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 Trépanier (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!