Indie games might be hugely popular as digital products, but few of them make the transition to being physical packages.
But in March of this year, Eurogamer parent company Gamer Network announced it would be producing direct-to-consumer physical versions of indie games with its Gamer's Edition brand.
These packages include copies of the game, as well as a plethora of merchandise. For example, the Hotline Miami Gamer's Edition included a comic book, the soundtrack amongst other goodies. These are paid for by a crowd-funding pre-order system; Gamer's Edition will only start producing these SKUs once they have been ordered by a certain number of people.
But will consumers be willing to pay for their favourite game twice? And how much involvement do developers have in the scheme? Gamer's Edition boss Jon Hicks tells us more.
What was the thinking behind Gamer's Edition?
It started as a pub conversation between myself, [Gamer Network boss] Rupert Loman and [former Eurogamer editor-in-chief] Tom Bramwell. We were talking about being collectors and buying loads of indie games and the way that we and many other people were engaging with indie games. We're spending loads of time playing these titles, and they have these huge audiences and they're enjoying massive success. But because they are digitally distributed, they don't really have the same physical footprint that the triple-A market has had for so long.
It spun out from there, we thought it would be great if we had the ability to deliver the high-end merchandise that triple-A has always had and how we could make that happen. Indie games don't tend to have six figure marketing budgets, they don't have that three-year marketing strategy - they just get released. And then – with some exceptions – they tend to enjoy success after the fact. The idea of Gamer's Edition spun out of us wanting to make something that could come out after the fact, asking how we could fund that and how developers could fund that and then we landed on the crowdfunding idea. It makes it less of a risk for developers because they don't need to put a load of money upfront. It means we can engage the community to let them know what's in each pack, and secondly seeing if they want to buy it. If it doesn't make its target, we won't make it. It doesn't cost anything.
Who is Gamer's Edition targeted at?
We're building this for dedicated fans of particular titles, so the main target for Gamer's Edition is people who are playing these games and approaching the established communities for that kind of stuff. We don't really see it as something where we're going to do loads of above the line marketing. The nature of Gamer's Edition is that they are targeted at dedicated communities which are built around specific games rather than takeovers on IGN or that kind of thing.
Do you see consumers purchasing the Gamer's Edition for a title they already own?
The expectation is that people don't mind – and it helps that we're dealing that don't have a particularly high software price. They are games that people have got lots of value out of, and probably didn't spend all that much money on in the first place. Our expectation is that people don't mind actually buying it again. It's nice to have, it's something you can use to introduce someone else to the game. In the same way that if you buy a Humble Bundle and you get a key for a game you already own in it, it doesn't put you off buying the bundle. You just get the key and you can hand that out.
How much involvement do the developers and publishers have in Gamer's Edition?
We've been talking to developers for a while now. [Hotline Miami publisher] Devolver and [Hotline Miami developer] Dennaton were really keen, they were one of the first groups we spoke to and they're really keen on the idea. I had some quite outlandish ideas of what we could do for Hotline Miami, but we ended up is very much what Dennaton specified. They had a very clear idea of what they wanted. They're designing all the artwork, so that's what we made. We're approaching lots of other developers over the last few months and they've been really positive about it. Most developers do like those kinds of collectibles. They're a nice thing to offer to smaller developers who wouldn't have an opportunity to do it. They are really keen on the idea. Depending on what they want to do, that's going to be shape what goes into each one. We're not in a position to announce anything at this point, but hopefully we'll have some new campaigns launching in the future.
"We're spending loads of time playing these
indie games, and they have huge audiences and
are enjoying massive success. But because
they are digitally distributed, they don't really
have the same physical footprint that the triple-A
market has had for so long."
Jon Hicks, Gamer's Edition
Hotline Miami had a production run of 3,000; Papers Please's was 1,500. How are you deciding the number of units per production run?
These will vary hugely, but we're trying to hit a sweet spot between the price and the anticipated audience. I find getting into the nitty-grity of physical merchandise manufacturing fascinating, and how the number you make affects the cost. Each one we do will vary in terms of the numbers we do and how much it costs because if you want to do something hugely complicated you have to make hundreds of thousands of them to get the per-unit cost down to something manageable. If you do something simple, then that's easier. We also need to balance it with how many people are likely to buy it.
If we were to do one for Minecraft – and we're not planning on that – then we could confidently assume there are millions of people who play Minecraft, so we could have a minimum production of something much higher and that would mean we could price it accordingly, or if we wanted to do something that was super exclusive and really rare. Our partner Idea Planet works on the Borderlands franchise and did the robot Claptrap in there. That was quite a limited run, and it was a very expensive item. The maths stacks up there as well. We're trying to get the price as competitive as possible, we try to get the order volume to a point where we think it's achievable. The focus above all else is that these games get made. But that will vary depending on how complicated the actual thing in the box is and how big the audience is for that game.
The Papers Please Gamer's Edition didn't make its production target. What's the plan for when this occurs?
Broadly speaking, the way we set this up is that if we don't hit the minimum order, then they won't get made. Because the whole manufacturing model is built around that, there aren't a great many shortcuts. We are still finding our way at the moment. It might be we tweak stuff to get them made anyways, but ultimately if there's no demand there then we won't make them. It's set up in a way that if there's no demand then we won't make them, it's as simple as that. It's a shame, and we've put a lot of effort in and we want to make them but we can't make people buy them.
We didn't want to put a lot of costs onto developers who might not have the money to invest. We're not exclusively focused on indie games – we could do Gamer's Editions for bigger titles if it came to it. The thought process was supporting indie developers. And yes, we didn't want to have that upfront cost. It's not a small undertaking to take these things to the point where campaign launches. We spent a lot of time making everything work and dealing with manufacturers. It's not a zero risk thing, but obviously it helps that we're not making something really, really mental and then finding out we have to pay to have it shipped to landfill.
Do you see Gamer's Edition coming to physical retail in time?
We wouldn't rule it out. The main thing that we are facing at the moment is this exclusivity and collectability to them. We are selling direct-to-consumer because it's made to order. But I wouldn't rule anything out. As long as I preserve that and we don't dilute it, I don't think there's any reason they couldn't be sold in retail.