like this and it does often feel like I need to properly justify myself for charging money for my creative work at all, even though, again… that’s a really silly notion.

Maybe I’ll talk about that particular point next time a bit more, but for now, let’s call it quits! If you have read this far, thank you so much! I wish you a great remainder of your weekend! Until next Saturday, take care :3