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Postmortem: Tale of Tales' The Path
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Postmortem: Tale of Tales' The Path

July 22, 2010 Article Start Previous Page 8 of 8



The Path is being sold at 10 US dollars. This is a very low price for a game of its size. It was difficult to decide on a price. A year ago, when The Path was launched, the standard price for an indie game was still 20 or 25 dollars. So throughout development, this was the price point that we had in the back of our heads. But after making a deal with the gamer-oriented platforms Steam and Direct2Drive to launch The Path simultaneously with us, we started thinking.

We realized that The Path was a very different game. We were not anticipating the enthusiastic response from the games press at all.

We actually thought The Path would be largely ignored by the press, or receive a lukewarm reception -- but we really wanted people to play it. So in order to reduce the risk of purchasing a game that you can't find a decent review for, we decided to make the price as low as possible.

We're still not certain of this was the right decision. The Path received a lot more publicity than we had expected. But would the reviews have been equally favorable if the price had been "normal"? And would an increase in price have compensated for the inevitable decrease in copies sold at a higher price? These are questions we have no answer to.

The Path sales graph over time shows a typical "long tail": a steep spike at launch and a long period of mediocre sales numbers. This situation continues, except for the "rude interruption" of the Indie Bundle sale on Steam (the spike of which is a lot taller than is visible on the graph). The first month and a half of sales (March and April) were good for a quarter of the entire year. When Valve launched the Indie Bundle discount sales, we sold even more than in the first month. Another, much smaller spike was caused by an interview on U.S.' NPR radio network.

Per region

Almost 50,000 copies of The Path have been sold to this day -- most of these (90 percent) via digital download through the internet. The Path has been our first product to be sold through retail as well. Topware published a localized version in Poland and 1C in the Russian speaking countries.

Almost half of the people who bought The Path live in North America, predominantly in the U.S., though Canada did very well too. A good quarter of sales were made in Europe, mostly in the UK, Germany, and France. About 10 percent of our sales were made in Russia and Russian-speaking countries, almost all of these through retail.

More than half of our sales happened in English-speaking countries. The fact that our website and most of our marketing is in English may be one reason for this. The fact that most of our sales were made through channels owned by U.S.-based companies is another.

Per channel

We were lucky enough to sell The Path through Steam. Quite a bit more than half of our sales happened through Valve's distribution platform. More than half of those sales come from discount bundles that were sold over a single weekend (these bundles contained several other indie games as well). But even if we remove the bundle sales from the equation, Steam sales still still account for almost half.

Because of the success of The Graveyard on Mac OSX, we were very eager to release The Path on Mac. Thanks to the help of Transgaming, we were able to release a Mac version in May 2009. Mac sales have not been as good as expected.

Part of the reason for this is probably that the Mac version did not benefit from the excitement surrounding the launch in March 2009. Another reason is undoubtedly that our major distributors only carried the PC version of The Path. Still, if we extract the numbers of on an unbiased channel like our website, Mac sales only account for little over a quarter of sales. Even if we only count sales since the Mac launch, the PC version still sold almost twice as well as the Mac version.

There is no woodsman to save the women


Producing and releasing The Path has taught us that the amount of effort (and time and money) we put into a creation directly affects its public appeal. The Path has been our biggest production to date. And it has both received the highest praise and found the largest audience of any of our projects.

Yet while it is nice to know that our hard work has been rewarded, the commercial success was too moderate to really justify a repeat of this same formula. Even if arts funding allows us to minimize commercial concerns, we feel that there is more opportunity out there, in terms of finding an audience.

We have learned that designing purely for non-gamers is relatively futile, because the limited marketing means of an independent developer do not suffice to reach this audience. On the other hand, we have also learned that at least part of the gamer audience is very open to the experiences we create, even if they cannot strictly be categorized as games. Taking care of the interaction design and the storytelling may be enough to appeal to this audience with a whole new range of themes and emotions.

Perhaps the PC/Mac market is too small for mid-sized indie games like The Path. We're still hoping somebody can help us port the game to a console. And we are certainly considering console development more seriously for future projects, now that we know that there is a sizable enough audience for our work.

The Path shows that it is possible to talk about intimately personal things through the medium of video games. Not just things which are personal to the authors, but also to each individual player. Through non-linearity, interactivity, and procedural generation, we have created a piece that is really about the player. Not in a rigid, engineering kind of way, but in a playful, evocative way. We don't know what everything in The Path means either. It doesn't matter, not anymore. Creating The Path was as much an intuitive experience as playing it can be.

The Path was not an easy project to make. It delves deeply into our psyches and touches on some very sensitive bare nerves -- things that we have trouble talking about. We used the creation of The Path as a roundabout way to explore these things. And roundabout is probably the only way we can talk about them, because they are complex and are accompanied by contradictory feelings.

It's probably good that language does not allow us to approach this. Language expresses these kinds of ambiguous feelings with difficulty. The Path is about fear and doubt, and about embracing both. It's about control. And losing control. About a secret desire to submit, to let go, to fall, but proudly. A morbid fascination with helplessness. The fragility that becomes us because it makes us human. We are all like those girls, lost in a colorless forest, in search of our wolf. And in that split second, as his claws rip open our tender skin, like lightning in the dead of night, we are.

We know the intensity of these emotions. We know how disruptive they can be. That next to them, nothing seems real. And this frightens us, because we cannot live like that. The intensity is unbearable. The truth of pain slits the night of life with blinding light. We seek shelter in the lie, in the mask, in the story, and in the game.

We are not ashamed.

It is the only path through the forest.

Let's go.

Article Start Previous Page 8 of 8

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