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Who is a bad customer?

January 17th, 2011

Cross-posted from David’s blog, Game Tycoon.

For a long while now, the video game industry has had a very simplistic definition of a “good customer” and a “bad customer.” A good customer is someone who pays you $60 for your game (and better yet, pre-orders it.) A bad customer is someone who buys a used copy of your game or worse, pirates it. The problem is, this worldview ignores a variety of important factors and doesn’t translate very well to the digital markets that most indies are focused on.

Tell me which of these people is the best customer:

  • Customer A: pays 99 cents for a copy of your game immediately after launch, gives it a 1-star rating for some trivial reason and deletes it forever.
  • Customer B: pays 99 cents for a copy of your game, gives it a 5-star rating and even tweets regularly about it, but is such a toxic presence in the forums and/or in-game that she drives other customers away.
  • Customer C: pays 99 cents for a copy of your game and enjoys it, but never rates it and does nothing to promote it.
  • Customer D: pirates your game and regularly tweets about how awesome it is to her hundreds of followers. She also eagerly and politely answers the questions of newbies who visit your forums and happily beta tests your new games.

Customer C might have seemed more attractive at a $60 price point, but at 99 cents she isn’t generating much profit for a game’s developer. When reaching the top of the charts means everything (as it tends to in digital markets) I’d rather have help reaching critical mass than have another 99 cents in my pocket. Sorry, 70 cents after the platform’s cut. (Five more of those sales and I’ve got myself a latte!)

But there’s a bigger question: why are you even trying to sell your game in the first place? When piracy rates are sky-high and even big companies like Ngmoco have turned to F2P as their saving grace, why bet on being the next Angry Birds when the odds are way more likely that you’ll be the next corpse on the pile of well-intentioned indie devs?

The F2P world does a brilliant job of forcing developers to focus on the true definition of “good customer.” You stop worrying about landing that 99 cent sale up front and start worrying about what matters:

  • Is this person going to eventually convert into a paying customer? If not,
  • Is this person going to effectively evangelize my game to other people? (i.e. are they essentially free advertising.) If not,
  • Is this person going to be a positive presence inside and/or outside the game, helping to keep it alive and healthy if not grow?

Only someone who fails all three of those tests might be a bad customer.

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