Where Shadows Slumber has been slowly climbing up the App Store puzzle charts the past few days. (Rank 37 in Paid Puzzle apps, last time I checked) Let’s see how far we can climb after this week’s flash sale in honor of Halloween!
Shamelessly reuse last year’s Halloween trailer? Why, I would never do such a thing… (This one doesn’t even have the Google Play icon [>_< ])
Starting tomorrow, the game will be on sale at only $0.99 for 48 hours. (Just in time for mischief night) By the time the clock strikes “November”, the sale is gone! You’ll have to wait until Black Friday to get another deal like this…
Does it count as a flash sale if I tell everyone about it beforehand? Who cares! Tell someone who doesn’t have the game yet that this is their big chance to grab it at the lowest price ever [^_^ ]
Feast your eyes upon it and cower in fear, plebians!
In all seriousness, the entire Where Shadows Slumber team would like to extend warm thanks toward the CT FIG team for this wonderful prize. Thank you for selecting us to show off at CT FIG, and thanks to the judges for recognizing our work!
Where Shadows Slumber, available now on iOS and Android, is certainly innovative. It may be similar to other games in style and tone, but it’s impossible to find another game that uses shadows the way we do. (We dare you to try! Helsing’s Fire doesn’t count.) If you know of another game that uses our mechanics and was published to the market prior to our 2016 demo, let me know in the comments!
Below you’ll find my scattered thoughts on the show, and some photos of the event. Thanks for reading! [^_^ ]
Shots and Thoughts
This show was less busy than last month’s TooManyGames. I suspect it’s because the Hartford Convention Center was divided into two Halls, A and B: A was for Connecticon, and B was for CT FIG. The divide is a bit strange, and I kept wishing more people would come over from that side during the weekend. But I understand CT FIG is still growing – the last time I went to this show, it was held in a board game shop in Newington!
I conducted 100 demos with people during the weekend, which led to 11 confirmed downloads, mainly on Android. I also think I’m going to switch from giving cards away free to giving pins away for free. People REALLY love those cards (obviously, because they have screenshots from the game on them!).
The setup, above. This is the first time I’ve shown off Where Shadows Slumber using a round table. (CT FIG began as a tabletop show and I was only 1 of 8 digital titles at the show!) I actually really liked that. It made way more sense than having an awkward rectangle table. Keep note, showrunners!
Everyone loved the game! That one guy on the right was at the table for nearly four hours on Saturday [o_o ] He beat EVERY puzzle! (And found a few issues… they’ll be fixed once the big July patch launches later this month.)
An intimate award ceremony, held after the show ended on Sunday.
Last but not least, shout-out to my boothmate Promote Pluto who has an adorable card game / webcomic about restoring Pluto to it’s former glory as a planet. So cute!
We can’t wait to see how CT FIG grows over the next year!
Back in April, I had the pleasure of showing off our game Where Shadows Slumber at AwesomeCon in Washington D.C. (Click here for the recap.) While I was there, someone mentioned a convention called TooManyGames and asked me if I was going. I had never heard of it before, and the deadline to apply as an indie had passed just a few days earlier. Despite that, I applied anyway because it sounded fun, and it was an even closer drive from Hoboken than Washington D.C. since TooManyGames is in Oaks, Pennsylvania.
I ran into a ton of problems during the weekend, but TooManyGames itself is a blast! This blog post is a recap of the convention, but the short version is this: if you’ve never been before, you should really check it out!
The Pennsylvania Turnpike’s Revenge
I thought I’d save money on my AirBnB costs and drive to TooManyGames on Friday morning (Day 1 of the show) instead of the night before. In theory, this made total sense. Hoboken is two hours from Oaks, the drive isn’t bad at all, and the show didn’t begin until 2 pm. My spartan setup for Where Shadows Slumber takes all of 15 minutes to prepare. I don’t need an entire night to set up beforehand like some people do!
This plan would have worked if not for one thin piece of metal that came loose on a bridge somewhere along the Pennsylvania Turnpike. This piece of metal, when it encounters tires moving at 70 mph, rips them to shreds. My car wasn’t the only one that got rekt, either. The moment I heard the loud BOOM and I felt my back-right tire disintegrate on the highway, I looked to my right and noticed that tons of cars had pulled over on the side of the road.
They were all changing their back-right tires. The cops were there, a bunch of mechanics and tow trucks were there, and I had to pull over. The mechanic who helped me out said that so far, 30 cars had gone over the same exact spot on the bridge and got flat tires! The government accidentally set up a drug-cartel style nail-trap across the road. (This is what your toll fee goes to, I suppose – democratic nail-traps) Suffice it to say, we had to throw a spare on there just to get to Oaks and I was 2 hours late for the first day. Not an auspicious start! Pennsylvania is totally paying to fix my tire now that I’m back in Hoboken.
In truth, I’m just glad I’m ok. I didn’t get hurt, I didn’t see anyone else crash, and being a little late is not the worst thing in the world. (But I’m definitely going to remember this the next time I get into an argument with someone about taxes and roads.) Shout-out to Ford Roadside Assistance for offering me free access to a mechanic who came to me on the side of the Turnpike and swapped the spare out! The government mechanic was charging $60.00 and told me to just wait for Ford to come [<_< ]…
The theme of TooManyProblems continued, when on Sunday morning I awoke to see this wonderful push notification:
So Google does this a lot – they randomly check the apps on their store for this one specific thing, and then take your app down without checking with you first. [ /o_o]/
We went live again yesterday morning, so hopefully those who liked the game over the weekend were able to find it!
Sorry, I had to get those stories off my chest. The truth is, I had a great time in Oaks! This show was awesome and I’m definitely going back to TooManyGames next year. How about a look on the bright side? Here’s 8 good things that happened, in absolutely no coherent order:
1.) I conducted 200 personal demos with attendees (yes, I keep track of this stat at conventions!)
2.) About 20 people bought the game right there at the booth, and some left reviews over the weekend. I think this is due to my new policy on pins – no freebies! Cards are always free, but the pins are exclusively for those who have purchased Where Shadows Slumber. (More details on that below…)
3.) Speaking of cards, I got to debut the new slate of Where Shadows Slumber business cards. There are 8 cards, since we have 8 different Worlds in the game. Everyone loved them, and they drew lots of people to the table.
4.) Someone asked for my autograph on one of the cards… LOL
5.) I ran into some of my old friends from the Stevens Game Development Club as well as some indies I met a few months ago at AwesomeCon, and tabletop developers I’ve known since the Mr. Game! era.
6.) The AirBnB I stayed at in Phoenixville had a cat.
7.) I got the chance to hang out with Nando and Emily, old friends from Stevens, in Philadelphia on my way back home Sunday night. (Nando is the host of the extremely popular channel NandoVMovies on YouTube. Like and Subscribe!)
8.) Finally, before I left Pennsylvania on Sunday night, I had the distinct honor of walking into a Wawa for the first time in my life. The scales fell from my eyes, I was comforted, I felt accepted, and I experienced true luxury. All other pretenders to the throne (7-Eleven, and other atrocities) revealed themselves to be false gods and I know the truth now.
Two Lessons Learned
During TooManyGames, I spent most of my time trying to learn what drives people to purchase things. For the longest time, Jack and I were been in “marketing mode” – which is to say, we wanted to tell people about our game. But since launch, we’ve transitioned for the first time into “sales mode”, and I’m still not used to that. It’s strange knowing that every new person is a potential $3.00, or a potential 5-star rating. In some ways it was easier before. We could always say “the game is a work in progress!” and be happy with people that thought it was cool and promised to check it out later.
After this weekend I have a new convention strategy, based on these two principles. I strongly encourage you to adopt these ideas as well if you are in “sales mode” like us!
“Later Isn’t An Option. Buy It Now!“
It’s tempting to use these shows as a chance to hand out as much swag as possible, show the name of your game to as many people as possible, and demo the game as many times as possible. But I’m focusing a lot more on sales and other quantifiable stats, because the truth is that the people at these shows are being bombarded with about a hundred other games at the same time.
If they don’t buy your game in front of your eyes, they probably won’t buy it later when they get home unless they are highly motivated already or were prevented from purchasing it during the show. So I’ve been thinking of ways to ratchet up the pressure and persuade people to pull the trigger while they’re at my booth. I recommend doing some kind of promotion / deal that only lasts while you’re at the con. (Reducing the price doesn’t count, by the way! That will not encourage an impulse purchase.) This is connected to the next piece of advice…
Make It Physical
When selling digital products, you are at a disadvantage. A tangible item like a cup of coffee will always seem more real / justifiable as a purchase than a non-tangible item like music or video games. (This is why free versions of those go further – such as Pandora, Candy Crush, and piracy) If you’re at a convention, you have the ability to do something that Internet ads can’t do – you can make the purchase physical. That’s why I only gave buttons out to people who purchased the game on the store. I needed to make the purchase physical for them to persuade them to buy the game in front of me. I also didn’t feel like selling pins because I’m not in the pin business, I’m in the gaming business! And I know for a fact that this lead to more sales. One guy literally said these words:
“So to get the pin I just buy this?” (And he held up his phone with Where Shadows Slumber’s app page loaded on it)
“That’s right!”, I said. He bought the game and I gave him the pin. It seems so backwards, right? But that’s just how humans are, and you shouldn’t fight our human nature. The next time I do a show like this, I’ll have more physical stuff to sell. Not exactly merchandise (logo tees, plushies, etc) but stuff like Google Play codes printed on cards. I saw one guy selling Steam Codes as physical cards that were about the size of Magic: The Gathering cards. That’s genius!
I am happy to announce that Where Shadows Slumber has been accepted into the 5th annual Connecticut Festival of Indie Games (CT FIG), which is taking place within ConnectiCon XVII this July! They have an indie showcase of board games and video games that were offered at a discount to those who applied early and submitted the game to their judges. The show is in Hartford, CT next month (July 12th – 14th) at the Connecticut Convention Center.
I’ve never been to ConnectiCon before, but I went to a CT FIG event back in 2016 during the Mr. Game! years and met Jason Miceli of Geek Fever Games. The event was quite small, and very board game focused, but apparently their offerings have expanded to digital games as well! (There’s not many of us, but we’re growing…) I’m glad to hear they have connected with ConnectiCon to reach even more people! I wish Jason the best as they expand the CT FIG brand.
Exciting news for you dedicated weekly blog readers – Where Shadows Slumber has been accepted into the Indie Prize at Casual Connect Europe this year! The event will take place May 28th – 30th at the Queen Elizabeth II Centre in London.
We applied earlier this year on a whim and I honestly didn’t know if we’d go, even if they accepted us. But Casual Connect has generously provided to pay for our spot on the show floor as well as a hostel, so the trip just costs a few business days and plane tickets. Worth it! (Tickets to the show range from 200 – 800 GBP [o_o ])
You can find out more about the contest here, and buy tickets here.
Of course, if you read this blog and you live in London, let me know! We can do a London meetup at Casual Connect or something.
I’m not sure what to expect from this show. I’m glad we got into the Indie Prize, and seeing London again will be nice (even if it’s just the Exhibition Center) but it’s not clear to me who the audience of Casual Connect is. Sometimes these shows are mainly populated with ad networks looking for customers.
That’s not us at all, so I’d be disappointed by that turnout. With any luck, Casual Connect will invite some potential customers who love indie games and I can coax them into giving our game a 5-star review [^_^ ]
Regardless, you can count on me to provide a critical look at the show once it’s over. I’m always pretty honest on here about that sort of thing. Wish me luck at the end of the month!
We just had a crazy weekend, courtesy of Playcrafting and Dan Butchko. If you’re a game developer in NYC, or part of the industry, hopefully you were there too and this blog post is redundant. But if you missed either of these awesome events, shame on you! Read on to find out what you missed…
Note: Remember that any critiques in this post are my own thoughts and don’t reflect the views of anyone else on the team. Except for the thing about Jack and Overwatch – he really hates that game.
Day 1: The ’19 Bit Awards
Before the awards ceremony began at Johnson Hall (an auditorium that’s part of the New School) all the nominees were invited to showcase our games in a separate room. Here’s a little bit of the room being set up:
I didn’t have a ton of space at this showcase and I can’t say I accomplished all that much. But it felt nice to be recognized! We chatted with a few people we recognized and got something like ~10 people to play the game. Pretty soon, we were whisked away to get in line for our wristbands so we could head into the auditorium.
Nitpick: Next time I would hand developers their wristbands so they can stay by their games! I left Jack stationed at the table while I spent half an hour on a line for my band. It’s fine – there wasn’t enough room for both of us behind the table anyway. Just something for future reference…
After the showcase, the award show began! Dan got Carolina Ravassa (the voice of Sombra from Overwatch) to host the show, much to Jack’s chagrin. As the lights dimmed, and Jack ranted about how much Overwatch sucks, we went through the nominees. Between awards, upcoming games from the Playcrafting community showed off their trailers. There were also a few game-related performances for entertainment. All of this was set to live music from Zac Zinger and the Bits, who returned from last year. The band was incredible!
I generally don’t like quirky things interrupting award shows, because I’m a boring person. But there were two moments I really loved: the first was when ESC Games’ presentation crashed and burned, which meant they had to improvise and vamp for a bit before the next segment began. Those two guys are hilarious all on their own – no games needed.
The other moment I really enjoyed went exactly as planned: Dalton Grey, of the Adventure Society, performed a live “adventure” with four audience members. (Carolina Ravassa subbed in for an absent audience member, actually) You had to be there to enjoy it, I really can’t explain it well. Dalton obviously had a script and a set of sound cues he was running the “players” through, and it was a lot of silly fun. This was way better than his intro last year, because we got the chance to laugh at (and with) the performers onstage. Last year I believe Dalton was alone on stage, asking for audience participation, which felt a bit cheesy. Keep up the good work, dude!
Deep cut for long-time fans – remember when Earl (all the way on the right in the image above) interviewed Jack and myself 100 years ago?
There were three kind of odd choices during the night – one was a strange dance sequence following the Best Style award. The game Hamsterdam looks awesome, but the dancing seemed kind of out of place. I guess this kind of thing happens a lot at award shows? Then there was a long (long) clip of random Just Cause 4 footage that played over live music from the band. This game footage had no narrative to it at all, it just seemed to show off cool things you could do in the game. But I’ve seen better Just Cause sandbox gameplay from Reddit memes, so this clip left a bit to be desired.
The final odd choice was after Jen MacLean accepted her Game Changer award… their tribute to her was just someone playing (playtesting!) Civilization II. I didn’t mind it at first, but it seemed pretty silly. A women with her storied career probably worked on a bunch of games – why not include more? The video lingered on Civilization II for an awkward amount of time. Again, there wasn’t really a narrative to what we were shown. If they need a video editor for next year, I’m signing up!
Nitpicks aside, we were really there to see if we could win the Player’s Choice Award. I spent the week prior running a shoestring get-out-the-vote campaign. Alas, even though we did not win the coveted Player’s Choice Award, I still want to thank everyone who voted for Where Shadows Slumber! The honor went to Swimsanity!, and I’m happy for them. I got the chance to be next to them during the Winter Play Expo the next day, and they’re really cool guys.
Speaking of which…
Day 2: The Winter Play Expo
This year’s Bit Awards was just part one of two days of gaming. On Saturday, we filled the 6th floor of the Microsoft Center again to show off our indie games. Dan allowed all nominees from the previous night to exhibit for free, waiving the usual $50.00 fee. Thanks, Dan!
Some of the attendees have known about Where Shadows Slumber for years, so it was a good chance to tell people that our game was now available. I also met a lot of new faces. I can’t say it was the best show Playcrafting has ever done – I was in one of the back rooms, so it didn’t get much traffic. For all I know there may have been a ton of people at the show, but they just didn’t know this back room was open. No matter, there was always someone tapping away at the iPad in front of me + free pizza. Can’t complain!
For future conventions, I think having it right on top of the Bit Awards (and one week after the Global Game Jam) was a bit too much to handle at once. I’m not sure if the Winter Play Expo was even announced the night before, which feels like a wasted opportunity. (If it was, and I forgot, take that as a sign that it needed a bit more publicity) My suggestion for next year is to space everything out across February a bit more.
This is all due to the efforts of Dan Butchko, who has been an enormous help to Where Shadows Slumber throughout the years. Playcrafting is a really incredible resource for indie developers in the NYC area. (I plug their company so often, people must think I work for them.) If you make games and you haven’t come to one of these events yet, I urge you to add it to your schedule! We’ll definitely be there.
Next week: Thinking of blogging about our next steps regarding different platforms… comment below with questions about porting Where Shadows Slumber.
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…