Quirky doujin import title Recettear has sold more than 100,000 units, says its localizer and publisher, Carpe Fulghur. But the company's profit margins demonstrate a fascinating cautionary tale for indie game publishers who benefit from discount promotions.
On Carpe Fulghur's blog, project director Andrew Dice calls the unit sale number "the kind of figure that, on some level, I thought we could never conceivably reach, under any circumstances, ever. Not as a brand-new startup with no advertising budget."
In an interview with Gamasutra just before the game's release in September, Dice said he expected 10,000 North American sales in six months, which he suspected would be enough to keep him and partner Robin Williams' indie localization project going.
Although Dice is pleased to have exceeded these expectations on the company's very first game, "we don't have money coming out of our ears," he stresses. Most of the Recettear sales took place not only at a sale price, but at what he describes as a "steep" sale price.
For example, "a heck of a lot of units" were sold through Steam's Indie Story Pack, which contained five games for five dollars. Sales were split evenly among the games in the pack, plus a cut for the game's developer, EasyGameStation, and one for Valve -- meaning very small margins for Carpe Fulghur -- even if it did create a revenue increase for the company during the promotion's October sales month.
But it wasn't as much as it could have been, Dice reflects ruefully: "Especially since we have a lot of data – and I do mean a lot of data – suggesting that people were buying the pack pretty much solely for the promise of 'Recettear for $5'. Had we sold the game for $5 first and then bundled it into a pack, we’d have earned quite a bit more than we did. So lesson learned on that front."
He stresses that the game still made money, and that the earnings might allow the company to start exploring more add-ons for Recettear -- and perhaps even to explore console development, although Dice cautions that latter point especially depends on future learnings as to the wisdom of such a move.
Recettear, an RPG that tasks players with running an item shop, was given two honorable mentions among this year's Independent Games Festival finalists, in the Seumas McNally Grand Prize and Excellence in Design categories.