Why do Linux games cost what they cost?

The cost of games on Linux has been an ongoing contentious issue, and one that I have responded individually on many occasions.

A lot of people have made the complaint ‘but I can get this game for half the price on Windows’.

Sure, you often can. But that isn’t the point. The point is, Linux isn’t Windows. We try and release our games at a price that is comparable to, if not a little lower then, a new release game on other platforms. For example, our newest three games have been priced with X3 at £30, Jets’n'Guns at £15, and Sacred Gold at £27. Compare this to 3 new releases for Windows, Sims 3 at £40, Spore’s expansion at £20, and Street Fighter IV and £30. The prices are comparable.

We agree that most games we produce have already been out on Windows for a while, but thats the big point. Why does a Linux user care about what is available on another platform? It is a new game to THIS platform. A couple of years ago, I saw a copy of Doom 1 for the PS2 for £50 when the engine was already open sourced and you could buy the windows version for about a pound. Thats what happens on other platforms.

So, thats one reason.

The other is, the price reflects what it costs us to make it.

We have to pay developers who often have to spend months rewriting large portions of a game. Porting isn’t a 5 minute job, stick it in a Makefile and gcc will take care of the differences. Not even close. Developers take months making the games run on Linux, and we have to ensure we can pay them properly for their work.

Another question we are often asked is ‘I bought this game for Windows, can I just download a copy for Linux because I’ve already paid for it’.

The answer is no. It will always be no. We get no share of revenue from the sale of the Windows version. I understand why people are reluctant to pay for it twice, but look at it from our point of view. We spend months making a game, and then people expect us to give it away for free because they gave money to another company. Thats like going into McDonalds, buying a coke, drinking it, then going into BK and asking for a refill! The product is the same, the company is different.

When it comes down to it, we know we cannot compete with Windows games on price for the game. We take a finished Windows product and make it run on Linux. This means by the nature of our business we will release after the game is available on Windows, and the shelf-life of a Windows game is so short that it is highly unlikely we will release the game while it is still on the full price new releases shelf. And so it comes down to this:

We release games for the Linux OS. If you are going to dual boot, or have a second Windows machine for gaming, then you will be able to get it cheaper. Just like if you own a PS3, a game for Windows will be £10 cheaper when it comes out. Or if you own a mac, the games will be at the same price level as Linux games, sometimes earlier, sometimes later.

If you want more games for your OS, then you need to buy the ones that are available. If you just want cheaper, then buy for Windows, but don’t complain when there arent enough games for Linux.

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28 Responses to “Why do Linux games cost what they cost?”

  1. Borsook says:

    “Why does a Linux user care about what is available on another platform?” Of course as a linux gamer I do care about other platforms, esp since very often the said games can be run quite easily on linux using Wine, so why pay for them again? And let’s not kid ourselves – the price has little to do with the costs of porting, rather with the number of copies you can sell. Here are two points to consider – first maybe you’d actually make more money selling the games for less, as it may increase the number of copies sold. Secondly, and this is a more important point – you will never achieve a high enough level of sales as long as you sell games that most of the players interested already purchased on Windows. This does not necessarily mean that the Linux port should be available on day one, but an info that the game will be ported should be.

    • Charging less to get more sales, is most likely something that will bring in less revenue not more. The cost of a game is actually not THAT high. Consider that a large majority of Linux desktop users are highly paid IT professionals. Not all, but a very high percentage. 30 pounds, 20 pounds, 10 pounds, its not an issue. Even at the top renge it is no more than an hour or two’s pay for a lot of the target audience. The issue is whether they want the game.

      The fact is, that it doesn’t matter when we announce, when we release, we face the same problem. And when we announce games as soon as we get the license we then have an equal number of people complaining because it takes so long to get the port done, so, we don’t announce then.

      Our target market is for people that use just Linux. We cannot compete anywhere else and we would run ourselves into the ground and into bankruptcy trying to. We are happy for any sales, but we know fullwell that dual booters will have already bought the game if it interests them. We just have to live with that.

      • RK says:

        Me? Ignore a post about pricing? With my reputation?

        “Charging less to get more sales, is most likely something that will bring in less revenue not more.”

        Do you have numbers to support this, or is it just your gut speaking?
        My gut suggests to me that the opposite will be true. For example, your recent discussions on piracy indicate clearly that the potential market for your releases is far larger than that which you’re currently serving commercially.

        When I made the decision to completely stop using Windows, I knew that there were some things – some games – that I would most likely have to give up on ever playing. I suspect many gamers in my position – *LGP’s target market* – will have made the same “sacrifice”. Once you’re resigned to such a situation, it becomes very easy to not buy “reasonably priced” games.
        Also I, perhaps like many people, have been trained by the Windows gaming scene that if I put off the purchase of an expensive game for a while, I’ll be able to get the game for a lot less. And once I’ve put it off for a while, I’m less inclined to buy the game at all – I’ll usually have been distracted by something else in the mean time!

        It is also possible that the market you’re targetting may in fact have *less* to spend on games than others. Certainly, they’re likely to have a greater total disposable income than average, but how much of that will be spent on games? There are a plethora of expensive products and hobbies that a well-paid tech-savvy person can indulge in.
        Besides which, people in almost any career, and at every level of income, are many and varied. Just because someone has a relatively high income, doesn’t mean they like to spray money out of a firehose. Perhaps you should live in Yorkshire for a while, hmm? ;)

        For me (full disclosure: Yorkshireman), the psychological breakpoints are £5, £10, £20. Certainly, for any title more than £25, I have to *really* want the game *right then*.
        Since I became a “highly-paid IT professional”, I think I’ve only once spent more than ~£25 on purchasing a game (X3, as it happens >_>).
        You may think this irrational, and you may be right. But I remind you that we are (probably) all human, as are your customers, and humans are highly irrational beings. Determining “acceptable” pricing is far more about psychology than it is about percentage of earnings, or cost per hour.

      • Liam Dawe says:

        It will only work if all of the resellers change their prices since you guys don’t actually sell the games though right?

  2. Katana Steel says:

    I can only agree with Michael on this, to a true gamer, regardless to platform, the price on the game (s)he wants doesn’t matter much but availability on his/her platform does.

    True, WINE can sometimes enable you to run the game you’ve bought for windows on your Linux PC, just because you’ve migrated from one PC platform to another doesn’t mean you throw all the software away that you’ve paid your hard earned cash for, however it doesn’t come through for you every time and is kind of comparable to Emulating ones childhoods favorite platform, to play the games one grew up with, on the modern PC of today.

    However this will always just be an emulation, meaning it will most likely be slower or in some other way some of the “feel” of the original will be lost, rather than a native port.

    I, like many Linux users I believe, migrated from Windows and at point when I did, and became an all out Linux user, accepted that there will be things that will be different, I might not be able to use all of my Software anymore but in my case all my gains out weights those losses.

    I for one understand who the target audience is, namely the Linux users, and I can see the prices on the new Linux games are indeed slightly lower than new games on other platforms, granted the new games aren’t like “the Sims #” (whatever revision they are up at), or Spore (thank the maker for that, but that’s for another rant), and the titles becoming available for Linux, because it’s a secondary concern from the game makers point of view if a concern at all, will be some years behind that of other platforms.

    It will be that way until the mentality change and people (gamers) starts to demand, en mas, New Games for Linux. But it’s a big challenge because the Big companies in the industry will then need to re-educate their developers or go out and get experts for this “new” platform, which to them seems so small that it wouldn’t bring them any noticeable revenue if not a loss.

  3. Borsook says:

    @Michael Simms”Consider that a large majority of Linux desktop users are highly paid IT professionals.”

    Interesting. Do you have any statistics that do prove that or is it just personal opinion? Esp. since we should not be so much talking about Linux users but Linux gamers. Personally out of the 20+ Linux users that I know none fall into this category.

    @Katana Steel “However this will always just be an emulation, meaning it will most likely be slower or in some other way some of the “feel” of the original will be lost, rather than a native port.”

    Using Wine is not really an emulation. Sure you can and often do run into problems, but in cases where it does work flawlessly (and it does that quite often) it is often superior to running the app in Windows (e.g. much better control over window mode), and since you do not run any “emulator” running the app does not differ from the way you run a native app.

    • RKrisher says:

      Dead on! While I’m not an IT person, I am tech savvy. However, I have turned a lot of non-tech people onto a linux platform and have noticed a lot of medium business in the US using custom linux apps to handle some aspect of their business and outsourcing support of it. Even a few “I just need some simple apps for Grandma and me to stay in touch with, but I’m going to college and cant afford a new system for her.”

      Wine is definitely not an emulator. It uses custom dll’s or sometimes the same dll’s that windows uses. It just doesn’t have the same architecture as windows and sometimes apps are looking for custom proprietary things that the windows OS uses. Depends on how much the windows app developer keeps his app self contained or depends on the existing code and structure of windows to run his app.

  4. LaBrug says:

    There are some games that are almost ancient now but which I would pay almost full price (I have no idea what games cost nowadays, 30€ would make me buy) to get native Linux ports for. Deus Ex, Sub Culture, Half-Life, Grand Theft Auto (the first), GTA Vice City.

    But these are either niche even for Linux people or completely unlikely. Except for Deus Ex maybe. But then it is so old that people would raise their eyebrows for anything >10€ I guess.

    The http://www.gog.com/en/wishlist/ looks like a great place to see what games are appreciated by “classic lovers”. But making a game run on modern Windows is nowhere near the trouble of porting. So prices just could not be good.

    Oh if just developers would embrace open things like SDL more, that would make porting so much easier.

  5. Fred says:

    Maybe part of the problem is that people are using the same hardware as they used to for Windows, or are dual booting. Although they are running an alternate OS, it doesn’t really FEEL like a new platform (DS, Xbox, PSP, etc).

  6. Liam Dawe says:

    I agree with Borsook on the dropping price, look at the CEO of steam, they had a weekend where they dropped a price of 1 game and got something like 1000%+ more people buy it, now you can’t tell me it doesn’t work.

    But i also agree that the prices should be a little higher because of dev costs, but not as high as they are currently.

    Also in agreement with LaBrug, i would pay £30 easily for Steam client + Day of Defeat: Source and/or CounterStrike: Source.

    • I tell you what, as a test, we’ll drop a price of one game, I’ll have to look at what and plan it out, for a one week period, and see what happens. It is a useful experiment, I think, and may then resolve this question once and for all. I’ll post the result of what happens on this blog.

      • NiBu says:

        Yes, that would be a very interesting experimt to me also. I don’t really understand, why the titles like Gorky 17, Cold War or X2 are not getting cheaper at all.

      • Roberto says:

        As a suggestion,

        I consider shinkwrapped games as an obsolete market model. Nowdays with bandwith connections, the buy->download->play bussiness model reduces your costs (production of copies), increases the total costs for the customer (shipping and handling), and reduces your potential customers number.

        You could for example, offer a discount in a couple of games during a week, offering only the download version (thus reducing the S&H costs) as tuxgames offers for your games. I think it should give you a global idea of the impact that could have in your bussiness model.


      • Roberto says:

        Rewording of my first paragraph, i’m not so good writing on english:

        I consider shinkwrapped games as an obsolete market model. Nowdays with bandwith connections, the buy->download->play bussiness model reduces your costs (production of copies), decreases the total costs for the customer (shipping and handling), and increases your potential customers number.

        • I know what you are saying and we are definitely planning to look at this. I have to say though that I do still like to own a hard copy. I really like to have the box, a nice manual, and a disc…

          • RKrisher says:

            I agree that having a hard copy with manual is much preferable. I only like the “download now” to satisfy my “I wanna play it now” itch. Pricing is not an issue. How can we expect applications for our platform to flourish based on a free model. It also helps pay for the tech support issues I may run into. In the case of X3, the downloaded version I had from tuxgames wouldn’t update to the ATI fix, but installing the hard copy resolved the issue and gave me peace of mind that I had a version that HAD to be supportable and SHOULD work like it is supposed to. And having PAID for it, I was able to get responses from tech support. I also still turn to my hard manual at times. It’s a lot easier to use while playing a game than popping up another window with a pdf in it.

      • Nath says:

        I’m afraid that those short time price drops only work well with digital distributed games, but we will see how this works out.

  7. Kevin says:

    “Why does a Linux user care about what is available on another platform?”

    I don’t think they care what is available on another platform unless this is a platform they also have access to.

    Like when a game is available for PC and console and the game genre is can be played equally well on both.

    So Linux user, just like Windows or Mac users, might still be interested what is available on, say, Playstation 3. Or Linux users running on an Apple PC might be interested in what is available for Mac OSX.

    In one of the replies above you write that you are mainly targeting “Linux only” users, however I think you mean “Linux only” owners.
    Which, unfortunately, is a tiny subsegment of the former.

    Another factor, aside from price, is actually available features.
    If the Linux port of a game is released years after the original version (whether it was for Windows, Mac, or console), it might in itself deliver a good product, however, what about added value?

    Lets assume that some of the games you sell have a mulitplayer mode. Do you also provide the necessary servers in case the original manufacturer has switched of theirs?

    Otherwise you are only partly correct when you say it is a new game for THIS platform, because it is not a fully featured new game for THIS platform.

    Anyways, good to see that you manage to stay in business, at some point people might no longer be forced to buy either Windows or OSX when they buy computers.

    • With regard to servers, we do in fact do exactly that. We have ourown servers for Sacred, and we are just porting a new unannounced game that uses the original servers but we are also working to allow the player to choose to use the PenguinPlay servers instead if the original servers vanish.

      Added value we can’t really do, we are not allowed to change the original game, except to make it work on Linux. We do fix bugs (Majesty multiplayer only works properly on Linux for example) where we can, but even that sometimes has to be disallowed if it changes the gaming experience of the game.

      • Kevin says:

        “With regard to servers, we do in fact do exactly that.”


        “Added value we can’t really do, we are not allowed to change the original game, except to make it work on Linux.”

        Sorry, bad phrasing on my part :(

        I didn’t mean added value in the sense more than the original version, rather in the sense of supporting all the features of the original version, such as multiplayer, i.e. more than the core of the game.

        Other companies sometimes forget important pieces of the overall experience, e.g. no multiplayer, no level editor, no video sequences between campaigns, etc.

        • We are very much of the opinion that the whole game is needed, or it isnt a whole game. We have cancelled ports we have licensed because the company doing the port refused to do the networking section (Northland is the example). We will not release a game that is not complete. We took the complete-without-networking Knights and Merchants, and finished the port ourselves. Out of that came the Grapple network layer we have used ever since.
          Level editors, we add those too, when appropriate. We ported the X2/X3 modkit as well as the game.
          An exception is the level editor for Shadowgrounds Survivor. We talked it over with igios and decided to skip it, on the basis nobody used it on Windows, and porting it to Linux would double the port time. If it had had an active community on Windows (Like the NWN one did, as I can see you were thinking of that), we would have insisted, but in this case, it wasnt appropriate.

          • RKrisher says:

            Personally I think Kevin is giving you a bad wrap for what “other” companies do, which is not good. I personally like LGP releases, specifically the X* series because it has add-ons and features already included that windows users have to scrub for and get off the internet. And scripting is way easier in the LGP version than the windows version. Excepting you have to translate some German now and then to read some of the existing comments ;-)

  8. John Kloosterman says:

    Well – I am a fan of the X-series games and I bought X2, X3-Reunion and X3-Terran Conflict for Windows the day they came out. I also bought X2 and X3 for Linux and do not really have a problem with pricing. I think it was a nice touch to also include the Xtended mod pack on the DVD. This adds a lot of value as the game can be played in two different ways, and so almost doubles the playing time. This is a value added to the original game.

    As I use Linux as my main system I only have to pay the hardware costs for my system. The OS is free. All software I need for production work is also completely free (Xara LX, Blender, GIMP, Inkscape, Scribus, Ardour, Rosegarden etc.), so that leaves more financial room for those games that have to be ported to Linux. Even if the price I have to pay for a game is double or triple the price of the Windows version I still lost far less money then when I had to buy Windows and all the software I need (Yes I know a lot of these software also runs on windows, but you get the idea).

    The only problem I have is that the games from LGP are difficult to get here in the Netherlands. As I do not have a credit card (and do not want to have one) ordering something outside my country is fairly cumbersome. Still – I want to go trough these difficulties and accept the (relatively) higher price to get the game that works on my platform of choice. If that’s the price I have to pay to get software ported to my platform I am happy to pay.

    Now – I only can hope X3-Terran Conflict also will be ported. Well – you can always dream – can’t you? ;-)

    • Liam Dawe says:

      Would be nice if X3-Terran Conflict was ported too, you never know that could be the unnamed port they are working on. And since they have ported X2 and X3 it is likely they will port it if they are not already.

  9. Max says:

    I think the price is still okay.
    I’m actually a huge fan of the X series and had not bought X3 for Windows before LGP released it.
    So it was great for me.

    Got X2 for Windows and bought it again for Linux.

    I’d also love to see X3, Terran conflict comming along. Should also not be as much work as X3 took, since Terran conflict uses the same engine and so on.
    The new title they are porting right now (the secret one) aint Terran Conflict for sure, since they said that the new title had Multiplayer and would work with penguin play.
    I’m really curious what they are porting.

    Sure it would be nice to buy the games cheaper or to buy two games for the price that one of the currently costs, but if that hurts LGP then i don’t want to see it comming.

    I’d rather keep paying 50 bucks and keep those Linux Ports comming for decades than to buy 5 cheap games and see LGP go bankrupt.
    Who knows, maybe we’ll get some high end titles like Crysis in the future.
    Although getting Crysis is very unlikely due to EA Games as publisher, but that’s why I wrote “like”.

    I also like what you did with the cockpit addon on the X3 disk.
    And i also like you policy of just doing real ports and not just partial once.
    It really annoyed me in Northland, that there was no Multiplayer part in the Linux Version.

    I can’t really think of a game I’d like to see ported, well i can think of some but they are unlikely to happen.
    The ones you choose to port are generally pretty good.
    For example it would be nice to have “The Sims” for Linux since there is no game of that kind yet.
    Of course it would also be great to have modern, popular Multiplayer Titles like “Battlefield 2142″, but again, unlikely to happen due to the publisher.
    Would be easy to maintain though, since EA stops the support for their games after the first 5 patches, so there would be no patches to fiddle around with.

    Seing some more strategy games would also be nice i guess.
    Stuff like Empire Earth.
    Or maybe even Paraworld.
    Hm, you should really check out Paraworld, i doubt that the developers of Paraworld would be againt a port since they’ve gone bankrupt.
    On the other hand it’s not sure how many people would buy a strategy game that ain’t hyped, these days.

    Oh, thinking about stuff I’d like to see, i came to the comclusion that Linux really lacks a 3d Jump’n'Run like Prince of Persia or Splinter Cell (i know it’s a “stealth game” but you jump a lot…)
    I somehow had to think of Splinter Cell when i played Cold War some time last week.
    So what I’d basically like to see, is some Multiplayer Title where i can also play Windows users.

    You also might think about porting good old all time classics like Dungeon Keeper, Theme Hospital or Startopia.

    I dont really want to tell you what games to port, but rather to show what kind of games linux lacks right now.

  10. Maxim says:

    I disagree with you that Linux users are usually make much more money then “windows/Mac” users, specially now that the netbooks rise and the GNU/Linux community grow.
    I am a Linux IT guy, but I don’t make much money yet – specially not in the global economic downfall.

    I think that if sell a download versions of your games at reasonable prices (~50% lower then the box versions) you will gain more sells and more profit.
    You can still offer a box version for those who want it – nothing prevents it.

    About gaming ports – Linux users DO care when the game was released on the Windows platform.
    Game’s first release date often states his technology.
    New games like Fallout3 have state of the art graphics , something that older games can’t compete with.
    I am not saying that if the game looks “prettier” he is better, far from it – but we can all agree that Quake2 suppressed Quake1 and Sam2 suppressed Sam1 – newer engines , bigger games.

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