After missing this show multiple years running due to totally forgetting about it, I finally got a chance to see Boston FIG through the eyes of an exhibitor! This past weekend, on Saturday, September 14th, two gyms in the Harvard Athletic Complex were filled with games by independent creators. Where Shadows Slumber was one of them! Read on to hear my first impressions of being an exhibitor at this show.
The schedule for this short show was pretty straightforward – setup on the Friday night beforehand, with a show from 9 am to 6 pm on Saturday followed by an award show. It’s worth mentioning the Friday setup was mandatory, and no setup was allowed the day of the event. (If you have a long drive to get to the show next year like I did, keep that in mind! Friday night traffic in Boston is brtual.)
I was next to the very chic and awesome looking Sole by Gossamer Games, and I definitely took notes on booth aesthetics. Look at those lamps! Tom always goes to shows in full white attire too, it’s very striking. I might have to come up with a Game Revenant uniform…
The Figgies took place in the other gym (where tabletop games were) at the end of the day. During the show, people could vote for your game by slipping a raffle ticket into your little box. At the end of the day they awarded the Audience Choice award to 1 tabletop and 1 digital game. They also awarded games based on juried categories like Compelling Game Mechanics and Best Visuals. (More on that below)
My legs were killing me at the end of the day, but I had a great time!
Show Analysis: Pros
As always, everyone who came to the booth absolutely loved the game! It was a busy day, too – I counted 135 demos (that is, people who stayed and played on a device for at least a few levels). Journalists from Hardcore Gamer and the Nerd Entertainment Hub approached the table, and the Hardcore Gamer coverage is already online! (Scroll down to read James Cunningham’s thoughts on Where Shadows Slumber)
The show is very affordable, too. You’re not guaranteed to make it into the show, but an application only cost me $63.69. If you don’t live near Boston you’ll have to drive, but parking was only $10 so travel wasn’t an issue. As far as lodging is concerned, that could make the show more expensive for you. (I lucked out because I have family that lives in the suburbs outside the city.)
Since it’s a curated show, you’ll receive detailed feedback from judges about what they thought about your game. This actually benefits work-in-progress titles a lot more, so consider going to Boston FIG pre-launch. Since Where Shadows Slumber has been out and finished for a year, it’s less helpful for us. Speaking of judges and feedback…
Show Analysis: Con
The only negative thing I can say about the event was that I never knew for sure if Where Shadows Slumber was eligible for an award or not. For Boston FIG, you need to apply for a specific award in order to be at the show. My understanding was that being accepted into the showcase meant you were also eligible for the award. (For example, we submitted under Compelling Gameplay Mechanics, but Best Visuals was another option)
So… was our game nominated or not? When they read the nominees for Compelling Gameplay Mechanics at the award show, there were only 3 games listed. I would have appreciated an email saying something like “hey so you’re not nominated for the award but you’re still accepted to the show!” Maybe they’re worried that if they do that, people will bail?
In any event, there’s always next year! (Or next game, I guess) If you’re in the greater Boston area and have a work-in-progress indie game, I highly encourage you to submit your work next year. Don’t forget, you can also go to the show as a customer and enjoy a fun filled day of gaming!
Thanks for your patience, trustworthy blog reader, as I took a leave of absence these past few weeks. I’ll tell you all about it once I climb out from under a pile of NDAs, which expire in the year 2030. There’s some exciting stuff to announce in September so I’m sure I won’t miss a week again for a while – until I take up drinking again, that is.
First up, there’s a show this weekend! The Boston Festival of Indie Games is this Saturday (9/14) at the Harvard Athletic Complex. (If you know the area, it’s on Harvard Street in Allston). Let me know if you’re coming to the event or if you live in the area. I’ll be driving up on Friday night to show off Where Shadows Slumber, which was admitted as a nominee for Compelling Gameplay Mechanics in the Digital Showcase.
The show goes from 9 am to 6 pm, with an award show to follow. I’m not sure if the award show is open to the public, but you can get tickets to the actual festival here: Buy Now
Digital Categories: Best in Show, Compelling Game Mechanics, Innovation in Art and Narrative, Multiplayer and Connected Gameplay, Experimental Game Design, Student Games, and Audience Choice Award
Tabletop Categories: Best in Show, Most Dynamic, Most Innovative, Best Game for Social Change, Best Family Game, Best Game in Progress, and Audience Choice Award
I’ve always heard good things, but I’ve never done this show or even attended. I like the one-day format, and it’s also a good chance to see some family that lives outside the city. Hope to see some Where Shadows Slumber fans there!
Wish Us Luck (x 2)
There’s an award show at Boston FIG, so cross your fingers and hope that Where Shadows Slumber takes home the big prize! I believe we’re only eligible to win in the category we’ve been nominated for, which is Compelling Game Mechanics. Of course, anyone can win the Audience Choice Award, which is won by rigging the vote during the day of the event. It’s going to be all hands on deck with that one, so if you come to the show be sure to bring singles. (“See a judge, bribe a judge!” ~Frank DiCola, 2019)
I’m also working on the Independent Games Festival submission for 2019, which is due by my birthday (September 30th). That’s going to be a tougher climb for sure, but it can’t hurt to take a chance on it! I think nominees get to go to GDC 2020 for free?
One more thing…
If you’re on Twitter, tweet “Happy Anniversary” to @blargzor sometime this week [ ^_^]! Jack, programmer and designer of Where Shadows Slumber, got married to his college sweetheart 1 year ago. (Their anniversary was actually yesterday, but this here is a Tuesday blog, damn it.) The couple has requested nice tweets or leaving them alone instead of the traditional “brick through a window with a note attached to it” that is customary for 1 year anniversaries. Respect their wishes!
“BostonFIG Fest returns for our 8th annual celebration of independent games! Join us at our flagship September event and play hundreds of games designed by talented people that may even be your neighbors!
Get inspired by the incredible game creator community that we have both regionally and beyond.”
“BostonFIG Fest (now in its 8th year) is a celebration of independent game development worldwide. The Fest showcases digital and tabletop games, with our showcase games selected from hundreds of submissions from independent game developers, carefully curated by a broad cross-section of game professionals and academics.
Fest attendees have the chance to play digital games, tabletop games, and immersive experience games in a casual environment, for a very affordable ticket price. The games at BostonFIG Fest are as follows: Tabletop games in the Competitive Showcase, Digital games in the Competitive Showcase, Tabletop Exhibitor Games, Digital Exhibitor Games, and even Sponsor Games in both Tabletop and Digital. Other Fest features include the Artist’s Alley, Tabletop Freeplay Area, Boffer Arena, the Figgies (Awards Show) Ceremony, and more!”
We submitted Where Shadows Slumber to this show at the end of April, on the 22nd. After a lengthy process laden with judges and juries, we got the acceptance letter just this week. They also gave us some feedback from the judges about our game. We’ll be in the Digital Competitive Showcase, mentioned above.
I’ve never been to Boston FIG before, but I’ve only heard good things about it. (It also comes during a time in the Calendar where there aren’t a million other game events going on and you can actually focus on this one.)
If you’ll be in Boston on September 14th, come to the Harvard Athletic Complex and check out all of the awesome games on display, including Where Shadows Slumber. Children under 12 attend Boston FIG for free, and there’s a scavenger hunt going on all day around the festival. Don’t miss it!
This Saturday there’s a huge Playcrafting event happening at the Microsoft Center in Times Square. We’re going to be showing off Where Shadows Slumber, and perhaps doing a bit more PC testing… don’t miss it! If you’re a fan of indie games and local businesses, you can get into this event entirely FREE! You just need to register for the event, which you can do here.
Video games are taking over the Microsoft office in Times Square for an all-out Expo celebrating local developers! Join us for a day of games, pizza and fun. All ages are welcome. We hope you can join us for our biggest seasonal gathering!
Over 100 game developers will be showing off their latest games one-on-one to a crowd of up to 1000 people. For developers, this is a great opportunity to show off their games (finished or unfinished) and get direct feedback from players. For everyone else, it’s a unique opportunity to try out the biggest collection of games made in and around NYC all in one place. More games being added daily.
Robert Adams of Tech Raptor has a good article about what you can look forward to at this event right here. He also mentioned us specifically!
I can’t say enough good things about Playcrafting. If I keep promoting them, Dan’s going to have to bring me onto the payroll at this time. But seriously – even if you’re not ready to show off your game yet, I strongly recommend these events for developers. If you can get into New York City by car, train, or bus, then GET HERE! It’s never too late to join the community.
It’s never too early, either. Jack and I have been going to these since 2016, if you can believe that. It was this very event (Spring Play) where we first showed off the Where Shadows Slumber Demo and started to get noticed. Robert says as much in one of his many articles about the game:
“…a game called Where Shadows Slumber had caught my attention at the 2016 Playcrafting Spring Expo. I got a card from the developer and decided to keep an eye on the game while it was under development.”
Robert N. Adams of TechRaptor
You never know who will be at these events, or what connections you’ll make with unlikely people. Hope to see you there!
Don’t forget to RSVP on Facebook too, and share the event!
Are you going to be in Washington D.C. next weekend? The Where Shadows Slumber Global Tour™ continues with a trip to AwesomeCon 2019. The lovely organizers of MAGFest’s Indie Videogame Showcase were nice enough to invite us to AwesomeCon once again. Why is it a triumphant return, you ask?
The last time I went to AwesomeCon, our game was still in development. Returning again reminds me of a few blast-from-the-past AwesomeCon moments, like this dorky video I took at the show:
Look at those screenshots! The game was so early in development just two years ago, I can hardly believe it. We were still testing a lot of those designs and none of the art looked good yet.
I hope you enjoy that quick trip down memory lane. If you’re new to the blog, keep reading – our archive is full of embarrassing Where Shadows Slumber history like that.
Most importantly, if you’re going to be in Washington D.C. next weekend, we can’t hang out because you need a badge to get into AwesomeCon. But if you’re at AwesomeCon next weekend, stop by the table and say hello! We have the full version of Where Shadows Slumber for you to play, and you can ask me war stories about the game’s development.
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…
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!