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Goat Simulator: the power of free updates over paid DLC for indie developers
by Armin Ibrisagic on 04/09/14 08:49:00 am   Featured Blogs

The following blog post, unless otherwise noted, was written by a member of Gamasutra’s community.
The thoughts and opinions expressed are those of the writer and not Gamasutra or its parent company.


Things we learned about DLC from our previous games in the Sanctum series, and why we decided to go with completely free updates for Goat Simulator.


Our relationship with DLC at Coffee Stain has been quite rocky. For Sanctum 1, we initially decided to do tons of small DLCs where you could buy a tiny additional piece of content for $1, and we’d let players choose themselves what content they wanted to buy.  That didn’t turn out great, after only a few months, we had a clustermess of 10 different DLCs, each priced at $1 each, new players had no idea what to buy, and just adding every single one  to your Steam cart was a nightmare. For Sanctum 2, we decided to do a Season Pass with big expansions that added tons of more content. That was better than in Sanctum 1, but still not quite as good as we expected.


For Goat Simulator, we have decided to do completely free updates. These are the reasons why:

It’s nice


This might be seen as the least important reason, but there’s a reason I put it first. You might argue that companies aren’t charities, and that everything that costs has to be recouped, but having a good relationship with players is the best long-term investment you can make. Since we don’t have a huge marketing budget, we have to rely on word of mouth to spread our games, and dedicated fans are far better at spreading awareness about your game than any paid ads. Finally, if you sold so few units that you can’t afford to invest money in free updates, then you probably shouldn’t do DLC either since you won’t have that many potential buyers.


You could still do better financially than if you sell DLCs


This might surprise you, but free updates can in some cases make more financial sense than selling DLCs on Steam. If you’ve released a new DLC, your total target group can never be bigger than the amount of people that own the game already, as new DLC isn’t very interesting for someone who has never played the original game (especially if the main part of the DLC isn’t available until you’ve beat the base game, like in Sanctum 2). If you release a free content update as a patch and alert people towards your new update, you’re targeting both your current user base, and also everyone else that doesn’t own the game to the fact that you’re actively updating your game for free. This is especially true if you’re lucky enough to be featured on the Steam main capsule - if your DLC is featured, your main target is your current user base, but if your free content update is featured on the main capsule, your target group is the entire Steam user base of 70 million users that haven’t bought your game yet. Terraria topped the Steam sales list when it released its huge 1.2 patch for free.


The age of retail is gone


Or more accurately, there never was an age of retail for us indie developers. On Steam, you don’t release the game, make all your revenue, then go working on something else. You normally make the majority of your revenue after release during summer and winter sales, midweek madness, weekend deals, etc, so it would be crazy to stop working on a game merely because it’s released. People might not buy your game full price right after release, but if you keep adding content and supporting the game with free updates they might pick it up on a sale.


It’s less hassle


Releasing a new DLC involves some overhead, and that’s really something we noticed for Sanctum 1 with its gazillion different DLCs. Getting in touch with Valve to get a Steam ID, setting up four different capsule images along with a store text and taking five new screenshots takes valuable time that you could spend on something else, such as making free updates.


It’s nice

I really can’t stress this enough. The last few years there has been a growing distaste for DLCs and countless discussions about how it’s affected industry practices. I’m not going to comment or discuss that because that isn’t the topic of this blogpost, but I’m objectively stating that providing free updates can be the reason why someone on the fence ends up buying your game to support this type of game development. Having a ton of DLCs on the other hand, might prevent people from buying it on mere principle.


Bottom line is you naturally want to do what’s best for your company. Some DLC strategies have been extremely successful, but the value of free content updates are often overlooked, when they might actually be the best way to go both for your company, and for your fans.

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Tanya X Short
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Thanks for sharing this. I'm enjoying Goat Simulator and looking forward to seeing what you guys do next.

Is there any chance you'll be sharing sales figures anytime soon, in the interest of indie transparency? :) Some of us are in the midst of convincing investors that [EDIT: premium games on] Steam can be a viable business strategy for small teams...

Armin Ibrisagic
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Thanks for the feedback!

We usually share sales numbers yeah, but only after we have some data we can actually analyze and not this early after release.

However, I'd love to do a gamasutra article analyzing our total sales numbers from all our games - it could help other devs as a reference for when they're planning their own releases, daily deals, summer and winter sales, etc.

Curtiss Murphy
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Have you released data on the Sanctum series? My son and I loved playing that - right up there with Orcs Must Die - and I'd love to hear more about your success.

Armin Ibrisagic
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Yeah, we've shown our Sanctum 1 & 2 sales figures on lectures and such, and right now we're planning a post mortem on it for Gamasutra.

Anton Westbergh
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I'd be worried about working with investors that needs convincing Steam as distribution platform. =P

Tanya X Short
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When most investors see mobile as the only place where small, agile developers can get high sales, gather actionable data & create reproducible "best practices"/target analytics... it's logical, if not intuitive.

Kyle Redd
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Initially I had zero intention of playing Goat Simulator - basically viewing it as a buggy, overpriced one-joke game along the lines of Surgeon Simulator, which I did not like. But my interest has been slowly growing with news of these significant updates.

Matthew Thomas
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Allowing users to create their own content for the game I'm sure will also keep the game selling as well. Sometimes, a popular mod is all it takes to boost your sales and increase that dedicated fanbase you were discussing.

Great article, and for myself, I have to say that I'm still having a blast with Goat Simulator.
Thanks to Flappy Goat though, I'll never make it to 100% completion.

Laura Bularca
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This is a very nice article that tells a lot about you as developers. You are right, it IS nice to give stuff for free, and this just adds to the integrity you have shown as a studio since the whole Goat madness began.

Goat Simulator may be a silly game but there is nothing silly in the story of its development and its success. You totally deserve it and I am looking forward for your next news :)

Peter Harries
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Great article and makes a lot of sense, I think new players who pick up the game in the long run are very valuable, especially for a small dev trying to make a name for themselves. And like you say, It's just nice :)

James Yee
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I agree that many times free updates are better then DLC's. I'm interested in seeing how FTL has done with it's update/DLC as well as Endless Space. Hell Space Engineers nabbed me when they added Survivor Mode/and Multiplayer and that wasn't DLC just a regular content update but it DID put it back into my consciousness. Sometimes that's all it takes. :)

Dane MacMahon
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This is a great article with good advice.

I'm a PC only gamer, which nowadays almost means a Steam only gamer. I have so many games to play and so little time so you really have to grab my attention on the main page or get a forum member to praise your game. A big free update is an obvious way of achieving that (as is having a unique and fun mod, something else your game is set up for).

I think paid DLC works well in specific game styles. Mostly RPGs which can add new lands and new quests. For an indie though I think focusing on community outreach and awareness are the clear way to go.

Meg Noz
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Your post made me buy Goat Simulator.