Did the last game you shipped cover its costs?

November 25th, 2018

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.

Ancient Enemy Dev Diary #2

November 21st, 2018

We are really delighted to be working with artist Jen Pattison on Ancient Enemy. This week in our dev diary Jen shares a bit about the art development and progress:

A world in tatters
The overall visual design of the characters in Ancient Enemy is intended to follow the theme of the story that the world has seen a lot of conflict and everyone has mostly been left in tatters as a result, one way or another.

That manifests in scruffy or damaged clothes; armour rusted, bloomed, or falling off; fungal growths; and in some cases people just being stitched back together to join the fight again.

Here are a couple of poses for an enemy bandit character:

All the human characters are not quite human anymore, and the bandits are maybe the simplest expression of that by not having faces, just empty dark hoods like wraiths, but otherwise displaying the physically fit body type you might expect from their lifestyle.

Warped nature
The Boarstool, on the other hand, is an example of warped nature, partly grown over and partly altered in fundamentals to be somewhere in the middle of plant and animal.

We did a few iterations to get him a bit meaner and a bit more gross along the way, altering his expression and giving him a rotting leg.

I also tried out a number of palette options for him, as some colours that could read as toxic/poisonous were also quite friendly/cute fantasy in tone.

Ultimately we decided to have different colours of Boarstool in different areas of the game to add to the variety and to fit in with the mood of the zones where they appear.

The aim for the characters’ stances was to create something dynamic and illustrative, within the limitations of the card based UI, which has taken a lot of back and forth to get right but it’s the sort of thing that’s very satisfying to work on as a team when it all finally comes together.

Ancient Enemy Dev Diary #1

November 16th, 2018

It’s been less than a month since we announced Ancient Enemy, and we’ve been making good progress.

Jen has been finalizing the main character’s various fighting stances. First she drew some sketches, which we tested in-game, and then she spent a while painting them.

Jake plugged them in to the game and made videos of them animating so that the team could check them out and suggest improvements.

Since the announcement we brought Dan Emmerson on board. He made the game logo, which we really loved, so we asked him to design the playing cards, collectible cards and user interface in a similar style to the logo. We hope to have some screenshots we can share next week.

Jim has been working closely with Jen and Dan on art direction and has generated a draft map screen.

Jake has been working on detailed art lists for Dan and producer stuff like updating the schedule and making sure everyone is fully aware of the budget and time constraints. He has also been coding a map node system, which allows us to have non-linear mini maps for each main map location. We’re also going to use this code for a skill tree system later on.

Jake is now finalizing a list of collectible cards that the game will have so that we can code these and make art for them. And Jen is working on some awesome enemies that will take several weeks, we will post some of these soon…