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The Realities of Selling Independently Developed PC Games 120

Posted by Soulskill
from the working-for-a-living dept.
Not long ago, we discussed the realities of selling a game on the iPhone App Store. Now, spidweb sends in his experiences with a realistic level of success as an independent PC game developer. He writes "There is a lot of excitement about casual gaming and Indie game development these days, but there's also very little public information about how many games actually get sold, or the sort of income one can reasonably expect in this line of work. We've released full sales figures for a recent product to illustrate what sort of earnings can be generated by a quality niche product that isn't a massive hit. From the post: 'I am not the first Indie developer to reveal this sort of information. However, most public sales figures come from projects that were either blockbusters or disasters. Our games have never landed in either pool. I have been doing this for a living for almost fifteen years.'"
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The Realities of Selling Independently Developed PC Games

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  • by w0mprat (1317953) on Wednesday March 18, 2009 @03:34AM (#27238129)
    Would like to see more indie developers be more open about their business model in this way. A very interseting read. But disappointing the developer takes a snipe at pirates (Can't blame him for being bitter of course)but doesn't really discuss/acknowledge the role of non-paying customers nor provides detail of actual piracy rates and how it has actually effected the business. That's what we really want to see.

    It's been cracked aplenty

    Says he. Of course, Indie games have a lower piracy rate than big titles.

    • Says he. Of course, Indie games have a lower piracy rate than big titles.

      Citation needed.

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by Trepidity (597)

      I'm skeptical also, and I'm a big fan of indie games (that and retro games are almost exclusively what I play), and am acquainted with a number of developers. The number one biggest problem for an indie developer is getting noticed at all. Most people will not know you exist, and if they vaguely know you exist, will not remember to check back to see you released a game.

      From that perspective, if your game is good enough to be betting pirated, you might actually benefit. It's hard to say what the net effect i

      • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

        by JCSoRocks (1142053)
        Yes, but musicians also get revenue from playing shows (which can't be pirated). A musician could make a living just from playing shows while all of his music is being pirated or given away for free.

        This isn't true of software. Indie developers have one source of income - their game. If people pirate that game, that dev is not getting paid. I'm not going to get into a pissing match about whether piracy on a small scale actually ends up helping game sales. I am, however, willing to contend that music and ga
        • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

          by mattack2 (1165421)

          Playing shows can't be pirated? Uhh, have you ever heard of the term "bootleg recordings"? I imagine that some people that got the recordings would be less interested in seeing the band live. Plus, even if the band itself thinks its fine, if the band itself doesn't own the copyright to the songs themselves, that can involve other copyright infringement too.. (and get even more tangential if they are covering other bands' songs).

          • Have you ever heard any bootleg recordings? Most of the ones I've heard were very poor quality. Besides, there's a lot more to a live performance than just hearing the songs. I can buy a CD and do that all day long. The availability of bootleg recordings is not going to affect people's desire to attend live performances any more than the availability of legitimate recordings do.

          • by Restil (31903)

            You can't pirate your physical presence at a show. Sure, you can record and pirate the audio from that show, in fact, you can even camcorder it, or purchase and pirate an official video/audio recording of the show, but none of that replaces actually BEING there. If you were content to just listen to the music, the show itself would be of no consequence to you anyway.

            • by mattack2 (1165421)

              Obviously it's not *the same* as being there.. but it may be "good enough" for some people. I've only been to a couple of concerts in my life, but watch/record a lot of live performances on TV (both concert shows and various talk show performances).

              If "the show would be of no consequence to you anyway", then they wouldn't sell lots of concert DVDs. I bet far more of those sell (at least for some performers) than actually go to the concerts. In other words, it's not just a souvenir for concert-goers.

              Plus

    • by Xest (935314) on Wednesday March 18, 2009 @06:09AM (#27238755)

      Yes I've seen it here before. Some indie developers aren't fussed but others seem to believe they have a god given right for their product to be immune from piracy.

      I had a look at the article and saw he's selling the game for $28. When you bear in mind it's a game that looks around 15 years old in quality and style (something that's effectively admitted in the article albeit not quite so explicitly) one has to wonder why he thinks people would pay that amount for this:

      http://www.spiderwebsoftware.com/images/geneforge4/Geneforge4SSThumb1large.gif [spiderwebsoftware.com]

      When you could pay the same, or in fact, probably even less nowadays, and get a few year old yet far superior game such as say Neverwinter Nights or Oblivion?

      Sometimes I believe indie developers become a little deluded as to how good their product is and for every good indie title out there there's 100 crap ones. Still, the guy made just short of $112,000 from it (spread across 3 people) and didn't even push it out to 3rd party sales channels (Xbox live, RealArcade, MSN Games, Instant Action). Frankly, for what he's peddling and the amount he's peddling it for I think he should be happy and bitching about pirates is laughable when you consider how much he's asking for something so awful looking and compared to what you could get instead. It doesn't strike me as suprising that people would pirate something like that rather than pay $28 for it. He claims including salaries the cost to make the game was $120k (but doesn't reveal individual salaries- the two staff other than him are only part time) so is implying he's only broken even, but if he's taking a $100k salary out of that for example then of course he's doing much better than makes out. As he doesn't give any break down of figures we can't be sure whether his costs really are as high as he infers (I really can't see how they could be) or if he's actually making a fairly decent wage which seems more likely.

      What should really be taken from this article is that even if you make a shite unoriginal game and sell it for much more than it's worth, don't bother marketing and selling through important channels, despite piracy, you can still make a decent buck off of it.

      There's a lot of good indie titles out there, Popcap was always the prime example of how good titles sell (they made millions) but indies that are failing and blaming piracy need to look at why- if even this guy with such a poor product can make a decent amount then chances are, if your product is failing, you really do have a severely crap product. Even this guy seems to believe he deserved to make more even though it's amazing the amount he did make for what he's selling.

      Perhaps another piece of advice to take from this article is that indie developers need to have realistic expectations and that whilst they'll still make a decent buck, they wont necessarily become the next Popcap. If they don't make much at all then they need to have a long hard look at whether they really have the skills to be making indie games that people want for the price it's offered at.

      • Some indie developers aren't fussed but others seem to believe they have a god given right for their product to be immune from piracy

        Well they aren't ever going to be immune from it, but they certainly don't deserve to be pirated which you allude to with your comments on the price and the quality.

        If it's good enough to seek out a pirate copy, then it's good enough to buy. $28 is NOT a lot to pay for something, I doubt anyone is out there aspiring to be able to one day afford $28 apart from people who think they have a sense of entitlement to own everything they want, despite not owning the conviction to go out spend honest money on it.

        He

        • by Clovis42 (1229086)

          If it's good enough to seek out a pirate copy, then it's good enough to buy. $28 is NOT a lot to pay for something

          No. It IS a lot to pay for a indie computer game that has been out for a year or more. I recently picked up King's Bounty for like $10. That game has nice graphics, fun combat, and a terrible (although sometimes funny) storyline. I just got Left 4 Dead for $25 from Steam. Looking at the game, I can't imagine paying for than $10 for it, unless playing the demo reveals it to be something extremel

          • by Restil (31903)

            He mentioned the pricing would be covered in a followup article. In a nutshell however, I'd imagine that $28 is the sweet spot for the game to maximize the profits. Sell it for less, you won't sufficiently increase the number of sales. Sell it for more, and nobody will buy it.

            As for tapering off the price after the first few months, he says he's still selling copies of it, even after a few years. I'm sure he's factored in the likely effectiveness of lowering the price and determined he'll make more mone

        • by Xest (935314)

          As I've said elsewhere on Slashdot in the past, people have limited pools of money to spend on entertainment, some have bigger pools than others, some have a pool that is possibly even 0 or close to - i.e. kids.

          Entertainment items from DVDs to games to music have to compete for each persons' pool. People have to choose what to pay for and what not to, once their pool is spent for x period then that doesn't mean they stop wanting entertainment, it means they'll just pirate it instead.

          What this guy is effecti

          • by Anonymous Coward

            Your argumentation doesn't make sense. You basically say the game deserves to be pirated because 1) it's a low value game 2) people have little money to spend on entertainment instead of food. yet, somehow it's good enough that it should be pirated?

            This is a game that is sold in the 'long tail', i.e. it has a small enthusiast audience, that's willing to pay that price. It's not a 2$ iPhone game for casual gamers. Also, it's not something that people struggling to pay for food are going to buy.

            There is

            • by Binty (1411197)

              Full disclosure, I actually bought one of these spiderweb games. I had just played Fallout 2 and was looking for something similar gameplay wise. It was actually a disappointment.

              But I think the grandparent's point isn't that piracy is good/bad/ugly or whatever. There is no judgment attached. It is simply a part of the current business landscape. For instance, maybe I hate the income tax. Maybe I think that there shouldn't be an income tax. But if I plan my business without accounting for income taxe

      • by MadKeithV (102058) on Wednesday March 18, 2009 @06:20AM (#27238797)
        I think the article has a double reality check:
        1. He only sold around 4000 copies. At first glance that seems incredibly low with a big margin for improvement with a bit of advertising, a more reasonable price and some more polish in the game. Of course, the market works in mysterious ways so maybe this really is 100% of what he can expect to sell.
        2. Those 4000 copies were enough to break even on the costs of a year of development. I.e. he's sustaining himself and two others (part-time at least) on this kind of stuff! That's pretty cool considering it was a adolescent dream of mine to be in professional game development and I'm sure it was for many programmers.

        This "reality check" tells me that developing games for an average living is possible. Don't expect to be a millionaire, but you could be doing what you like for a living for a long time.

        • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

          by Anonymous Coward

          That's pretty cool considering it was a adolescent dream of mine to be in professional game development and I'm sure it was for many programmers.

          Indeed. As a soon-to-be indie game developer, these kind of stories really give me hope.

          That said, I can't help but see massive room for improvement in this guy's case.

          Seems like most people that have commented so far here are really falling over the dated-looking graphics though. I wonder how much better he could do financially if he would put together a bit more modern game engine.

          It seems that the outdated graphics, plus the relatively high price (most indie games go for between $5 and $20), are the main

          • by MadKeithV (102058)

            It's really not all that difficult to NOT make your graphics look like ass. Just use something like Torque or Gamebryo or what not... there's a lot of cheap, pre-existing game engines out there that are very good quality. That would do the job just fine for indies like this guy.

            Those are just engines though, you still need to either buy the content (models, textures) or have artists that can create content that doesn't suck. In the case of an indie, I think the first option is better than the second, unless you can do the art yourself.

            • Those are just engines though, you still need to either buy the content (models, textures) or have artists that can create content that doesn't suck. In the case of an indie, I think the first option is better than the second, unless you can do the art yourself.

              Very true, and if you're budgeting (theoretically, at least) $120,000 in development effort for a game, you could easily afford to spend 2 or 3 grand out of pocket to buy artwork for your game. I did play some of the demo, and unless the scope of t

          • by KDR_11k (778916)

            A problem with better graphics is that graphics are more than just a better engine. You have to give that engine data to display and the more complex and intricate that data has to be the more time (and thus money) it takes to make.

            Also his game has the number 4 in the title. 2D graphics are obsolete by default so you can reuse them without being called out for it, 3d tends to feel more obsolete as time passes so keeping most assets from earlier games would result in the game being perceived as more and mor

          • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

            by Psychochild (64124)

            I wonder how much better he could do financially if he would put together a bit more modern game engine.

            As someone who as been there and done that [meridian59.com], the answer is: he probably wouldn't do better. We worked on a major engine upgrade for Meridian 59; we upgraded the game to use 3D hardware acceleration instead of a software-based renderer, added dynamic lighting, and lots of other improvements to the engine. We didn't upgrade the art (I'll get to that in a moment), but the engine was a significant improvemen

        • I think pricing is a big one. I rarely buy games as soon as they come out. I'm just not going to spend $50 on a game. I'll usually wait until they come down to $35 or less - and that's for a title from a big developer with AAA quality. For an indie game, I wouldn't expect to pay more than $20. I've seen some great indie games but very rarely do they even begin to have the depth and polish of a big name title. You just can't charge the same price for a Geo as you do an Aston Martin. People aren't dumb.
      • The parent post disses the game for looking 15 years old. It does, of course, but that does not mean that it is a poor game. If the storyline is good and the game-play is fun, shiny graphics are pretty irrelevant.

        It goes both ways, of course. Take Mass Effect as an example: it looks good, but the game-play could be better and the storyline outside the four main quests is shallow. I'd rather have had crappy graphics with better game-play and a more detailed storyline.

        I've just downloaded his demo - if the ga

        • by Xest (935314)

          I figured someone would make this point but my thinking was that something like NWN costs less and has great gameplay AND graphics. My thoughts were that even if the gameplay of his game can match that of NWN then it's still a worse product at a higher price because the graphics can't.

          I do agree graphics aren't everything and gameplay matters most. For what it's worth though, I actually really enjoyed Mass Effect, and even that is cheaper now than this game. For me it wouldn't be a hard choice - Mass effect

          • My thoughts were that even if the gameplay of his game can match that of NWN then it's still a worse product at a higher price because the graphics can't.

            Some people would find a product with lower-detail graphics more valuable because it would not require the purchase of new hardware. You mention Mass Effect, but my current PC's motherboard can't even take the CPU and RAM that Mass Effect requires [bioware.com].

            • by Xest (935314)

              Mass Effect was only brought up because of the parent I was responding to. I'd be suprised if many people couldn't run something like NWN now or even the likes of Baldur's gate would be a cheap, superior option for example.

              The point is that even for low end systems there are much better, much more professional, and still cheaper alternatives.

              • by MadKeithV (102058)
                Unless you've already played NWN and Baldur's Gate, still have an old machine, and want more games.
                • by Xest (935314)

                  I'd be amazed if everyone has played every old game their system can run worth playing that is still both better and cheaper than the product listed here. There's a hell of a lot out there, and let's face it even if anyone has, the market is so small we're talking about maybe 1 or 2 potential customers.

                  • by MadKeithV (102058)
                    Apparently, we're talking about 4000 ACTUAL customers before the publication of this /. article.
                    • by Xest (935314)

                      You're concluding that those 4000 customers was a result of those customers having played all existing superior games, which is a conclusion that you simply cannot back up.

                      Realistically it's more likely that the people who bought it, bought it because they were not aware of the superior alternatives or that they really did prefer his product.

                      If it's the latter then that's a good example of what I was suggesting, but I think it's more likely the former. Effectively, had these people been given the choice of

                    • by MadKeithV (102058)
                      Of course not all of those 4000 customers will have played all of the versions of NWN, Baldur's Gate, Diablo, Dragon Wars, the TSR games, etc., but many probably have. I'm not a super-prolific gamer, and I have.
                    • by MadKeithV (102058)
                      Basically, what I'm trying to say in this context and in some other points: the total sum of actual fans (some or perhaps even many of which will have played nearly all older AAA games in the genre) and impulse buyers seems really low, but this guy is still breaking even even though the price point appears to err on the side of madness and at first glance the game is not really anything special.
                      BTW, which mods did you work on? I might have played a few ;-). If they were free that would have been a big
                    • by Xest (935314)

                      I don't think we're in particular disagreement then, I agree he's done well despite the odds, and this is why I'm rather suprised he's under some expectation that if it weren't for piracy he deserves even more sales that seems an odd stance when on the face of it, for what he produced and how much he's selling it for, he's made a decent amount.

                      Quake 1:
                      TF Bots

                      Quake 2:
                      Assault Troopers
                      Airquake 2

                      Quake 3:
                      Q3F (aka Q3Fortress)

                      Half-Life:
                      Aliens Half-Life mod (didn't make it to release though, got Foxed ;))

                      I've done

                    • by jwilloug (6402)

                      If it's the latter then that's a good example of what I was suggesting, but I think it's more likely the former. Effectively, had these people been given the choice of say, NWN or this they'd almost certainly have gone with NWN. His sales are likely based on people who are not much in to gaming accidently stumbling across his site, not realising there is anything better out there or previous customers who found his products in this manner etc.

                      I think you're entirely wrong in this characterization of Spidweb's audience. They've been around a long time and has cultivated a devoted following that actually wants tile- and turn-based RPGs. I'd be very surprised if they didn't make up the majority of Geneforge 4's paying customers. I doubt he gets very many first-time buyers on any particular title. Perhaps he'll provide these numbers in the followup he mentioned in the blog.

                      That audience includes me, by the way. I lost interest in Baldur's Gate

                    • by Anonymous Coward

                      His sales are likely based on people who are not much in to gaming accidently stumbling across his site, not realising there is anything better out there or previous customers who found his products in this manner etc.

                      This is partially bullshit.

                      Accidentally stumbling across the site? Not bullshit. Previous customers. Not bullshit.

                      Not realizing there is anything better out there? This is bullshit. Unless the person is like a time traveler from the early 80's and has been here for less than a day.

      • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

        by Clover_Kicker (20761)

        Spiderweb games have a plot. People buy them for the plot, not the graphics.

        The people who buy the latest Geneforge game have already played NWN and Oblivion.

        • Spiderweb games have a plot. People buy them for the plot, not the graphics.

          The people who buy the latest Geneforge game have already played NWN and Oblivion.

          Unlike console games, PC games support mods. If people who buy Geneforge own a copy of NWN, they can download and play an NWN campaign.

          • It's not mutually exclusive. The people who buy Geneforge are hardcore RPG nerds, like me, who have already played a bunch of NWN modules, like me.

        • by paazin (719486)
          Indeed, I've purchased a few games from spidweb over the years; they're unique in that they tend to be much more rewarding to play than your average mass marketed games - they have a high fun factor, not too complicated, yet still complex and intricate enough to keep you interested.

          Not to mention they have low hardware requirements - they run quite well on older PCs, laptops, netbooks etc. whereas most current games with full 3d engines barely will chug along (if install at all).
      • This game isn't for "looks". What I learned from RTFA so far that his game has good RPG/quest/weapon system, which is faaar more important for these types of games.
        Geez, I still know guys who play text-only MUD.
        And no, Oblivion is not a good RPG game. NWN is OK, but nothing special really, although YMMV.

      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by blahplusplus (757119)

        Economies of scale are the major issue in game development that indies need to take into consideration to temper their 'furor' at piracy or whatever else they think causes their 'lack of success', lets face it, you should be doing proper market research and targetting your markets appropriately, like Stardock did with Sins of a solar empire (500K+ units sold, for what is mostly a very "indie" game).

        Make stuff a paying populace of people want and they will buy it. Many oldschool PC game developers got trapp

        • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

          by Draek (916851)

          Your post, in a nutshell: "More Madden and less Ico, you lazy fuck!".

          And as a gamer, allow me to say "Fuck you". The day indie devs start worrying about making marketable, "sellable" games instead of developing various, innovative ideas and see what sticks, is the day I stop buying indie games altogether.

          • Look the article was talking about being in the business of making games, if you're making indie game development your business, and you expect to be successful just because you think your game is the greatest thing since sliced bread, I got a bridge I want to sell you.

            I have nothing against indies or indie games, my post was for those developers who expect to make significant amounts of money from what they do and those who still have no common sense what-so-ever.

            So what you said was not my "post in a nuts

      • by spidweb (134146)

        A note from the author.

        Wow, dude. You sound pretty angry. I don't have much to say, except that, if my games were "shite" or "unoriginal", believe me. They wouldn't sell. Fortunately for me, Geneforge 4 is neither.

        I only really posters to correct one misconception. Spiderweb's employees are not part-time. We have three full-time employees.

        And we're not 15 years out of date. Do you know what games looked like in 1994? We're ten years, at most! :-)

        • by Xest (935314)

          "I don't have much to say, except that, if my games were "shite" or "unoriginal", believe me. They wouldn't sell."

          What is original about them exactly? isometric RPG with features that exist in most RPGs ever?

          "Fortunately for me, Geneforge 4 is neither."

          But at 4000 units, it seems that your opinion isn't widely shared. It's great you're building games (honestly, I wish I still had time to do that but I spend my time on further study nowadays) that you like, but you sound like you're building games you like r

          • by JMandingo (325160)

            NWN has tremendous graphics, but the game play is not all that great. I found myself yearning for a larger party so that I could round things out.

            I completed Avernum 4 but did not finish the NWN single-player campaign. Avernum 4 has a better storyline, IMHO.

      • Try reading his View from the Bottom articles on RPG Vault and you might realize how stupid and off-base your post is. Hell, it doesn't even look like you did more than skim over the blog article that this Slashdot discussion is about, where he makes clear that he's reasonably satisfied with Geneforge 4's performance despite the high price, low-budget graphics, long demo, piracy, and lack of third-party distribution.

        Even this guy seems to believe he deserved to make more even though it's amazing the amount

      • by Sparr0 (451780)

        What makes you think that NWN or Oblivion are superior? Better graphics? The Geneforge games have depth that makes Oblivion look like a rails shooter.

      • Why do some people have so much trouble grasping the concept that not everyone in the world has the same tastes? Personally, I wouldn't pay $30 for either Spiderweb's games OR Oblivion, because neither really suits my taste in games. But I'd pay it for Eschalon, because that *is* more suited to my tastes, even with its 'old' graphics.

        Time and again we hear these whines on ./ - complaining that bejeweled is overpriced compared to halo or something while failing to recognise that they appeal to different pe

    • How exactly is the author to know details of actual piracy rates and how it has actually affected his business?

      • by kalirion (728907)

        Simple. In the install "registration" screen, add a checkbox for "I have pirated this game" and a disclaimer that all info is kept private.

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by osgeek (239988)

      takes a snipe at pirates

      Defensive much?

      but doesn't really discuss/acknowledge the role of non-paying customers

      Puhlease. Their role is to fuck up his shit. Oh, do they show their friends the title, thus garnering sales? Or do they show their friends the title and say, "here download the cracked version from this link".

      Play your cracked games that some small developer barely eeks out a living on, download your free music from some schmuck who eats ramen because he doesn't have rockstar money, and copy indie movies whose publisher went out of business despite the quality of their films... but

  • The invisible game!. (Score:2, Interesting)

    by Tei (520358)

    I have never read about this game, and I watch obseivelly indie sites. Maybe has been posted on these sites, but I failed to see it. I think this guy has poorly advertised this game. Other than here on slashdot, of course.

    QQ more, please.

    • I you followed hard-core CRPG sites (like rpgcodex) you'd have learned about this series of games long ago. They considered them little gems (long time since I last went there).

      And I don't think he's crying, he makes a living of it and has been doing so for some years.

      • The OP has a point though. If the games were on Steam as a $5 sale he'd probably make more in one weekend than he has in the last five years.
    • by syrinx (106469)

      I heard about one of this guy's games well over a decade ago when it was reviewed in Computer Gaming World (remember magazines? They used to make them out of dead trees).

      I guess I missed the part where a game only counts if Slashdot user #520358 has heard of it.

  • by Mad Merlin (837387) on Wednesday March 18, 2009 @03:55AM (#27238225) Homepage

    It's amazing to compare the cost to produce an indie game like the one in the article to a big name game, such as most games you can find in a brick and mortar store. Cost figures aren't usually released, but you can bet that EA probably spent 10-100x more on Madden n+1 than the ~$120k quoted in the article. Now, Madden n+1 probably also sold more copies, but it's definitely not 10-100x better of a game (some would argue it's worse, but I won't go there). So, where does all that extra cash go? Sure, diminishing returns (big company inefficiency, time creating flashier graphics, etc) accounts for some of it, but more likely is that advertising takes the cake. Advertising is incredibly expensive, so much so that only big companies can afford to do it, presumably it usually results in a net profit, but those numbers aren't generally available. It's an unfortunate situation, as there's definitely more to fun games than flashy graphics, and as it stands, most indie games are doomed to a relatively tiny audience, far smaller than they deserve.

    So what can be done? Most people that play Game! [wittyrpg.com] seem to enjoy it a lot, but word of mouth only goes so far. How do we get indie games to a larger audience? I think that's a question a lot of people are trying to answer, but the Internet certainly helps, without it, we'd be unlikely to see indie games that get exposure outside of the town or possibly country that they were made in.

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by ClassMyAss (976281)
      I think the big publishers correctly realize that they need to make games look attractive at a glance - the problem, IMO, with this game (in TFA), is that it's just not something that grabs you immediately. And even if Madden N+1 is not 10-100x better as a game, it has ultimately brought more pleasure (==> utility or wealth) to the world because it properly marketed itself and looked good enough to get anyone that might enjoy it to buy it. I don't think the game in the article has maximized its own pot
      • Re: (Score:1, Interesting)

        by Anonymous Coward

        I'm not saying you can't have quality without graphical flair, but come on - you've got to look like your making an effort if you really want to move product!

        The only indie game I've ever heard of is Dwarf Fortress. It has no graphics, is pre-alpha, has a crappy UI, has zero investment in promotion, is given away for free yet its authors still manage to make a living off it.

        If you don't make money from something it's because it is not good enough or you are not trying at all. Period.

    • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

      by Anonymous Coward

      So what can be done?

      Indies need to get together and organize.

      Mainstream marketing only "works" because games companies are willing to spend a lot of money marketing games that aren't total trash. So people buy mainstream marketed games knowing they're not wasting their time. Indies can't afford to do that so they need to figure an alternative.

      I think I'm fairly typical of the Indy target market; likes games, has disposable income and spare time and will buy cheap things on impulse but:

      Simply, reliably fin

    • Advertising is incredibly expensive, so much so that only big companies can afford to do it, presumably it usually results in a net profit, but those numbers aren't generally available.

      As Winston Churchill said: "Half of what I spend on advertising is wasted. I wish I knew which half."

      Or maybe it was Henry Ford.

    • It doesn't look like a profitable enterprise.

      So the big companies are probably getting a better return on their investment. They have the money to let you know they have a game to sell. They have a track record, they have the names, and they really do put forward good quality games with a lot of content.

      The cost of breaking into the big time, and most indie games I try would get lambasted for lack of content if a major released them - let alone some of the damn buggy ones I bought, is money. The problem

      • by rochrist (844809)
        Did you miss the part of the article where he pointed out that it WAS...you know, a profitable enterprise?
    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by Shrubber (552857)

      IAdvertising is incredibly expensive, so much so that only big companies can afford to do it

      Why pay for advertising when you can get your game on slashdot and watch the hits come rolling in? He's certainly going to get some sales out of it which is not bad for a game that's a couple of years old and arguably vastly overpriced.

  • Representative? (Score:1, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward
    I can't help but think that this is perhaps not a representative example of what a typical indie can expect, for a couple reasons: first, the market for these games appears to be previous fans, so without ten years of people playing your games, it might be tougher. On the other hand, I feel like the design decisions in this company's games are driven more by what they've done before than what would be truly good for business, so I seriously question whether they are thinking much, if at all, about how to i
    • Eschalon (Book 1!) is a modern take on the pseudo 3d isometric/actually 2d RPG and it looks so much better. And it's on Steam. Not much difference in the price though.
  • additional data (Score:4, Informative)

    by Trepidity (597) <delirium-slashdo ... g ['kis' in gap]> on Wednesday March 18, 2009 @04:01AM (#27238249)

    A few indie game studios have been forthcoming with data, although as he points out not a lot apart from the real blockbusters or bankrupt ones. One I'm familiar with, though, Chronic Logic [chroniclogic.com], has released some numbers.

    One of their more high-profile games was the platformer Gish [chroniclogic.com], since it won the 2005 IGF grand prize (an indie-game award); it sold 4,500 copies [gameproducer.net] at $20 apiece, netting about $121,000 after expenses. Slightly under half of those were in the first year out, a bit over a quarter the second year, and the rest trailing in in subsequent years. The puzzle game Triptych [chroniclogic.com] (2002), sold 1,000 copies [gameproducer.net] at $15 apiece, netting about $25,000 after expenses. Again about half were in the first year out, but sales straggled in more slowly but consistently after that, with about 15% of the total in each of the following 3 years.

    I haven't been able to find sales stats for probably their best-known game, Bridge Builder [bridgebuilder-game.com], though; pointers would be interesting.

    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by ClassMyAss (976281)
      Wow, that's incredibly low for Gish, given the publicity it recieved - though I probably shouldn't be surprised, since I didn't buy a copy either.

      I can't help but feel that $20 is a bit high for most indie games. Maybe there's some logic to the price point, but personally, I find it a bit high, and I'd be a lot more likely (i.e. more than twice as likely) to buy if the price was halved. $10 seems like something I'm willing to purchase on impulse because I'm curious to spend a couple hours playing it;
      • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

        by Trepidity (597)

        Seems like they might almost agree with you, since their most recent game [zatikon.com] is $14, so getting closer to that price point.

        As far as demos, they do actually have free demos for all their games; that's one thing I think Chronic Logic does right versus a lot of other indie game publishers.

        (Perhaps I'm sounding like a shill here, but I spent a good portion of my youth hooked on Bridge Builder, despite the relatively small size of the game.)

        • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

          by Trepidity (597)

          Oh, I forgot the other, rather important reason I'm a fan besides Bridge Builder: all their games are available for Linux.

    • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

      by telso (924323)

      it sold 4,500 copies at $20 apiece, netting about $121,000 after expenses.

      sold 1,000 copies at $15 apiece, netting about $25,000 after expenses.

      It may be 5 a.m. here, but that's the best business model I've seen in ages:

      1. Sell x units at $y apiece, creating $xy in revenue
      2. Factor in negative expenses to increase income
      3. ...
      4. Profit!
      • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

        by Trepidity (597)

        Haha yeah, I should've explained that better; the linked post has more detailed numbers. They made a more numerically accurate $81,176 on those 4,500 direct sales, after credit-card/paypal fees. The additional income was $16,000 from the IGF prize money, $6,200 from other sites that resold the game and gave a cut, and $17,500 from small retail publishers who licensed the game to sell in Europe and Asia brick&mortar.

  • by SpazmodeusG (1334705) on Wednesday March 18, 2009 @04:04AM (#27238271)
    Not every game makes a profit, we'd all be game developers if that were true. So is it fair to say piracy is to blame in this case? Or is this simply just one of the many games that don't make a profit regardless or there being piracy or not?
  • Angband (Score:2, Interesting)

    by janwedekind (778872)
    I used to play Moria [wikipedia.org] and later Angband [thangorodrim.net]. Although it is text-based, the source code is several hundred thousand lines! On the other side there are the old proprietary games which you can now get for a low price. I think it may be easier to differentiate your product by developing for J2ME mobiles. Event then competition will be very hard.
  • Very intresting. (Score:1, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward

    Despite what a lot of people has said in as reply to this guys blog. I think it's very interesting, if I had the time to actually start developing Indy quality software I would. Cause to those that complain about something or the other, it takes a lot of time, more then you think to develop even a game that looks like his. I'm happy that he has made the small amount of money that he has, it gives hope to an otherwise very hard businesses. Not many people make a dime out of Indy sales.

  • by Anonymous Coward

    Although the data about income from game sales welcome, his failure to give even ballpark figures with respect to salary somewhat invalidate any information you could get from this.

    For example.

    He's said "I pay myself a salary"

    So if his Salary is $75k and he has costs of $120k then he's personally doing just fine even though he's supposedly "making a small loss" as a company.

    Now I understand the privacy issues of not wanting to disclose what others earn.... but saying that the "salary costs were XYZ" across

  • Piracy is free publicity, if the game is so good that people are glued to their screens, they'll buy it, their friends will buy it, their less technical friends who don't even know how to pirate, will buy it. Not only that but it spreads the name of your indie company. It's free advertising, who knows those priates may be the source of your bug reports so that you can fix things in the game that would otherwise kill sales. I was even considering just passing around free copies outside beta.

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