The first part of this column, in which I gave the full sales figures for one of my games, Geneforge 4: Rebellion, attracted a fair amount of attention on the Internets. This pleased me. I really want this blog to be a useful discussion point for people interested in Indie computer gaming, and I'm off to an acceptable start. I'm not really doing this for sales. And, if anyone is curious, I only sold three or four more copies of Geneforge 4 last week than I probably would have otherwise. But that's all right, because it's not why I made this blog.
So, on to some more information and conclusions about the previous post.
Platform Sales Breakdown
We release all of our games for Macintosh first and then port them to Windows. The Windows version almost always comes out about three months later.
So far, the Windows/Mac sales of Geneforge 4 break down to about 55/45. Before that, it was about 60/40. Now it's about 50/50. Macintosh market share went way up over the last couple years, and this has helped our sales a lot.
Releasing games for two platforms has always been the key to our profitability. Porting games is free money, and it's awesome. I suppose this is the sort of thing we should keep secret, as it'll only get us more competition on the Macintosh. But, on the other hand, more games makes the Macintosh more viable as a gaming platform and thus attracts more potential customers for me. So I don't worry about it. Write Mac games! Please!
Was Geneforge 4: Rebellion a Success?
Picking Geneforge 4 as the game I released sales figures for was the right choice, as it really was in the middle in terms of sales for us. However, it created a false impression of how Spiderweb Software is doing. This business is more profitable than it seemed from looking at that one case.
Geneforge 4 cost about $120K and has made about $117K. Given current sales rates, it should be in the black in at most 2-3 months. After that, everything it earns is pure, tasty profit. And we will sell it in bundles (we sell a Geneforge 4-5 bundle already, and a Geneforge 1-5 CD is coming), making more money. So I don't regret the time spent writing it at all.
And it gets better. What was my reward for the year spent writing Geneforge 4? It wasn't just the cash. I also own the game! That means, in ten years or so, I can return to it, give it better graphics and interface, add a bonus 2-3 dungeons, and release it to a new generation of gamers. I've done it before, with my games Exile 1-3, Blades of Exile, and Nethergate, and the resulting products, since I didn't need to write them from scratch, were immensely profitable.
Don't underestimate the value of owning your own intellectual property.
Can This Success Be Replicated By Others?
Yes. But it is difficult.
I had two advantages with Geneforge 4. First, I already had a large and loyal fan base. New developers don't have that. Every game I write attracts a sizable new batch of fans, but the existing base is what makes much of our money.
Second, I was writing for a market, fans of single-player RPGs, that is painfully underserved. When you write your Indie game, you have to write a very good game, so good that it'll get the customer to pry the credit card out of the wallet. But, just as importantly, you have to write something that they can't get easier and cheaper elsewhere.
There are very few single-player RPGs these days, so I have a good market. But if you're writing another Bejeweled clone, even a really good one, you got your work cut out for you.
There is totally room for new developers to build a business. But you have to be good, and you have to be unique.
Is $28 a Good Price?
I think so.
A lot of people have commented that I should lower the game's price to $10. The idea that this would increase my profits is, I feel, purest nonsense. Bearing in mind that the percentage cost of credit card processing increases as the price goes down, and, to make the same profits from Geneforge 4, I would have had to triple my sales. Triple! As in, go from a conversation rate of about 1.5% to almost 5%. This is just not realistic.
Or, to put it another way, Geneforge 4 was the game where we raised our prices to $28. Our sales did not go down from Geneforge 3 (which was $25). They went up. A lot. And Avernum 5 ($28) sold a lot more than Avernum 4 ($25).
The Indie games market seems, pricewise, to be on a full speed race to the bottom. I will deal with this in more depth in a later post, but take this one thing away: I charge a fair price. I write big, good games (with 30-40 hours of gameplay, easy), and they easily provide enough fun to more than justify the $28. I will not be shamed into charging less, not when my dollars and cents bottom line is telling me that it's working.
Do Geneforge 4's Graphics Suck?
Does It Matter?
Look, graphics are expensive. Really expensive. We keep our costs low, and our games thus become profitable quickly. We've had some games that did worse than others, but I've never, in fifteen years, written a game that lost money.
And here's the sad truth. Suppose I spent a bunch of money, busted my hump, and wrote a game with graphics as good as, say, Eschalon. Then people who really care about graphics wouldn't look at my game and go, "Wow! He's really doing good now!" They'd go, "His graphics suck. They haven't improved at all." And then they'd go play Fallout 3.
Don't get me wrong. My next game, Avernum 6, will look much nicer than Geneforge 5. I've been working really hard on it, and there are a lot of improvements there. And the next game after that, which will have an all-new engine, will look even better. And you know something? Everyone will still say they look like crap. Big budget games will ALWAYS look better. I can't compete there, there's no hope, so I don't try very hard.
And, once again, I make good money overall. So who knows? Maybe I'm onto something. After all, I'm more profitable than Electronic Arts right now.
Thanks everyone for the comments, kind and otherwise. I hope all of this was interesting and helpful. I plan to keep plugging away on this stuff on at least a weekly basis, hopefully in shorter posts.
Keep watching the skies, and support your local Indie.