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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 Previous Page 3 of 3

Sales and Pricing

When we initially released the game on January 19, 2012, the price was $6.99. We raised this to $9.99 when Gold Edition came out, and settled at $14.99 as the final price for the Steam/GOG release. We raised the price because we knew we would make most of our money during sales periods, and we needed to give ourselves room to go down. All previous owners of the game received free updates at no additional cost.

As expected, the majority of revenue from GOG and Steam came during sales periods. Note that this effect is not just due to the discount, however, but the combined effect of the discount along with featured promotion leading to a temporary boost in visibility.

We used fairly steep discounts (33, 50, and 66 percent off), and did so early in the game's release. We're not sure if that was the wisest move, and feel we might have underpriced ourselves during these sales periods. For our next title we'll likely use shallower discounts to see if there's any major difference in revenue.

Other Stats

Steam provides the most detailed stats of any of our platforms, so let's look at some interesting data from there.

37.6 percent
Steam demo-to-sale conversion rate

This stat means that over 1/3 of all people who have ever played the Steam demo go on to buy the full game. This speaks well of not only our demo, but also the Steam platform itself. Installing and playing a demo on Steam is often just as easy as playing a browser demo on the web -- the player clicks one button, waits for the game to download, and then she's ready to play.

To give that number some perspective, our conversion rate of Kongregate players (202,610 unique) to Kongregate purchasers (3,524 Kreds transactions + 4,977 Direct Sales by Kongregate referal) is 4.2 percent, which is considered very high for that platform.

Also, here are our playtime stats from our steam page (re-formatted to fit this page, and with emphases added).

Fully half of all people who have ever opened their copy of Defender's Quest on Steam have played for at least 10 hours, and over a quarter have played for 20!

According to the achievement data, 40 percent have beaten the regular game, 8 percent have beaten new-game+, and about 2 percent have beaten the ridiculously hard "Hero Mode++" challenge, which asks you to earn 180 gold stars without any generic recruits.

I'm very humbled by these numbers. In an era when gamers have dozens or even hundreds of titles in their Steam Libraries, most of which they've barely even played, I'm extremely grateful that people find our game worthy of their time.

The Power of the Press?

As we wind down, let's talk about the power that press coverage has on a game's fortunes. I used to think that getting featured by popular game sites was our ticket to success, and without the help of journalists our game would be doomed.

So far, that hasn't been our experience. To be sure, we've received far more coverage than we ever expected, but it's still modest compared to top-tier "Indie Superstars" like Braid, Limbo, Super Meat Boy, Spelunky, FTL, Hotline Miami, Legend of Grimrock, etc.

As of today, we don't even have a single review that counts towards our Metacritic score. By comparison, as of this writing, Offspring Fling has managed to garner the required four and Incredipede is almost there with three. (I don't give much credence to meta-scores in valuing games, but they're still a useful metric of your game's media impact).

Our biggest coups so far were multiple features in Rock, Paper, Shotgun, a Destructoid review prior to the release of Gold Edition, a glowing review on JayIsGames, and a brief nod on GameSpot's Free Play Friday.

As you can see on the graph (better details in the previous article), good press resulted in clear sales spikes. However, press is a single shot of traffic, with no tail. In order to really drive knock-on effects, I suspect we need coordinated press attention across all the major game sites, or at least our relevant niche, for the duration of the news cycle.

Still, I think we're a good example of a "sleeper hit" whose sales were mostly driven by forces other than direct, sustained, media attention.

I should note that as 2012 wound to a close, we started to pick up a little more attention before everyone moved on to the next batch of games:

#1 Best Indie Game of 2012 - Dealspwn (Beating Torchlight 2, Hotline Miami)
#2 Indie Strategy Game of 2012 - (#3: Awesomenauts, #1: FTL)
#3 Indie Strategy/RPG Game of 2012 - JayIsGames (#4: Torchlight 2, #1: FTL)
#3 Best RPG of 2012 - Gamezebo (#4: Diablo 3, #1: Legend of Grimrock)

Final Takeaways

Making good games is hard. Selling good games is even harder. So many factors are outside of your control, and even if you do everything right success may still elude you.

I used to believe that if I worked really hard and made something great, an audience would magically find me and we'd make a lot of money. Reality is quite different.

Sales basically comes down to a simple formula:

Eyeballs * Conversion_Rate = Sales

You can't directly control the ebb and flow of the fickle eyeballs of the internet. You can, however, control how many you capture when they show up.

So make your pitch. Tell them what you're about. Give them a free sample. Repeat nice things others have said, and if you're so inclined, tell them if it's okay for their kids. Learn all about what Tadhg Kelly calls the Marketing Story. Be human, be humble, be open, and if fortune is on your side, good things can happen.

And when you're done, come back and share your data with the world! It's scary out there, and the more information we share, the easier it is for the next developers to chart their path.

Article Start Previous Page 3 of 3

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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.