In a keynote at the Independent Games Summit on the Monday of Game Developers Conference, 2D Boy co-founder and World Of Goo co-creator Ron Carmel presented a forthright talk about how to succeed as an independent developer.
One of Carmel's key points for success? "What you need to remember is that you're not starting a company, you're making a game."
Along the way, he revealed a lot of specifics, including exactly how much money his two-man company spent making the WiiWare and PC hit. He revealed that they spent $4,000 on hardware, $1,000 on software, and $5,000 on QA, plus $5,000 for localization and $5,000 for legal fees.
Including living expenses of $96,000, it cost $116,000 for the two years they spent making the game. Even with $60,000 in pre-orders for the PC version of World Of Goo, the 2D Boy duo were each $28,000 out of pocket when the game launched.
Basically, Carmel explained, it's as simple as this - you need to "make a good game" and have something unique about it. But as an astute businessperson, he launched into some very helpful sales specifics. He revealed, via a chart, that 25 percent of all World Of Goo sales in 2008 came from 2D Boy's website, and Steam was a smaller slice.
Retail was only responsible for between 2 and 3 percent of their revenues, and WiiWare was a majority, around 55-60 percent -- though he did note that Steam was a much larger percentage in 2009. Interestingly, on 2DBoy.com thus far, 65 percent of paid PC downloads were for Windows, 25 percent for Mac, and 10 percent for Linux.
Carmel then asked the question -- why go with a publisher? He doesn't believe that publishers are that important for digital distribution, and for 2D Boy's publisher relationships, they started out okay, but after time, "the wedding band started to look something like this," Carmel said, showing The One Ring from The Lord Of The Rings.
He listed his publisher offers -- starting with an $180,000 advance on 10 percent royalties, though the unnamed publisher said it was "not original... a niche product." Then there was a $225,000 advance, then a$425,000 advance on 20-24 percent royalties, and finally a $700,000 advance on 30-35 percent royalties.
But the cost of goods, shipping, and marketing would be deducted from the royalties. That offer also came with the publisher holding rights to DS and XBLA versions, and right of first refusal for sequels. A final offer ended up being $700,000 advanced on a 15 percent royalty rate.
So the 2D Boy duo worked out whether they could beat the $700,000 with a combination of their own site, Steam, and WiiWare, thought they could, and decided to "dump publishers altogether." Carmel concluded, when it comes to pairing with publishers, "don't do it," and suggested a flat-fee upfront deal for regional retail publishers. He also noted that for digital distribution, you should focus on the big guys to get your game into a prominent distribution area -- PSN, XBLA, WiiWare, and Steam.
Carmel did regret the non-simultaneous Western release of World Of Goo, and said it "made it difficult for people to get the game...that enhanced the piracy rate, I believe." But on the piracy end of things, he explained, "Don't bother with DRM...it's a waste of time," noting that the cracked version ends up having a better user experience than the legitimate version.
He also believes that there is no change in piracy rates between their game and other games with DRM. He added, later on in the lecture: "Anybody who wants the game is going to find it on a BitTorrent site. We just don't see the point in trying to fight that."
The 2D Boy co-founder then showed a graph of direct, WiiWare, and Steam sales over time, although not with exact numbers. He particularly noted that a Steam 25 percent-off sale quadrupled the revenues for that week.
Interestingly, total 2D Boy website sales on the Linux release were double that of launch day -- even if you can't make money just from a Linux port, "publicity from the community is huge" for major Linux titles, he noted. The final, insanely large bump was due to the 75 percent off sale on Steam.
In the Q&A section at the end of the talk, Carmel explained that the title had no design document, and a "very iterative process" overall. He claimed that not having a design document "allowed us to create lots more positive things with the game."
He also commented, "Our philosophy was to value design over finances," although this created stress in the game's second year when the two were running out of money.
So what is 2D Boy's next title? According to a comment at the end of the lecture, it's going to be The Sophomore Effect: An Intentionally Mediocre Game.