Category Archives: Indies

The Measure of Success

Talking about whether an indie game was successful or not is difficult, because you first you have to quantify “success”. It’s easier when talking about a game made by a big studio, because then you can break it down by the amount of money taken in, and then compare it to how much was spent to make it, advertise it, and distribute it. It’s harder with indie games, because often there isn’t really a budget. Sometimes the game is made in the developers’ spare time with free tools on equipment that was long ago bought and paid for. With other games the developers may be working on them full time, but they’re not putting money directly into finishing the game so much as just paying bills and buying groceries, and often with freelance work to back them up.

A cartoon of Ryder pointing at a sales chart.

“And if you look at the chart here…”

When Another Star came out, I said that the game needed to take in just 100 sales in the first three months in order for me to consider it a success. The game took about nine months on-and-off to make, so obviously 100 copies of a ten dollar game wouldn’t give me back the money it took just for me to exist during its production—let alone the extra six months that the version 3 update took! However, it would help me pay for some of the software and equipment specifically bought for game development (not to mention the $100 I sunk into getting the game into Steam Greenlight). More importantly, though, it would show me that there was an interest in what I was doing. If people liked the game and were willing to buy it, then that meant it was worth continuing on and making a second commercial game in the future.

Sadly, Another Star didn’t achieve even that. Despite a rocky but somewhat promising start, the game was a commercial flop. After a year, the game still only managed about 80 sales across all retailers, and most of those were not at full price. Granted, Another Star had over 2,000 sales in an IndieRoyale Bundle, but my share of each individual sale was literally tallied in cents. And then, of course, Desura’s new owner Bad Juju Games declared bankruptcy, so I never did even get the money from that. In excess of $500 dollars from Desura and IndieRoyale down the drain!

And then something magical happened. In March, I got a sudden email from Steam. By pure attrition, Another Star had made it through Steam Greenlight. It never did reach the top 100. (Just to give an idea of how low the bar to entry has continued to drop, as of this moment even the #20 game on Greenlight has less “yes” votes than Another Star ever did.)

Now, a lot of people say that indies don’t need Steam. That we can just put our game up anywhere and do just as well so long as our game is good enough. The numbers say otherwise.

In just over 12 hours on Steam, the game had outsold any other single retailer (not counting IndieRoyale), and at nearly full price. In less than 72 hours, it had outsold every other retailer combined (again, not counting IndieRoyale). By the end of the first week, the game sold enough that it had doubled its lifetime income (this time even counting IndieRoyale, though I’ll never see that money).

Another Star has been on Steam for about three weeks now. Whereas I used to count the number of days (or weeks, or months) between sales, now I am counting the number of sales per day. At this point, it’s usually only two or three, but they’re still continuing to add up quickly. Monday was my first day since launch without a single sale, and then I got five yesterday, as if to make up for it. As of this moment, Another Star has made just under 200 sales on Steam and is on over 2,000 wishlists. And I’d say a big part of the credit here goes to Valve’s Steam Discovery Update which, although terrible at its initial launch, has been improved greatly and even now puts the game in front of people by showing up on the main store page as a “recommended for you” title. People are not only playing the game now, they’re enjoying it, posting their screenshots on Steam, and even discussing it in the Steam forums.

There are a lot of people that claim that Steam is getting too crowded. However, even having to vie with all the other titles on the storefront for attention, Steam is probably the single greatest thing that’s ever happened to the game. No, the game isn’t going to generate enough for me to live on. If I’m lucky, it’ll at least cover the cost of the MacBook I bought to do the OS X version of the game. But now I can say, without a doubt or a hesitation, that the game is a success.

And, moreover, because of it, I can say that Vision Riders will be releasing another game.

A huge, huge thank you to each and every one of you that bought the game. You’re all amazing.

If You Own Another Star Through Desura…

Sadly, there won’t be a witty sketch for today’s blog entry because my desktop computer messed up the other day and refuses to boot and, more importantly, I wanted to get this up as soon as possible.

In case you haven’t heard the news yet, Desura’s parent company Bad Juju Games has filed for bankruptcy. For those wondering, Vision Riders Entertainment has yet to be payed the hundreds of dollars that are still owed for Another Stars. It now looks like I will never see that money. How long the Desura site even stays up is yet to be seen.

If you own Another Star through Desura, you need to know that I will not charge you to buy the game again. Please send an email to support@visionriders.com so that I can sort things out for you. If possible, include your Desura account name and/or the original receipt. It doesn’t matter that I’m not getting the money, you paid for the game and I respect that. I am taking this bullet for you.

I will do my best to get a Humble key to you, which will not only net you a DRM-free copy of the game, but will also give you access to the Steam key once it’s available.

Thank you for your patience and understanding.

An Update on the Desura Situation

Last week, I wrote about my frustrations trying to get my money from Desura. If you’re not familiar with the recent Desura controversy, that’s a good place to start getting up-to-speed. Short story version: since at least November a number of developers, including Vision Riders Entertainment, have not been getting their payments from Desura, and were getting the runaround when trying to contact them about it. As of posting this, I have still not been paid.

Yesterday, Desura posted an update concerning the matter detailing their side of the story and giving a list of changes that they’re planning to make going forward. You should go ahead and read that now, since I’d like to address a bit of what they said.

The Desura mascot sitting in the time-out corner.

“Now sit there and think about what you’ve done.”

I don’t know how big Bad Juju is, so I hate to come across as “picking on” what may very well be just a small handful of people, but there’s a lot that I feel really needs to be said about this whole thing. Ignoring the problem is not going to make it go away; sometimes sunlight really is the best disinfectant. I’m glad that they’re publicly talking about what’s going on, but it’s still only a first step.

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Desura is in Hot Water

Yesterday the news started to come out that Desura has not been paying some of the developers on their storefront. This is kind of a big deal. I’d wager that most of the devs on Desura—myself included—aren’t making enough on their games alone to pay the bills or put food on the table. But money is still money, and developers deserve to get paid for the work they’ve put into the games they’ve made.

A stylized dollar bill.

The almighty dollar.

One of the developers that Desura happens to owe money to is Vision Riders. Another Star crossed Desura’s $500 payout threshold during the Indie Royale Debut 100 Bundle. (For those not aware, Indie Royale and Desura, while not technically the same operation, are interconnected.) The money should have gone into the company’s account sometime around December or January, but this didn’t happen. It always gave the same “payment pending” status on my Desura developer’s account page.

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Of Bundles And Another Star

In case you haven’t noticed, Another Star is part of the latest Indie Royale bundle. The Debut 20 Bundle, to be exact.

Bundles have become a really controversial issue among developers. When the concept of indie bundles as we know them began with the first Indie Humble Bundle back in 2010, it was really well received. But the first Humble Bundle was a novelty. Now bundles have become as commonplace as sliced bread, with dozens of sites and brands dedicated to selling them.

To many, bundles are a waste of time for developers (with the usual exception of the flagship Humble Bundles that sometimes manage to break the million dollar mark). Many of these bundles go for less than a single game by itself, which in turn must be further cut down and shared by all the companies involved. Thousands of sales are likely to result in only a few hundred dollars at most. The devs then have to provide support for hundreds of copies of a game from which they received less than a dollar each, and post-purchase support is one of the single most frustrating and time-consuming tasks in the entire development and lifetime of computer software.

When Indie Royale contacted me about putting Another Star in a bundle, I was hesitant. It was fairly short notice, I felt it was too early to put it in a bundle, I knew the returns would likely be small, and I knew it could bite me in the rear end with an onslaught of support emails I’d have to respond to.

But I also really needed the publicity. After thinking it over, I changed my mind and accepted.

As of yesterday, Another Star had only sold 64 confirmed copies. (It’s actually sold at least one more copy than that, but FireFlower Games uses a monthly reporting format instead of a daily or realtime one. I haven’t gotten the report for October yet, but someone noted they bought it during a recent sale.) As of writing this, that number has increased by eightfold. As already noted, this doesn’t translate into much as far as dollar amounts go. I don’t think I can discuss exact numbers, but I haven’t made very much despite almost 500 copies of the game being sold so far today. But I knew that going in.

Now for the flip side. The bundle has been on sale for six hours now. In that time, I’ve gotten roughly a hundred up-votes on Greenlight. That’s more than the past three months combined. The last time I broke one hundred up-votes in a single day was in the first week of the Greenlight campaign, and the day isn’t even over yet. I seriously doubt a steady pace of 100 votes every 6 hours will keep up through the entire two weeks of the bundle deal, but if I can manage just 200 votes a day, that’ll get me into the top 100 games on Greenlight, which puts Another Star that much closer to getting on Steam. Being on Steam is not some kind of magic bullet, especially these days with so many indie games available through the service, but the importance of being on that storefront cannot be understated.

It’s too early to say whether participating in this bundle was a good idea or not, but I hope it was. If it nets me enough to finally earn a payout from Desura, I think I’ll be content if nothing else.

Regardless, the game is in the hands of 500 more people today. I hope they enjoy it.

The Deal With Steam Greenlight

I hate Steam Greenlight. I really do. I even wrote at length about why.

A lot of people are asking me if Another Star will ever be on Steam Greenlight. Back in August, I stated that I didn’t know the answer to that question.

Truth be told, I’m not sure I care that Another Star has a tiny chance of getting through. I’m not sure I care that I’m losing sales by not putting the game there. Out of principle, I simply cannot stand the very idea of submitting it. I may yet give in, but the whole thing ticks me off and I’d rather just say “screw it”.

The problem is, principles don’t pay the bills. They don’t put food on the table. They don’t fund future projects, or even help keep hardware and software up-to-date. Valve has a virtual monopoly on the PC games market with Steam. A large number of gamers will not even consider buying a game if it’s not already on the service. It’s a sad, sorry state of affairs, but it’s the way things are, and despite Valve’s continued, empty promises that they’re going to overhaul the system it doesn’t look like it’s going to change anytime soon.

That said, Greenlight has improved since I wrote both of those entries, even if only a little. At this point, I can say with certainty that Another Star will eventually be on Steam Greenlight. I’m still not comfortable with the service, but at least it’s gotten to the point where I don’t immediately gag at the thought of it. (It’s more of a slow, delayed reaction now.)

The problem at the moment is cash. Steam’s horrendous $100 gate is effectively shutting me out for the time being. Moreover, it’s not a free ticket to success. The money I have right now is already set aside for things like bills and groceries, and my credit card is just about maxed out. I can’t justify buying what amounts to a lottery ticket at this exact moment in time. Later in the month, however, I should have a bit more money to work with, and I’ll try to get Another Star up on Greenlight then.

To be clear, I’m not asking for a handout. I’m just asking for patience. If you have $100 to pay for someone’s Steam Greenlight fee, please find someone who needs and deserves it more than me. There are a lot of struggling developers out there who deserve a shot. I have more money on the way, but a lot of them don’t.

Quoted For Truth

I stumbled across an article by Derek Yu of Aquaria and Spelunky fame, in which he shared a surprisingly insightful grain of enlightenment:

We’ve all had that feeling about at least one game, comic book, movie, etc., that comes out: “Gee, I could do better than this! This is overrated.” But it’s important to take a step back and realize that, hey, they put in the time to finish a project and I haven’t. That’s at least one thing they might be better than me at, and it’s probably why they have the recognition I don’t! If you treat finishing like a skill, rather than simply a step in the process, you can acknowledge not only that it’s something you can get better at, but also what habits and thought processes get in your way.

(Emphasis added.)

I must admit, looking at it from this perspective does kind of change the way I look at other people’s projects!