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Taking Care of Business: Iron Tower Studio Business Diary

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Taking Care of Business: Iron Tower Studio Business Diary

Editorial - posted by Infinitron on Wed 14 February 2018, 22:25:06

Tags: Dead State; Dungeon Rats; Iron Tower Studio; The Age of Decadence; The New World; Vince D. Weller

Over at the Iron Tower Studio forums, Vault Dweller has published a very interesting editorial. It's the first part in what he's calling his "business diary", which aims to provide us with a highly transparent look at the studio's operations. That includes not just revenue charts, which Vince has posted in our forums from time to time, but also a chronicle of his business decisions, an analysis of the indie RPG market, a few details about Iron Tower's collaboration with Brian Mitsoda on Dead State, and even some thoughts on Kickstarter. The most notable takeaway may be that despite the commercial disappointment of the Age of Decadence dungeon crawling spinoff Dungeon Rats, Vince still aims to produce a similar spinoff for The New World after its release. Here's an excerpt:

The Age of Decadence (our first full-scale RPG)


We released it in Oct 2015 and I’m happy to report it’s still selling and still being mentioned favorably here and there (which is why it’s still selling, I assume). We’ve sold 126,295 copies to-date at an average rate of $13.51 per copy. The price reflects not just the discounts during the sale events but the regional pricing as well, which is an equally strong factor.

Year by year it goes something like this:
  • 2013-2014 (Early Access & Direct Pre-Orders): 13,124 copies – $320,157 – $24.39 avg.
  • 2015: 20,771 – $472,869 – $22.76
  • 2016 48,798 – $620,914 – $12.72 (50% discount is introduced in March)
  • 2017 43,808 – $293,714 – $6.70 (75% off on sale events throughout the year)
The moral of this story is twofold:

First, the number of copies sold never tells you the full picture. In 2017 we sold twice as many copies as in 2015 and almost the same as in 2016 but got less than half of 2016’s revenue.

Second, 95% of what you sell is sold during the sale events so your sale price (lowered further by the regional pricing) becomes your effective price during that year. It’s also worth noting the increase of copies sold as we increased the discounts. 73% of copies were sold at 50-75% off.

In January 2018 we reduced the price from $29.99 to $19.99 to boost non-sale sales and mainly to see what happens (i.e. gather more data).

Dungeon Rats (the tactical spin-off)

Let’s start with the goals, in the order of importance.
  • Our main goal was to support our full scale RPGs with tactical spin-offs. Full-scale RPGs take many years (3-4 years for proper studios with proper budgets; we hope to do it in 4-5 years), so we desperately need a revenue booster.
  • The New World will be a party-based RPG where your Charisma determines how many followers you can have and the experience is split between the party members so a smaller party would always be further ahead. We had no experience in this area (we didn’t even know if we’d be able to balance it), so we decided to try these features in Dungeon Rats first and get the hands-on experience and feedback from thousands of players.
  • Since AoD was in development for over 10 years, it was important to show people that we can stick with a proper schedule and deliver a game on time. A faith-building exercise.
We hit goals #2 and 3, but it’s too early to say about goal #1. I hoped that Dungeon Rats would sell 100,000 copies in the first year on the strength of the combat system and the low price ($8.99, under $5 during sale events), but in the first 14 months it sold only 33,027 copies at $5.55 avg. Of course, without proper statistics it’s hard to say whether DR did as well as it could under the circumstances or failed miserably.

Overall though, AoD always sells more and and there wasn't a single day when DR sold even half as much. The obvious conclusion is that a strong seller (relatively speaking) has to be a “full-scale” game, whether choice-driven or strictly tactical. Anything else would have a very limited appeal by default.

Still, the idea to make tactical spin-offs to boost revenues had merits and while the first year sales are below our expectations, I hope that the game will keep selling over the next 3 years and make a more convincing case when it’s time to make a decision.

What worked well there (although not for everyone) is the scarcity of resources (food and alchemical reagents). Originally, we did it simply because there are no healers and stores in a prison mine, but it did evolve into an interesting feature. While we won’t be able to add complex quests with multiple solutions to our tactical spin-offs (it would double the development time but not the revenues), we’ll be able to improve the survival aspects and develop them further.

So IF Dungeon Rats will keep selling while maintaining a decent rating, the next tactical game (The New World’s spin-off) will take place during the Mutiny and feature a fully customizable squad (you’ll be able to create an entire party yourself), mission-based structure, base building and defense.

If you think it’s the right direction (and if you liked Dungeon Rats to begin with), take a moment and write a review. So far AoD got 1,553 reviews with 81% rating while DR is sitting with 210 reviews and 79% rating. If you have suggestions on how to improve the tactical design, we’d love to hear from you as well.
Fantastic stuff. Hopefully additional indie developers will take up Vince's offer and publish similar pieces of their own.

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