In December, Louis CK (my favorite comedian right now, if you have never watched the TV show Louie, do it!), announced that he was going to break all rules for selling videos online and do his own thing.
Against the better judgment of his friends and colleagues, he decided to produce his own video, sell it on his own web site at a fair price point of $5, and make it DRM-free (so once you buy it you own it).
The result? Over $1 million in sales in just two weeks.
What does this little digital distribution experiment mean for games? In my opinion, a whole lot!
Every independent game developer should be looking at what Louis CK did right and try to replicate it for the games world. Here’s my list of what Louis CK did right:
- Pricing and offer: Louis CK’s video was the perfect size and price — one hour long and $5. It was not so long that he had to spend too much to produce the video and the price of $5 was enough to cover the transaction fee but not too much for his fans to feel like it was a hard decision to pay for the item. Game developers can get away with producing a game that produces five hours or less of gameplay if they price it at $5 or below (essentially, this is the model for for-pay games on smart phones).
- Payment options: Louis CK made it extremely easy to purchase his video. Instead of providing multiple payment options, he kept it simple, at first offering only a Paypal option and now Amazon. Everyone thinks you have to offer users as many ways as possible to buy a game or digital item, but sometimes, one simple way is best.
- Go DRM-free: This was the most risky decision but also the smartest one. On his web page, Louis CK says that against the judgement of everyone, he decided to offer the video DRM-free to make it as easy as possible for anyone who bought the video to be able to watch it whenever and wherever they want. The flipside is that people could then share it for free on Bit Torrent. But he appealed for his fans not to, explaining that he was going the “non-corporate” route by offering a better product to his fans, and asking his customers not to break his trust. Surely, many copies are being downloaded for free on Bit Torrent (just like any game with DRM is being offered for free, since anyone can break a DRM lock). But the fact that over a million dollars in videos were sold in two weeks shows that enough people did the right thing.
- Be charitable: Louis CK decided to give a portion (a large one actually) of the proceeds to four different charities. This is not a “make-or-break” factor to the success of the video, but it is another nice way to encourage users not to steal the video (you are not just stealing the content but also taking away money that can go to charity).
- Build a big fan base: A big reason Louis CK was successful was because of his rabid fan base. Game companies need to make sure they foster strong relationships with their users, turning customers into rabid fans who will do the viral marketing for you.
And there’s the rub for game developers.With so many games being released by so many game companies today on so many platforms, it’s hard to initially stand out in the crowd and get that rabid fan base.
A no-name comedian would never have sold a million dollars in videos in two weeks, in the same way that a game developer you may never have heard of would have issues doing so.
And perhaps that is the biggest lesson for game developers for the Louis CK experiment. Game developers should do everything they can to sell their games directly to their customers. They should price their games fairly and cheaply, go DRM-free, and build a fan base for future products.
But they shouldn’t give up on the current distribution channels that exist today.
Until we have a true DIY distribution model for games, game developers should be encouraged to sell their games both on their web site and through the big digital distribution channels that exist on multiple platforms and devices out there today.