How Much Do Premium Indie Games Really Make?

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.

Breakdown of sales by percentage of revenue earned in 2018.
iOS (96.05%) Android (3.5%) Amazon (0.45%)

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…

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Where Shadows Slumber is now available for purchase on the App Store, Google Play, and the Amazon App Store!

Find out more about our game at WhereShadowsSlumber.com, ask us on Twitter (@GameRevenant), Facebookitch.io, and feel free to email us directly at contact@GameRevenant.com.

Frank DiCola is the founder of Game Revenant and the artist for Where Shadows Slumber.

The Pocket Gamer Mobile Games Awards 2019

I don’t think we ever announced this formally on the blog, but we’ve been nominated for an award at the Pocket Gamer Mobile Games Awards! The competition is a week from tonight at the BAFTA center in London, so it seemed appropriate to talk about it now. Who knows? We might have even better news for you next week…

We were eligible for a Pocket Gamer Award since we attended one of their events during the 2017 – 2018 season and Where Shadows Slumber released in 2018. I submitted our application sometime in the fall and waited patiently. There were a lot of categories, so we picked all the ones that could tangentially apply (game design, art, music, etc) Finally, back in December of 2018, we got this message:

Hi Frank

We’re delighted to confirm that your game or company has been named as a finalist for the Pocket Gamer Mobile Games Awards 2019 – congratulations!

You can check out the full finalist listings here.

The PG Mobile Games Awards recognizes the industry’s key players over the last year, from the developers making great games to the publishers, tool makers and service providers that are helping to build a platform for success.

The event will take place just after Pocket Gamer Connects London 2019 on the evening of January 22 at the prestigious BAFTA 195 Piccadilly, London.

If you’d like to share the great news, we’ve attached graphics below that you can use on your site or social media (#PGMGA19).

Congrats again!

Craig Chapple
Senior Editor
PocketGamer.biz

It’s such an honor to be a part of this contest! The email didn’t specify which award we’re nominated for, but as you can see on the website (and the image below) we’re up for Best Indie Developer. Wish us luck, everyone – the competition is fierce. Speaking of which…

The Competition

There are a lot of categories to peruse if you’re curious about who else is up for an award. Obviously, our attention is on the immediate competition surrounding Best Indie Developer. This is going to be tough to win – one of the nominees is Team Alto, creators of Alto’s Adventure and 2018’s Alto’s Odyssey. Not to mention the fact that Ben Esposito created Donut County… maybe we should just say “it’s an honor to be nominated!” and leave it there. Being included next to such awesome people is an award in itself!

By any chance, if you’re a fan of Where Shadows Slumber who lives in London, by all means go to the show in our stead and pick up our award for us! Seriously though – as I’ll explain in next week’s money blog post, Jack and I are going to cut back on expensive travel options so that we can actually make money from this game instead of always trying to recoup our investments. It would be a blast to attend in person, but that’s a luxury we’ll have to indulge in some time in the future when we’re wealthy famous game developers. For now we’ll just wait for the email [ *_*]…

Next Week: No Pie Charts

As I indicated above, next week I will actually post the money blog I’ve been teasing for months! I’m nearly done with the corporate taxes for 2018 and then I’ll make some nice charts for you loyal readers. Jack hates pie charts, but you can expect a lot of cake charts and cookie charts instead.

P.S. Want to help us with something entirely unrelated? You can nominate us for the Player’s Choice award at next month’s Bit Awards by going here…

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Where Shadows Slumber is now available for purchase on the App Store, Google Play, and the Amazon App Store!

Find out more about our game at WhereShadowsSlumber.com, ask us on Twitter (@GameRevenant), Facebookitch.io, and feel free to email us directly at contact@GameRevenant.com.

Frank DiCola is the founder of Game Revenant and the artist for Where Shadows Slumber.

Who’s Going To MAGFest 2019?

Happy New Year, everyone!

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.

 

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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!

 

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Where Shadows Slumber is now available for purchase on the App Store, Google Play, and the Amazon App Store!

Find out more about our game at WhereShadowsSlumber.com, ask us on Twitter (@GameRevenant), Facebookitch.io, and feel free to email us directly at contact@GameRevenant.com.

Frank DiCola is the founder of Game Revenant and the artist for Where Shadows Slumber.

Upcoming Patch: Review Requests

In a patch that will go live later this week, we’re adding a small pop-up window to the game that asks the player if they would take a moment to review the game. I would have put this update through last week (Jack finished this feature a while ago), but my laptop was on the fritz and I just got it back this morning.

I realize it’s a bit odd to talk about a patch before it goes out, but I wanted to explain our thought process behind this addition. This patch will be a bit different than the others. We’ve just been fixing bugs for the past few weeks, but this is an addition that might rub people the wrong way. Read on if you’re an indie developer, because this totally affects your business…

 

No one likes “barriers to fun.”

Why We Didn’t Launch With This

Jack and I spent a long time working on Where Shadows Slumber. During that time, the user interface went through quite a few iterations. The “user experience” was even more important to us than the interface itself. We always asked ourselves what we wanted the player to feel when they first opened the app, or when they opened the app after closing it, or when they returned to the app after not playing Where Shadows Slumber for a few days.

One of our core principles was “don’t annoy the user,” and we took that very seriously. For you old-timers out there, did you ever notice how our free Demo jumps right into the first Level straight from the Splash Screen? Or did you notice how the final version of the game goes right into the Level 0-1 title card after the Splash Screen? We tried to take out as many “barriers to fun” as we could to make the experience as painless as possible. I think we did a great job! So far I’ve only seen one complaint that the game “has no Main Menu,” and that was on a 5-star review. So it wasn’t that big of an issue after all!

Anyway, when the topic of review requests came up, we weren’t enthusiastic about the idea. Sure, every mobile game does it – but we were worried it would annoy people so much, they would give the game a bad review, and say something like “too many pop-ups!!” People are weird. You never know what might set them off.

But it’s a classic Catch-22, because if we don’t ask for reviews, we might not get one at all. Less reviews & ratings mean that our game won’t become popular, which leads to less downloads, and the app goes into a death spiral. Furthermore, right now people who don’t enjoy Where Shadows Slumber have a lot of motivation to leave a bad review. But people who did enjoy the game have no motivation to leave a positive review. Think of it this way – when is the last time you left a great review for a restaurant you love? Have you ever done that? But I bet if you had a terrible experience at a restaurant, you couldn’t wait to go outside and write all about it on Yelp. It’s human nature to ignore the positives in life and let negative experiences motivate our actions.

Our old Demo got a ton of ratings (6,000+) compared to our final production release on Google Play. I realize that version was free, and it’s been out for two years, but I think a review request also had something to do with it. The problem is that the Demo’s review request was at the very end of the experience after the last Level. I don’t really want people to have to beat the entirety of Where Shadows Slumber before they get a message asking them to leave a review. Instead, we’re putting the request towards the middle of the game.

Overall, I’m pretty optimistic. If we get this feature in before the next time Where Shadows Slumber goes on sale, and then drive a lot of downloads / installs with that sale, we might get a nice review bomb to bring us higher up the charts.

In conclusion, we’re hoping this addition:

  • Won’t annoy people too much
  • Will lead to more ratings overall
  • Will increase the rate of positive reviews to negative reviews

Wish us luck! Better yet, wish us 5-stars…

 

Eat an entire megaphone, as shown above. (No chewing!)

Make Your Voice Heard!

Once this launches, you probably won’t even notice it. Jack set a timer that’s pretty lengthy, so it’s rare that you’ll be asked twice or three times to review the app. Besides, if you haven’t done that already, what are you waiting for?

But seriously, if you have any comments or concerns, leave a comment on this post or on Facebook! We want to know what you think. Especially if you have any marketing ideas for us, because we want to do everything we can to get Where Shadows Slumber out to the whole world.

See you next week! A financial update article is in the works, so you won’t want to miss out. Keep your eyes peeled on this blog…

 

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Where Shadows Slumber is now available for purchase on the App Store, Google Play, and the Amazon App Store.

Find out more about our game at WhereShadowsSlumber.com, ask us on Twitter (@GameRevenant), Facebookitch.io, and feel free to email us directly at contact@GameRevenant.com.

Frank DiCola is the founder of Game Revenant and the artist for Where Shadows Slumber.

The Reddit Roundup

Now that our game has launched on Google Play, I’m making the rounds on Reddit showing it off to as many communities as possible. Do you have a Reddit account? Would you mind giving these posts a boost?

I realize this is kind of scummy – the whole point of Reddit is that the community decides what to upvote and downvote based on their hive-mind interest. But… we’re part of the community too, right?

Also, I couldn’t pass up the opportunity to brag about how popular our game is on the /r/IndieGaming subreddit after posting just one GIF. Read on, and thanks in advance for the help!

 

 

Boost These Reddit Posts!

Your mission, should you choose to accept it, is to upvote the following posts:

/r/IndieGamingMy friend (dev) and I (art) made a game where shadows change things

We did really well here already. Shout-out to Grant for recommending we post here and giving me advice about how to get on the top page. My initial post was boring, long, and corporate – we shortened it to basically just a website link and let the game speak for itself. Nearly 5,000 people viewed this, and it only cost me a few minutes of my time. I’ll have to come back to this sub more often!

/r/GamingNew mobile puzzle game where shadows change the environment

This post was dead on arrival, sadly. For a community as large as /r/Gaming, you’d expect more upvotes and comments. I doubt your help will get us on the front page, but you’re welcome to try. The front page of this sub is usually gaming memes or really popular titles.

/r/AndroidGaming[DEV] Where Shadows Slumber (Creepy / Puzzle / Adventure) just launched on Google Play!

This one didn’t do too badly, though I was hoping for more from a sub with this many subscribers. Plenty of comments though!

/r/IndieDevOur indie team made it to Google Play! [Where Shadows Slumber]

Solid engagement here from a community that I confused with /r/IndieGaming. This sub is all about the developers, and the process of making games. People seemed to like our trailer!

There’s more where that came from. Comment below with your favorite subreddit – if I can somehow tie it to the game, I will. Next up, I’m going to post rainy GIFs to /r/ImaginaryRain and see if there’s a snow subreddit too. (I’m not kidding! Tell me your favorite subreddit and I’ll work a plug in somehow. As long as it isn’t a NSFW subreddit…)

 

 

BONUS: Robert Adams of TechRaptor Reviewed Us!

We met Robert a loooong time ago during Playcrafting’s Spring 2016 arcade event. He’s kept in touch with us all this time, eagerly awaiting the game’s release.

I feel bad that it took so long to get a build out to him, but he’s on Android instead of iOS. So when our game launched on iOS first, it took a while to get him a copy. Now that we’ve released the game on Google Play, he published his thoughts on TechRaptor. Here’s a sneak peek:

Where Shadows Slumber is a game that I’ve been following for some time. I first saw a tiny poster with intriguing art at a Playcrafting event and got to talking with one of its developers. Since then, I’ve anxiously followed the game’s progress and was finally able to get my hands on the final release. Was it worth the wait? Absolutely.

Check out the full review here:

Where Shadows Slumber Review – Colorful Cliffs & Dark Depths

Thanks for your patience all these years, Robert! We hope you enjoyed the game [^_^ ]

 

We have some cool marketing stuff in the works right now, but nothing to announce yet… stay tuned, and thanks for your support!

 

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Where Shadows Slumber is now available for purchase on the App Store, Google Play, and the Amazon App Store.

Find out more about our game at WhereShadowsSlumber.com, ask us on Twitter (@GameRevenant), Facebookitch.io, and feel free to email us directly at contact@GameRevenant.com.

Frank DiCola is the founder of Game Revenant and the artist for Where Shadows Slumber.