Article written by Tom Sykes

When Braid's price was finally announced - 1200 in Microsoft Points (or about $15) - there was a bit of an uproar. "Bit of" meaning "Quite a lot", of course, in understated Britishspeak. Spoiled by years of (relatively) cheap Xbox Live Arcade games, not to mention the hundreds of free indie titles readily available online, many gamers saw this price as an insult.

Pixel spent years meticulously crafting Cave Story, before releasing it gratis. Blackeye Software's wonderful Eternal Daughter was birthed unto the formative indie community, for absolutely zero money. And there are many more examples than that.

But why would anyone dedicate substantial amounts of their free time to a project not designed to bring in the readies? Obviously, Passion and Response. Sweating over a hot stove to cook a lovely meal for your partner (only to watch them devour it in seconds and ask for more). People like creating things, and most do it for free, probably because they don't believe they should charge for a project that has arguably benefited them more than its consumer (as in emotional rewards, the joy of Achieving Something).

Indie developers are often self-deprecating ("I can't charge for this crappy little game"), a position which leads to transcendent titles like Cave Story being available for free. But this is a dangerous precedent, however charming it may appear. The more high-quality free games out there, the less a future indie developer is going to feel like charging for their own labour of love. "If Pixel didn't do it, how can I? Cave Story is ten times more ambitious than my little gem-matching game, how on Earth can I ask someone to pay for it?"

Of course, it doesn't help that there's no standardised pricing system. A jewel-arranging Columns rip-off and a deep, original RPG can go for pretty much the same price, and you'll find rough equivalents of both on any number of FREE GAMES websites (capitalised to simulate the experience of actually visiting one of them). When a developer feels justified in attributing a price point, they are often (nay, always) attacked in some manner over this audacity.

In the comments section of the official Braid blog, Stuart Campbell called $15 an "arrogant" price point, compared to the wealth of games released for half as much. A higher price on XBLA seems to imply a "better" or at least more substantial experience - to price yourself above Geometry Wars is to claim that you belong to a higher strata of quality, one presumably denied to arcade games.

We don't decide the price of a DVD by looking at how long or good the film is, or even by its genre (though "specialist"/arty films do tend to go for silly money, ie the RRP), so it's strange the XBLA system seems to do so. Its three-tiered approach (400/800/1200 points) has given rise to so many bellyaches that you wonder why they didn't choose a single price point and stick to it (or, you know, price the games in real money instead). When a game costs as much as changing your profile name, however, you know that it's a broken system to begin with.

Joakim "Konjak" Sandberg released a number of wonderful, free indie games, before humbly asking for money for his latest, Noitu Love 2: "So it's here, you can now buy Noitu Love 2: Devolution. I will be charging $20 for it and I believe that it is worth it." That an indie developer should feel the need to justify charging for something they've created (completely on their own, we shouldn't forget) is a sad indication of how spoilt we really are. $20 may seem like a lot, on first glance, but if the game was released on the Nintendo DS we wouldn't bat an eyelid.

We have become so used to high price points for physical media - possibly because we know that its creator/s will only see a tiny proportion - that when a developer bypasses physical completely (and as a result rakes in pretty much 100% of what they're asking), we may understandably feel annoyed, especially if they are charging a similar price. But that indie developer is going to sell much, much less than if their product was in a traditional box, in a traditional shop (or at least on Steam), and that $20 price point is to compensate for this. It isn't so much a matter of evaluating precisely what the game is worth, but rather how much it's likely to sell, and how much money its creator needs to fund the next one.

Joakim Sandberg isn't using that money to buy another diamond speedboat, he's using it to buy the time necessary to complete his latest game (I assume he is, anyway, his website hasn't updated in a while). If you like the demo, and his previous free games, then pay the toll. It will lead to more of his games coming your way.

That $20 is a pledge of allegiance, a donation to the International Independent Gaming Party. It will help to foster a world in which "indie" is a more viable concept, a happy world where passionate, talented people are rewarded for all their hard work.

World of Goo will be released on October 13th, for $20. If you care at all about indie gaming (and, er, if you like the look of it), then buy it. As hard and as often as necessary, until it makes more money than FIFA '09, and the universe, at last, makes some sense.