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…
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!