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Defender's Quest: By the Numbers, Part 2
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Defender's Quest: By the Numbers, Part 2

February 20, 2013 Article Start Page 1 of 3 Next

This article is being highlighted as one of Gamasutra's top stories of 2013.

Last January, we launched the initial version of our Tower Defense / RPG Hybrid Defender's Quest: Valley of the Forgotten. We sold the game directly from our own website, using a browser-based demo distributed via flash portals to drive traffic and sales.

It was a solid niche hit, receiving both critical acclaim and financial success (by our standards).

Three months later, we detailed the initial sales results in a featured Gamasutra article, Defender's Quest: By the Numbers. At the time, we had sold 13,846 copies and made $70,716 gross in revenue.

Since then, we've massively improved the game, with new graphics, bugfixes, balance tweaks, and an enormous update to both story and gameplay content with "New-Game+" mode.

As hoped, our big update and promising sales numbers were able to attract the attention of Steam, GOG, Impulse, Desura, and GamersGate. We launched on all five services on October 30th. Afterwards, we took part in every sales promotion we could, going with whatever discount rate the platform holder suggested.

It's now been three months, and it's time to report on the results!

Lifetime revenue stats for Defender's Quest: Valley of the Forgotten, across all sales platforms, are:

(gross revenue)

40,451 sales

NOTE: These numbers do not include figures from GamersGate, who requested we not disclose sales or revenue data from them. 

"So are you guys totally rich now?" 

That's a lot of money up there -- over a quarter of a million dollars in gross revenue -- but let's take a step back. First of all, we don't get to keep all of that,. Each store takes a cut. I can't give net figures this time around, since NDAs forbid me from revealing several platforms' percentage take, but I can say this: our direct sales payment provider FastSpring takes 8 percent, while Kongregate takes 30 percent of all Kreds revenue. Steam, GOG, and the others take undisclosed percentages. (The silver lining is that sales tax, VAT, chargebacks, etc., are all covered by the stores' cuts).

Next, we get to account for expenses! I don't want to get too specific, so I'll just say total expenses were somewhere between $30-40K. And after that's subtracted, the pie gets shared out between the core team members, who have been working on this for about two years.

It works out to a decent living for doing something we love -- a tremendous privilege in and of itself -- but this isn't anywhere close to Minecraft, Limbo, or Super Meat Boy levels of money.

With that out of the way, let's look at where the money came from.

Full Steam Ahead

Everyone knows you can make a lot of money on Steam. But how, much, exactly? And what about other platforms? Let's break it down:

Steam, unsurprisingly, is the lion's share of the market. However, over 40 percent of our revenue came from other sources -- and direct sales are still our number 2 source of overall revenue.

If you combine direct revenue + Kongregate Kreds, 32.6 percent of all revenue was earned outside of the major portals.

The first thing this chart tells me is that you should sell your game direct! Not only is it a big piece of the pie, you also get to keep most of the money (92 percent!), and build a direct relationship with those customers that no platform holder can yank away from you.

Besides, we would have never gotten on Steam and GOG had we not built up a base of direct sales to convince them with first.

But don't take it from me, take it from Cliffski of Positech games, developer of Kudos, Democracy, and Gratuitous Space Battles. Once you're done reading that, head on over to Pixel Prospector's big list of Payment Processors to set yourself up.

The Rise of GOG

As for the major portals, GOG's star is clearly rising. Even under direct competition, GOG generated 14.5 percent as much revenue as Steam.

If Defender's Quest had not also been available on Steam, I suspect GOG revenue would have been even higher. Steam enjoys a captive market of ardent loyalists, but GOG is swiftly becoming an attractive alternative and gaining loyalists of its own, especially in the anti-DRM crowd.

I should note that GOGers are a passionate bunch. Since our background is in Flash games, we implemented basic gameplay metric tracking without a second thought -- it's just something you do in that world. Shortly after, GOG players started complaining about the game "phoning home." The fans convinced us that it should be removed or at least switched to opt-out, and we put out a quick patch to disable the tracking. Although we stumbled at first, responding promptly to fan feedback turned things around for us and won us a lot of support in that community.

Article Start Page 1 of 3 Next

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Todd Boyd
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Awesome write-up. Thanks for posting all of these juicy metrics!

Alejandro Rodriguez
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Can't thank you enough for sharing this information. Transparency is hard to come by in any creative industry, let alone specifics of this nature. I logged a lot of hours in Defender's Quest on Armor Games, and it was awesome to see a team and product evolve and succeed. Congrats, and thanks again!

Joseph Elliott
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Thanks for this! I honestly hadn't seriously considered a web demo before, but now I can't imagine why. This has been a big help.

Xavier Moore
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Kyle Redd
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Lars, yours are fast becoming my favorite articles on Gamasutra.

Adriaan Jansen
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Awesome article, thanks a lot!

Ish Said
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Fantastic write up. Thanks for the info and advice! I too, will reconsider the browser demo now.

Lars Doucet
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In various other back-channels, people have asked us why we tried up-front pricing rather than F2P.

Short version:
There's no magic bullets when it comes to marketing, we could just have face-planted or struck it rich with either model. We liked this model and it seemed to work.

Long version:

Kyle Redd
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I don't suppose Steam gives you data on the breakdown between Windows, Mac, and Linux players?

Lars Doucet
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It totally does :) But that's another article - see me next week when I post on the results of the Steam Linux sale!

Adam Alexander
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That was a great article. Very enlightening.

Abel Bascunana Pons
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Very insightful stuff Lars, thanks! =)

Jonathan Barone
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Excellent article (and fun game!)

Brad Borne
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Clicking around to check out non-Kong versions of the game, it doesn't seem like you push players to the full game unless they quit, is this on purpose, to not scare Flash game players away from a game that (oh no! heh) can take money? Also, it doesn't look like there was any pushing other Flash games towards the Kong version? Or using Mochi coins to let players purchase the Flash game from anywhere? The Kong premium version is the same thing as the 15 dollar version? Is the Steam version just a Flash file?

This article is exactly what I've been looking for, actually, thanks for posting it!

Lars Doucet
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They get pushed to the full game when they:
1) Reach the end of the demo
2) Quit

I'm not sure if this could be optimized, it just seemed natural to me.
Off-site, the kongregate version directs people back to our site. The game can detect what site it's running on for when small portals "steal" the swf and upload to their sites.

The kong premium version has the same content, just with compressed assets so it loads a little faster online, and it has a secure link to download the full version of the game for your desktop as well (uses the same update server we use to deliver auto-updates).

The Steam version is compiled in Adobe AIR and features numerous native extensions to both integrate with Steam as well as provide desktop-friendly features like native fullscreen resolution switching, etc. For mac and windows this uses "AIR captive runtime" so you don't actually have to install AIR, it just packages the dependencies as local files, but linux does require the user to install AIR - in that latter case we wrapped it in an easy installer shell script that does all the work for the user.

Chris Moeller
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Awesome article, it's very helpful to see someone else progress, and actual numbers, to get a better idea on scale.

Thanks for putting the time into putting it together to help everyone else out!

Lars Doucet
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News: Just got a letter today from Impulse telling us that they're dropping our game from their service. Just in case you were wondering, it came through the mail, dated February 11th. So not related to this article :P

Matt Hackett
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Whoa, fascinating! Sounds shady, good to know…

Thanks for the article, Lars, fantastic take-aways here. We're an HTML5 studio, so having a web-based demo is done and done for us. So hopefully we'll be able to apply some of your lessons to our next game. Cheers!

Lars Doucet
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It's probably just b/c we didn't sell well on their system. Only about ~30 copies sold, so answering one support email from us costs them more than we're making them.

David Paris
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Thanks much for the breakdowns! Reading these always gives me the poke to remember I should consider other options.

Curtiss Murphy
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Insightful, Honest, and Humble. Well done indie post-mortem.

Glenn Sturgeon
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Congrats lars.
I'm not suprised by the games success. I do remember your 1st article about it here at gamasutra, i said it should be on steam, its better than alot of the games they sell there.
Also it's nice to see your still DMR free and working with the guys from GOG.

Way to go!

Marty Rabens
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One thing to consider regarding deep sale discounts vs. shallow sale discounts is the value of customer volume (as opposed to just total revenue). It can be worth having a little less revenue and more customers (especially on a developer's first title), because those customers translate to increased sales on future titles.