I could talk about this all day, but I don’t want to take up too much of your time. So, I’ll keep it as short and sweet as I can (but feel free to ask more questions and I’ll answer if I can).
To make it a bit easier to get through I’ve broken this up into a few parts:
- Part 1: How did my game make so much money!? TL;DR – Platform deals and minimum guarantees
- Part 2: Can you do the same with your game? Should you? TL;DR – Yes you can and it depends on your situation as to whether you’d want to
- Part 3: Why wait so long to start a new game? TL;DR – Burnout, imposter syndrome and life itself
- Part 4: Getting Over Myself (without Bennett Foddy) TL;DR – Finding things that I like that isn’t making games + letting msyelf work without expectations
- Part 5: So, I’m rich now, right? TL;DR – After tax, debt, recoup, platform cut etc it’s been slightly less than 2 years wage at my previous job. So, no.
I’d considered splitting this into 2 posts, one covering the financial side and one covering the more emotional side, but unfortunately they were just too intertwined for me to split them apart. I hope you find something helpful in the post either way 🙂
Let’s get on with it!
How Did My Game Make So Much Money!?
After around 5 years in development, Mable and the Wood launched in August 2019 – at that time it had just shy of 20,000 wishlists. I felt that was a good amount, but 1st month sales were barely 700 units on Steam.
So, the money didn’t come from selling the game on Steam*.
The game also released on Switch and Xbox. Sales on Switch have certainly been the strongest of all the platforms, but that’s also not where the money came from*.
The majority (somewhere around 80-85% of it) came from platform deals and minimum guarantees that my publisher, Graffiti Games (highly recommended if you want to work with a publisher – they were great to work with), negotiated with various stores. Mable is available on pretty much every store that sells PC games – and there are too many to list here – and that contributed a lot to the gross sales.
But, the main bulk of it came from platform deals that Graffiti had negotiated with Twitch Prime (now Prime Gaming) and Origin Access (not sure if it’s still a thing or if it’s just been replaced by EA Play).
*Please note: I am not suggesting that you stop selling your game on Steam, or Switch, or Xbox. That’s silly. Unless you’re Blizzard, then I guess it’s ok.
Can You Do The Same With Your Game?
I want to be clear that I would never have got these deals by myself, but I know developers that have. A buddy of mine is currently negotiating directly with the Xbox GamePass team, and it looks like he’s going to be in a great place at the end of it, so you can certainly do it.
There are lots of options out there too right now:
- Prime Gaming
- Origin Access (I checked, it’s still a thing)
- Playstation GamePass (or whatever they called it)
- GOGpass (not a real thing but I really want a GOG subscription service)
I guess the bigger question is how do you get those deals? In my limited experience, platforms are actually really friendly to solo and smaller devs, so just reaching out and asking nicely will likely go a long way (remember, platform holders are people, and if you’re nice then most people want to try to help you).
If you can find a publisher to do this for you then it takes a lot of the stress and hassle out of it for you. But it also means that the publisher is going to take a cut of that deal. But they will likely get a better deal than you would have got with your limited experience (presuming you have limited experience – if you’re an expert at making platform deals, why am I making this post instead of you, huh!?)
**Not sure they’re making platform deals per se – and there are probably more than this too!
Should You Try To Get A Platform Deal?
This isn’t a question that I can answer for you.
Mable had nearly 20k wishlists but only sold 700 units in the first month. It came out on Prime Gaming 3 weeks before launching on Steam – so does that mean that the sales were cannibalised by that?
No, I don’t think so.
This could be a huge post in itself, but for various reasons I feel that those wishlists were ‘low quality’. By that I mean that the people who had wishlisted the game were less likely than average to actually purchase it.
The reviews also went from ‘Positive’ to ‘Mostly Positive’ to ‘Mixed’ within a few hours of launch. I think the story would have been very different if the game had warranted ‘Overwhelmingly Positive’ reviews.
Think about it – even if a game looks cool, unless it’s from a franchise that you know you love, are you really going to jump in and buy a game with mixed reviews?
Anyway, I’m getting away from the point…
I don’t see platform deals as a impacting your sales to a huge degree. If it is something that concerns you, just try to get a post-launch platform deal. Or, if you’ve got like 100k wishlists then why are you even reading this post??
This question also kind of leans into ‘should I try to get a publisher’ but, while it’s something I could chat about all day, it’s well beyond the scope of this post.
So, that’s all the financial stuff covered. The next part is harder to talk about, but I’ll try to keep it as light as I can. Feel free to skip the rest, I won’t be offended.
Why did it take me 2 years to start on a new game?
It’s a bit misleading to say this really. I’ve made my friends play a lot of bad prototypes and I even got as far as putting a game up on Steam and pitching it to publishers before cancelling it.
But to talk about this I briefly need to talk about the development of Mable and the Wood.
It took around 5 years from Ludum Dare game jam entry, through successful Kickstarter (any backers on here just remember how awesome you are), to release. In that time I had 2 kids, my Mum got cancer twice (f*ck cancer), my father-in-law passed away, and there’s probably some other crappy thing that I’m forgetting. This was my first commercial game after around 5 years making Flash games and game jam games.
For most of the development I was working a pretty stressful full time job, coming home to put the kids to bed, then working on the game. The final 9 months I was full time on the game with funding from Graffiti, but to be honest that was almost worse because I was trying to make a massive adjustment to my work/life balance whilst already totally burned out.
I mentioned this semi-jokingly as a reply to another post on here, but basically I destroyed myself.
14 hour days are not sustainable.
Working weekends, every weekend, is not sustainable.
I ruined holidays to make this game, one of the last holidays with my mum we had a huge argument because I was working on Mable instead of actually being on holiday.
So, when the game came out, I needed to stop working on the game. But then there were bugs, and bad reviews, and basically the game wasn’t all that good. Sure, there are folks who really connected with the game, but mostly it was just folks who saw the bugs and the clunky controls, the awkward collision and the confusing level design.
It was too much to fix, although I did what I could (my last update went out towards the end of last year).
But it was ok because I could learn from it and make something better next time.
Then I got the first royalty payment, and I was burned out, looking at what to me was a lot of money in my bank account, and looking at my awful reviews on Steam and that’s when I suddenly realised:
“I’ve been faking it and I got found out”
And holy crap I wished I’d never made that game.
I want to be clear now that I’ve grown past this, but it was pretty crap at the time, and knowing that it was also one of the most successful moments of my life made it worse (ignoring the fact that this was also April 2020 and life had been put on hold for pretty much the whole world).
On the sunny side of things was that working on new stuff was invigorating, but nothing seemed to stick. There was always something that I loved about whatever my new project was, but I never loved the thing as a whole, or it was just out of scope for a solo developer (a more recent cancelled project was a hand-drawn frame-by-frame animated stealth game where you played a teenage Cthulhu – it was cool but would have been too much for a team of 3 or 4, let alone 1).
Anyway, this section is already too long as wallowing in self-pity – I’ll move on.
Getting Over Myself
This is a difficult part to write, because the experience changed me so much. I can’t be 100% sure that I’ve really grown past this, or if I’ve just learned to accept it as a part of who I am.
One of the biggest things I’d noticed was that I just didn’t enjoy things anymore. Or maybe I just was doing things and couldn’t tell if I was enjoying it or not. So, I decided to try and do more things that were pleasant – things where there was some physical feeling that was quite nice and also was low stress. Walks in the sunshine and finding a sun-trap to feel the heat (Spring in the UK is good for this, as it’s generally cold in the wind but warm if you’re sheltered in the sun), reading, drawing with no specific goal etc etc
But now I was a ‘full time gamedev’, I couldn’t spend my life in the woods with a book and a sketchpad.
I knew I needed to start making something again, but it really had to be something that I enjoyed working on. I’d been playing a lot of city-builders and had a lot of ideas of things I’d like to try and play around with in that genre, but it felt like it was out of scope for me.
So, I figured I’d just take a few week’s break from ‘proper’ game development and see if I could design a streamlined city-builder for tabletop – just a really rough and simple paper prototype. And it turned out that it was super fun to work on! Drawing little buildings and cutting out cards. I’d also sort of made it a deck-builder, just because it seemed to work better in a board game.
A few weeks later and I was still having fun, but it was getting a bit complex to work everything out when you were trying to actually play it. There were just too many numbers going on and systems to keep in our head at once. So I decided I could do a quick digital prototype to handle all of that.
And, hey! That’s how I tricked myself into making a new game!
I guess here is where I shamelessly plug my new game These Doomed Isles (which you can wishlist on Steam hehe), which is a city-builder/CCG.
It genuinely feels amazing to be looking forward to working on it every day, it’s literally been years since I’ve felt that way. It reminds me of why I started working on games in the first place.
So, I’m Rich Now, Right?
I built up quite a bit of debt while working on the game. There was recoup for the advance that Graffiti had provided so that I could work on the game. There was tax. There was supporting a family of 4 whilst I got my act together…
My last job before going full time into gamedev earned my £27k per year, which is absolutely ok for the north of the UK where I live. My wife was on around £21k before the pandemic started. For 2 years we’ve had just a little bit less than that, but definitely enough to keep us going.
Definitely can’t complain, and to be completely honest I am really grateful because we’d definitely have been screwed if it wasn’t for that money.
So, I don’t know how to wrap this up except to say, if you’ve read this far, thanks for lending me your ears (eyes?) and I hope some part of this helps you in some way.
p.s – I’ve been writing this for hours, so I apologise if it’s hard to read or littered with typos, I just really hope you found something helpful in here x
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