Game Design, Programming and running a one-man games business…

Ad stats, and why people make DLC.

Sooo. I managed to keep my grubby paws from editing my ad campaigns for 30 seconds. I blogged a few days ago about how I took the top 25 sites for ROI (return-on-investment) and confined the Gratuitous Space Battles ad campaign to just them. Here is the results.

Over almost 6 days the impressions for the banners totalled 678,000. The clicks were 3,636 and the average cost per click was a whopping £0.10 (roughly $0.16). That cost me £366.94. Over the same period the income from gratuitous space battles sales was a total of $1,095.71, or roughly £684.

So in a crude sense, I spent 366 and got 684 back. In theory, a pretty good deal. However, I would have got some of those sales anyway, through word-of-mouth, and through reviews and so on. Plus some of them are people buying expansion packs for already bought copies. On the other hand, some of the visitors would have bought the game from impulse or steam or elsewhere, so I get that money too. Plus a bunch of them may buy the game in a week, or even in six months. It’s hard to tell.

If you look at it as £318 for 6 days, that’s nothing very exciting at all. Thankfully I have other games on sale, otherwise I’d be scared :D.

For comparison, I looked at the month of september too. $9,203 sales.  £2,532 ads (roughly $4,051) . That is heavily skewed by the release of the Nomads expansion pack. On the surface, my recent 6 day ad-driven experiment was a ROI of 186% and september gave me a ROI of 227%.

So one of two things has happened. Either the new ‘let google pick them’ strategy is not as effective as I thought it would be, or in fact adverts are just not in any way as good at generating income as new expansion packs. I think it’s probably the latter. Don’t forget that the expansion packs will continue to sell for a few more months, and also generate extra income from sites like impulse and steam (if they actually add the nomads :D).

I know some people hate games that keep releasing DLC, but programmers have to eat, and if I’m honest, the smart thing to do (from a business POV) is to keep doing them. I don’t think I will though, I think the campaign is the last one.

Out of interest, has anyone here ever seen a GSB ad? where did you see it?


25 thoughts on Ad stats, and why people make DLC.

  1. Only ever seen the one, it was a youtube ad before I watched some guy showing off his building in Love.

    I saw the wolfire blogs post about gsb also if that counts, its where I heard of the game

  2. I’ve been subscribed to your blogs posts for a very long time now. I’ve read every one.

    When I read your early posts about what GSB was all about I was very excited.

    When I finally played the game, I was disappointed. Not sure exactly what was wrong, but I do know that it was lacking that ‘magic sauce’ that takes a game from being an average game to being an awesome one.

    From my understanding, your Democracy games have this magic sauce. I’ve never played them, and correct me if I’m wrong, but from what I remember reading this blog, they generated a huge buzz on the internet. Word of mouth made it wildly popular and successful.

    Minecraft for example never has to run ads. It has that ‘magic sauce’ that turns it into a gold mine of revenue on sheer word of mouth alone.

    I would suspect that as an indie game developer, it’s a dream of yours to make a game that is wildly popular. A game that is so fun, so addicting that everyone is raving about it all over the internet and in the process you make a lot of money to ensure that you continue to have the FREEDOM to make more games and make more people happy.

    My view is probably distorted, but from reading the blog it seems like your spending a large portion of your available time trying to market GSB better or squeeze more money out of it with additional art assets and expansion.

    I’m trying really hard to not to sound like an asshole, but perhaps it’s time to pursue creating new game? You’ve been working on GSB for about 2 years now right? Perhaps it’s time to get super excited about a new game idea. Perhaps it’s time to take another shot at creating a mega-hit like Democracy or Minecraft?

    I guess it’s a balance between your creative side and your business side.
    You clearly have both. You love creating new games and making people happy.
    However you also enjoy increasing revenue and studying how to make more money from existing games.

    I HIGHLY respect the fact that you’ve gone indie and your entire livelihood depends on your games selling. It takes a lot of courage to quit a day job and try and make it on your own.

    I hope you are not offended by anything I’ve said and I look forward to reading future blog posts :)

  3. “I’ve seen a lot of them, though I cannot remember exactly where. RPS for sure.”

    Have to agree with this one but I do follow a hell of a lot of idie news sites and I could also just be thinking of the ads you have on here as the “a lot of them”. I’m not sure, but then, I’ve never purchased GSB either so not nessicarily saying ads work. If you write a book on making and selling indie games I’ll buy it though =D

  4. “but perhaps it’s time to pursue creating new game?”

    I don’t get this comment… You make it sound like Cliff has hit some kind of wall, failure. It’s not like Cliff wasn’t successful in doing what he do. If he wasn’t he would have moved long ago to another project by himself I guess.

    “I would suspect that as an indie game developer, it’s a dream of yours to make a game that is wildly popular”

    I’m pretty sure we all dream of this but it’s not like we can all “pull a Minecraft” before breakfast. And when you don’t then you have to work hard to keep eating by “spending a large portion of your available time trying to market GSB better or squeeze more money out of it”. If there was a guaranteed recipe to reach the success of Minecraft then we’d all be following it.

    It might sound easy to say the guy should spend 6-10 months to work on a new game but doing so for an indie has it fair share of risks. It could be the next best thing since sliced bread but it could also be much less. Being indie sure means freedom but it also means managing risks if you want to stay indie. DLC and advertising are good ways to do that when you have a game that is still getting you interesting money after that much time. Even if it’s not as much money as Minecraft which is messing up all references for some people these days…

  5. To be honest, I’ve never seen a GSB ad besides the Steam discount ad’s and PCPC Games’ mentions of GSB.

    I’m not much of a fan of DLC as like you said, “programmers have to eat” which kinda extends over to people have to eat so yeah I can’t really keep buying DLC for every game I have. However, for something like GSB, where DLC is truly optional its a great idea. A game like this could probably be planned around DLC, as in you pay $1 plus $4 for the DLC option that you want. Sorry, I was listening to you on the PCPC Games podcast earlier today, interesting how you play around with your product distribution to get some statistics.

    Unfortunately, GSB wasn’t really my type of game, but I’ll definitely be waiting for the campaign as that might be more like my type of game.

  6. Never seen an add and never will, I have add-block on Firefox and add-thwart on Chrome. I think allot of people will at least have the add-block on Firefox and that’s very effective ad blocking Google ads…

  7. I can understand DLC fatigue. For many triple-A titles, I simply wait for the inevitable game-of-the-year edition to get all the patches and expansions at once. And often for less.

    But offering DLC is a great business strategy for indie game companies. It allows designers like Cliff to create a smaller game that proves the core mechanics and generates some revenue. Then they can take those profits and start embellishing and enhancing the original game.

    A completely new game carries a lot of risks. Will the concept work? Will the technology? Will it make money? None of these things are certain. On the other hand, if you’ve already got a solid game that engages a lot of players, why not let it roll?

    It’s why we have series books and television episodes and movie and game sequels. It’s all about finding something that works, and iterating on it at regular intervals to generate sustainable income.

    As long as Cliff’s got good ideas for continued GSB improvements — and I think the addition of the campaign mode is an awesome one — I hope he’ll continue making them.

  8. I have never seen a GSB ad outside of your site. I heard of the game either on Penny Arcade or Blue’s News, can’t recall which, tried the demo and quickly bought the game. I think I have purchased all of the expansions on their release date, if not then the following day. Not sure if any of that helps.

  9. I can’t recall seeing many ads (if any) for GSB, but I have Firefox Adblock set to block all images by default – it means I see only text for most new websites, but text and ads for websites I visit frequently (do lots of web searching for my job, and wasn’t a fan of the images that showed up on random web pages).

    I follow this blog and a couple other indie blogs, and the thing that always grabs me is “novel and cheap”, and innovative gaming ideas are usually what grabs me. GSB is something I like reading about, and I love reading about the development of games and seeing how they progress, but the gameplay idea of GSB hasn’t convinced me to even try the demo yet. In contrast, I bought Sword of the Stars and Gal Civ 2 both without trying the demo based on word of mouth when they were on sale. I love discovering the gameplay of deep games, and even if they end up not being that much fun the process of discovery usually makes me happy I bought them. Usually, it is a flaw in the internal logic of the game or discovering a completely overpowered build that ruins the enjoyment for me.

    Not sure how your Kudos 2 sale is working, but that finally allowed me to cross the threshold of interest / fun demo into purchasing it. After playing for a day or so I figured out most of how it worked, got a good job, and saved up to buy a car. Then the cost of driving a car bankrupted me and I kind of lost interest in it.

    From my point of view, the thing that would get me to buy DLC is the expansion of the solid internal logic of a game into new territory. New races that change the game up quite a bit are cool, but if they can bring back that initial period of discovery that adds a lot of extra awesome.

    Since I just finished reading them, the novel form of what I’m talking about can be seen in the Mistborn series by Brandon Sanderson – he develops a really solid and consistent magic system in the first book, then expands on the system itself in books 2 and 3 and keeps things consistent with the original world.

  10. Never seen a single GSB ad (except for the side of you’re blog :) I ran into on a steam sale orginally, although if I’d first found it on your site I’d a bought it direct.

    On a side note I’m STILL waiting for nomad’s to make it onto steam… (I’d buy it direct but I have this nasty habit of wiping out my hard drive, and it’s nice to have it all download from the same spot)

  11. To answer your question, I saw pretty often the add on the site boardgame geek, while I was looking for space themed board games.
    I think that I cam to you from them.

    However, I am quite often searching things about space games. So I would have been very likely to have landed on your site one day or another.

    What triggered that fact that I bought it was the game play video (designing a fleet and watching them fighting), and more specifically 2 things that I imagined (It was during preorder, so no demo) :
    – I saw that arrow pointing back, so I was convinced that a kind of gameplay movie was being recorded, so I watch carefully everything again and again.
    – I imagined that the most important point in fleet construction would be orders being give, with some types succession between them.

    The real did not allow to rewind the movie, and it appears that the fleet conception is much more important than the orders (which seem somewhat limited to me…).
    In the end I don’t play much : I hate having to be logged to play my own missions, the absence of step by step tutorial, teachning the different type of weapons parameters makes that it would require too much time investment.

    However, the concept seemed very promising, so I bought 2 expansions to keep fuelling the development.

  12. only on rps

    for me, blog posts (indieweblog, rps, etc) reviews, and forum hype threads are far far more influential in coaxing me into buying a game, followed by front page ads/promotions on steam and gamers gate.

    i largley blank website adds, because i mentally connect them with zynga / facebook style mmos that i would never play.

  13. RPS, lots of times.

    Anyways the game as a product has been updated frequently, and more content keeps coming out as paid expansions-DLC; As a customer I really like this way of doing bussines since I always have something to look for.

    The Campaing add-on looks great :D

  14. I support the philosophies of DLC in a general way, especially at the modest price ranges set for GSB DLC. However, I can’t help but feel that every time new DLC comes out, the value of the game is lessened, because it introduces many new challenges that can’t be played and many new opponents that can’t be played against. Organizing tournaments gets harder, finding good opponents gets harder, etc.

    If somebody has no DLC, then they are going to enjoy the original game a lot less than someone who has all the DLC… even if both players are playing a basic race from the original game… and every time new DLC comes out their enjoyment of the game goes down. Eventually the original basic game is nearly as cripped as the demo unless you buy plenty of DLC. That doesn’t seem like a way to promote new players to the game and makes it pretty hard to pitch it to friends unless I know they are going to be as hardcore interested as myself.

    So I’m all for DLC, and really enjoyed the Swarm, btw, but I can’t help this “DLC is the best economic model” way of thinking is the best. If I had known about the built-in deterioration due to eventual DLC releases, I might have not even tried the game in the first place. Thank god that wasn’t the case.

    In summary, yes, I think DLC is the way to go. Optional low-priced downloadable components that improve the game over time sounds terrific… but be careful about it with future games, and ask yourself just how optional they are and whether or not you’re comfortable with that.

  15. I haven’t seen an ad for GSB since it was first released… don’t know if that means I’m not surfing the right sites or I’m just not noticing them. But I bought it by reviews from trusted online sources after Steam priced it in the “Insane to pass up” category. Then I found out through the Steam News about Nomads and voila… an expansion purchase. I really don’t use Steam that often, GSB is one of the 5 games I’ve bought in it in 2 years of use. I just happened to browse at just the right time for that initial purchase.

  16. I felt compelled to answer after I stumbled across this blog post while trying to look up just what the heck a ‘cost boost’ is supposed to mean.

    I enjoy GSB, good game. I even enjoy your DLC. They’re good value and they add something to the game. (I have yet to buy Conquest and the Nomads. I’m a cheap skate, so I’ll wait till Steam comes up with a nice offer.)

    I think the following bothers gamers when it comes to DLC:

    1. Releasing it too soon after the actual game (That Mafia game, for example)
    2. Being a multi-million dollar company and then releasing DLC instead of including it with the patch
    3. Releasing DLC that adds nothing new or requires you to start the entire game over (Fallout 3)
    4. Releasing DLC that adds overpowering stuff.
    5. Releasing DLC for a game that desparately needs patching
    6. Making the DLC available for a select few (Promotional items in-game always piss me off!)
    7. Making the DLC hard to come by. Say Bioware and their Bioware store. (I refused to buy Mass Effect 2 because of this.) either I get it everything for it through Steam, I can buy it with Click and Buy or another payment method that suits me without requiring yet another accountname or dodgy installer/downloader or I’ll just pirate the game instead.
    8. Release DLC that doesn’t add anything new to the game.

    Yours doesn’t fit in that category with the possible exception of No. #8, but then again, more choice is always welcomed and I think everyone understands that rebalancing the game and creating new stuff costs time and thus money. You’re an indy releaser, people have a lot more respect for that than for the big money grubbers like EA that only care about the shareholders and not the gamers.

    So I hope that you can now stop worrying about the whole ‘I hope they don’t mind all the DLC that I am releasing!’ as it pretty much tells everyone here that you’re very dedicated to the game you created. New content is awesome and it means the game isn’t dead yet.

    If you were EA, we’d just think you wanted to milk the cow a little longer.

    Occasionally throwing in something free and making a big deal out of it might help you score some publicity points. You can get people all nostalgic by talking about the times no one paid for additional content and they got it free with patches. Back in the days that EA wasn’t shit yet, that is.

    Valve is an awesome company when it comes to DLC. High quality and always free. I guess they have the luxury of doing so but it’s kind of ironic how EA will milk the cow and Valve just smothers us players in love with free goodies.

    I would have no problem whatsoever buying DLC for Left 4 Dead from Valve but I think they don’t want to do so because they know DLC has a potential to create a wedge between players.

    Like, for example with GSB, not allowing non-Nomad buyers to play against people with Nomad ships. A better thing would be to allow people to play -against- them but not -with- them (Unless they pay.).

    I must say I haven’t tried playing online yet, I don’t really like doing so with strangers so maybe it does work seamless but from what I read, it seems like you’re leaving players out.

    You also have to wonder if people are going to be motivated into buying your DLC if they suddenly see cool new ships in action.

    Also, I found out about your game on Steam. There was a discount on it and I decided it was worth checking out for that price. I wouldn’t have bought it otherwise because I judged the book by its cover; the name makes it sound like a cheap 3D space shoot ‘m up game on rails so I never bothered clicking on it before. Might be interesting to ask your buyers about the name and what they associate with it if you haven’t yet.

    Anyhow, old topic. I know. I just needed to have my rant.

    Keep up the good work!

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