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

Thoughts about sales volume

When I was on holiday, i was flying over some big city, looking down at all the tens of thousands of buildings, and thinking¬† “This is just one city, in one state, in one country, in one part of the world, and yet if I could sell a game to just one person in every street in this city, I’d be doing much better than I am”.

Of course, it’s not as easy as that. But That’s how I think. I hear that Fable II sold 800,000 copies last month. That’s pretty awesome, and that’s at a higher price, and just one month. Surely overall, the game will shift 1.5 million copies, maybe 3 million in total. Equating it to copies of Kudos 2, it’s like maybe 5 million copies. (huge congrats to everyone I know back at LH working on that game btw)

Now obviously I haven’t sold 5 million copies, and obviously I only need to sell maybe half of one percent of Fables II’s sales to make the same ROI (which would be very nice) , given that it’s mainly just me. But even taking this into account, it occurs to me that it would be entirely feasible to sell double or four times the number of copies I’ve sold so far.

Some people assume I sell hardly any copies of my games. A lot of the people who admitted to piracy who emailed me gave me helpful hints on how to sell a few copies a month if I did X. Thanks guys! Some other people assume I sell a LOT more than I do. These tend to be people who see my games on sites like Stardock and yahoo, and assume all games on such platforms make people rich. My Mother is convinced I drive a Ferrari, because I gave her a boxed copy of one of my games. All things that get into shops make people rich according to her. (no they don’t).

So I’m curious. How many copies of Kudos 2 do you think I’ve sold so far? How many copies of Democracy 2? (It’s been out a year).

Credit Crunch Games

So despite the fact that most economists realise that talk of recessions can easily become self-fulfilling prophecies, it’s hard to avoid the constant discussion of the ‘global economic downturn’ or whatever it’s called this week. Obviously, given my line of business, I’m forced to ask myself “how does this affect games sales?”

Some people would suggest it could be very bad. Games are a leisure activity, and thus are easily cut back. you will stop buying games before you stop buying food, or paying the rent. This would suggest that the wise man would make cheaper games, in order to make the potential buyer think he is getting a bargain, or that the game is so cheap the price isn’t worth worrying about.

I think it might be the opposite. It could be that tough economic times are good for games. Not *all* games, but mine, and here’s why:

1) Games in general are a VERY cost-effective leisure activity. Assume a $22.95 game like Democracy 2. That’s probably a similar cost to buying a DVD which lasts 2 hours, 3 with the extras. Call it 5 if you watch it twice. A decent game will last much longer than that, so in terms of cost-per-hour of leisure, the game pretty much beats the DVD. Compare them to the hourly cost of drinking in a bar, the movies, restaurants, the theater, or pretty much anything but books and TV, and gaming wins out big time.

2) The games I make are simulation/strategy, which tend to have a lot of playtime, and replay value. They aren’t fixed length games with one-shot puzzles, like the hidden object games, or on-rails one-time hollywood style rides such as COD 4. Even if in practice you choose not to keep replaying, the option is there. It’s perceived value that affects sales, and the perceived play time and thus value of my games is high.

3) The credit crunch is terrible for the overpriced PS3, and bad for the XBox, Wii, DS and any blockbuster PC game that requires that you upgrade your hardware. On the flipside, this means there are a lot of gamers who have got used to buying a new console or video card every year who have decided not to do so this time. In other words, there are a lot of people who want low-system-requirement games to play, in order to make full use of existing hardware investments.

Thats ME!

My games are unusual in that they aren’t designed for absolute base level minimum spec. I assume a hardware accelerated video card and 1024 res monitor. I also assume some graphical punch, so I do a lot of overlays and blending, and some particle stuff. In other words, I try to make my games look as good as they can, whilst staying out of the 3D arms race.

Who knows how it will play out? Sales for the last two weeks have been really bad, so maybe I’m just trying to cheer myself up, but I think my logic at leasts makes some sense. What do you think?