Element4l is an alternative platform game, released the 24th of May 2013. It was a finalist at the Unity awards and won the “Best game” indium award at the international fantastic film festival in Strasbourg.
Since sales numbers published by other indie developers were a great help for me in the past, I figured I might share mine as well. This is not going to be a full post-mortem, but a quick review on how everything turned out for Element4l.
Element4l was developed in a timeframe of two years, mainly by me. Since I was working 80% for a non-profit organization, I programmed and designed it during my spare time, train rides, weekends and nights.
This means there was no real pressure in making a profitable product, I just wanted to make something that I would get a lot of fun of. In the last months of development, I was super lucky to be able to work together with two talented and awesome guys: Mitchell Nordine, who made the soundtrack, and Michélé De Feudis, who did the video-animations and some extra visuals. Both of them were in it to create something special, and had similar goal anticipations as me.
OK, so how are sale numbers influenced?
I believe that visibility (magazines, websites, stores,…) has the greatest impact on sales. But visibility itself is defined by a whole range of parameters. How original is the game? How well is the game received? What other games did the team create? What’s the budget for marketing? And so on…
Since I wanted to do everything myself, I focused my attention on a couple of websites and blogs. I figured: If Element4l gets on one of those, the rest will hopefully follow. Well, it seemed that, while the trailer was picked up very easily, getting reviewed was much more difficult…
Being a real person
Element4l was reviewed in almost every magazine and website in the Benelux (Belgium, Netherlands, Luxembourg), but was only reviewed in a limited number of international magazines and websites. Why was that, I figured?
I had met many of the Benelux journalists at local game conferences while demoing Element4l. All of them are great people, driven by their passion for games. Just talking with them and sharing my honest passion for games resulted in a lot of reviews. I wish I had been able to travel abroad showing Element4l to larger audiences and more journalists, but honestly, I did not have the time or money.
If you create something so personal, involving huge amounts of work, dedication and passion, it is easy to go mental on critique. A lot of good reviews raises the bar for happiness, and bad reviews stab you in the heart.
It is far easier to distance yourself from these feelings if you’re just in it for the money or business.
Once you have put your soul into a product, it becomes a very personal and fragile item. For those reasons, I totally understand what Davey Wreden (The Stanley Parable) went through.
Most people that have played Element4l soon find that it is a pretty hard game, and I must admit, before I invited beta-testers, it was much harder… Element4l has been eased out a lot since it was created, but still, the difficulty has been the pinnacle of Element4l’s critique.
Still, I was lucky there. Most of the reviews have 4/5 stars and a friend told me last week that 94% of the people that reviewed Element4l were recommending it. Pretty neat! (Enhanced Steam, check it out). The weeks after Element4l was launched, Mary Kish (Indieviddy) did a great job getting additional reviews.
- Launch: You can see that our curve follows the same direction as almost any other game out there. It’s called exponential decay…
The sales numbers on the first day basically give you an impression on how well your game will sell over the next couple of months on a certain platform. If you don’t believe that, compare it to the sales numbers of Dustforce (thanks Hitbox!).
During launch, Element4l was featured on the main banner of Steam. Like I have already said, visibility means the world. You will notice this if you compare the Autumn & Winter sale.
- First spikes: Those spikes you see during the launch were mostly caused by famous youtube personalities that talked about Element4l. I have so many wonderful people to thank for this! One thing is certain, social media has a direct effect on your sale numbers as you’ll see with the Markiplier video in a moment.
- Summer Sale: Element4l did not receive extra promotion, but since it probably was on a lot of wish-lists, the Summer Sale discount on Steam (20%) was enough to convince a lot of people to try it out.
- Markiplier video: Here is my point again, Youtubers have a direct effect on your sales… Out of nowhere, Markiplier posted a movie about Element4l, highly recommending it, which almost directly related to a spike in sales. So… if we can all stop harassing youtube personalities about the recent copyright issues now?
- 50% off & humble tweet: To celebrate the first ten thousand sales, Element4l was 50% off for one week. The sales numbers were even higher than on launch day. Probably because the audience already heard about Element4l as well.
- Huge Seal: Element4l was part of the hugeseal.com Indie-game sale presented by Frozenbyte.
- Autumn sale: 50% off, minor visibility (No special announcement, one click away from the steam main page)
- Christmas/new year sale: 50% off, no visibility
As of this moment, Element4l has sold over 22.000 copies and achieved a total revenue of 140.000 $.
I had anticipated sales shy of 5000, which is nowhere near the success that the game is currently enjoying.
So what did my company receive in total?
- VAT withholding taxes, platform shares and other fees
- Corporate tax in Belgium: 32% (yeah, that much…)
Now, some people are probably thinking… “But you worked two years on it! That’s less than what I get for my day job.”
True, but this started out as a hobby… Most of them cost money. It’s not quite enough money to start a studio and hire talented co-workers, but sure enough to be motivated to create something new, and hopefully something even more awesome.
Dirk Van Welden – @QuarkCannon