Author Topic: Some numbers about a few Arcen projects in the past year.  (Read 5750 times)

Offline x4000

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Some numbers about a few Arcen projects in the past year.
« on: April 30, 2014, 02:43:05 PM »
The Last Federation is doing great, which we are super excited about.  And AI War also did great and continues to do so, which I wrote about a year or so ago.  Both of these were titles that we developed entirely on our own or with a small number of contractors.  Keith and I are the only ones who have done any programming on either, and Keith and Josh and I are the only ones who have done any design on either.  Aside from feedback from fans, of course, which has been awesome. 

For AI War, all of the art was either from free sources (mainly the awesome Daniel Cook), stuff I cooked up myself, work from Philippe Chabot (base game and TZR), Maxime TrĂ©panier (Children of Neinzul), and Eldon Harris / Daniette Wood (Vengeance of the Machine).  For The Last Federation, everything was Daniette Wood and Cathrine Langwagen.

For A Valley Without Wind 1, which is our other top earner, all of the art was either done by myself, or used various royalty-free stock art that I manipulated.  Valley 2 would have earned more, I'm sure, but we gave it away for free to all the owners of Valley 1.  We had promised an art upgrade, and wound up spinning that into an entire sequel, so felt bound to keep the promise of the free upgrade.  Anyway, to the stats:

Valley 1 + 2, since January 1st 2013 (a bit before Valley 2's release):
The combined package has grossed close to $120,000 on steam.  In terms of bundle numbers, that's hard to say exactly what we've grossed total since I don't have the figures in front of me and they are rather scattered, but a solid guess would be maybe $40k gross.  Overall we spent quite a bit of money internally on developing Valley 2 (around $150k to $170k, depending on how you allocate man-hours), and then we also spent about $40k on the art for it.  That's really quite a huge art spend for the level of sales the game has had.  So overall the art spend was about 20% of the total budget for the game, which is reasonable.  Actually mildly excessive if you consider that I did all the particle effects, and also animated the vast majority of the enemies.

Given that we pay some of our staff in royalties, and that distributors take typically about a 30% cut of the gross income of a game, our break-even point (before we even get into any profits) is about $440k gross.  Thus far, we're about 36% of the way to making back the money we spent creating the game, in other words.  The game still sells, so we have a shot at breaking even on that at some point.  But with flops like this, it's AI War that has really propped us up.

Shattered Haven:
Unfortunately, our worst-selling title ever, even below Tidalis.  This game really has a special place for me, but the early level designs were too easy to captivate people, our trailer was not effective, and people were extremely put off by the art style.  Among other complaints, but then again some folks call it our best title ever because of the story and the puzzles, so your mileage certainly varies.  I spent about a year in 2008 making the bulk of the game.  There were then another 3-4 man-months put in by myself and Zack Cataldo in late 2012 to early 2013.  We spent about $5500 on the art for this game with the same studio we used for Valley 2, and then since some of the art could not be completed with them spent another $500ish with an artist named Todor in order to get the comic panels finished on time.

Overall on Steam this title has grossed just shy of $20k to date.  Through bundles, it's made around another $10k.  How much of the budget for this game you attribute to art versus my time is a debatable thing since a lot of what I was doing was engine development that later went on to be used in other titles.  But anyhow, not an insubstantial time investment at all.  Either way you cut it, at the moment our art spend was about 20% of the total gross earnings of the game thus far.  And remember net != gross.  If we ignore all of my labor for the game, which I'm inclined to do for the sake of sanity, then we might break even on this title by the end of 2015 or so.

Skyward Collapse:
Originally we had an art budget here of something like $k or $5k I believe, but it grew to $9.5k.  (Incidentally the original art budget for Valley 2 was under $20k, I believe it was $18k, and the original budget for Shattered Haven's art was $1.2k).

Skyward has grossed around $138,000 since release on Steam, and with bundles perhaps that number increases around $30k.  Overall our internal costs for creating that game and its expansion were about $60k, so if you factor distributor cuts and staff royalties, we've made a net profit of about $26k and slowly growing.  This is very happy, because it's our first game to break even since AI War (which was a phenomenal breakout success both critically and financially). To date it is still our ONLY game other than AI War to break even, but after a little more than a week The Last Federation is about 75% of the way to breaking even, so that is certainly extremely positive -- much moreso than Skyward.

Exodus of the Machine:
This had an art budget of around $4k, which we spent, and we also spent maybe $12k(ish?) internally in terms of man-hours on the title.  But it just wasn't working out, visually or conceptually or anything, and so we scrapped it.  If you aren't proud of a game, don't release it.  Despite the bad publicity that Shattered Haven got, I'm actually quite proud of it.

We started and then scrapped two other projects in late 2013 as well: Cretaceous and Starport 28.  When you're doing experimental game design, sometimes that's the nature of it.  Fortunately we were not locked into any full art contracts on those, as we had brought our art work in-house (these were solely Daniette Wood and Cathrine Langwagen again on the art for these two titles), so we wound up only spending around $15k(ish) finding out that those two titles were not viable.

In Total:
Between the three released games above, we have grossed around $358k so far, which translates to around $240k net after taxes and distributor fees.  Aka, the amount actually reaching our bank account, ever.  I won't comment on staff royalties or similar, but out of that $240k, the art studio that we worked with on the four titles above was paid (up front, no risk, no royalties requested or accepted) $59k.  Or approximately 24% of what we've earned thus far on those titles.

Has Arcen Games Ever Co-Developed A Title With Another Studio?
No.  The only two times that I was not the lead designer on an Arcen title were with Tidalis (which was the brainchild of my friend Lars Bull, who I think did a brilliant job that is sadly overlooked), and Exodus of the Machine, which was a project of Keith's that got thrust onto him in a way that made failure rather likely.  An error of mine that I learned from.

Beyond that, we've:
1. Worked with about half a dozen voice actors for hire for as contractors.
2. Purchased licenses for various pieces of pre-existing sound or art work.
3. Worked with localization studios on two occasions.
4. Worked with regional retail publishers for existing titles on three occasions.
5. Contracted one art studio for work for hire for four of our titles, one of which was not released.
6. Contracted about 14ish other artists for hire for for various other titles.
7. Partnered with a whole bunch of distribution platforms, including Steam and so forth.
8. Licensed the Unity 3D engine, and made use of a few other libraries such as the excellent Lidgren Network Library.

And that's about it.  In no case did we ever work with anyone external (fans aside) on design or programming.  Contract works for hire, nor purchasing licenses to use an existing piece of work, constitutes "co-developing" a title.  Not that I think that there is anyone on these forums who would be confused, but there is misinformation on that front coming from a certain source on the internet.

Does Arcen Spend Less Money On Art Now?
No, actually we spent a larger percentage of our budget on art with Bionic Dues and The Last Federation than ever before.  The money is going to fewer people, however, and without any middle-men, so the artists themselves are actually making a living off their work during those development periods.  Daniette Wood remains a fulltime staff member, and Cathrine Langwagen presently our go-to freelancer, who also takes on other clients.  I heartily recommend both, they do fantastic work.

Prior to bringing things in-house, the work that we would receive was often of inconsistent style and quality, often late, and difficult to coordinate.  Don't get me wrong, we worked with some absolutely fantastic individual contractors for whom none of the above were true.  But generally speaking, having a smaller dedicated or semi-dedicated team leads to better results, faster, with happier artists.  Trying to get 20 different people to divide up a pot of work is like herding cats.

Bringing everything in-house also gives us direct oversight over everything, which is another big plus.  We don't have any uncertainty about how much of our art budget is going directly to the artists -- all of it is.  We have a direct relationship with artists we trust, so we don't have worries over an artist we don't know plagiarizing someone else's work and then us getting blamed for it (it's happened).  And there are other benefits, too.  But it basically lets us take charge of our own spending, assure that everything is handled ethically and above-board on all fronts, and so on.

To The Future!
With the phenomenal success of TLF so far, we're really excited to be able to continue with that, and to have more breathing room on future projects.  Maintaining a fulltime staff of 7 people who are being paid fair wages turned out to be beyond our means, and so we've had to shrink to a fulltime staff of 4, but with some contractors that we also still work with.  Money permitting, we may grow back to 5.  Right now it's kind of a wait and see thing, though, because money has always been tight the entire history of Arcen's life, and finally now that the noose isn't quite so tight that's something I'd like to not lose immediately.  As a team we've managed to become increasingly efficient, I think the art that is going into our games is better than ever, and in general it finally feels like we've stabilized.  It's been a long road!
« Last Edit: April 30, 2014, 03:20:24 PM by x4000 »
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Offline nas1m

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Re: Some numbers about a few Arcen projects in the past year.
« Reply #1 on: April 30, 2014, 04:20:45 PM »
Thanks for another insightful write-up, Chris :).
I think we all really appreciate your openness in these matters (is this even a word = / - I think you get me).

May I ask what your motivation was to write this post today?
Was it something you already had planned or has something happened that "encouraged" you to do it?
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Offline x4000

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Re: Some numbers about a few Arcen projects in the past year.
« Reply #2 on: April 30, 2014, 04:27:43 PM »
Glad it was informative. :)
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Offline Castruccio

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Re: Some numbers about a few Arcen projects in the past year.
« Reply #3 on: April 30, 2014, 05:04:11 PM »
Great write up, and a couple questions which you may or may not be willing to answer.

1.  Was this a response to misinformation on the internet?  If so, what's the source you are replying to?

2.  Will you release stats on TLF and Bionic at some point in the future?  I assume that TLF is still doing well, and the idea to price it at 19.99 was a great idea.  It still has a lot of wind left in its sales for the 50-75% off discounts that will happen down the line.


Offline x4000

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Re: Some numbers about a few Arcen projects in the past year.
« Reply #4 on: April 30, 2014, 05:06:09 PM »
We'll definitely have stats for TLF and Bionic down the line.  Right now it's a bit early to release something fully meaningful with them.  We're going to be taking it slow with discounting on TLF, as we originally did with AI War, because this thing still has such momentum.  There's other stuff in the works for it, too.
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Offline Larz

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Re: Some numbers about a few Arcen projects in the past year.
« Reply #5 on: May 01, 2014, 08:12:23 AM »
Great write up, and a couple questions which you may or may not be willing to answer.

1.  Was this a response to misinformation on the internet?  If so, what's the source you are replying to?


Chris probably doesn't want to stir up more trouble but I would guess this.
« Last Edit: May 01, 2014, 10:46:35 AM by x4000 »

Offline Mick

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Re: Some numbers about a few Arcen projects in the past year.
« Reply #6 on: May 01, 2014, 08:34:09 AM »
Great write up, and a couple questions which you may or may not be willing to answer.

1.  Was this a response to misinformation on the internet?  If so, what's the source you are replying to?


Chris probably doesn't want to stir up more trouble but I would guess this.

:O

Drammaaaaaaaaaa
« Last Edit: May 01, 2014, 10:46:46 AM by x4000 »

Offline lifehole

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Re: Some numbers about a few Arcen projects in the past year.
« Reply #7 on: May 01, 2014, 10:43:49 AM »
Man, it sucks you guys don't get more attention. It's a hit-and-miss industry I guess. I would've never heard about TLF if it wasn't for me being bored and looking up stuff on steam. While people I watch had done let's look ats, I never clicked on them since I thought (by the thumbnail) it was just yet another 4x space strategy that would just be incomplete at release.

It's really a tough world out there in the gaming industry nowadays, marketing really matters. I had heard of pretty much all of your games even if it was just me scrolling past an article, or thumbnail.

Overall, I think you guys are doing good with the marketing, all the youtubers I watch did stuff on it, etc, but I never even clicked on them because there is just so many indie releases nowadays. The experimental game design you guys have going makes all of your games unique and interesting, but I'm not sure if that's enough to make your game outshine all the other indie games trying to do the same. I say once again, it is a TOUGH market nowadays.

I sincerely hope that sales continue to go well on TLF, the hard work and community participation from you guys is unlike any game dev I've ever seen. There's a lot of untapped potential in TLF, and I hope that you continue to update it. (maybe expansion packs??)

Offline x4000

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Re: Some numbers about a few Arcen projects in the past year.
« Reply #8 on: May 01, 2014, 10:46:10 AM »
No, I did not wish to stir up more trouble, or be identified as the studio that false claims are being made against.  I removed the link, sorry about that.  Not trying to be restrictive, but I'd rather distance myself from the whole fiasco.  This post is just in case someone believes the ranting, figures out who it is that is being referenced, and then comes looking, they'll see there's already our side of it.  And if you want to see real drama, that's on deviantArt -- fortunately nobody seems to believe the other side of this much at all, and the source of the drama is doing himself great harm with how he reacts to even slight criticism from anyone.
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Offline x4000

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Re: Some numbers about a few Arcen projects in the past year.
« Reply #9 on: May 01, 2014, 10:50:47 AM »
I sincerely hope that sales continue to go well on TLF, the hard work and community participation from you guys is unlike any game dev I've ever seen. There's a lot of untapped potential in TLF, and I hope that you continue to update it. (maybe expansion packs??)

Thank you very much!  So far it is still exceeding my expectations on a daily basis, which continues to surprise me.  We definitely have something special here, and we're now more than 75% of the way to breaking even on having made the game, in about a week and a half.  That's crazy fast for us.

We haven't announced it yet, but we do have two expansion packs planned.  One coming up in about a month, really.  Doing bits of paid content with exciting great-value stuff in it will also let us continue to do all the huge amounts of free updates as well.  It's worked out well for us with AI War for 5 years.  Our big mistake with Valley 1 was doing that sort of post-release support for 3ish months but with no expansions.  It also just was not a game that had enough interest to bear that level of continued development, but AI War definitely has been and this one also seems to be.  Knock on wood!
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Offline tbrass

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Re: Some numbers about a few Arcen projects in the past year.
« Reply #10 on: May 18, 2014, 07:25:26 PM »
Really interesting insight into the financial side of game dev. Thanks for the writeup, Chris, and best of luck with TLF!

Offline eRe4s3r

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Re: Some numbers about a few Arcen projects in the past year.
« Reply #11 on: June 29, 2014, 08:03:35 AM »
Seeing that Arcengames got a game into the community voted flash sale.. obviously the question everyone wonders is "Does that make any financial sense?"

Or if it does, how much % does this increase your monthly sales? Does it bleed over to your other games? Are sales generally up during summer sale and do you make more or less money?

(basically, I really wonder if the summer sale makes financial sense for developers)

Ps.: And obviously, how does GOG sale factor in when Steam sale goes on? (Obviously I don't want you guys to break any NDA) this stuff is always kept so secret it bothers me hugely ;P Do these summer flash sales make financial sense for devs? The summer sale in general? Do sales slump a month before the sale?)
« Last Edit: June 29, 2014, 08:07:00 AM by eRe4s3r »
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Offline Draco18s

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Re: Some numbers about a few Arcen projects in the past year.
« Reply #12 on: June 29, 2014, 09:25:30 AM »
Here's a general article about Steam sales in particular.

But there's another article I can't find right now that dealt with Flash microtransactions (for web MMOs, etc) and that you should price your payments at the right price point and that while sales are OK to test out a different pricing structure, regular sales (e.g. every Christmas) will eventually lead to people only buying during the sale making those prices your defacto prices.

Offline eRe4s3r

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Re: Some numbers about a few Arcen projects in the past year.
« Reply #13 on: June 29, 2014, 10:38:48 AM »
The thing is, that article goes into 0 detail ;/ Community voted flash sales are quite different to the regular price reductions during a sale. As they are random, unpredictable, and do not guarantee a game to pop up at all (unlike the "big deals" thing which cycles through all major sale items over the 60 or so steps it goes through, except the ones reserved for community flash sales)

This means, if community votes for a sale, does that translate into *more* sales? (as it's only 3 items you compete with for 8hours or so) ?
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Offline x4000

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Re: Some numbers about a few Arcen projects in the past year.
« Reply #14 on: June 29, 2014, 12:25:19 PM »
During the 8 hours of our flash sale, we made more per hour than we have at any other time in the history of Arcen -- even more than in 2011 when AI War was a huge featured sale on Steam.  Overall, about 12% of our total income for TLF has come in that 8 hour period of the flash sale, and that's including all 10 weeks on Steam, Humble, GOG, and everywhere else.  TLF is closing in on half a million dollars gross in only 10 weeks, so that is... quite something.

How did this affect our other games?  Not much, I don't think.  Maybe a tad.  During the launch discount period of TLF our sales of our other games went up substantially without them being on discount.  But during the flash sale that is not the case that I noticed.  I think people are waiting to see if they go on flash sale, perhaps.  Or at any rate they are not digging into the publisher info as much, perhaps.

Overall our sales volume during the flash sale went up over 900% compared to the baseline rate of sales that we'd seen thus far during the steam sale.  Definitely was an enormous, enormous win for us.
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