So… recently we released our latest 3rd-party title: Shadowhand, developed by Grey Alien games. Its a unique RPG/Solitaire/Visual-Novel hybrid where you play the role of a highway-woman in 18th century England. The game has been out just over a month, and its selling ok, and is getting extremely good reviews and playtime. Right now its steam reviews sit at 85% positive, and the median play-time is 4 hours 58, and an average of 10 hours 36. A large proportion of the players are playing 20 hours+, even slightly larger than for Production Line, which has been out for much longer.

We spent some money on release to get the game noticed, which worked to an extent, but because the game had dramatically overshot its original production schedule, we ended up releasing it before the steam Christmas sale, which possibly impacted its launch a bit. (although I still think this was the correct decision, you can ALWAYS find an excuse to put off releasing a game…people even lose their home whilst not realizing this…). The game is selling ok, but it is not a clear indie hit right now, and obviously me being me, I want to analyse why, and how we can change that.

We did get a few negative comments with the first release, saying basically that the game was too RNG-based, but since we got those, Jake patched the game to round-off the impact of the RNG and make it more clearly skill-based. This was more of a perception problem than reality, as when you get deeper in to the game its hugely skill-based. The very good reviews, and the extremely long playtime suggests to me that the *actual game* is very good, and should be selling better. For now, lets assume that changes to the core game are not going to make a positive difference to its sales. What other possibilities are there?

We know that the game sold well during the recent steam sale, more than its selling now, and that seems to be just that more people see the game during a sale. Also we got some coverage at giant bomb, which led to a small spike in sales too. It seems that when the game actually gets shown to people, they buy it, so the main problem here seems to be exposure. Exposure can either be organic, solicited, or paid.

Organic.

The steam algorithm should theoretically send people towards shadowhand who will like it. We may be a bit cursed here because the game is a bit RPG, a bit puzzler, a bit casual, a bit adventure…and when you have something *different* recommendation algorithms can really struggle. Are we getting the right people seeing the game? Sadly this is mostly out of our control, although it may be slightly influenced by the ‘tags’. As I understand it, the more people who upvote or apply a tag on a game page, the more that tag is seen as relevant by steam. Are there maybe some tags we are missing that we should have? It looks like not enough people have applied ‘solitaire’ which is a big surprise.

Another organic route is through user-reviews. the reviews are good, but as ever, the number of players who leave a review is always really low. We already have a decent review score, although it could always be higher. Obviously if you bought and enjoyed the game, we REALLY want you to leave a review of it. I think that this creates some more SEO too (within steam) as presumably reviews show up on users profile pages etc, all more ways to enable organic discovery.

When it comes to off-steam methods, it matters a lot if the game gets tweets or forum-posts about it, but again, this is something mostly beyond our control. We do have a facebook page for the game, which I think also helps.

Solicited

As you probably know, steam forbids (quite understandably) games from soliciting for reviews from within the game, especially for stuff like giving out free xp or whatever. This was a curse with mobile and tablet games. However, we are possibly not as creative as we should be when it comes to encouraging people to support the game. AFAIK its fine for me to post here that we really appreciate steam reviews, for example. Something I’ve seen other games do is to make more of a feature out of their social media presence from within the game. For example Democracy 3 has a link from the main menu to the games facebook page. We are probably being a bit meek there, but does that ruin the immersion of the game to include such stuff? Would Jake even do that? :D

Paid.

I’m on solid ground with paid promotion because I know how it works. My experiments with shadowhand show that I can get a click-through to the steam store page for about $0.27. In December the store page stats give me reason to believe that a visit to the shadowhand store page earns $0.11 in immediate gross revenue (before steams cut). SH currently has more wishlist adds than owners by a factor of five, suggesting a lot of the visitors will not necessarily buy the game, but they may well add it to their wishlists. Is that difference enough to justify a $0.27 click? Gah! its so hard to tell. Just for LOLs I checked the same stats for production line, and it looks like a store page visit there is worth $0.25. Gah!!! What is happening here? I strongly suspect that its price related. basically strategy gamers are prepared to pay more…and players of other games are more prepared to wait for a sale with a bigger discount.

I guess in conclusion I really need data on the conversion rate of all those tons of wish-list adds to actual shadowhand sales during an actual weekend/ weekly sale. In the meantime, there is a lot of staring at numbers.

2017 in statistical review

January 06, 2018 | Filed under: business

IMHO learning from past endeavours is pretty much what life is all about, so what happened to positech games in 2017?

Steam revenue: DOWN 18%

Total Game revenue:  UP 3.95%

Income from democracy 3 (incl DLC): DOWN 20%

Expenditure (game dev, marketing, everything): UP 61%

Investment income: UP 95%

Share of total games revenue from 3rd party* (published) titles: 17% (down from 21%)

*total income, not positech’s share.

Net profit after tax:  UP 27%

Steam revenue from OSX: DOWN from 10% to 8%

Steam revenue from Linux: DOWN from 1% to 0.8%

Revenue from itunes: DOWN 39%

Share of income from game development: 82%

Share of steam income from China: 2% (3% in last month)

Share of Steam income from Russia: 1%

A surprisingly good year, considering Production Line (my main new earner) is in Early Access still, and shadowhand released so late. Democracy 3 and Big Pharma made hefty contributions, and my whizz-bang stock market investments have done amazingly well. OSX continues to be fairly minor, and linux is practically irrelevant. I can’t see me bothering with itunes any more, and likely doing very little (if any) publishing of 3rd party stuff in future. I’m concentrating on my core business, with a healthy side order of stock investment and long-term investment in green energy and infrastructure projects.

Looking at reviews, and play times for production Line & shadowhand gives me a lot of optimism for 2018, plus I have a secret thing I’ll announce in about 6 months which is likely to do well (I hope!). Onwards and upwards.

There are no comments yet

I’ve been making games for 20 years this year, which means the phrase ‘listen sunshine, I was making games before you woz even born’ is something I can smugly tell more and more people at GDC this year. This is definitely an achievement unlocked. However, milestones are always times for reflection, and after 20 years I am forced to reflect that my non-games ‘business goals’ are still missing an important piece.

I am someone cursed by a drive to work hard at something I know nothing about, have no skills in, and do not understand. Before you crack jokes about my games being ‘not that bad’, I’m not talking about games development, but something else entirely. For about 30 years I’ve been an environmentalist, and have long desired to do something concrete and tangible about the threat of climate change. My fantasy for a long time has been to own a wind farm (not a single turbine, I think big), and although they can be expensive (a 5MW turbine is about $5million), its not that which puts me off. What puts me off, is my complete lack of knowledge about engineering, energy production, and the entire marketplace. I would be like one of those well-meaning but completely doomed idealistic dreamers who opens a restaurant because ‘they really like food’.

Still, I got further than most. I’ve met with 2 people who ran a turbine installation company and talked about the options, although TBH it was just depressing. Despite the UK public having overwhelming support for onshore wind, the idiots in the current government pander to those who bizarrely hate it, and would rather spend TWICE the money per KWH on the most expensive white elephant in human history.

That power station will never be finished, and never generate power. it. is. doomed.

But anyway…

I’ve managed to still ‘make a difference’ as a hands-off investor in renewable energy, by investing in a whole bunch of projects through abundance. I have chunks of solar farms, wind turbines, anaerobic digesters, tidal power stations, and rooftop solar installs. The only problem with this is that it doesn’t ‘feel’ real. I cant go out there and see ‘my’ wind turbine, and for all I know, all of this would have happened without me.

What compounds this feeling of frustration is working on production line (which is all about building real tangible things efficiently), and the long tedious opera-in-waiting that is trying to get fiber optic internet for my home. I won’t bore you with the details, but even being prepared to put down £17,000 and wait a year was insufficient for engineers from BT Openreach to lay a single tiny cable to my house. Yes really. The sheer dumb, mindless incompetence of that just flattens me, and is compounded by the fact that it looks like we are going to get it now anyway for free. Incompetence squared.

The real nail-in-the-coffin is that this fiber link will be delivered on overhead cables, ie: ‘telegraph poles’ as we call them in the UK. Essentially the wooden posts that they would have used in downton abbey times. Have I mentioned that its now 2018 and this is the best that modern Britain can do? This INFURIATES ME. I have total sympathy with Elon Musk when he was stuck in traffic and said ‘I’m going to just buy a machine and start digging’. We urgently need that attitude here, and probably all over the world. It pains me massively to see how pathetic the UK policy on climate change and energy independence is. New houses get built without any solar power, solar thermal or even rain water harvesting. Its like we are stuck in the 1970s. We still dont have smart meters. I had to specifically request a water meter. Madness.

But what can I do? I’m 48, I’m not about to retrain as a civil engineer, and getting into a business you do not understand the basics of is a recipe for disaster. Thus I remain on the sidelines, doing a job that I love, and enjoy, but to be honest, I get pangs of thinking ‘shouldn’t I be doing something more socially useful’?

I read a book on ‘doing good well’, and there is definitely a serious argument in there for ‘earning to give’. In other words, do what you are good at, make money, and use that money to pay others to do what you wish you were good at. I’ve definitely made big investments in green energy, and have vague plans to build a super-eco house to retire in, with a little (maybe 100 panels) solar array next door to it. It wouldn’t make me Elon Musk, but its still something to aim for.

Trying hard to embrace change

December 28, 2017 | Filed under: business

Change is hard. And change gets way harder the older you get. There is probably a lot of research about brain plasticity or neuron replacement or other clever ways to explain why older people are often less accepting of change, but I think it comes down to basic maths. For example if you are 65 years old right now, for probably 63 of those 65 years, the idea of school children wanting to change gender was laughable, just not a thing. Basically 96.9% of your experience of the world is that kids stick to the same gender they were born with. Changing an assumption you have held for 96.9% of your life is HARD. Our brains seem hard wired to work with ‘common sense’ and believing what we have known to be true for a long time.

For someone aged 18, those 2 years are 11% of their life, and if we ignore the first five years of both parties, we get 3% versus 15%.  In other words, there is a simple mathematical basis for the fact that its harder to accept (or notice) change as we age. This is also probably partly the cause of Brexit. If you are 18-24 Britain doesn’t seem to have changed much socially in your life. Aged 65? its changed a LOT.

It is a truth universally acknowledged that what’s true in life in general is also true in game development. Gaming changes, rapidly, ALL THE DARNED TIME, and as indie developers get older and more experienced, we have to be absolutely sure we see change coming, and we change with it.

I started this blog over a decade ago using ‘blogger’. Then it changed to ‘wordpress’, then it became my own hosted wordpress install on my site, then it got a custom theme. I wonder if in the future, this blog will exist, and if it should eventually just become a place to post blog videos, of the type I do for Production Line. Youtube, and video content in general is HUGE, and increasingly I get the view that young people (the next gen of gamers) would rather watch and listen than read, sadly. (by any reckoning reading is better. You read at your own pace, and can copy and paste text into messages and so on).

A 2017 study showed that:

“The 25-34 (millennial) age group watches the most online videos and men spend 40% more time watching videos on the internet than women. ” 

That demographic is pretty much my audience, and my games do tend to skew slightly male. Video is not ‘the future’ video is now, and last year, and the last few years.

So video is king. Why do I even type stuff any more? Am I being resistant to change. Here is another study conclusion:

“Blog posts incorporating video attract 3x as many inbound links as blog posts without video.”

Also.. who is the audience. I make games that appeal to people in the UK,USA,Canada and Australia/NZ and to a growing extent Germany. This is not by design, its just that I’m English and I tend to translate my games after release, not on the day of release. I’ve never sent out a Chinese Press release, or hired a Chinese PR firm. but maybe I should? The most popular language on steam is now Chinese. I am, restricting my games to a small niche because I am targeting a niche language (English). Does anyone reading this really think that this will swing back the other way in their lifetime?

The future is doing blog posts as videos by fluent mandarin speakers. Thats just undeniable.

We are still ironing out some technical issues, but even with some annoying bugs, the % of revenue for Democracy 3 that comes from China each month has risen from 1% to 8%, because we now have a Chinese translation and unicode support. It also looks pretty cool:

As an established indie in his late forties, I can pretty much ride the current wave and retire (just about). If you are 18-24 and starting to work on a career as an indie game dev, your future is a mandarin video about your game. Get learning.

Long time blog readers will remember that we did this last year too. Basically Democracy 3 was in the armistice sale on steam, so over that period in November, 100% of the money positech earned from steam during the armistice is donated to war child. I just got Novembers sale reports and it looks like we raised $10,167.51 for the charity. if you bought the game or any of its DLC from 6-13th November, all your money (well, our cut of it anyway) went to helping refugees and victims of war.

Here is a video from war child aimed at gamers that shows why they are needed:

Last year we earned $15,166, so its lower this year, but then Democracy 3 is an older game now, and there are a lot more games on steam. Next year I challenge games like PUBG to join us. If a solo indie dev can do this, so can the big names. 7 days income is not going to put them out of business, but it can make an enormous difference to people who really need it.

 

There are no comments yet