I Spent $2K on my Indie Game and Made $80. A Retrospective.
And I am more motivated than ever.
Two years ago I decided to make the plunge and release my own indie game, Haustoria, on Steam.
Sadly I came out with just $80 giving me a net loss of -$1920 (ha!).
Going in, I firmly set a maximum budget of $2600. This was an amount I felt comfortable with loosing completely. I had been actively setting aside this money I had made from my day job.
I had two major expense buckets.
80% for Marketing Expenses: $2080
20% for Test Play Expenses: $520
I exclusively used Fiverr to hire test players. This was my first experience using Fiverr and can say I had a mostly positive experience with it.
Pros: People responded quickly and delivered what I needed. I had a couple friends that would test play for me (one even live-streamed the beta version, which was awesome!), but they have their own lives to attend to and I felt bad for pushing them to give me feedback. For the price, I would say it was worth it to pay someone to test play it. Most jobs cost me around $15 - $25 for about 2 hours of gameplay + a Google form to fill out for feedback.
Cons: Some people never responded after I had submitted a job to them (and paid). It wasn't until the very last day they rejected the job. I did get my money back, but it was time wasted.
I want to point out that getting people that aren't your friends to test play was crucial to the development of my game. They gave me honest, and sometime harsh, feedback which allowed me to gain a viewpoint from a players perspective.
My first test player really surprised me. She had such a difficult time completing the game she told me she wanted to give up and stop playing. As the developer, I had been breezing through the levels and thought it was a really easy game. Her feedback plus video recordings showed me clearly what was wrong with the game.
I exclusively used Facebook for advertising. They have a great system for targeting your desired audience, with analytics to go with it. In total, I produced 10 ad campaigns for a total of $1,195, averaging about $120 per campaign.
I thought that the ads performed relatively well with my expectations - in terms of click through rate. In other words, how many people clicked on my ad compared to the total amount of people that saw it. My click through rate averaged out to be 2.0%, which interestingly enough is the global average, according to Wordstream.com.
I did have one outlier that got a click through rate of 4.1%. It was a strange video ad with a seemingly nonsense text description.
I wanted to be clever and hide a message in the text. I sprinkled numbers throughout the video so viewers (I hoped) would make the connection and decode the message.
In actuality, people thought it was an ad for a scam or something and they didn't get it. In fact, I got a couple of interesting comments like this one.
It was clear the commenters didn't like the ad, yet it was this ad that got the most amount of clicks.
How many people Wishlisted my game on Steam?
Up to release, I had 111 wishlists for my game. During the first week of launch, I made 6 unit sales.
111 / 6 = 18.5 wishlists per unit sale.
As of this writing, I have a total of 17 sales. Here is what it looks like over time.
In the end I decided to cut my marketing budget short because the game just wasn't selling as much as I'd hoped for. Overall, this was an important lesson for me to learn. You know, it's one thing to read articles and study marketing theory about how to sell your game; it's another thing to experience the reality of a failing marketing campaign.
What I learned
Engage with audience earlier. Don't just share content - ask them short, direct questions that they can answer easily in one sentence. Things like, "Should the characters clothes be blue or red?" or "Does the player move too fast?"
Plan out the development earlier. Take each step and write it down. When I started this game, I didn't have a plan at all. It wasn't until about the mid-part of development where I got serious about launching this game on Steam.
Ask for more feedback. Specifically, things that would make the game fun. The feedback I asked for was mainly centered around mechanics - does this work? can you solve this puzzle? etc.. If I had asked more things like "would you recommend this to your friend?" and "if not, what would make it so that you would?", I think the game would've turned out better.
I had hoped marketing would just be a numbers game. Pay X amount for advertisements, get Y amount of players. This fallacy crumbled before my eyes as I saw that people weren't buying the game. On my next game, I will focus on audience engagement and building up a fan base before launching.
Although this was a failure in terms of finance, it was a great experience to learn from. I feel like I have a better understanding of what needs to be done in order to make a better game.