CoG business model


#1

At the wise suggestion of @CJW and @Farside, here’s a thread to continue the discussion on whether and how CoG should charge for games – with a less inflammatory title and (hopefully) content.


Video games without people of color are not 'neutral'
Could you please get some more free games?
Price Increases
#2

First, I do love how encouraging of discussion CoG has been. They haven’t taken the mode of some other company’s (looking at you Bioware) and tried to shut down dissident opinions or criticism. This, in combination with CoG’s graciousness to their own writers, is something that’ll keep me coming back.

However, I’m not sure releasing games monthly is something sustainable. Although it is important to keep giving content to the fan base, I also suspect (but don’t know) that perhaps this is why the quality has gone down a bit.

Here’s an idea (it’s probably awful): How about full games are not released monthly? This gives the author time to make them longer and better. Since the games are going to be better, up the price on them by a dollar.

What WILL be released monthly could be updates to the current games that add extra scenes and things for player to enjoy while the full games are being developed. Think of it like DLC. This will also justify the more expensive price on the full games.

There are similar companies, mainly those who release otome games for mobile devices like Voltage. They’re selling similar products (with less choices) for more money than CoG. Here’s how they do it: they release the prologue for free, and then you pay 3.99 dollars for each characters route. Periodically epilogues and side adventures for each character will be added, and this costs extra money as well. I think CoG would benefit greatly from looking at some of the models these companies have established. The ones I can think of off the top of my head, besides Voltage, are Solmare and Koyonplete.

Not paying for the games isn’t really an option, I think.


#3

quite like the idea that @CJW suggested about ‘donate’ version as I was already considering something similar for “Unnatural” where there are two versions of the game a free online version (episodes 0-5 and new game plus extras) and then a paid version (episodes 0-5, a “TV special episode 6” and a new game plus extras)

Now the story can be finished by the end of episode 5, episode 6 will just be a bonus preview of the second season.


#4

@Farside, you make some great points in the other thread. $2.99 is a bigger barrier than I made it sound. I’d say it’s still a good deal in the context of any Western consumer economy, when you look at prices for other consumable stuff… but absolutely, lots of people can’t afford to spend money on games, especially if CoG puts out a new one every month.

And I agree that people who do buy the games have got to feel like it’s worth their time, and don’t want to settle for something that’s not worth what they paid. I guess what I was suggesting is that, to this reader, several of the games we’re talking about are better than “good enough.” Heroes Rise and Star Captain (and from what I’ve seen of the demo, Eerie Estate Agent) are all quality pieces of writing. YMMV, of course.

They aren’t as long and expansive as Vampire, Vendetta, or ZE. They’re either more linear (like Heroes) or shorter (Star Captain). But the sorts of massive labors of love we’ve seen from JimD, Vendetta, and Jason aren’t going to come along all the time, because people can’t make a living from them. I wonder whether – because we’re used to reading their stuff for free – we’re too disposed to gripe when other authors give us shorter but still good work.

Also, reading what you just posted, I don’t think the writing has been rushed to make a monthly release deadline… believe it or not, most of these games have been in the works for many months. You make a lot of good suggestions, though, and I hope the CoG partners consider them seriously.

Edit: Should have included @Nocturnal_Stillness and “Unnatural” in the massive labors of love category. :slight_smile: Sorry, mate.


#5

The big question is (and I can understand if CoG don’t want to go into detail on this) whether the official games are currently breaking even or better. If so, then simply getting more writers and having a longer turn-around rate would work. If that’s still a long-term goal, things are a lot more complicated.

There might be some potential in merchandise (T-shirts, mugs) via somewhere like Zazzle. I have no idea how much demand there would be for that kind of thing though. There’s also the issue of whether they’d need to get an artist in, which would obviously add to costs.


#6

@Havenstone is correct, the games might be released monthly, but they’ve all taken quite some time to write. They currently just have a rather large backlog and so think it’s best to release them with a small practical gap in between each one.

However I think releasing so many games might have a negative effect, the original COGs - in my opinion - were far better than the more recent ones in terms of gameplay. The new ones make great stories but I feel the ‘design’ is a little lacking. Probably due to them being by outside authors who don’t have the COG team’s previous experience.

When COZ came out, I HAD to buy it, because it was a COG game, there was no other reason.

Since Star Captain/Eerie Estate Agent/Cloud City/Heroes Etc - I’ve felt less and less inclined to buy the games ‘off the bat’, because I know they’re not like what I had to come expect of COG beforehand.

Quality > Quantity

Is what I’m trying to say.

I’d MUCH sooner pay $5 for a well written CoV, Dragon, Romance, Zombie or Broadsides 2 than I would $1.99 for something similar to recent releases.

@Duck They have an artist and Choice of Zombies T-Shirts.

I really don’t want to sound like I’m trashing outside authors, I think their work is GREAT, it’s just not what I’ve come to expect from COG. They’re different, they’re not bad, they’re just not what I’m looking for.


#7

@Havenstone

I do agree with you, and I didn’t mean to imply every game is subpar. I tried not to gripe about Star Captain or Eerie Estate Agent being short because I actually felt like they were good and delivered on their promise. I felt like Eerie Estate Agent WASN’T trying to be a huge epic, and that’s fine. Heroes Rise was fun. It had issues, but it was fun.

Of course, every once in a while there does need to be a massive labor of love like Vampire, Vendetta and ZE. I don’t demand it for every game, but it is nice to see it every once in a while. A massive labor of love has intangible benefits to the company. It makes the fan base passionate and loyal enough to stick through a few okay games. How many people are still loyal to this site because of, say, CoB? That sort of passion in the fan base is crucial, and I do feel like CoG is losing that passion from their re consumers. Just look at the feedback the newest games received. It’s mostly meh, and there’s only one thread open for a lot of the newer games without much mention beyond that. Compare that to the response to Broadsides. Now, a lot of these games are perfectly good, but they’re missing that extra something that inflames passion.


#8

Don’t structure this business model around the hoi polloi. Don’t set deadlines for games, don’t try to release games en masse, have the authors write only what they are interested in, get multiple perspectives on the development of each game, and charge what is felt to be appropriate. CoG is not a company which should be watered down until it may be served up to the mainstream riff-raff; it has a loyal fan-base for a reason. Cultivate said fan base, for they possess the virtues of patience, and do so by refusing to lower standards. Countering infrequency by publishing unremarkable games will not bring in much new clientele, but it may dissuade the old ones, which will, overall, decrease revenue.


#9

@Drazen, good to know that whatever the topic, we can always turn to you for an uncompromisingly aristocratic perspective – and vocabulary. :slight_smile:

On this one, I agree with you. Though charging “what is felt to be appropriate” will doubtless involve assessing what the hoi polloi can afford…


#10

@Farside

‘There are similar companies, mainly those who release otome games for mobile devices like Voltage.’

-Eep, how dare thee! As a visual novel nut, I cannot advocate support for that. Otome games admittedly are a niche market that unfortunately the west is chipping into; Winter Wolves is one and they charge a solid £15 for their outings. Now I’m not advocating that COG get a good novel going and charge it for £15 because that is way too much money and I can say that with some confidence as winter wolves are unlucky (or perhaps it’s their own fault) enough to have all of their games on the pirate market, especially in the Malaysia demographic for some reason.

Regardless, I hope there is no ‘dlc’ of character routes… That is one area that I think is going to be extra controversial because a VN or a CYOA doesn’t really lend itself to having its chapters be chopped for extra payment at all.

@Havenstone

-Perhaps CoG needs to back the labour of love games and feature them on the main page instead of the current ‘official’ works, but then again as you say YMMV, I didn’t like Star Captain - different cultures I suppose as I didn’t find the humour amusing at all and it wasn’t a really stand out game. Heroes Rise was ok but as someone mentioned in the other topic; false choices didn’t do it any favours.

My personal view of the demos I’ve seen so far is that none of them really stand out. With the free offerings its easier to make a value judgement as we’re seeing the game develop; the drawback there is that in the end when the game is finished and people are charged for it, that might cause some aggro because people will point out they’ve been playing and testing the game for free all the way through.

I don’t know to be honest, I don’t see it as a situation that will be easily resolved, but suffice to say, I re-state my older posts in the other topic; the quality of the games offered as pay options need to be of a superior standard in some form or criteria in order to fend off criticism for charging for them.

@Drazen

Going to agree with your point of keeping the current fans happy, but I can’t see that position being maintained after a certain point in the business world.


#11

@RVallant

Oh, of course. I didn’t mean that CoG should take the exact model that these games have. Some of them I think are really unfair and expensive. However, I simply think they can look at what is being done in other similar media forms and adapt them to their needs. As much as I detest what Voltage sometimes does, they ARE making money.


#12

@RVallant I can’t see CoG becoming a viable mainstream entity such that it would be required to release a steady supply of games, and consequently @Havenstone I can’t see the prices of games ever being mostly dependent upon the masses. CoG has such a unique approach to gaming that, I think, it will inevitably always exist on the side-lines. The audience it attracts will, by extension, be more devoted to the idea, and will be willing to pay whatever for a game insofar as they are confident the game will be of a decent quality and that the author is not overcharging for their efforts.


#13

Free Demos and pay by chapter? That way if the story starts to become boring to the player she/he can simply stop buying rather than griping about already buying the whole game. Of course stories with longer or more chapters might be a problem.

There’s Cause of Death, by Electronic Arts, on the app story. I think they allow new chapters (they call them episodes) to be free for a week and then you have to pay for it. There’s also Gamebook Adventures, by Tin Man Games, but I’m not sure how they price their games.


#14

Cause of death and surviving highschool by EA have the first set of chapters free which is called a ‘volume’(the first volume is free), then subsequent chapters are free for a week, ie one week after cause of death was released, volume two chapter one came out, available for a week, then chapter two comes out the next week, but it replaces chapter one, and so forth

But I don’t think it can work for cog, because EA has a team of people dedicated to cod and shs


#15

Today, COG had our second ever face-to-face company meeting, and we signed papers to incorporate as an LLC. In the spirit of introspection, then, I want to talk about some broad issues in this post. NB: This is all my opinion, and not the official stance of Choice of Games.

The four issues I want to address are our pricing (and payment) models, our philosophy as a company, our audience(s), and our plans for the future.

Let me begin by thanking @Duck for his independent analysis of our payment terms. What I’m not sure about his comments is if he realizes that they apply to non-RPG publishing as well. Thus, while our sales volume may be small, we pay better than almost any other publishing house out there, especially for an author on the first rungs of the professional ladder. Personally, I find it almost embarrassing that established publishing houses treat their talent so poorly, but that is the way of the world. Also, @Duck, to answer your question, the 25% is of our gross on the title; we absorb all peripheral costs.

Allow me to point out that Dragon is only 23k words, whereas Broadsides is about 44k. Those were our benchmarks for length, and based on their success, we concluded that a 50k+ word game, professionally copyedited and with professional artwork, is worth $2. Compared to a novel of similar length, that’s a steal.

Similarly, when you start to get into the neighborhood of 100k words, we think that’s worth $3. Vampire was 163k at first release, and was raised to $3 about two months after release. Heroes Rise was 110k. Star Captain is about 130k.

Note that this does not take into account structure. Heroes Rise is a very long 110k words because it is very linear, whereas Vampire is much wider.

Philosophically, we have several major objectives as a company. The first, and nigh-explicit one, is to promote equality of gender and sexual-orientation in video games. We feel that we can meaningfully contribute to the improvement of our culture through giving players equal opportunity to tell their own stories in our games. Secondly, we want to lower the bar for entry for the writing and game-design professions. Right now, if you want to be a writer or game designer, you move to Los Angeles, New York, or San Francisco, and beg, borrow or steal to support yourself while fighting to get a very few number of positions that in turn have a very high churn rate (meaning, people who give up and pursue other careers).

By offering the Hosted Games program, free development tools, and a community of devoted testers, we hope that we can help both hobbyists and the aspiring writers and game-designers of the future break into that world. If that’s because you’re producing three or four games for us a year, awesome. If that’s because you use a publication with us to get your book read by an agent or your spec script sold or to get hired by EA, good on you. The point is, you can get started on this from Kansas or Ontario or Manila. You can do it in your spare time, lowering both your risk and opportunity costs.

The next topic I want to address is the one about audience. When new authors start talking to us about what kind of game they should pitch us, they ask us what our target demographic is. My response is that we don’t have one. By which I mean, if you can write good *choices, I don’t care what the actual content of your idea is.

I suspect that some of the negative feelings of late have come from people who felt disappointed by Eerie Estate Agent and To the City of the Clouds. To put it bluntly, those games weren’t written for you.

If you haven’t gone to grad school, I’m not sure that you would get a lot of the humor in To the City of the Clouds. I also remember reading a complaint about Eerie Estate Agent that was basically, “I don’t want to be a jerk real estate agent”. If you can’t pretend for an hour and a half that being a jerk real estate agent for a haunted house is humorous, then Eerie Estate Agent wouldn’t be for you. Further, if you didn’t enjoy the interactions with Lloyd, you probably didn’t enjoy Star Captain.

Conversely, we’ve had conversations about producing games for a younger audience, even in the 3-5 year old range.

If we find artistic merit in a work, we will continue to publish games that our original fans don’t understand or even just don’t like. And that’s ok for several reasons. The first is that we will continue to publish games that *are* for you. Secondly, Hosted Games will continue to produce games more in line with what most of the forum members are looking for. Thirdly, we want to expand our readership to demographics that are currently untouched by Interactive Fiction.

Consider Jim’s dealings with the Xyzzy awards: COG has helped to expand the audience for IF by orders of magnitude. But we think we can make even deeper inroads into the market. However, to do that, we need a lot of games, and, in particular, a lot of very different games.

As a side note, something that I find to be interesting is that while Heroes Rise and To the City of the Clouds were both written by professional authors, they responded to the question of interactive game design in very different ways. Zachary stuck with what he knew, and wrote a relatively tree-like game; Catherine, on the other hand, wrote a very bush-y game. As much as I like Heroes Rise, I probably prefer To the City of the Clouds because it is more dynamic and has greater replayability. Again, your mileage may vary.

Which leads me to discuss the future. Personally, I hope to be able to afford to work full-time on COG sometime next year. That will let me produce sequels to Vampire faster, and better supervise our outside authors. In the meantime, however, my day job – which allows me to support my parents – takes priority. The situation is similar with Dan: he has a wife and toddler to support, and his day job must continue to be his priority.

Make no mistake: our company was born out of the Great Recession. We want to make a living and support our families. Moreover, we want to give other people the opportunity to do the same. Along those lines, we stipulate that if you can get to the point that you can write three COG games a year, by the second year on the royalty plan, you would be making $45k+/year. And that’s a career.

We do strive to be as sensitive to our audience as possible. For example, one of our core constituencies is the visually-impaired. You may not realize, and neither did we when we started, but text adventures are some of the only games that blind people can play. Right now, with the upgrade to iOS6, something in the text-to-speech isn’t working, and crashes our games. We’re going to invest a lot of resources (ie Dan’s time) into figuring this out in the near-term future. Is there going to be a clear return-on-investment on this time spent? Very unlikely. But it’s important to us to keep those fans engaged.

We intend to keep publishing a game a month next year, maybe even two a month for the fourth quarter. We have our first licensing deal with the Tekumel foundation almost finalized (allowing Danielle to continue with Petal Throne). We’d like to start recruiting authors higher on the established publishing rungs to write games for us. Moreover, I eventually want to start a non-profit arm of COG that gets college students and other young adults to go into middle- and high-schools to teach kids ChoiceScript / elements of programming and game design. In the 21st century, critical thinking and the fundamentals of programming will be at the core of education, and I think we can add something meaningful to that dialogue.

In other words, we have a lot of big dreams involving using technology and storytelling to improve both our lives and yours.

I hope this goes some way to explaining why we do what we do.


How Acceptable is it to Force the Player to Play Under a Pre-determined Gender?
Catering for the blind readers
Price Increases
Hello There / Is This Possible?
What do you appreciate the most about CoG forums?
#16

@jasonstevanhill

That was an AMAZING response, thank you for taking the time to write it, really!
I’m particularly excited to see you’ve thought about how COG might be a great way to introduce young kids to game design and programming.

I think one of the problems with modding has always been the necessity to gather a variety of talent with different skills (coding, modelling, drawing, designing). With a CoG game, you can almost definitely always write it entirely by yourself.

I’m actually currently studying IT at College and have been asking my tutors about the possibility of assembling a beginners programming club. I’m curious - - Would teaching of the various elements of game production with choicescript (by people like myself) be something you’d be happy to see or support, or something you’d need to discuss and better control?


#17

@jasonstevanhill Thank you for taking the time to post that as it clarifies a number of important issues. And congratulations on achieving incorporation! In my view that significant step --taken neither too early nor too late – demonstrates considerable planning, commitment and resolve, and is one I find extremely reassuring.


#18

cog market at this time aren’t much enough i think cog could expand more on asia 1 problem is ‘‘languange’’ i had offered 10 of my friends to play cog games most say they want to buy it but because they’re not quite fluent in english they doesn’t want to buy it because their heads sick from translating what im offering is how about translating cog games we have forum members spread across the world we could ask their help i don’t know it’s just my opinion please don’t be rude :wink:


#19

Sorry what is a llc? In the uk we have private limited company’s and public companys


#20

Google and Wikipedia are your friends: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Limited_liability_company