When I first thought about starting an indie game company, I spent days researching whether it would allow me to support our growing family. I think it's fantastic that indie devs have a culture of sharing their sales figures to the public, because without seeing others succeed I never would have dared to start. Now it's my turn to tell others what one can expect from a PC only downloadable roleplaying game like Driftmoon.
My original research from 2010 showed that if I made a good downloadable game, I could reasonably expect at least $10000 if we got enough positive exposure in the press. Not enough to live on, but at least a start. Back then there was a huge rush for the preorder model used by Overgrowth and Minecraft, so I opted to try that as well. By Christmas 2010 we started selling our very own game, Driftmoon: It was my eighth game, and my very first professional endeavor. Also it was the first game created in collaboration with my lovely wife Anne. We were thrilled when the first customers bought it! And we're extremely thankful for every customer we've ever had!
Sales per year:
The prize money in 2010 is the Sammon Tekijät prize, but it's not just for my work on Driftmoon, so you might want to count that out. But it's money in regardless.
These figures only contain the gross income, without deducing any of our costs or even taxes (which can be a huge percentage in Finland). I figure that there are two models for success in the indie business, either A) Keep your costs down to a minimum and try to turn your own labor into money, or B) Spend loads of money to make the game more appealing in hopes of making more sales or getting a higher price. I opted for keeping the costs down to a bare minimum, because I didn't have any cash to spend for the game, and I didn't want to take a loan. Having no extra money gets you into the proper indie mindset!
Driftmoon was released in February 2013, so that's when our preorders ended. We made about $10000 from the preorders, which was a lot more than we expected, but more importantly, it gave us the motivation to keep going! On the other hand, the lengthy preorder phase might have eroded some of the newness from our actual release. I have no hard facts to prove it, but I found that it was a lot easier to get sites that cover news stories interested about the initial preoder release - getting them interested in the fact that it had now been released for real was a lot harder. In retrospect, we might have generated more hype by starting the preorders just months before releasing, and not over two years before releasing.
There was one big change in the indie game business that had happened between 2010 and 2013. Some of the bigger online stores had started selling indie games, and many retailers asked us to join them, most prominently GOG.com and later on Steam. At first I thought it might be a bad idea to sell through other stores, because then they would own the customer, and I wouldn't even know the customer's email in case I want to update them about a new release. Also they take, in my opinion, a rather large cut from the sale. I didn't know what to do, but in the end we decided that we'd better just get the game to as many players as possible, and maybe they would buy our next game as well. I figure we've only gotten about 20% of the money through our own storefront, so I suspect we made the right choice.
Thinking about how much money we get for an hour of work, I would need to estimate how much time we spent on making the game. I figure during the seven years (working on the side of our day jobs) it adds up to about 7000 hours. I could be off by thousands. But for that amount my hourly rate would be about 24 dollars per hour, which isn't bad, it's nearly half of what I would have to pay to a plumber or an electrician in Finland. So for every two or three hours I spend working on my own games, I can get someone to work an hour on renovating our house!
When you're reading stats like these, and thinking about starting your own company, do keep in mind that failed projects rarely reveal their sales figures. In fact, finishing and releasing the game at all is the hard part. It took us seven years to make Driftmoon, and it wasn't all fun and games - developing a game can at times be incredibly stressful, and we were close to a burnout several times. I would not recommend a project that spans nearly a decade to anyone, except someone who is very passionate about games.
And that brings us to my closing remarks. When originally researching whether I could support my family by making games I realized something important. There's no way to guarantee any kind of minimum income from this business, making a game is always a financial risk. If you make a mainstream game, you might get lost in the crowd of similar games. If you make a niche game (e.g. flight simulator), reviewers might overlook it because their readers only like mainstream games. If your niche is small enough, it might be up to just one site to make it possible for you to reach your audience. If you started making a zombie game a few years back, you might suddenly find out that zombies are no longer fashionable. How I see it, is that you should not make indie games for the money alone. If you're just looking to get rich, go make insurance software. Making games is a high risk business, you might get more money out than you put in, but that's far from being certain.
But if you have a game floating around in your head that must come out, if there are whole worlds just waiting to unfold, and to be shared with others - that's when you should make indie games! That way, whether your game makes a profit or not, you will still have made the game you wanted to make. And chances are, your game will have completely transformed the lives of billions of players all around the world!
Here comes a small bugfix update, special thanks to Ryman! This update fixes one of the rarest, but most disappointing bugs I've ever encountered.
My first indication was that one or two players stated that the game was spectacular, but the end was kind of disappointing. We actually tried to ask further about that, but unfortunately didn't get any meaningful answer about it, so we just assumed that it's not possible to make everyone happy. But finally today I got a feedback from someone who saw the problem - the game was completely freezing for him just before the actual ending and all the cool bits. Fortunately the bug was very rare, but we wanted to fix the problem right away. If you were affected by a peculiarly abrupt ending, all you have to do is update, and load a save from before entering the last area.
Uncovering among other things Anne's mysterious psychology background, here comes the DarkZero interview.
If you're interested in Driftmoon, this video review will only take you 72 seconds. Yes I know, it's 12 seconds overtime, but it's very thrilling and will keep you on the edge of your seat for the whole time.
Welcome Steam, our newest retailer! If you've ordered Driftmoon earlier through our own storefront, you should already have your Steam redeem key in your email, so go redeem your copy. And from this moment forward, direct customers through our site will receive a Steam code as well as a regular Driftmoon key the instant of their purchase.
And to address two popular questions, will Driftmoon have Steam achievements, and will it have trading cards? The answer is, yes, and yes. It will have both, as soon as we can release the new version that includes them. We'll let you know when it's ready.
Before you go play that Steam version of Driftmoon, I want to post this quote from a guy who worked on Ultimas 1 through 7, plus the Worlds of Adventure, and consulted for Ultima Underworld, and on top of that, chatted with my wife Anne. Being a huge fan of Ultima 7 (or Ultima VII), I'm just too eager to share it:
"I just finished playing Driftmoon, yesterday, and I have to tell you, Anne, that it is by far THE BEST RPG I've ever played (this coming from someone who used to make RPGs for a living)"
Wasn't that nice? Certainly, even if Driftmoon turns out not to be the best RPG out there, it certainly has the best fans.
Ps. Feel free to review Driftmoon on Steam. Hint, hint, nudge, nudge...
Ps2. Go check out the brand new orchestral pieces by Gareth Meek, Driftmoon's wonderful and talented composer: "Zero", "The Horizon is Scarlet", and "Relentless Barrage". And if you don't have the Driftmoon Soundtrack yet, I'm sure Gareth would be thrilled to get your support.
I wonder which game is the best selling game at gog.com today, ahem? We're NUMBER 1, yeah! It's due to the charity promo, of course.
Ps. That image actually shows that I don't own a copy of Driftmoon.
If you don't yet own Driftmoon, now is a good chance to get it at gog.com while helping a good cause. Gog.com is running a charity promotion where you choose three or more games for 5$, and 100% of the money is given to your chosen charity. Actually you can also get some other game if you already have Driftmoon, we don't mind - we're not getting any money out of it. That's right, not only is it an awesome deal for the games, it's an awesome deal for the charities - we won't take a penny of the money, nor will gog.com (they're actually paying for the credit card fees etc out of their own pockets). The promotion runs just this week, so grab your games before the 11th of November.
Ps. You can also gift the games.
News! Driftmoon is coming to an Android/iOS/Linux/OSX/PC device near you soon(ish)! Since nearly everybody we've met has told us that Driftmoon would be so nice to play on a tablet, we've finally decided to port the game, and see whether nearly everybody is right.
I looked at different options for a few weeks. I considered porting my 100 000 lines of C++ code to all the platforms, but since Driftmoon was made using Directx, it would also have required me to change all of the graphics side. Android doesn't support a completely C++ program, you actually need a lot of Java code to go along with it. In the end I got scared, each of the four additional platforms I was looking at required significant changes to the code, and C++ is notoriously difficult for tracking the thousands of errors that were bound to creep in when doing a major port.
In the end I decided it made more sense to port the game just once, and click a button to get it on all of the different platforms I want to. With Unity I'm using a language called C#, which is a close relative to C++, with subtle differences. I started the porting in April, and for the first three months I couldn't see anything of the game, because large chunks of the game didn't work yet. Not being able to run the game for months is to me the most dreadful phase of a porting process like this, you won't know whether the 50 000 lines of code you just made actually works (unless of course you spend weeks developing some stand-in code for the parts you haven't ported yet).
What does this mean for mods? I'm planning on keeping full mod support for all platforms. Some current mods will require slight changes to get working with the new version. We're switching from 2D physics to fully 3D physics, and because of that there will be some differences - mainly these have to do with giving height to invisible barriers and adjusting physics puzzles. I will tell you more when I have the complete list, and I will be helping with the changes if anyone needs it.
When will you get to play? I really can't give a release date yet, but I will keep you posted on where we are at the moment. We have the desktop versions going pretty nicely, still need to iron out some strange bugs like missing people, and doors opening the wrong way, but those are not far away from being completed, and we'll soon need people to test them. The mobile device portion will require a bit more work, because it needs plenty of performance optimization, and user interface changes to accommodate the smaller screens and playing with a finger. I'm very excited about playing Driftmoon on a tablet, I'm certain Driftmoon will be one of the better RPG's out there for these devices.
Many have been asking how well Driftmoon has done financially. Well, Driftmoon has done spectacularly well, at least according to our own standards. Not enough to make us millionaires (we weren't aiming for that anyway) - but well enough to keep making more games a real possibility for our family. I will be checking our agreements with our distributors on whether or not I can reveal any figures, with any luck I might be able to tell you some specifics later on.
But what's really made our day (well, our year) has been all the wonderful feedback we've received from real flesh-and-blood people around the world. It's felt awesome to time and time again read how our little game's managed to be the biggest gaming surprise ever (hopefully they mean it in a good way), provide an unforgettable adventure, or leave someone grinning from ear to ear. Thanks everyone!
This is too cool not to mention: Driftmoon was picked out as PC/Mac game of the Month (March 2013) by www.gamezebo.com Would you know it, we beat Simcity!
In other news, David Hayward of www.micromart.co.uk seemed to really enjoy the time he spent reviewing Driftmoon. AND David certainly knows what he's talking about, because he's spent over 30 hours with the game, diving deep into the depths of the background lore of Driftmoon, and finding the treasures hiding away in every nook and cranny.
And have you ever seen a Big Green Thumb as fine as the one below? You have? Oh. Well, we're still very proud of our very own official staff recommendation that Driftmoon was awarded with in the review of the Finnish gaming site dome.fi! (in Finnish)
Any Polish readers out there? Here's a new Polish review of Driftmoon at www.gram.pl (in Polish)
Oh, almost forgot! Don't forget to make use of our Grand Birthday Sale, which will go on until the end of April. We'd be extra grateful if you were to help us spread the word, and told your friends about Driftmoon - and the sale. Thanks in advance!
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We'd like to share with you two indie games worth checking out, made by two awesome indie developers that we've recently gotten to know a little.
First, Frayed Knights, an indie RPG of comedy and high fantasy, by Rampant Games. I've already tried the beginning of the game, and it seemed quite intriguing. I know I'd be interested in exploring further, once we get the chance. I especially liked how vividly the characters of the party conversed with each other, and how they all seemed to have distinct personalities.
We asked Jay to tell us a few things about Frayed Knights, and here's what he wrote:
"Frayed Knights: The Skull of S'makh-Daon is something of an homage (and maybe a little bit parody) of not only older western CRPGs (Wizardry, Bard's Tale, Might & Magic, Ultima, etc.), but also dice-and-paper role-playing from the 1970s and early 1980s. But I didn't want to just copy the style of these old games - I wanted to do something new with the old ideas, and bring in some of the flavor and situations of the old games that had been long abandoned (or ignored) for new players. And I wanted to have fun with it, and make the game a little humorous.
Part of the humor idea came from wanting to bring back the first-person, party-based dungeon crawler: One of the problems with these old games is that it was easy to stop thinking of the characters in your party as individuals. To solve this, I decided to make them fixed characters who were constantly chatting about the game. Sometimes they were directly interacting with other characters in the game, and sometimes they were simply offering commentary, sort of like Mystery Science Theater 3000 (if you ever watched that show)."
"Another new feature is the use of "Drama Stars" - the three stars at the top of the screen. This was my effort to solve the problem of "save scumming," or when the player is constantly saving and reloading to get the best result from random events. This can make the game hard to balance: It can be too easy and boring for the people who save & reload all the time, and too difficult for the people who try to play the game "straight." The Drama Stars help this by giving players who do not reload access to the similar kinds of advantages someone who constantly reloads might enjoy - like guaranteeing a successful roll, or restoring a character (or even the entire party) from being knocked unconscious. The Drama Stars put this power more directly in the control of the player."
Sounds interesting, doesn't it? Go ahead, give Frayed Knights a shot (Just noticed it's actually 50% off up until the start of next week)!
It's always best for the developer if you buy directly from them (via the link above), but if you prefer, you can also get Frayed Knights through Desura.
Here's also a link to Steam Greenlight. I'm pretty sure your vote would be much appreciated.
And onto the second part of our indie game check-up: Private Infiltrator by Espionage Noir is steadily approaching release, and is described as an arcade-like Stealth game that bears the Noir art style.
Here's a clip from the Steam Greenlight description of the game:
"The game's core mechanics are fairly simple and easy to pick up, yet difficult to master while also retaining a satisfying amount of depth. They revolve around the double-sided nature of light in stealth games enriched by the Noir art style's principles, hacking and bypassing electronic devices, as well as elegant evasion of detection.
At the player's disposal are numerous gadgets such as sound-emitting decoys and poisoned coffee, as well as special abilities such as Blinking and Invisibility. Building on the core gameplay are extra mechanics such as a point reward system accompanied an in-game black market with a dynamic economy system from where the player can either purchase useful equipment, or exploit the fluctuating prices in order to gain profit by selling loot they can steal from the base.
The game also features a wide variety of unlockables such as new characters with their own special abilities, entirely new pieces of soundtrack and bonus maps. The game's difficulty level could be described as both diverse and brutal, offering awareness and resource management challenges amongst the classic stealth gameplay. There is also a relatively strong story element to the game, although in order to fully experience and understand the game's plot the player must rely on written text scattered, and some times hidden, throughout the base. Completing side-objectives also has an effect in the later stages of the game."
As always, your votes are important, so go ahead and check Private Infiltrator at Steam Greenlight. Oh, and here's also an important link to the Desura page of Private Infiltrator. If you get it through there, you can go ahead a start playing this instant!