Spiderweb on game sales, part the second

Gaming, Geekery

Jeff Vogel has his second in a two part blog post detailing some of the cost and sales numbers for Spider Web's games (part the first). It's pretty fascinating even though he doesn't hand out every last detail. It also shows how leveraging online distribution allows a game maker to benefit from the long tail. Geneforge 4, the game detailed, is not yet profitable but is on the cusp. And is a sure thing to be a long-term money earner even if it's not spectacular by indie standards (which are irrelevant by the money-hat-making standards of someone like Blizzard or even the money-bracelet-making standards of Valve).  It costs Spiderweb software nothing to offer Geneforge 4 alongside all of its other games.  Here's hoping it sells at a steady rate from now until the stage 4 zombie outbreak Popehat has predicted for 2016, and that he and his are able to weather those trying times and begin making games anew as the remnants of society begin to pick up the pieces (we will need diversions to help ease the burden of the horrors that we came through, of course).

In part I, he notes that the original Geneforge sold many more copies because it was offered via alternate sites like MSN games, where Geneforge 4 was not (or it was only offered through a few others). I wonder if that was a deliberate decision by Jeff to shift away from using outside entities.  Here are questions I'd ask Jeff if I could:  what do you think about Steam, Impluse, and even Gamers Gate (which I didn't much care for but they recently got rid of the awful client, so my opinion might change).?  Do you plan on selling Spiderweb games through a broader selection of sites in the future?  There are obvious trade offs – the chance for more sales must be weighed against the reduced profit per sale and the chance that sales from me reduce sales from thee.  Lastly, can a studio can survive like this – games that break even in a reasonable period of time and then bring in a modest but steady income for years after , or if they need the occasional "hit" (relatively speaking, of course) to help ensure the company can keep funding games development, and not have to worry about every game needing to be a hit?

I'm hoping that he addresses this, if he's comfortable doing so, in a future blog post. I'm also hoping he finds it in himself to regularly update the blog. Not every day necessarily; given a choice between him blogging and making games I'd rather he do the latter. But he's offering a fascinating chance to see inside game development from a little-man's perspective.

Last 5 posts by Grandy

2 Comments

2 Comments

  1. Patrick  •  Mar 27, 2009 @6:37 pm

    If Vogel had been born 20 years earlier, he'd be Richard Garriott, able to buy a trip into orbit. As it stands, his games are better than 99% of the shovelware released today, and he seems to be doing it just for love.

    At least he breaks even.

  2. Grandy  •  Mar 27, 2009 @8:17 pm

    Actually, he's doing better than even (though not trip into space worthy, heh).

    He notes in part I that Geneforge 4 was chosen *because* it had middling sales in the overall rank of spiderweb games sales. That number is 4.2k and change. Those sales, were either largely or entirely done through Spiderweb's site, have amounted to something on the order of 117k in sales, for a game whose costs he estimates at 120k. That factors in asset reuse (he says for a brand new engine it'd be 180k or so), his own salary, cost of running the business (including some asset upgrades), and some graphics costs. So it's slightly in the black. But it's only been on sale for ~ 2 years. In 2 more years, it will have sold a steady amount of copies. I'll wager it does 800 in that time without much trouble. That's 20k right there, and suddenly is quietly and pleasantly in the black. Now, the truth is some of those will come through sales (Spiderweb runs several during the year, and they increasingly seem to favor compilation CDs). The point being, it's garunteed to turn a profit. And that's a middling game. He predicts it'll be in the black in 2-3 months.

    He said in his thread in Part 2 that Geneforge 4 sold mroe than 3 despite being priced 3 dollars higher (28 vs 25). And Avernum 5 outsold Avernum 4 (same price jump). My guess is that Avernum 4 did better numbers than Geneforge 4 but not overhwelmingly so. If that's true, that bodes well for 5 since it hasn't been out that long. This part is interesting to me. The great Greg Costikyan has often gone on about pricing and tends to favor a cheaper price. But I've sometimes thought that Vogel is so niche he has no choice but to charge more; he's just not going to get a lot of sales elasticity in his price fluxuations except at extreme levels and I doubt they'd make up it in volume. I'd still like to see how he'd fair on Impulse and Steam, but it may be he thinks his graphics are too crude to benefit.

    I have a number of qualms reguarding his games but they've never failed to entertain, and I prefer his less is more story approach (it doesn;t hurt that he'sa decent writer; His blogs about the baby/toddler are worth checking out oneday). And he's one of the very few giving us TB RPGs, the dearth of which continues to haunt me. I'd play his games even if we were in the middle of a TB CRPG golden age.

    He definately needs a new series, so I'm very much looking forward to what he comes up with. The Geneforge engine got a couple of rather impressive updates for GF5 (play at any resolution! Much less obtrusive UI! Welcome to 2000 Jeff ;) ), and I liked the direction the story was going in (I didn't really get to contribute as much to the Beta as I'd have liked). So I think the next engine will have enough bells and whistles to make me giddy, and I;m sure it'll be fun to play.

    In the mean time I anticipate Avernum 6 more than any game of his in awhile, since it's the climax, and Avernum 5 took a decidedly darker turn that I really enjoyed.

    Also, I don't think my Trackback worked, but I don't really know how I'd know that necessarily.