Selling Open Source Software Libraries

BatteryTech has been an interesting experiment so far. In case you don't know what it is, it's a software library I developed last year for Battery Powered Games that makes it way easier to write cross-platform games, assuming they are targeted at PC, Mac, Android and iOS. BatteryTech is not free, but instead goes for a one-time purchase with lifetime upgrades. This model is nearly opposite from most of the competing products which opt for a subscription model, getting you in the door cheap and taking that chunk of change from you each year to keep using their product. It's difficult to figure out what the best marketing strategy is for a product like this, so today I set up the $99 experiment, which I'll explain further.

I'll refer to BatteryTech as BT for the rest of this article. BT is commercial, open-source software, meaning that when you buy it, you get access to 100% of the source code for it, which you have agreed not to make public or share with unauthorized parties (such as your buddies). The benefit of having the source code is that when it doesn't support something, you don't have to beg and plead for the devs to support it but instead can just hop in there, make your changes, customize whatever you like and you're good to go. We do that sort of thing all the time when we're building a game and need to add a little feature here or there. I think it's how all software libraries should work!

Sounds great, right? If only all software you bought came with the source code! But here lies the problem - nearly everyone wants to try before they buy now. Game engines handle this easily by having a black box component integrated which simply doesn't let you deploy your game or timebombs on you. You don't have the source to all of it so you can't just change the way it works. They have an easy demo mechanic built right in there.

I've been struggling with that part of marketing BT since it was released. I believe it's a great product and all of the first few dozen licensees seem to agree, but there's a little more competition now than when we first launched and everyone seems to want to undercut everyone else on price. I could go on a rant about how undercutting just leads to a 99 cent app store min/max price on games but instead I'll focus on a desktop software product.

I initially priced BT at $249 for indies. It may seem a little high, but considering it saves literally months of programming, I felt that it was fair for the niche. Apparently not, as sales really slowed down after the cheap competition arrived. My plan was to wait until we had finished "The Bleeps" which will really make BatteryTech shine. I'm also planning on taking a lot of the tech I developed for the bleeps and putting it into BT for a 2.0 release. Things like the lua integration, resource management, etc which will really transform it from a platform to a platform with an optional full game engine to start with. I think that'll increase the value quite a bit - and this will of course be given as a free upgrade to all who have been so generous as to pay for a copy in the past.

But that's neither here nor there as The Bleeps is still a little ways off from done so I've decided to just play with the price a little and today, impulsively I decided to go for a $99 one-day price drop. Do price drops like this really even work? I don't know, but I guess we'll find out. I figure there are a lot of people who want this that are turned off by the $249 price tag because they can't try it to see how it will work for them. Hopefully this will give me some information on what works and what doesn't for selling software like this.

If it turns out that the slow sales are just price - then lowering the price seems to be an easy solution, but if today's sale doesn't prove fruitful, then I'm going to have to really do some critical thinking about what will gain a passerby's trust in this product without just giving them the full source for free and undermining the entire purchasing side of it.

Any suggestions?

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If you do not know "how to"

If you do not know "how to" check how it works your competition.

Do you have at least one game that has reached a large number of downloads, and that was done by using your library? That is a way of showing the user how he/she can easily do a game in your tool, not just a game but also a popular game.

Do you have a signed contract with video bloggers, writers, and other people who can help in promoting the game when completed? Not your job? Maybe, but it is equally important for a small team as well as a quality tool.

Where are the examples? where the finished game? Where are the clones of popular games done in your tool, which should show how easy it is to do certain type of game in your tool?

Why not build cooperation with "third parties" to write interesting tutorials about your tool?

There is much, much, much more I could add but this is sufficient, quality tool is only part of the package, because the market has a lot of quality tools, but the question is what kind of package you sell.