In today’s crowded video game market, getting eyes on your product can be a challenge, especially if you develop and publish games independently and with a small team. In 2014, the now-defunct Danish game studio Glitchap had a unique idea for their jousting deathmatch project LAZA KNITEZ: price the game at $150, but offer it at a deep 98 per cent discount for the first five years. That five-year sale ends today.
LAZA KNITEZ originally launched on Ouya, the ill-fated, crowdfunded console that’s since been relegated to the dark annals of video game history. When the Ouya tanked, Glitchnap was looking for ways to make the game available elsewhere. They settled on the the itch.io storefront, popular among self-publishing indie creators. But when it came time to settle on a price, they began to think about the value and cost of developing video games, and they decided to create a pricing structure that would make a statement about that.
“We liked the idea of offering the game on a ‘perma-sale’ that was a ridiculous deal,” former Glitchnap developer Joon Van Hove told Kotaku via direct message. The studio settled on a $150 price point for LAZA KNITEZ, but would mark it down by 98 per cent, making the game only $3, but again, only for the first five years. Van Hove further described the decision as a “satirical comment on the state of game pricing and sales” that matched the project’s aesthetics.
“And then honestly we forgot about it,” Van Hove added.
The exclusivity deal with Ouya helped the Glitchnap founders get their studio off the ground. They were all university students in Copenhagen at the time, and according to Van Hove, marketing wasn’t their strong suit. LAZA KNITEZ failed to find a wide audience even with the pricing stunt, which began as something of a thought experiment before spinning off into reality.
“It was basically the end result of a long conversation with a bunch of game designer friends in Copenhagen,” Van Hove explained. “But the question on our minds was: how do we determine the value, or worth, of something we made? The material cost is intangible, so it came down to our time. But even that is hard to answer, because this was our first game, and we had to learn everything from [the] start. So how much of that ‘time,’ even if we had logged our hours, are we entitled to recoup? Of course none of that matters because of the realities of the market, but it was still a fun thought exercise.”
Unlike most stories about gimmicky indie games, LAZA KNITEZ wasn’t an overnight success for the folks at Glitchnap. It sold less than 200 copies, Van Hove said, but he still considers the game an “amazing project” that helped its creators break into the gaming industry. They even did the “put a competitive indie game on an arcade cabinet” thing before more popular examples like Killer Queen made the scene, schlepping a custom machine cobbled together with IKEA materials to various exhibition and convention spaces around Copenhagen to show LAZA KNITEZ to the public.
It’s unfortunate that LAZA KNITEZ wasn’t successful, not only because it’s a pretty neat game — that, I assume, is much more entertaining if you have a full group of friends to play it with — but because the pricing and discount model on which Van Hove and his fellow developers settled could have spurred an interesting conversation about the value of labour in the video game industry.
Glitchnap’s willingness to take risks and experiment with the pricing of their releases might have provided a compelling wrinkle in today’s world, where support for unionization and workers’ rights are on the rise. With one day left in the sale, it might not be too late for that conversation to start.
“And if anybody’s wondering, yeah, we’ll leave it up at $150 until the heat death of the universe,” Van Hove said with LAZA KNITEZ flair. “Until the four horsemen and women of the ultr-a-pocalypse ride out to do lazer-space-battle for all eternity.”