Did the last game you shipped cover its costs?

I recently ran a poll on Twitter asking game devs if their last game covered its costs including a nominal salary for themselves, and you can see the results in the above image. You might want to click on the link and read the Twitter thread because there were some interesting replies.

I then asked a follow up question to find out what people thought the main reason was that they didn’t make a profit, with examples such as:
- Spent too much
- Spent too long
- Platform crowded
- No one wanted game
- Game was bad
- Marketing failed

Flaws in the poll

The poll was just meant to be a casual poll for fun and so it may be flawed in the following ways, so please take it with a pinch of salt:
1) I should have added a “Just show me the results” option so that people didn’t pick something random just to see the results.
2) I could have requested that only full-time devs answer because many hobbyists answered and I suspect the results are likely to be different for hobbyists due to their potentially low costs. Still, the combined result is interesting.
3) I’m suspicious that many devs don’t really calculate their costs properly including a nominal salary for themselves and so may have chosen “break even” or “profit” when that’s not really true.
4) No time scales were specified such as launch month, or first year, or lifetime etc. I personally know that over many years a game can move from a loss into a decent profit.

Observations

Despite the possible flaws in the poll, it looks like just over a third (38%) of devs broke even or made a profit. This is actually WAY higher than I was expecting because – based on various discussions I’ve had with people over the years – I had a figure in mind of maybe 10% making a profit, and then only a much smaller percentage making a significant profit. Though admittedly the figure of 10% I had in mind was for full-time devs, so it’s possible that hobbyists are skewing the poll towards profit, or just that I was too pessimistic!

New indie devs might find the results shocking (62% of games making a loss) but I actually found them to be positive because I believe that I can make games that break even or make a profit in the future as I’ve done it many times before. Although my last game, Shadowhand, is the one that has made the biggest loss so far, simply because it took too long to make and therefore my nominal salary is huge. My current game, Ancient Enemy has a much more ambitious schedule and lower budget in an effort to break even sooner. We’ll find out if that worked in early 2019!

I also suspect that ongoing overcrowding of the market will contribute towards more games making a loss in the coming years unless more devs switch to lower budgets, faster dev cycles and maybe even higher prices! The race to the bottom of indie game prices has been a big concern of mine for years ever since I saw it happen to the casual download market in the late 2000s.

Anyway, I hope you enjoyed the poll. Let me know what you’d have chosen in the comments.

2 Responses to “Did the last game you shipped cover its costs?”

  1. Majid Says:

    Hi there,

    Interesting result indeed.

    I wonder if Nintendo Switch has caused this rate of break even or higher for indie devs. You know, It’s almost just 1 year that Switch has attracted indie devs more towards its platform.

  2. Grey Alien Games Says:

    I do hear good things about it but also worry that could change quickly as it gets crowded.

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