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Editorial Taking Care of Business: Iron Tower Studio Business Diary

Discussion in 'RPG News & Content' started by Infinitron, Feb 14, 2018.

  1. Infinitron I post news Patron

    Infinitron
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    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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  2. Iluvcheezcake Learned

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    Y'know, the main thing (besides great games) i always admired Vince & Co is the honest, structured and clear (no bullshit) approach.

    My hat's off to you gentlemen.
     
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  3. AMG Arbiter

    AMG
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    This seems ridiculously optimistic considering the main game sold roughly this amount. It basically assumes that almost everyone who bought AoD will buy DR, because let's be honest, "outsiders" would have almost zero interest in it.
    You might have thought that price will help, but I think it could actually be the opposite, the very low price might have given an impression to people not acquainted with your reasoning that it's shitty shovelware. Selling it at 12$ or maybe even 15$ would've probably yielded better results, revenue wise.

    Anyways, same as above, cool to see how numbers look in the whole indie game biz.
     
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  4. HeatEXTEND Arbiter

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    Oh my.

    I could definitely see this being a thing.
     
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  5. Tavernking Educated

    Tavernking
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    Vault dweller is a known autistic savant hence the publication of these statistics
     
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  6. YES! Hi, I'm Roqua Dumbfuck

    YES!
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    Wow, the gross is nice. I'm guessing you have no pp and just e from ppe, so you are making really high net. And your e must be low since you contract out art and your employees probably have better computers to play games than is needed to make the games they are working on.

    My advice would be to sell your next DR-like game at $20 minimum. I doubt you'll see that much less sales and leaves you with much better footing for reductions and sales moving forward. And obviously plan A with it did not pan out and isn't a good model to follow if you want wiggle room or a different data comparison.

    And since your new game will be sci-fi and squad based you are in a whole new world. Just on steam Halfway sells for more than DR and has about 400 ratings. Templar BF has about 600 reviews and sells for about the same as DR. Squad based, mission based, strategy games are far more popular in general. Space Hulk was also super popular. We could go on and on. And TBF didn't have full party gen, and that is the only game that had non-sophomoric combat and rpg systems out of all the slew of somewhat similar games I can think of.

    You may want to see if you can release it on phones and other shit too (if whatever engine you use allows it or however that shit works). Maybe look into contracting someone who will make the game playable on the phone for a percentage of sales from non-pc sources. That way you supplement your income with no work at all. Just don't let him or her dictate functionality or compromise the PC gui and functions for better functionality on shitty phones and tablets.
     
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  7. Vault Dweller Commissar, Red Star Studio Developer

    Vault Dweller
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    According to Steamspy, Halfway sold 47,651 ± 6,890 but the game's been out since 2014. I don't doubt we'd get there by the end of 2018. Its avg price seems to be about the same as the game is sold at 66% off. Templar BF's been out for 2 years and sold 24,737 ± 4,964.
     
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  8. YES! Hi, I'm Roqua Dumbfuck

    YES!
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    I'm not sure why significantly more people reviewed either then. Do you have any speculation on that? TBF possibly sold 1/3rd less but has about 3x the reviews?
     
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  9. Vault Dweller Commissar, Red Star Studio Developer

    Vault Dweller
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    No idea.
     
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  10. LESS T_T Prestigious Gentleman Arcane

    LESS T_T
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    From what I can see, their Steam community seemingly is more alive.

    They've posted 94 announcements on Steam (latest one is from last month), they have more subscribers (TBF: 11,154 > DR: 5,063, those who opt to get client notifications for the announcements), more discussions, and "more engagements" in general. Also it looks like they always add something like "Thanks to everyone leaving a review!" or "Please, leave a review this holiday season to help spread the cheer, mechs and squashed xeno!" to the announcement every so often.

    So naturally more reviews posted, I guess.

    edit: Steam's graph feature gives you more clear picture.

    DR:

    [​IMG]

    TBF:

    [​IMG]
     
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  11. Kyl Von Kull Magister

    Kyl Von Kull
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    Aren’t they on mobile (didn’t they start as mobile)? Steamspy probably does not give you the full picture.
     
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  12. The Brazilian Slaughter Arcane

    The Brazilian Slaughter
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    Reminds me of when our apartment was sold - we always asked more than the price we would accept, because Brazilians always bargain and would want the price pushed down anyway.
     
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  13. Think big! Smoking Dicks

    Think big!
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    I remember way back in the day VD saying that he wouldn't be unrealistic and "expect more than 10K (sales)". Funny how things can change over time.

    EDIT: From 2007

     
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  14. YES! Hi, I'm Roqua Dumbfuck

    YES!
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    I know the Treseme Brothers (the TBF and Heroes of Steel and Star Traders makers) at least started out as mobile and their last game I know of, TBF, sure seems mobile-ish still. Halfway definitely looks and plays mobiley.
     
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  15. flabbyjack Arcane

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    Market was saturated with squad based strategy games at the time, you'd have better luck to release it now. Also -- marketing. You made AoD, you could have patched AoD and put a brief ad in the opening credits for Dungeon Rats, free ads.

    Also needs to be more epic to increase broad appeal to the marketplace, it was a squalid setting and didn't have enough story. Adding a bit more story would have been cheap.

    /agree with above. Yes mobile is big. Port Dungeon Rats to mobile.
     
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  16. Vault Dweller Commissar, Red Star Studio Developer

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    I don't care about the mobile market, so I'm looking strictly at the PC sales.
     
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  17. YES! Hi, I'm Roqua Dumbfuck

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    One thing I can say for certain is that squad games with just mission, mission, mission and nothing substantive to do between get old fast. StarCrawler, JA 1, Halfway, Falling Skies, Silent Storm, etc, etc, all got really old, really quick. I'm not saying you need an XCom type game on top of the squad combat, but something substantive to do between missions would be great. Like checking in with shops, talking to people, opening new rooms, something that takes some time and a little effort to finish with between missions. I think Dungeon Rats did pretty well with this. TBF wasn't all that bad either but it did get boring enough to stop playing for me (not due to the combat).

    Crafting is an okay filler if you have enough slots to warrant it and the upgrades aren't so linear. In my opinion more equipment slots = more betterer. Also, a good mod system would be a nice way to fluff up a limited or restricted equipment slot system. Systems with different items or specific slots filled with crafting versus store bought are better than everything does everything to me.

    And since I'm guessing space sci-fi includes long range guns one of my bigger gripes with AoD and DR maps will be addressed - the restricted size and one fight = one map. I hope to see longer missions with much bigger maps. But not endless hordes of enemy maps like in RTwP games. It would also be nice to revisit areas you clear if there are like shop npcs or some shit.

    Anyway, just some ideas. Also, have you played the Buck Rogers PC games? The combat and weapons have some nice checks and balances I haven't really seen since. I like more complex systems so anything to plus up diversity and choices, especially when they are unclear or clearly situationally weak. You don't want this to be some hipster rpg-lite bullshit such as Darkest Dungeon.
     
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  18. Diggfinger Savant

    Diggfinger
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    Awesome, Vault Dweller ! Will this guy just run for president already?
    :kwafuckyeah:


    Still hope he'll appear on Matt Chat someday...
    :love:
     
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  19. Quantomas Educated

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    I didn't get DR though I have AoD. The main reason why it lacked appeal for me was that it appeared too much a sandbox, more like a squad based combat simulator.

    The thing that pulls me through a game is a good mystery on top of a challenge. Legend of Grimrock did that, its writing for the story couldn't have cost much. But LoG destroyed itself with that ending. Wouldn't be surprised if that was the main reason that LoG2 sales were much weaker.

    For DR, you could create an expansion that adds exactly that, a story that doesn't cost much to write, and offer it for $14.99 inclusive the base game or as a stand-alone.

    As The New World is sci-fi and your setting excellent, it should be easy to add a good mystery.

    Another feat that can transform a game and make it stand out from the competition is a truly competent AI. Its never been done properly for a squad based game, but it could transform a lot of games, the DnDs and PoE but also more hard-core combat focused games. The reason that no one has done this is that it's very expensive to do because the know-how is hard to come by. However, I can help you here if I could fit it into my insanely busy schedule, but I can always give you pointers.
     
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  20. Mengsk Unwanted

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    Really cool summation of events and revenue streams, Vince. I wish more devs would offer the same insights and candor as you do! Keep it up!

    Also like your call to action from your 2018 post regarding The New World's design and production. Hope you get some good feedback, I'll try to round up some, too.
     
    Last edited: Feb 15, 2018
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  21. sin Literate

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    Oh crap, this really makes me sad. I loved AoD, even though it had some flaws, the setup and story compensated all those little things that were not so great. To be honest, it managed to become one of my favourite games of all times. DR was a decent spin-off, was good for what it was. And I must admit that ITS approach to communication has been admirable, Vince's posts are present all across the different forums with such a quality content.
    And the result of all that is a little bit over 125k copies sold. I am aware that indie/hardcore games are not something commonly liked and I won't compare that to, for instance, Skyrim sales (apples and oranges), but even in comparison to other indie RPGs this number isn't really high, and it deserves so much more...
    Anyway, Vault Dweller: I hope that you and rest of ITS feel the sense of accomplishment. You should. You do great stuff, keep your passion alive and keep it coming. :brodex:
     
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  22. ERYFKRAD Arcane Patron

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  23. Longshanks Augur

    Longshanks
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    Really interesting read.

    I like the idea of releasing more contained spinoff type games following a major release rather than expansions. Not sure if the idea is to limit these to tactical combat games, but they're a great way to try out new ideas which can or will be integrated into larger games (as with DR and party based combat). I think heavily differentiating these small games from their base and trying to do something different, whether narrative wise (a different tone, possibly focusing on very different characters to the base game) or systems wise (turn-based sneaking that has been discussed, or a new way of approaching dialogue - maybe as an almost combat free game) will certainly see fans of the main game wanting to try them and may pique the interest of some others. Release enough of these and a reputation for experimentation can develop. Most importantly though, it should be valuable experience for the team in developing future games.
     
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  24. hello friend Arcane

    hello friend
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    No no no no

    I haven't bought it yet, but the lack of story and epic setting is part of the reason I want it. Just a straight combat slog with a good combat system, and RPG character progression. It's a good formula, and no one else is making them.
     
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  25. Bohrain Learned

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    Do you have any survey data or something about what the owners of the game wanted from the gameplay that could explain the sales of DR?
    AoD doesn't really strike to me as one of those games that you play because of the combat.
     
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