Games Marketing & Monetization

Besides posting my random ramblings and vintage designs, I plan to start a series on games marketing and monetization. I’m a big fan of Jeff Vogel’s blog “the bottom feeder” because he is one of the few indie dev’s who make games for a living. Furthermore, I was about 15 years old when Jeff released Exile: Escape from the Pit – a game I still remember until today! Jeff is one of my heroes when it is about the indie scene, not only because he is struggling all life long to make a living from making games (no sarcasm here, he is just reflecting how brutally honest reality is). I also really enjoy reading his blog because of his critical point regarding nowadys game creator scene. But back on topic…

There are so many “marketing guides” out there, why create another? Well, all those guides tell you what you have to do right. I don’t want to repeat all those clever tipps here (just do a quick search on google for the words “marketing” and “games”, but be sure to add the words “0$”, “free” or “no budget” as well), but in short you have to be active on Facebook, Twitter and all the other a-social networks out there. Build your business with 0 budget just by spamming all available sites and channels – everyone’s eyes will be glued to your lips and your readers will love you!

Instead, I would like to focus on what can be done wrong. And thats a lot, believe me. Im writing this on top of my own experience here. And I plan to celebrate this like a birthday. It is the 20 years anniversary of my “wanna-be games designer” career, and that date just cries for a birthday cake. A nice and tasty cake made from broken dreams and false expectations, with a creamy self-pity topping and some carefully crushed hate sprinkled all over it!

Beware of Misantrophes!

Let me begin this article series with a quick summary about the sales figures of indie games in general. This represents my personal point of view and you might not relate to it. Especially if you are a 13 year old coder-god with way too much spare time and the strong will to skip your own puberty (good luck on that one!). But after crossing the stygian river of 35 years and when several bonds tie you strongly to that weird little thing that we humans call “Real Life” – you might understand why I believe the times of indie success stories are over.

For the following calculatory examples we assume that you work alone, have no noteworthy running costs and make no use of art or any other assets. The revenue percentage only takes a few cornerstones into considerance: Publisher costs, App-Store Fees, Printing costs and so on. We also do not take taxes and living costs into consideration as well. As a final note: I doubt a computer game without any (paid) assets can be successful, but this is just a very optimistic calculatory example anyways.

Calculatory Example A: Successful 1-Dev Indie Board-/Card-Game
(Best Case Scenario “Little Big Thing”)

  • Complexity: Low
  • Risk: Low-Medium
  • Income: Success-dependent
  • Way of publishing: Small Publisher
  • Max. number of copies sold: 1.000 (upper indie end)
  • Original price per unit (non-discounted): 10-20 USD
  • Revenue percentage (publisher costs, printing costs, etc.): 30%
  • Completion time: 3 months / 2 hours per day
  • Gross Sales: 10.000 – 20.000 USD
  • Total net earnings (when max no. of copies sold): 7.000 – 14.000 USD

Calculatory Example B: Successful 1-Dev Indie Computer Game
(Best Case Scenario “Little Big Thing”)

  • Complexity: High
  • Risk: High
  • Income: Success-dependent
  • Way of publishing: App-Stores / Steam
  • Max. number of copies sold: 20.000 (upper indie end)
  • Original price per unit (non-discounted): 5-15 USD
  • Revenue percentage (app-store fees etc.): 80%
  • Completion time: 12 months / 10 hours per day
  • Gross Sales: 100.000 – 300.000 USD
  • Total net earnings (when max no. of copies sold): 80.000 – 240.000 USD
Welcome to the App-Stores!

Calculatory Example C: Working at a fast-food chain

  • Complexity: Low
  • Risk: None
  • Costs: none
  • Income: Guaranteed
  • Hourly wage paid: 8 USD (simple Team Member)
  • Completion time: 3-12 months / 8 hours per day
  • Total net earnings: 5760 USD
  • Comparison 6 months: 11.520 USD
  • Comparison 1 year: 23.040 USD

We see that a well marketed indie computer game generates about 20 times as many sales as a well marketed indie card-/board-game. But it should also be noted that the examples above are highly optimistic, as the failure rate is at an all time high (I guess only 1 out of 1.000 projects succeed) and App-Store/Steam revenues drop each year. But this is a whole different story and will be illustrated in the upcoming blog entries.

So, this comparison of revenue due to indie game entrepreneurship boils down to a simple question: Why would you prefer taking all the pain creating, maintaining, marketing and selling your own card/board game when it earns you (roughly) the same amount of money (or just slightly more) as working at a fast food restaurant? The same is true for computer games, the number of sales as well as the revenue might be higher but the risk is also much greater. The answer is simple:

Because you don’t want to stand at the grill, you want to create games. It’s not about the money. It’s all about the fun.

The previous statement is quite a luxurious tought by the way: If you see it that way, game creation is something that you want to do, nothing that you must do (in order to earn money). This now leaves us with only two options: You either see game creation as a hobby, or as a religion.

As a final thought: In order to bake burgers, you don’t have to be good at it – you just have to function properly. On the other hand: In order to successfully sell a homebaked game, you must be good at it. Otherwise you won’t succeed. It’s as simple as that!

Now hiring!

Fayra – free card game

Fayra is a fun and free card game I designed in early 2016. This game is actually finished, but I removed the download due to low/no interest (just drop me a line if you want a copy). This game is suited for kids as well as grown ups, it is fast paced and very much like Quartett with a few similarities to Go Fish!

The design is ultra-slim and ultra-simple, with elements from stock art sites (As I’m used to state my costs here: about 10 US-Dollars). All cards have been designed in 300dpi and are printable at home or at a professional printing company.

The main difference between Quartett and Fayra is that each card also features a special ability. This spices up gameplay quite a bit.

I stopped designing complete, free board games after this one. Mainly because it is not possible to make them available to a wider audience as a indie dev (unless you spend enormous amounts of time, energy and last but not least money). In addition it is not possible to market them without spending a fortune (Either I do design OR market, but not both). This might sound depressing, but im actually happy about it – it helped me to stop wasting precious time developing something that absolutely no one is interested in. Still, I enjoyed creating this little gem very much and we enjoyed playing it over and over again at the Artist Café.

It was also very important to me, to actually finish a project. This includes rules, design, rules-writing, play-testing and distribution (whatever that means and regardless of how successful you are). There are several finished projects in my portfolio, but the amount of unfinished ones outweighs them by thousands 🙂

Total production time (including playtesting with my girlfriend and blind testing with several people from all over the internet): ca. 100 hours.

Fantasy CCG Templates

Another bunch of (rather dated) fantasy CCG card templates. As far as I can remember these are from 2000 and represent my skill at that time. It’s basically just two textures per template and a few layout elements thrown together in the layout program OmniGraffle. Still, even after 17 years I must say that they look better than some templates I have seen out there 🙂

Full Metal Planet – Logo

A logo for another computer game project that has never seen the light of day. At this point I have to add that it might seem like I never finish projects. But, one should now that the projects I have in mind are just too big for a single person. In addition, I perceive projects from another point of view: To me it’s the initial idea and the design that matters, not finishing the whole thing. It would take 10 years for one person to finish this project for example:

Full Metal Planet was planned to be a browser based computer game of base building, exploration, resource extraction and conquering other players bases. As my programming skills are below par (or so I am told quite frequently), the whole thing was trashed and I focus on designs instead.

The idea of full metal planet originates from Full Metal Planete, an age old board game that even had a spin-off for the Amiga back in the days.

The logo in the background is from a stock art source (a few US-cents as usual). The rest is just fancy fonts, font styles, layers, and tons of effects applied.

A funny side-note: The outer bullet holes are just that, bullet holes. but the ones on the metal logo are actually coffee stains with some clever effects applied to them.

Completion time: about 3 hours.