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Digging down to business: Shovel Knight Planning and Sales
by David D'Angelo on 08/05/14 06:20:00 pm   Expert Blogs   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.


So Shovel Knight has been on sale in the US on Wii U/3DS and internationally on Steam (only in English) for over a month now! Pretty nuts to see our little fledgling Kickstarter all grown up and in the wild.  Believe it or not, besides the desire to make a great game, one of the reasons the team wanted to leave our safe and secure jobs behind and enter the indie world was to make the development process more accessible to the public – so that you all would have a better idea of how games are made and how to measure their success. That’s our task today!

Unfortunately, most developers aren’t permitted or aren’t willing to just give away sales expectations or results! Fortunately, we’re not like most developers. Hopefully we can add more pieces to the tiny pile of existing information to help out other developers, journalists, enthusiasts, and Grandma Swamp-a-likes for the future. You all are the reason this game even exists, and we feel it’s our responsibility to let you know about every detail that went into its construction. If you know of other developers that have done something similar, be sure to post it in the comments to help anyone who is on the lookout.

Alright, here we go! We’re going to be stepping through the whole process from dream to Kickstarter to release, sprinkling in our sales numbers and some statistics throughout about how our game has done from June 26th – July 26th.  Keep in mind, none of the numbers we’ll share are precise as pinning down the numbers can be tricky for various reasons. We’ve given it our best shot!











It all began with a Kickstart!

To know what our current sales numbers mean, you have to know where we started!  On April 13th, 2013, we finished our Kickstarter campaign, funded by our lovely, amazing 14,749 backers for a grand total of $311,502.  We also ran a concurrent Paypal donation period, where 935 backers reaching a total of $17,180 also joined in on the fun.  When the campaign concluded, we asked all the backers to tell us what platform they wanted the game for….and here are the results!

Surprisingly, Nintendo backers only provided around a third of the total support.  We would have expected this number to be much higher given how focused (at least inwardly) our campaign was around Nintendo platforms.  Were the naysayers right; do Nintendo indie games not sell well!? We’ll come back to this point later when we discuss the full sales, but it’s probably safe to say that early on, Kickstarter was still a PC dominated platform.

So in total, we went into full Shovel Knight production with $328,682 in hand for the rest of development (keep in mind, that 328k does not account for taxes, Kickstarter’s takeaway, fees, backers that dropped payment, etc).  That certainly is a large sum by itself, but not quite so when it comes to making a game!

It may be surprising, but even a small downloadable game can often cost upwards of a million dollars to make! We planned a game that was going to take five people more than a full work week (six if you count Jake) for two years (this schedule includes a year for the game, with an additional year for developing stretch goal content)! That kind of game simply is not possible on 328k, and let’s break down why!

Cost of development

What does a game usually cost? How do you even figure that out? Well, it’s tough to be honest, but a very standard metric is to determine how many employees will be on the team, and multiply their cost by the amount of time the game is in development.  This isn’t super accurate because in the game development world, we criminally underestimate each component’s time and effort. Typically we compensate for this by overestimating the time/salary/quantity elements out a bit.

So let’s do that for Shovel Knight!  These days, most studios will put the average cost of a developer on a game at around a $10k man month.  What does that mean? Essentially, each developer will cost the company 10,000 dollars a month or 120,000 dollars a year.  Now, of course, not every developer on the team makes that much money and often, NONE of the developers on the team make that much money.

That’s because this monthly $10k goes into much more than just paying the salary of the employee.  It covers any and all expenses accumulated from having that employee on site.  That includes not only individual expenses for the employee like salary, health insurance, etc but also company expenses like rent, electricity, water, food/snacks, conventions, computer and other equipment, software licenses, lawyer fees, taxes, development kit expenses…the list goes on and on.  Given that it encompasses so much, we can use this figure to calculate the cost for the entire game.  Also note that some developers may only be on a project for a few months, while others will work for the whole project’s duration. The man month total number can vary widely for games, but for Shovel Knight, we figured it was something around 144 man months to finish the game.

Now, YOU too have the power to estimate game budgets! Just multiply it out! For example, a 50 person team working for two years? That would be 12,000,000! Twelve million dollars! You can see how game budgets really start to add up!








If you’re running the numbers in your head, you might be thinking – you told us you were going to make and release Shovel Knight and its stretch goals within 2 years! There are six people behind the core team that made Shovel Knight.  According to the standard rules we just established, to make Shovel Knight in the two years we thought it would take, we would need $1,440,000 on hand!! Well that just wasn’t going to happen!

So what did we do to offset that cost?  First, we took Jake Kaufman’s salary out of the equation – he was generous enough to agree to a post-release payment and diligent enough to provide most of the sound and music in a very short time frame.  With that cost mitigating measure, we’re now we’re down to $1,200,000…that didn’t help much!

Next we decided that, yes, this was a two year game to make including the stretch goals, but we could probably squeeze it into a year if we took those out and released them as free updates in the future using the sales of the game to fund the cost.  In case you were wondering, that’s why we announced during the Kickstarter that the stretch goals would be post release content.  We were planning that far in advance!  Ok, so we get to cut the budget in half by shaving off a year: we’re down to $600k now.  We’re getting close.

Unfortunately, we’ve now run out of options – the only thing left to do is cut the amount allocated for each person by half.  So now we’re running on $5k man months – which is extremely low.  At first, that sounds like $60k per year, but with the company costs, taxes, etc, in reality, it’s more like $30k for each of us over the course of the year… and that’s before any taxes.

At this point you have to be thinking, $30k minus taxes for one year’s salary, a grueling work pace (think: 12-18 hours a day, 7 days a week) and no stability whatsoever….why bother?  An NES game, that’s not going to sell.  The 80′s are over, man, get with the times! The cool kids are all into the AAA explosive action sequences.  You’ll never make it!

Why bother?

Not a bad question honestly.  Let’s add to the equation the fact that we knew that signing up for this project was much more than just developing Shovel Knight.  Because we were solely in charge of handling the business, marketing, publishing, merchandise, support, and so on for the game, we were committing all our waking hours to the game.  We knew we would finish Shovel Knight and barely keep our souls and lives intact.  We would be sleeping and eating Shovel Knight and not remember what the sun looked like from our windowless office space.  It would be gruelingly terrible. And there was no safety net.



Of course, the obvious reason for making Shovel Knight and going in with this doomed perspective was that we really wanted to make this game, and we believed in it!  It was a passion project! Not only that, we met so many great people during the course of the Kickstarter campaign who believed in it too!  The world needed Shovel Knight, we needed to develop it, and we didn’t care if we had to sacrifice ourselves to do it. We also wanted to control every part of the game, from marketing to development, and were not willing to relinquish any authority on the matter.  This we think is obvious from our Kickstarter!

But what isn’t obvious is that we knew that Shovel Knight would be a success.  We didn’t have a doubt in our mind because we had years of experience budgeting and developing games (and sacrificing ourselves…), and we had some concrete numbers to back us up. That’s why we felt confident planning so far ahead, and saying we would present the Kickstarter stretch goals as free updates in the future.

What concrete numbers do we speak of? We’re talking the 15,684 people that supported us during the Kickstarter campaign.  Other developers have estimated that preorders predict first-week sales by 200-400%. That means Shovel Knight was guaranteed to sell 2-4 times the 15,684 backers in the first week, or in other words, 30k-60k copies in the first week.  That of course seemed crazy to us…as successful games in our portfolio barely broke 50k copies sold.  But we weren’t going to fight the numbers we arrived at.  We felt a level of security, so we instead prepared ourselves for the brutal 12 months ahead.

This all goes to show that planning isn’t everything! We felt confident, but in the end we missed our target – remember how we didn’t release our game on March 31st?  Yep, that was also the point that the budget was gone, and when our reserves ran low – also known as “we ran out of money” (actually it was March 1st).

We stopped any and all spending that wasn’t absolutely crucial to the game and the game’s Kickstarter. Having already budgeted out and frozen big amounts like Kickstarter reward costs, we were down to the day to day. Electricity? Needs to be on. Internet? Need that too. Dirt Letter Envelopes? Order ‘em. Supporting ourselves? Well…

We ended up operating for five months without money or payments to the team here. It was a difficult period, where some of us were awkwardly standing in front of cashiers having our credit cards declined, drawing from any possible savings, and borrowing money from our friends and family.  But we made it to the other side!

First month sales

Finally, we released the game on June 26th! And now, the moment everyone has been waiting for!  How much did the game actually sell?!  Let’s jump right into it! In the first week, if you take out our Kickstarter presales, we essentially sold 75,000 copies!!!  Absolutely insane! It blew our 2x-4x pre-sale expectation out of the water!

There are a few reasons we think our preorder prediction ended up being such a conservative estimate.  One is…we were a Kickstarter!  That’s not quite the same thing as a preorder.  People could only attain the preorder for a limited time, so the stats aren’t 100% aligned with what a preorder would do. We think due to the PC nature of Kickstarter, we saw a higher amount of sales on Nintendo’s platform when the game actually got released.  Nintendo users are more inclined to buy the game day one rather than through a preorder on Kickstarter.  Finally, the preorder prediction isn’t a set in stone statistic, but more like a guideline for what to expect.  We had done a lot of promotion and marketing at conventions and on media sites to prove ourselves over the course of the year, and we think people responded to it in kind! Nintendo also did an amazing job supporting us through their store placement and own marketing channels.

Not only did we outsell our expectations, but we also made it to the top of all of the charts! While we did everything we could to spread the word, this could not have happened without everyone’s enthusiasm out there. Each and every positive impression, playthrough video, stream, tweet, fan art, recommendation, critical comment, email, vote, and review made this possible! As you can see above, Shovel Knight hit the number one spot on the 3DS, the number 2 spot on the Wii U, and although the picture doesn’t show this (we couldn’t find one we captured for proof), we were among the top 10 games on Steam.  Did we mention that we were complete buffoons and, against all of Valve’s advice, we launched Shovel Knight during the Steam Summer Sale when we had major bargains as competition?!  Yeah, we’re crazy, but we still managed to crack the top 10!  We don’t know guys…SteamWorld Dig sure sounds more appealing at two bucks.  Also, while we hit 2nd on the Wii U store, it should be noted we were competing with a bunch of free games that were being given away as part of the Mario Kart 8 promotion.  I wouldn’t expect us to beat a game that sold more than 2 million copies, where each person got to choose a free game on the eShop!  So we’re pretty proud we even came close to Wind Waker!

So that’s a great first week, but of course, sales commonly take a quick dive after launch, so where are we sitting after a month?  Here are the current totals up to July 26th:

Note: this includes review copies and Kickstarter copies

Overall, we’re extremely happy with the sales! We don’t have sales data on many other digital games to offer a comparison, but we do know it’s doing very well for our company – meaning the six of us!  This means we can keep our current course and continue making the stretch goal content without fear of disbanding or seeking additional funding.  It means we can continue living our dreams producing awesome games for our incredible fans (and soon-to-be fans)! And we still have lots of markets to release the game in – Australia, Europe, Japan…although those markets are typically less when compared to America, they will definitely help contribute to our next efforts. The steady supply of free stretch goal content updates should also provide a nice boost in sales once each is released.

Thank You!!!

After the Kickstarter project ended, we all discussed our sales goals.  The number that most of us settled upon was…when all was said and done, 150,000 copies sold in total.  That was our high point! So thank you, everyone, who supported us and made it possible for Shovel Knight to surpass that in just the first month. We are blown away!

It’s been a crazy ride!  We’re not done yet though.  We’re going to keep working our hardest to keep this game loved, played, and selling like hotcakes. Our new goal is the quest to 1 million sold, to truly solidify Shovel Knight as a modern platinum classic!  For all of you who had doubts that a Wii U game or a digital game on a Nintendo platform could sell, we hope these facts show that a good game on any system, marketed the right way, can sell.

Thank you everyone for your support!!!

That’s not all!  Join us Thursday, and we’ll break down these stats a little more: How has the Steam version been selling by region, how many people beat the game, how much gold has been collected, and much more will all be tackled.  And if you have any questions about the numbers or anything listed here, we’ll be sure to answer them in the next post! So stay tuned!

For Part 2 discussing our stats breakdown including info like player engagement, social media attachment, total deaths, and more, click here!

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Innes McNiel
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Good to see this, both in terms of transparency from developers to help shape expectations AND to see you were as successful as I hoped. I picked up Shovel Knight on launch day on steam on the recommendation of everyone I know and I was even more impressed than I expected to be. Good job, and good luck with future projects!

Mikael Forslind
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Great article. Really interesting. Congratulations on the sales, really impressive work! May I ask how you marketed your game? I'm yet to play the game though. Waiting on the EU release on Wii U. Really looking forward to it! :)

Anyhow, keep up the good work. Looking forward hearing more from you. Funny that you mentioned SteamWorld Dig btw :)

All the best,

Mikael Forslind
PR & Marketing Manager
Image & Form (the makers of SteamWorld Dig)

David D'Angelo
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An excellent 2D platforming digging game for two bucks! Why would you buy Shovel Knight, ha!

I hope to go into much more detail about our marketing strategy next week. So keep a look out!

Thomas Happ
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I second the question about marketing :-)

James Coote
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Thanks for posting this! I'm making a Wii U game at the moment and it's really hard to come by solid sales data, so this is much appreciated! (Though probably warped by the fact you guys made a really great game :p)

Ian Morrison
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Yeah, that's the big caveat here. Articles like this have heavy survivorship bias, so you need to take the numbers here with a grain of salt. This is not your typical game release result!

Christian Nutt
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I think that it's worth considering the Wii U audience more than anything when making a Wii U game -- I would say it is likely the number one most important thing. This also applies to the 3DS, actually. When you look at the games that are standout successes on those platforms and exceed their sales on Steam they tend to have TWO major factors in common...

- Theme/type of gameplay
- Parity or earlier release on Nintendo platforms.

The three major examples I am considering here are Steamworld Dig, Mutant Mudds and now Shovel Knight.

Now, I don't think that's a huge sample size, nor do I have anything but "vague and verbal" data on this (at least not to hand!) but I think you can see some important correlations here.

I guess what I am basically saying (why beat around the bush) is that if you are going to release on Nintendo, your game should be catered to the audience of Nintendo fans (those who like Nintendo games). All of these games also do something first party wasn't doing (in terms of design, or in terms of Mutant Mudds and its 3D plane-shifting, technology) that the first party wasn't providing but is still the "kind of game" the audience would like.

Anyway, that's just my unscientific but considered two cents on this topic. =P

Godehard Sturmann-Krieg
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More generally, it speaks to the fact that there's a big (and largely unserviced) audience for indie games on Wii U / 3DS that is eager for new content and will reward devs who make the effort to tailor their games to those platforms.

There are games/studios that have managed to fill a niche on the eShop simply by releasing games where there were none previously--there's a segment of the community that desperately wants to buy something, anything that they claim as their own, and they will settle for or even evangelise games that wouldn't get a second look on other platforms, purely because there's nothing else on offer.

(That's not to say they're not discriminating or fickle, or that good community relations will guarantee success, just that the audience is, for the time being, a relatively captive one.)

A lot of indie devs have their own preconceptions and misgivings about the eShop, thanks in no small part to Nintendo's near-silence and lack of public dialogue about their indie initiatives, but people will soon come to realise that the eShop is currently a small pond waiting for a big fish.

James Coote
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I assume there'll be a fair proportion of Wii U owners who only ever know what games are out there by what disks they see in retail shops or maybe by seeing a TV advert. So the Shovel Knight sales represent a potential audience size that's reachable with the marketing tools available to an indie team.

As for my own circumstances, I didn't design the game specifically with Nintendo fans in mind. It may be I get punished for not appealing to the retro-nostalgic sentiments of most of the Nintendo fans who do hang around on Nintendo fan forums or buy Nintendo magazines.

What I'm hoping to do though, is get the analytics data from the game about who is playing, so I can better adjust marketing efforts post-launch.

Conversely, my cost structures are very different from Shovel Knight's team. I need to make about 1/10th of Shovel Knight's unit sales to break even, though largely because I've not had to pay salaries.

Christian Nutt
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I suspect that the large proportion of the Wii U audience is Nintendo otaku who live online and are well aware of downloadable games. I think probably post MK8 is the first time the system started to pick up a lot of less sophisticated users, and I think the causals aren't around and are never coming back.

Then again, the proportion of people who actually bought Shovel Knight on Wii U is still pretty low, according to this tweet:

So that means I don't fully understand it. I mean, how can we? We have no data.

Godehard Sturmann-Krieg
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It's also worth noting that the online connection rate for Wii U and 3DS is way, way higher than it ever was for their previous-gen hardware -- I think Wii topped out at 8% connection rate or something, whereas Wii U/3DS are around 75% in Europe and well over 80% elsewhere (off the top of my head) -- so the platform has become a lot more viable for that simple reason.

Jason Greenwood
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Kickstarted this game, and it's wonderful to see this come full circle, in seeing the time and numbers breakdown. Thanks for taking the time to write these!

Oh, and next time you make a game, email your Kickstarter list, because I'm in!

Benjamin Quintero
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This level of success is by no means a representation of the norm but it's good to see that some people can survive in the wilds of the indie scene. Great read.

R. Hunter Gough
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Thanks for the info, and congratulations!

I'm a little confused about your numbers, though; you estimated (correctly, in my experience), that it would cost $10k per man-month to make the game, so $600k to support your team of five for a year. Then when you ended up getting $300k from Kickstarter, your team decided that they could live on half of that (pretty tough to do in LA!), and then you ended up going 5 months over your one-year deadline with no pay at all.

But your Kickstarter goal was only $75k with a 6-month deadline! What would have happened if you'd barely made that??

David D'Angelo
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We were planning a much smaller game from the beginning than what we ended up shipping. Once the Kickstarter started doing really well, we scoped Shovel Knight to be much larger and fit all our wildest dreams. So in all likely hood, the 75k game would have been much shorter and succinct than where we ended up. It would have also included us using our savings to scrape by. We were determined to make the game no matter what!

Kyle Redd
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I am very glad you all made it through on such a grueling schedule and budget. It's a great accomplishment, especially for a new team. But that you were planning all along to have to "scrape by" for several months in order to finish the game - That is not so good.

You're saying that even after a very successful funding drive, there was a big chance the game was never going to be completed. Was this very real possibility communicated to your backers at some point? I wasn't a backer so I don't know what sort of information you gave them.

I feel that most of the distrust around crowdfunding right now is for exactly this reason - Developers are not being entirely forthcoming from the outset about the amount of money being raised versus the amount they will actually need to make the game.

Thomas Happ
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Wow, that is amazing! You guys deserve it, though!!

Frank DAngelo
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I'm not surprised by the low percentage of Nintendo sales. Nintendo is not a console that screams "Indie" to me in the slightest. Nintendo has almost always been a box to play first party titles like Mario, Zelda, Donkey Kong, Metroid, etc. I think you would have seen great returns on PSN and XBLA however, especially due to more saturation of their digital games on their established digital stores and better demographic audience.

Mike Kasprzak
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Did you read the same article? Nintendo sales make up 60% of total sales.

Leon T
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There are plenty of indie success stories on Nintendo's eshope and if you take time and read the article you'll see that this one of them. So far the game as sold more on Nintendo's platforms than it did on Steam. There are other success stories of indie games selling better on Nintendo platforms as well. Even platformers released by major third parties at retail tend to sell better on Nintendo systems.

Urbain Bruno
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Hey David, glad to see some sales breakdown for such an indie title and it is nice to see that there is a potential on Wii-U for games who understand the potential market you can tap there. However taking a look at raw numbers I'm assuming you guys got around 1.9M$ in net revenues, which (in case you were running a full cost studio) would bring a net benefit of 500K$ which is very nice and puts you in a very comfortable position to move forward with your next title (I'm sure there will be a bit more sales on top of those of the first week). Good luck to you and your team and again thanks for sharing.

David Paris
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Thanks for the information!

What I really wonder though, is how you spent the money from there, and in what way was your team compensated?

I've certainly seen more than enough of these death marches, but what defines you and your company is the answer to what do your employees get out of it when all is done?

How is your company ownership distributed? Do the five people all have partial ownership? What sort of deal does the guy who deferred his payment get? Etc...

There are a number of answers that could have occurred. What did you do in your case?

omry hanegby
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Just wondering,
how long was the game in development?

Mike Pinto
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Can you discuss how much time you put into the game prior to kickstarter and what that cost?

Jacek Wesolowski
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Fun fact: in Poland, the widely accepted "magic formula" is also 10,000 per person per month, only in PLN. The exchange rate is roughly 1 USD = 3.1 PLN. Hence, development is essentially three times cheaper.

In practical terms, if you don't mind having remote co-workers, then outsourcing your art to foreign freelancers becomes an option worth considering (unless you're already a tight-knit group of friends willing to jump into the fire together, because that beats everything). You would have to set aside some extra time to account for the cultural barrier, but that would be something like 10% extra, and not 200%, so still very much worth it. Poland has the advantage of being not quite like the US, or the UK, or France, and not quite like Russia, or Ukraine, but still sufficiently similar to all these places that you don't have to explain the basic details such as whether white is the colour of peace or death.

There is, of course, the question of the social and moral impact of hiring "cheap foreign labour" rather than the equally talented local artists. The way I see it, everybody benefits in the long term. Your freelancers get to do what they love for what is decent compensation to them. Some of them will re-invest that money in their own projects, and maybe make some great game they couldn't afford to make otherwise. You get to make a better game, because your team can focus on the work rather than not going bankrupt. Your chance of success increases, which means you make more money, which in turn means you can offer more work at a better rate to local artists.

Christian Nutt
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Probably also depends on what you want to make. This game is hugely culturally American -- that is, pop-culturally American. It's centered around nostalgia for late 80s/early 90s NES games as played and loved by American kids. That's a pretty culturally specific moment, and probably incredibly difficult to explain to someone who doesn't get it and wasn't there -- maybe more so than "white is peace, not death".

That said, I'm not inveighing against what you're saying here, and I'd personally (were I to make a game) happily collaborate with people from all over the globe (and hell, I married an Italian.) But this game is really culturally resonant in a very specific way.

Jacek Wesolowski
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I'm assuming the data provided here will be used by hundreds if not thousands of developers, not all of whom will be aiming for something like this particular game. "Shovel Knight" has already been made, after all.

That said, you're correct that some topics are particularly specific to one's native culture. NES nostalgia is a good example of something very "American" that probably would be difficult to handle internationally. I think it largely depends on a game's thematic scope. For instance there is, of course, 8-bit nostalgia in Poland, only it revolves around Atari and Commodore machines.

Christian Nutt
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Yep! I definitely don't mean to suggest it's not an overall good idea, just was musing about this project in particular. I'm given to musing. =P

In fact, it cuts both ways -- I think (for the most part) if you want to make a game that's nostalgic for Commodore and the Euro computer scene, it would (most likely) be a mistake to hire an American artist.

My husband is super nostalgic for Amiga, but I've never even played a game on one. By the time I finally made a friend who owned one in the US, he didn't even own any games, because he didn't play them.

Lasse Hansen
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I'm sorry but that is a very arrogant view. I'm from Denmark and atleast 90% of the popculture i've encountered in my childhood/adolescence is from the states, games, tv-shows, movies etc.

Most of my friends had a NES. I love Shovel Knight, i get it's references, American culture is in no way only understood by Americans. I know more about the culture of individual states in the US, than i do about European countries.

I especially think it's arrogant considering most of the Games and the console itself is Japanese..

Christian Nutt
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@Lasse Hansen, Well, I did overgeneralize, certainly. It really does vary from European country to European country whether the NES was popular. I had meant to suggest that (at least as far as I was aware!) it wasn't popular in Poland.

I actually know this first-hand because my husband is Italian (as I said) and he's a HUGE NES fan, since it was popular in Italy. In the UK, it wasn't popular at all, on the other hand.

I did recently read that Famicom clones were popular in Russia, which is something I didn't realize.

That said, the flavor of NES nostalgia can vary widely depending on which country you're talking about (this is true with actually every console, particularly ones that were released pre-internet.)

If you play Retro Game Challenge (for the DS) for example, you'll see that Famicom nostalgia in Japan is VERY different than American NES nostalgia based on the kind of experiences its developers chose to highlight.

There are touchstone games that apply to both countries (Super Mario Bros. is an incredibly obvious example, but even then, we had different Super Mario Bros. 2.) But then there are games that are essential to the US NES canon (Blaster Master, Ninja Gaiden) which don't mean a thing to Japanese players (and the other way around, the super-obvious example being the Dragon Quest games.)

Anyway, yeah, it was stated a bit arrogantly! But really all I'm trying to say is that when you're playing with cultural memories and ideals, as with Shovel Knight, you really need to be immersed in that culture to really understand it.

Thanks for pointing out the NES was popular in Denmark, though -- I had no idea.

Luke S
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@Jacek: Three times cheaper gets you three times the Polish. ;D
I apologise deeply for my gross cultural punsensitivity. I'm normally an upstanding Canadian.

You are quite right of course, and as a Canadian I remember the halcyon days of US television and movie productions making Vancouver and Toronto their playground. Which cools abruptly every time the dollars hit parity. Czech Republic seemed to have much the same position in Europe for about a decade, I have no less than three Prague Philharmonic albums, all Hollywood related. It's also quite amazing that the global games industry warrants regional wikipedia pages. see: Video_gaming_in_the_Czech_Republic

Jacek Wesolowski
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Incidentally, polish is the main selling point of most of the graphics assets produced around here. You might actually want to keep that in mind when making deals. If keeping a deadline is more important to you than technical perfection, I would recommend that you say it explicitly.

Czech Republic is a good example of a small European country with a very dense (and thus fairly large) population. It's also wealthy enough that people can devote money and time to creativity. The community in Poland is more spread out by comparison. Warsaw is the big hub, obviously, but there's also a lot of interesting stuff going on in Wrocław, Kraków, and Gdańsk.

To be perfectly honest, at this point it makes vastly more sense for someone like me to try and do something locally, even on a shoestring budget, and maybe even train a few talented wannabes from the ground up, than, say, move to England and get a job there. The potential is so huge and under-utilized right now.

Ubisoft has a studio in Romania, by the way.

Lasse Hansen
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Aaah i see, and yeah, definitely alot of differences between the countries! Even between different age groups :)

Reading my message again it seems way harsher than i intended it to be. And to be honest i don't really know anything about polish gaming culture, so it could be very different, but american culture is SOO huge in Denmark, especially as a kid growing up on the internet. :P

Micah Hymer
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Holy cow. A developer posted actual sales numbers. I'm literally blown away! Thank you for sharing. I love how the level of transparency seems to be increasing among indie developers.

What a smashing success for you guys! Congratulations to all those involved.

...did I say thanks for sharing your story?

Jeff Postma
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Thanks for sharing this data and being so open about it. Congrats on the release and great job on Shovel Knight!

Colm Larkin
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Cheers for sharing! This kind of sales info is incredibly helpful for folks like me, eg when pitching to government grant agencies and the like (did this recently).

Have to say I would have waited the extra 2 weeks to launch after the steam summer sale was over.. though then again there's a lot of extra traffic ON steam during the sale.

Hard to know!

G Irish
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"At this point you have to be thinking, $30k minus taxes for one year’s salary, a grueling work pace (think: 12-18 hours a day, 7 days a week)"

Does this mean that this game was made through a prolonged crunch?

Thomas Henshell
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As an indie dev I would also like to know, in round numbers, what kind of revenue you guys got on your 180k unit sales. I don't know how much Steam, Nintendo, etc take off the top. Is it like apple's 30%. Is revenue of a $15 game 180k x $10 = 1.8m???

Curtiss Murphy
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Are you going to expand on the numbers post release? I'm grateful you took the time to be so open and am curious about how the revenue worked out with sales (generally, not individually).

Pretaking out ~30% for platforms, basic napkin math might yield 180,000 * $10, for $1.8M. Which sounds ginormous, until you factor that a team of 6 was owed 5 months of backpay, and need a reward for their efforts. Maybe that's a $100-150K lump avg per member, which might still leave ~$1M for the studio to continue it's existance for another year. It's strong, and yet, a year passes quickly, and costs a lot with 6 employees, potentially putting the studio back in a bad shape before a new title could be created.

Kyle Redd
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Well, of course the game is also going to continue to sell into the future, probably at a healthy level considering the positive reviews from both critics and users.

If I remember correctly from previous post-mortems, they're likely to take in as much revenue during Steam sales alone as they did in the first month after launch.

David D'Angelo
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I'd like to expand on it more at some point once we have a clearer picture. Basically, we're still doing basic napkin math over here too trying to figure out what we'll lose to taxes, etc. Hopefully the game will continue to do well and we won't be put in any bad situations again. We'll see! With doing all these free DLC stretch goal content updates over the year, we're definitely aiming for the long haul.

ken wong
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Thanks for the amazing article, David! Makes me really want to do a similar post for our game.

You mentioned not having any digital games to compare data with. Dustforce comes to mind:

Curtiss Murphy
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Great link! Hadn't seen that.

David D'Angelo
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You should post data on Monument Valley! I met Dan at Florida Supercon, and after gushing and embarrassing myself, he was kind enough to share a lot of cool numbers about the game. It's super interesting how the ios/android world compares to consoles.

ken wong
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We're really looking forward to doing that! We're waiting until all or most of our DLC/ports are done, so we can tell the full story.

Lucas Zanenga
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What a great read! You guys really deserve all of the success you've had. I've being working in a similar "down to the wire" situation for a few months, so I can empathize. I hope you guys all the best! Looking forward to many more games from Yacht Club Games! Cheers!

Luke S
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Thank you for sharing this David, I'm sure it will be cited for years to come. It's also the un-sexy nitty gritty that creative works like Indie Game The Movie can't possibly convey. Great illustrations nonetheless.

Also I will confess that I opted not to purchase Shovel Knight during the steam sale. I don't have a good reason, as it was competing with similar prices. I just knew I wouldn't have the time to play it ahead of other things I already have on the go. And of course you will want to see sales continue to be strong, so I'll be a part of those upcoming figures.

I have a question regarding stretch goals. You appear to only have one stretch goal with a physical product, yet many kickstarters overindulge in physical rewards*, without seeming to fully think through the drain on resources they become (shipping especially). My question in two parts is A) did you develop some sense of a formula for designing stretch goals so that they results in a net gain instead of a loss to the project, and B) would you even distinguish digital versus physical rewards as factoring differently in their resource cost to the project? I would think B depends greatly on the people you have access to.

*Cheetahmen comes to mind, as I look at my $5 pledge comic on the shelf and wonder why it exists.