Archive for July, 2012

$143,000 from 3 casual download games made in 6 months

Monday, July 9th, 2012

I went indie in 2005 and since then I’ve shipped 7 downloadable casual games for PC/Mac, worked on a Facebook game at Big Fish Games, done some consultancy work, and made a bunch of game jam games for fun.

Of the downloadable games, my first two were a flop. They have made $4174 over the course of 6 years! Two of the downloadable games were contract work for Big Fish Games, so I can’t share sales figures, but I can for the remaining 3 as follows:

The Wonderful Wizard of Oz

Launched November 2006
Total revenue=$50,707
Units sold=13,787

The Wonderful Wizard of Oz was the first game I made using BlitzMax. Early in 2006 I was approached by Alex Ahlund who had the idea to make a Wizard of Oz game because the copyright on the book had expired due to it being more than 100 years old. I was using BlitzPlus at the time but it was too limited to make commercial quality casual games (as my first two flops proved). So I spent 3 months learning BlitzMax and writing the Grey Alien BlitzMax Game Framework, which I have kept on improving up to the present day. Then I made the Oz game and we shipped the PC version on a bunch of major casual download portals. The Mac version didn’t come out until November 2008.

There was a big spike of sales at first, then revenue leveled out and remained constant for many years. Recently though I got it localised into many languages and re-promoted it on Big Fish Games and got it on some new portals and it has made a whole bunch more money (almost $10000). In fact it had its best month ever of sales in Jan 2012 – 5 years after the initial launch! Check out the graphs below (units sold and revenue per month):

Getting it localised, re-promoted and put on some new portals only took me 32 hours (I keep an accurate time log) so the extra revenue works out to be about $312 per hour so far. I’m still expecting a big royalty from another portal and I think that revenue will remain pretty good for quite a few months yet.

Previously all the royalties were from units sold but a couple of the new portals pay out based on number of plays and advertising and these alternative “orchards” of revenue have proven to be very fruitful.

Holiday Bonus

Launched December 2006
Total revenue=$50,206
Units sold=16,621

When I making Oz, I got a strong feeling that I should stop adding features and ship it so I could make a Christmas-themed game, so that’s what I did! My first commercial game (Xmas Bonus) was Christmas-themed but was a flop, so I took a risk by making making a similar game. However, I thought I could really improve on my first game and the sales figures speak for themselves. I was going to call the game Xmas Bonus 2 but a guy who worked for Oberon suggested the name Holiday Bonus and I believe changing it was good move.

I had to work extremely hard to get this game out on time so I crunched like crazy. I started work on 17th November and shipped the first build on 8th of December. I had worked a total of 191 hours in 22 days (approx. 3 weeks). I’m pretty sure that $50K for 3 weeks’ work could be called a success.

Although really only $31,600 came from the initial PC version and a Mac version that was released in Jan 2008 (for some reason BFG failed to launch it in December). The rest of the revenue came from localising it, re-promoting, and launching on some new portals for Christmas 2011 (like I did with Oz). This only took me 28 hours and has generated $18,000 so far and that number will keep on going up. At $642 per hour that’s the best money I’ve ever earned for effort put in.

Here are some epic charts:

You can see it spiking every Christmas and last Christmas was by far the best. Pretty amazing for a 5-year old game!

Also back in Dec 2011 before I localised/re-promoted the game I did a postmortem talk at Full Indie in Vancouver and talked about the long tail of games. You can watch it below:

It’s worth mentioning that I also worked with Damien Sturdy who ported the game to Unity so that we could sell it on iOS/Android. He did a great job and we both spent a lot of time on it, but so far revenue has only reached $541. Take note: self-publishing a casual game on mobile is REALLY hard! Also the game was ported to Xbox Live Indie Games by James Mintram but has not made very much money at all – still it was great to play my game on a giant TV via my console :-)

Spring Bonus

Launched April 2011
Total revenue=$42,210
Units sold=11,235

Spring Bonus is my most recent commercial title. After Holiday Bonus I made Fairway Solitaire and Unwell Mel for Big Fish Games as contract work. These games did very well and I also improved my framework. Then I spent 2 years working at Big Fish Games in Vancouver before quitting in Jan 2011 to go indie again. I had planned to get started on some “indie” games, but I needed to put some money in the bank and I needed to prove to myself that I could still make good games on my own. So I decided to make Spring Bonus (I’m a big fan of the Spring, and in fact my second game was Easter-themed but it flopped).

I couldn’t use any of the source code from Unwell Mel because Big Fish Games owns it, which was a shame, but I managed to improve my old Holiday Bonus code and got some great art and music made. I put the game together in a couple of super-intense months and launched it 7 minutes after my non-compete with BFG expired :-) I’m planning on doing a full postmortem at Full Indie in July, so keep an eye out for that (I’ll post a video on youtube). In summary, even though it has made the most amount of money in the shortest amount of time of the 3 games mentioned in this post, it wasn’t as successful as it could have been for a couple of reasons that I aim to correct with my next casual game.

All the sales figures below are for the PC/Mac (and localised) versions only. The game was ported to iOS/Android by Damien Sturdy again and was published by Hothead Games. It has done much better than Holiday Bonus on those mobile devices, but those figures are not public are not included in the totals above or charts below. Also it was ported to Windows Phone by James Mintram but unfortunately those sales have been very poor (worse than iOS/Android by far.)

Total effort expended

Total revenue=$143,123
Units sold=41,643
$ per unit=$3.44
Total hours=1122
Total expenses=$18,700 approx. (varies depending on USD/GBP exchange rate figure I use)
Total profit=$124,000 approx.
$ per hour worked=$110 approx.

I keep an accurate work log for every game I make and so the figures listed above are pretty damn accurate. Also I only log actual productive work, not farting around on Facebook or eating lunch etc.

People typically work about 2000 hours a year in North America if they work 40 hours a week and take 2 weeks off for vacation (whether they are productive 100% of the time during those 2000 hours is debatable). So it seems like I worked about 6-7 months in total making those games. Of course the reality was that after every game I was exhausted and had to take time off. Also the income from those games has taken 5+ years to arrive, so it’s not like I could really say “Ok I’ll bang out 6 games in a year and make $280K in revenue”, although it’s certainly nice to think that ;-p

Note that quite a lot of the recent revenue has been from pay per play/advertising etc. so the $ per unit sold is inflated. It’s more like $2.20 per unit from the casual download portals.

Conclusion

The 3 games listed above are by no means “hits” in the downloadable casual game space; there’s certainly plenty more room to increase revenue, which I aim to do with my next casual title by getting everything right based on previous experience. I know plenty of devs whose casual games have made them well over $100K without too much initial outlay on art etc.

When I began making casual games they were in their heyday. Then people started to say casual games were dead and many developers jumped ship to Facebook when they saw Zynga’s profits, and more recently devs abandoned Facebook in favour of social mobile games. The funny thing is, casual games are still selling fine whilst many devs are getting burned on Facebook and mobile (or selling their souls in exchange for evil IAP revenue). I’ve got experience with Facebook and mobile and I can say for sure that they are not easy markets at all! Therefore I’ll keep making some casual games to bring in revenue whilst I experiment with some more “indie”-style games for fun.

If you are thinking of making a casual game, please remember that my first two games flopped and that I didn’t make any money for about 18 months after going indie. It’s all about quality and the correct vibe. You need to spend money on good art and make sure that your game is well polished and fits into the genres that casual players expect. Many indies would hate to make casual games and even scoff at them, but I like many casual games and I’ve enjoyed honing my craft with them over the years, plus they have kept my family housed and fed for 7 years now.

I offer casual game design consultancy for a fee or percentage of revenue, so please contact me if you are interested. I can help convert your game from a flop into a success. For example, one game I helped with has made several hundred thousand dollars for the developers.

I hope that you have enjoyed this detailed post of my sales figures. I encourage you to share your own too! Please let me know your thoughts in the comments.