So you’ve finally created your indie game. This is usually the part when you get a chance to fully congratulate yourself. You just accomplished something amazing, something you set out to do—and you deserve credit for it. However . . . your work isn’t quite done. The next logical step is to decide where to sell your game. And this is a loaded decision, although you may not realize it at first glance.
Cross-platform authorization, the act of authorizing your game to be sold across different platforms, is something that can have a direct impact on elements such as sales, marketing, and even community. Depending on where you choose to sell your games, you can either have a ton of exposure or very little. Different stores cater to different types of players as well, which can, in turn, affect sales and meaningful connections with your audience.
So what is there to do? For developers on this step, the decision can seem a little overwhelming. It’s easy to look around and not know where to begin. The good news is that the right choices are generally always made once a little research is done.
What Does Cross-Platform Authorization Entail?
Cross-platform authorization involves allowing your game to be sold on different platforms. It can be brick and mortar retail stores or digital marketplaces like the PlayStation Store or the go-to, Steam.
Each platform has their regulations, and as a developer selling on a third-party, you’re required to adhere to their requirements. For instance, Steam Direct, the replacement for Greenlight, requires developers to fill out digital paperwork confirming the game’s name, the studio behind it, address, etc.. It also requires a $100 recoupable app fee for each application to release on Steam. Steamworks returns that money after your game has at least $1,000 in Steam store or in-app purchases. Finally, the game needs to be reviewed for a day or two to ensure that “games are configured correctly and aren’t going to do unexpected things to customers’ computers.“
On the other hand, to get on the PlayStation store, you must submit an online application, register your company, and submit your agreement to become a PlayStation Partner. Once you do that, you can start Game Development on PlayStation. Some things required to have on hand are a proof of Corporate Entity, an Employer Tax ID Number, and a Static IP to access Developer Support Systems.
Of course, another platform to sell on involves your own official website. There are no requirements on here other than having an eCommerce-integrated website that allows you to sell digital goods. Oftentimes, you can choose to sell game keys, such as Steam keys, for your game, but you can also sell the game directly, along with DLC and bundles, assuming you’re partnered up with a proper payment processor.
Of course, there are some drawbacks outside of following third-party regulations when cross-platform selling. Some games cannot be sold in certain console stores because of licensing agreements between the developers and the maker of the video game console that state that the game will only be made for one particular console. For instance, if a developer creates a new game and wants to release it on the latest Nintendo and Sony game consoles, it might not be possible. If the developer licenses the game with Sony first, they may be required to only release the game on Sony’s console for a short time (timed-exclusive), or indefinitely—thus prohibiting the game from cross-platform at least for a certain period of time.
Now, you have more control than you might think. As a designer you can release the game on several platforms at one time, or you can spread the releases out. Making it a timed-exclusive isn’t inherently a terrible thing. If anything, it can allow you to focus on community engagement with one platform first before diving in with the rest. It can also help with marketing, as a successful game on one platform will generate a lot of interest and envy from players on other platforms. Building up that tension has a direct impact on sales.
Why Should It Be Considered?
Now that we have a more general understanding of cross platform authorization, let’s dive into some of the benefits.
First and foremost, developers benefit from creating games for multiple platforms because it’s a large return for a small investment. Adding a PS3 SKU to a 360 game, for instance, adds little to the cost (as little as 10%) and yet increases sales significantly, sometimes as much as 30%.
This can be attributed to many factors including an expanded outreach that connects with more players, the prestige of selling a game on several popular platforms, as well as ease of access—players like being able to pick up a game they want anywhere they want.
More so, people that might not otherwise have gotten your game might do so if it’s cross-platform. As an example, a player that might not own an Xbox console might purchase your game if it’s also available on PlayStation or PC. The more people who can get your product, the more potential money there is on the table.
Selling your game on multiple platforms also allows you to experiment with the unique advantages of each platform. For instance, if you decide to sell on Steam, there are extra features there to play around with that other platforms don’t have, such as Steam trading cards. These virtual cards are earned by playing games on Steam. A set can be turned into badges and tradable Steam community items.
In the case of badges, they are tied to player accounts and then displayed on their profiles. Crafting some of these badges can give players emoticons, coupons or even profile backgrounds. On the other hand, selling certain cards on Steam can generate sales for the player, allowing them to earn money in exchange for the cards. The money can then be used to purchase new games, DLC, or bundles.
Using the unique tools that each platform gives you can reflect very well on you with your audience, all across every platform you decide to sell your game on.
Finally, having control over where to sell your games comes with an added perk: a user base. A user base is when there’s a number of people using a particular product or service. So when you have your own authorization system, you’re establishing a user base for yourself. You decide which services your user base is on.
This comes as an advantage, since controlling everything allows you to know exactly where your customers are, exactly what they’re purchasing, and exactly how to market to them. This is invaluable information. It helps with metrics, and in turn it allows you to see what your most popular platform is, so you can highlight the weakest platform sales and implement some successful tactics to turn things around.
It also helps you figure out what games are selling well, what games are selling poorly, and what marketing tactics are working versus those that need revisiting. Having all of this information can help you when creating another game, developing another marketing plan, and deciding where to sell your next game.
What Are Some Disadvantages?
While selling games across multiple platforms may be a smart way to reach more players and generate more sales, it doesn’t come without its complications.
Things such as hardware constraints are important factors. Both mobile and consoles are set systems, meaning that the hardware is the same for every device of that particular model. Clearly, that’s not the case with other platforms, especially PC, which players can build to their own unique specifications. So something that a high end PC can run would have to be watered down, so to speak, in order for a console or mobile device to run it.
Logically, this means the more platforms you sell your game on, the more time and money it will take. In other words, although sales will be higher, so will the cost of investment. To make the process easier, developers often retain a baseline version of the game, aimed for the weakest platform available. They can use this to build on whenever reconfiguring to sell on another platform.
Of course, when building on a baseline version, there are still considerations, control schemes being the most prominent. Developers often have to completely redo the UI and controls for the game across platforms. Any configuration that works with a keyboard and mouse won’t work for something playing on an iPad’s touch screen. Depending on the game, some configurations just might not work, and so a gamepad is required.
Finally, when launching cross-platform, keep in mind that players come in all shapes and sizes, each with their own preferences. To make it simpler, the industry caters to three niches: PC, mobile, and console gamers. And what works for one group might not work for another. One such example is monetization. Mobile gamers are used to it, and even enjoy it, but standard PC and console gamers would immediately take to forums to complain.
One such game that does this is Angry Birds Evolution. The game has an optional $24.99 monthly subscription that grants subscribers one premium egg ticket per day and 10% more gold and gems when purchasing in the shop. The shop sells coins and gems which can then be used to purchase more inventory slots, which are needed to collect more rare birds. While players can get everything they need for free, both the shop and the subscription offer everything at a faster pace.
This type of monetization would not work for either PC or console. Monthly subscriptions tend to be MMO territory, such as World of Warcraft’s $15 subscription. And when it comes to obtaining whatever is needed to progress in a game, both console and PC players are used to earning that through gameplay. DLC and expansions often feature bonus gear or guns, but that’s about it. PC gaming is different: while earning everything in the game is standard, some games offer select small items in the shop. For instance, World of Warcraft sells a small selection of mounts, pets, and helms on their shop, which players can access both within the game, and online. None of these items help a player progress, as they are predominantly cosmetic in nature, with the exception of the mounts, which players can get early on in the game.
Setting an Example
One such game studio that uses a cross-platform authentication system is Ubisoft. The developers behind both the Far Cry and Assassin’s Creed series, sell their games on Steam, PlayStation, their own Uplay shop, the Xbox store, Amazon US, Gamersgate, GOG, Green Man Gaming, Humble Bundle, Origin, Nuuvem, and the MacGame Store. This isn’t even including brick and mortar stores.
Their games are easily obtainable in most places, which means a lot of time and money goes into configuration and maintenance to ensure all games are playable, regardless of the device. Furthermore, they keep track of who is playing their games, providing annual earnings and sales information online. Notice, these reports go into detail by game. Tom Clancy’s community has increased by about 150% in the last 18 months.
As a result of all their effort, their return on investment is huge. The full-year sales for 2016-2017 are €1,459.9 million, or $1,629,613,375, which is up 4.7% compared to the previous year. Non-IFRS operating income is around $301,387,500 million.
Of course, none of this could be possible without a little help from other studios and marketing companies. They have partnered up with Tencent and Playcrab to make Might And Magic Heroes available in China, acquired the mobile game Growtopia, as well as the mobile publisher Ketchapp, and worked with the video game services provider Xsolla, for a long time. The company processes payments for Ubisoft, making it possible for players to efficiently and safely purchase games.
What’s interesting about Xsolla is that they have the widely used Xsolla Login, which aims to connect players via their social network to any game. With one account, they can instantly pick-up and play a game, connect with friends, and save their payment information for future one-click purchases. Xsolla clients, or partners such as Ubisoft, that are using the latest PayStation API are able to distribute their games to all gaming platforms without having to deal with additional integration or fees. So while developers still need to work on things like control configuration, they don’t need to put in effort into meeting every platform’s demands. It’s a handy shortcut.
More Effort for More Sales
If developers have learned anything from the creative masterminds at Ubisoft, it’s that players love a variety of games, on as many platforms as possible. Their sales are high, the amount of changes and surprises they showcase year after year is astonishing, and their games are easily obtainable just about anywhere.
Obviously, for smaller developers, this might seem like a bit of a reach, but it doesn’t have to be. Simply selling on a variety of digital platforms is enough, with digital games on the rise. Places like both Sony and Microsoft console marketplaces, Steam, and Humble Bundle have become some of the most widely known options available today.
There is plenty to be gained from implementing a cross-platform authentication model. Not only is there a chance for higher sales due to more exposure and ease of convenience, but also there’s room for experimentation. Some platforms offer perks that others do not. The Steam Trading Cards are only available on Steam, while Xbox Live offers avatars that can wear game related gear. PlayStation offers game themes and profile pictures, also called avatars.
Just be prepared for a lot of work. Selling across multiple platforms means you need to take things like hardware constraints and control configurations into consideration. You also need to adhere to each platform’s audience, and make decisions that align with them, rather than alienate.
The good news is you don’t need to tackle this journey alone. Partnering up with different studios to work on international projects, or sell games on their prefered platforms is invaluable. Companies like Xsolla are there to make integration a one-time thing, minus more fees. Help is out there, you just need to start planning your new sales model.
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