I come bearing good news, and apologize for posting this blog so late in the day. Jack and I are doing a panel at PAX East 2019 all about Where Shadows Slumber. If you read our recent tell-all about the company financials, you already got a taste of what we’ll discuss. This blog post is actually somewhat of a plea for help, though. Read on…
First: See You at PAX East?
Jack and I are definitely attending PAX East this year, though we haven’t figured out the exact details yet. It’s one of the biggest shows in the U.S.A. and it’s within driving distance, so we can’t miss it. Recently we applied to be part of Playcrafting’s booth at the show. It’s not a sure thing (since we could get passed over) but we’re optimistic. Playcrafting has been so good to us over the years, so it would be an honor to represent them and the NYC game scene at PAX East. Remember, kids: #HobokenCountsAsNYC
Even if that doesn’t work out, we’ll probably pay for a booth way out in hell. Some booth spaces at PAX East are just plain terrible, but it’s better than sitting at home doing nothing that weekend. Besides, we’ve got a panel to run! Speaking of which…
We submitted the following talk to PAX East, and it was formally accepted yesterday:
What Do Premium Games Really Make?
Saturday, March 30th, 1:30 pm in the Arachnid Theater
Description: Everyone knows Monument Valley made a zillion dollars, but how well do other premium indie games perform on the market? How much money do your favorite games make? We’re baring it all as we discuss the financials of our game Where Shadows Slumber (a PAX East Indie Showcase 2017 Alumnus) and speak openly and honestly about the state of the market.
It’s an uncomfortable topic to talk about, for obvious reasons. We’re pretty nervous that it might make us look like failures (since we just recently hit the breakeven point, but haven’t made profits) or frauds (since we really only know our own story + haven’t done much research yet, so we lack data). That’s why we need your help!
If you or someone you know is a developer, contact us directly at contact@GameRevenant.com. We’re looking for indie game devs who don’t mind showing off their financials and letting us show the crowd. It would be good to have more than just our numbers on screen.
We also could use more panelists, so hop on if you’re coming to PAX East! Dan Butchko of Playcrafting is a tentative maybe right now, along with Jack and myself. Obviously, if you’re an indie dev or a community organizer, this panel is a free way to tell a room filled with people about your project. What do you have to lose?
Just be ready to bare all – I don’t like keeping this stuff a secret. My mission statement for this talk is something like “customers ought to know how games do, so they realize that the games they support with cash will reproduce and the games they don’t will fade away.” Still working on that. And no, you don’t have to agree with me to be on the panel. (Jack probably doesn’t even agree with me!) I think if we debate on stage it might actually be fun for the audience. We can sort everything out during the Q&A at the end, too.
So, to wrap up:
Email me if you are 100% coming to PAX East, you have knowledge on this topic, don’t mind revealing embarrassing things about yourself, and want to be on this panel. Do it ASAP!
Leave a comment if you know of other devs who have already made their financials public besides Monument Valley!
We’ll Always Have Boston
Are you going to PAX East? Comment below so we can meet up at the show! (We’ll look like those guys above, only more jaded and edgy) Please attend our panel as well, to show your support for premium games and indie developers.
Hello, loyal readers! If you’ve been following this blog for a while, you know I’ve been teasing a money post for quite some time. The fateful day has arrived! Spreadsheets, I summon thee!
If this is the first time you’re reading this blog, thanks for tuning in! My name is Frank DiCola, and I’m the CEO of Game Revenant. I was the artist and animator for Where Shadows Slumber, a premium indie puzzle adventure game that released late last year on the App Store and Google Play. We have a whole archive of posts going back two years if you want to take a look at our design process! However, this post is dedicated entirely to examining the financials of our launch window on the global mobile market.
Why put this information out for the world to see? Well, something that impressed me about Monument Valley back when it originally launched was how open the developers were about their income & expenses. Jack and I vowed to do something similar once Where Shadows Slumber launched. Of course, at the time, I hoped to also make as much money as Monument Valley, but as you’ll see below that didn’t exactly pan out. Even so, I expect this blog post will be really informative for indie developers who are just starting out. I wish I could tell you once your game hits the store, you’ll be rolling in money. But it’s probably better for you to hear the truth, in plain black in white.
This blog post will chronologically address the income and expenses related to publishing Where Shadows Slumber, covering the following:
Our pre-marketing budget
Our development costs
The revenue Where Shadows Slumber made
Our break-even point
The marketing effort going forward
This is going to be a dry one if you came here for art, programming, music, or other fun game design stuff. The part no one tells you about running your own indie studio is that you spend a lot of time examining old bank account statements and crunching numbers in Excel to get your taxes in on time. Read this post if you want to know what it’s like spending money to promote your game!
DISCLAIMER: The income and expenses here are 100% related to Where Shadows Slumber. Costs related to running a business (paying an accountant, office supplies) are not included in this post!
2016: The Early Days
If you’ve been following us for a while, you’ve heard us talk endlessly about how we started our development with a demo / vertical slice version of the game. Because that didn’t launch until late 2016, this year was mostly spent in heads-down development mode. And since Jack and I were working together on the game for free (well, for future revenue share) there were no salary-related expenses either.
In fact, there were so few expenses in 2016, I can just list them in a sentence: we paid for an IndieCade submission, bought a standing display banner, entered into the PAX East Indie Showcase, bought the Where Shadows Slumber domain name, and started an Apple developer license, for a grand total of $402.15 for the year.
2016 Expenses: $ 402.15
2016 Income: $ 0.00
With nothing to sell, and no ads in our (unexpectedly popular) free Demo, we didn’t pull in any money during 2016. That’s fine though, because we weren’t expecting to make anything that year! Things get exciting in 2017, though…
2017: Hitting The Road
This was the year we started to really spend money on the game’s development, as well as pre-marketing. We spent a few thousand dollars, so it’s worth going category-by-category to discuss where we allocated money. The largest categories by far were Contract Labor and Travel Expenses, as you can see below:
Our Advertising budget was mostly spent on physical stuff we hand out at shows, like drop cards and Where Shadows Slumber buttons. The reason Contract Labor cost us so much is because Alba and Noah came in during the end of this year to make the game’s audio (worth it!), but we also paid our friend Zak Moy to make the logo and got our Demo professionally translated into multiple languages.
The number you see quoted here for Events actually reflects event submissions, as the only event that really cost money was the original PlayNYC at Terminal 5. You can see how team Meals really stack up over time, but the big culprit for doing events is Travel Expenses – it’s hard to get hotels and train tickets for cheap! Between travel, hospitality, and then stuff like parking and Uber receipts, we racked up a small fortune in travel expenses. The totals for this year were:
2017 Expenses: $ 10,456.74
2017 Income: $ 0.00
Once again, we didn’t do anything that would generate income. The game would still need another 9 months of development before it was ready for prime-time, and Game Revenant didn’t sell anything related to Where Shadows Slumber like T-shirts or plushies. No income yet, none expected!
2018: Finally… Money!
2018 was the year we finished development and launched the game on the App Store, Google Play, and the Amazon App Store. Our marketing efforts before launch consisted of a ton of travel, as you can see below. Contract Labor and Travel Expenses dominate once again, making up nearly $12,000 of the budget!
The Contract Labor section is dedicated entirely to paying our hard-working musicians, and the other categories fall into predictable camps (internet ads and swag for Advertising, full game translation for Professional Services, and Event fees for spots at Play NYC and Gameacon) The reason we racked up so much in Travel Expenses is because in 2018 we went to MAGFest, SXSW, and PAX East. Actually, most of the cost is from SXSW because of the flights to and from Austin. Driving to shows is really important!
2018 Expenses: $ 15,105.04
2018 Income: $ 21,229.24
We finally had some income now that the game was made available to the general public! While it felt good to have income for once, the total amount was sort of underwhelming. Premium games are a dying breed, and we knew that going in. Lots of people told us to fill the game with scummy ads and videos instead of charging up front, but we didn’t want to do that to you. Integrity comes at a steep cost though – our income from 2018 left us still at a deficit, meaning the game cost more to make than it made in revenue! I’ll talk more about that in the next section, but first let’s examine some details about the launch.
We launched on iOS on September 20th and then on Google Play on November 20th of 2018. I expected the App Store to make more money than Google Play, but since we released two months earlier on the App Store these numbers are a bit skewed. Apple got a head start, no fair! Even so, my gut tells me that Google Play will continue to under-perform the App Store as time goes on. As you can see in the Tasty Circle chart above, iOS dominated our sales and it wasn’t even close.
But what really disappointed me was the abysmal performance we had on the Amazon App Store – I knew it would be bad, but I didn’t think it would be that bad. The number shown there is from two sales, one of which is me. (I needed to get the game onto our Kindle and that was the quickest way)
The area graph above gives you an idea of the bumps in sales we got, as well as their impact. Don’t be mislead – although the line is hugging the bottom of the graph and sales are poor, we get a tiny amount of money each day. I don’t think we ever had a day where no one bought the game, which is good.
We hoped the buzz from Launch Week, where we were featured on top of the Games Tab, would extend forever. But once we left that prime-time slot, sales plummeted and never recovered. We were able to boost sales with events like the Halloween Sale and Cyber Monday, where the game was offered at a discount. Then we got surprised with the Game of the Day announcement in early December. Kudos to Apple – they really did a lot to promote our tiny indie game, and I’m sure they’ll include it in a few articles sporadically throughout the coming year. But it’s really hard to get eyes on the game without them holding our hand, as much as I hate to admit that.
(There isn’t enough interesting data to show from Google Play yet, so I’ll have to put a chart up for that sometime later this year once there’s more to see.)
2019: Break Even, Break Out
Starting on January 1st, 2019, Where Shadows Slumber needed $4,734.69 to hit our break-even point. It doesn’t pay to list that number in terms of “units required to break-even” because sometimes the game is on sale, and other times people buy the game in other currencies that don’t convert neatly into $5. Here’s a better way to put it into perspective: Apple is going to send us $2,764.77 on January 31st, and Google already put $879.87 in the company account on January 15th. So we’re already down to just $1,090.05 before we break even, which I predict will be reached by the end of February.
Of course, breaking even is pretty lame since sales are just barely trickling in at this point. Ideally, we would have broken even a long time ago and found a nice rhythm where our daily sales can lead to a good projection for each quarter’s revenue. We’ll break even without any extra effort just because people are randomly finding out about the game – but in order to break out of this slump, it’s going to require more effort. One cause for optimism is that we haven’t launched in China yet, though a publishing deal has been in place since 2017. (Not their fault at all, obviously!) Now that the blockade on new government approvals seems to be ending, we’ll get up-and-running in that country hopefully by Q3 2019.
As far as the rest of the world is concerned, I recently told the team my plan to re-invest the money Where Shadows Slumber made back into marketing so we can escape the doldrums. Only this time, that money won’t have to be paid back to the company. Game Revenant isn’t in debt or danger of bankruptcy, so we can use this money to boost the game. Then, each quarter’s revenue will go directly toward profit sharing so that everyone (including myself) can finally get some money in their bank accounts.
So, if you haven’t purchased our game yet, please do so! Hopefully our next financial report will be a bit more exciting. For those of you who are already super-fans, be on the lookout for some related merchandise coming from us in the coming weeks…
Sup peeps! You may have noticed that I haven’t written a blog post for a while, but this week is different! This past weekend was MAGFest 2019, and, as Frank mentioned last week, he was unable to come. Since I ended up flying solo for this show, it only makes sense for me to touch base to talk about it!
MAGFest, and MIVS in particular, is always awesome, but this year was a little different. Frank and I usually drive down together, man the booth together, and basically work together on anything that needs to be done. With someone else there, it doesn’t seem that daunting, but it’s a pretty big task to take on alone – I feel bad for all of the conventions I’m unable to attend that Frank manages alone!
So It Begins…
After getting up at 4 am to catch my bus down to Maryland, I set up shop in the MIVS showroom. People started filtering in, and the convention had well and truly begun!
Come play Where Shadows Slumber!
The first thing I noticed was that it felt like fewer people were coming over to the Where Shadows Slumber booth. At first I attributed this to the fact that it was the first day of the show, but it ended up being a theme throughout the weekend. I quickly figured out what it was – because I had taken the bus down, I didn’t have room to bring everything we normally bring to shows, including our banner. Without it, the biggest piece of marketing on the table is no larger than a normal piece of paper. Because of our unique art style, actually seeing a screenshot of the game is what makes people approach the booth – since there wasn’t anything large showcasing the art, a lot fewer people decided to engage. A lot of fellow indies at these shows lament about how hard it is to showcase a mobile game, but this was the first time that I really felt it.
That was made a little more sour by the fact that the game next to us, One Step From Eden, was really awesome, and their booth showcased it very well. People were crowding in front of it, which was both a blessing and a curse – sometimes people waiting for a turn to play would trickle over and play Where Shadows Slumber, but other times the crowd would spill over and block the view of our booth. Of course, I would never begrudge them for it – they’re fellow indies, and they managed to make a great game that people love, so I’m glad they got so much attention!
That small speed bump aside, the show was pretty awesome. Our player to bug ratio was the highest it’s ever been, almost everyone who sat down and gave the game a chance ended up loving it, and we actually had a few people buy the game on the spot, which was a new (and really awesome) experience. Overall, it’s this fact that made this weekend, and pretty much all of the shows we go to, worth it – people love the game.
Image credit: xkcd.com
In fact, for the first time, someone came up to the booth, started playing the game, and ended up actually beating it. To be fair, she played about half of it on Friday and picked up where she left off on Saturday, but it’s still quite an achievement. Any slight annoyance I might have felt about someone playing the entire game without buying it was salved when she brought not one, or two, but three more people over to the booth to come play her favorite game of the weekend. In fact, on Sunday, before I left, she stopped by again and asked if she could have some extra buttons and cards, so she could give them to more people. I either didn’t catch her name, or I forgot it, but thanks for your help, kind stranger!
When Frank found out he couldn’t come this past weekend, I knew immediately that I would still be attending; MAGFest is too big a show to give up. The reality of it – running a 4-day show by myself – didn’t hit me until I sat down to do it on Thursday morning. It really wasn’t too bad – I’ve given the Where Shadows Slumbers pitch a thousand times at this point – but there are a lot of logistics involved in these shows (making sure devices are charged, answering people’s questions, enticing passers-by to come and play, etc.) that get a lot easier when there are multiple people at the booth. One of the biggest differences was that I couldn’t really leave to get food or hit the bathroom, because there would be no one to watch the booth!
Day 3: Look at this guy, all ready to help out
After a somewhat lonely Thursday and Friday, I decided to call in reinforcements. A friend of mine from the area was free on Saturday, and we had an extra ticket to the show for Frank, so he offered to come in and help out. Even though he didn’t have any experience running a booth, and had only played the first few levels of the game it was a huge help! After watching me talk to the first few people who showed up, he knew enough of the sales pitch to handle a newcomer if I was already in conversation with another player. In fact, just having someone there to talk to during the downtime made the day run a lot more smoothly.
I also want to throw a shoutout to Brian Intile and the team from Touhou Microgame, whose booth was immediately behind ours. We actually know them in real life, so it was fortunate that they were set up so close to us – in the stretches when neither of us had too many people to talk to, we could chat, or play each others’ games, or watch each others’ booths. Their game is also awesome (moreso if you’re invested in the Touhou Project), so if you get a chance, give it a shot!
Bugs and Improvements
One of the biggest differences between a show before the release of a game and one after is how we can handle things like bugs. When we’re still squarely in development, a lot of things tend to be in flux. At a lot of the shows we’ve been to previously, a bug would come up, and our reactions would fall into a couple of camps:
That bug’s fixed in a more recent version.
That bug will be fixed when we make some change that we’re planning on making.
That bug has something to do with X, which we’re gonna update soon, so it’ll probably end up being fixed.
We know about that bug, and we’re gonna fix it as soon as we get a chance!
I’ve never seen that bug before – if we can reproduce it, we’ll try to fix it if there’s time!
A lot of these cases have a decent amount of guesswork, and the majority of them don’t actually involve going home and fixing the bug directly.
Once the game is actually released, however, it’s a different story. There’s really only one camp that the bug can fall into:
We didn’t know about that bug, but we’ll fix it as soon as we get back!
Since there aren’t any big changes forthcoming, and there’s not a huge amount of work that we’re doing day-to-day, it’s a lot easier for us to figure out what’s causing the bug, we know our fix isn’t going to be invalidated by a future change, and we have more time to actually fix it! With that mindset, I kept a list of all of the bugs that I saw over the weekend (along with any places where the level and/or visual design could be improved), and I’m gonna start heading back into the code and fixing them! Fortunately, none of them were game-breaking or heavily impactful, so we don’t have to rush out a new build.
Players love Where Shadows Slumber!
All in all, MAGFest was a great show, even if I was the only one of us who was able to enjoy it. It’s well-run, and it has a good crowd – I was glad that we were accepted to the Indie Videogame Showcase, and I would totally recommend that any other indies give it a shot for 2020!
This is a quick blog post update to remind you that MAGFest 2019 is this weekend at the Gaylord Hotel & Convention Center in National Harbor, Maryland. I can’t say I’ve ever been a huge music fan, but MAGFest is exciting because of MIVS – the MAGFest Indie Videogame Showcase.
Even though they spell “video game” weird, the convention is awesome! Where Shadows Slumber has been given a complimentary booth in the MIVS section along with a bunch of other awesome indies. I unfortunately cannot attend due to an unexpected family tragedy, but Jack is still going. Say hi to him at the Where Shadows Slumber booth. (Not sure where it is yet, this convention is usually by-the-seat-of-your-pants.)
The festivities begin Thursday afternoon! MIVS core hours begin at 1 pm.
MAGFest Has Been Good To Us
If you’re a long time reader of this blog, you don’t need the whole speech again. You survived 2018’s Bomb Cyclone with us, and you remember the first time we were invited to MAGFest in 2017. It’s a great show, and we’re happy to return. I regret not being able to personally attend for the third show in a row, but I’ll be there next year. We can finally show off the finished product of Where Shadows Slumber, so who knows – maybe next year we’ll have another game in the works to show off?
I don’t have a lot of time on my hands right now sadly, so that’s it for now. Wish Jack good luck and expect some pictures of the event to be posted here next week!