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!
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…
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:
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.
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).
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…
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…
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!