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Default Iron Tower Studio - Taking Care of Business

February 13th, 2018, 23:53
Iron Tower Studio wrote an article on the business side of making their games which makes for interesting reading.

Taking Care of Business - 2018

Even though we worked on our first game for more than 10 years (mainly due to inexperience and working part-time), I count 2016 as Year One. Before that we were a Fellowship (of the RPG) and now we're a Business with multiple revenue streams. In a Fellowship, hoping for the best is a sound business strategy: you're working on your first game and hope it will do well. Then the game is out, it does great (meaning it doesn't fail outright, which is as great as it gets these days, especially if you're an indie with a shoestring budget), your Fellowship gets upgraded into a Business, gets its own IRS number, and you face an existential question that has plagued mankind ever since we crawled out of caves:

Now what?

The goal is to make more RPGs, of course, but:

We'll work full-time from now on, meaning we'll have to rely on the first game's revenues to pay for the second game's development. We'll make the second game twice as fast, but twice as fast still means 4-5 years, which sounds about right considering that full-scale RPGs take 3-4 years for proper studios with proper budgets, which means that:
We'll have to boost our revenues with a short-term project (expansion or spin-off), which means that we'll have to make a small-scale game that sells. Easier said than done these days.
Our second full-scale RPG should be different enough to dodge the dreadful ‘more of the same' stigma while keeping the design core intact, be better than the first one (meaning the design flaws must be fixed and the design core expanded), AND sell more than the first one. Now that we figured out what we want, all we need is a genie to grant us these 3 wishes.

To chart through these treacherous waters, we need to know what works and what doesn't (aka a frame of reference when it comes to business decisions). Unfortunately, such info isn't really available, so indie developers have no choice but to sail without maps or compass, doomed to learn from their own mistakes in an industry where your first mistake might be your last. Thus we turn to SteamSpy's data and achievements, reading them the way people used to read the tea leaves and entrails (and just as accurately).

Essentially, this article is part 1 of our business diary to be posted over the years. Hopefully, someone might find it interesting. Ideally, other developers will share their own stories and contribute to the indie knowledge base.


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).

Dead State (the first joint project)

In late 2009 we partnered up with Brian Mitsoda to work on Dead State, a zombie survival RPG. We had the engine (Torque engine upgraded for some serious RPG work), the tools, and experience, so it made sense to offer it to developers lacking the tech base and explore this 'business model'. Brian would handle the design, writing, and scripting, we'd handle programming, art, and animations. Our thinking was that by the time AoD hits the final stage, when the focus is mainly on quests and scripting, our programmer, artist, and animator would be able to switch to Dead State without affecting AoD. Of course, it didn't work out quite like that, but we did deliver and learned quite a lot in the process.

As indie developers we were excited to hastily implement things the moment we could (only to be forced to redo them a few months later), but Brian followed a more structural and organized way of game development. Since that's not something any of us was ever exposed to, it was a very useful practical lesson. Unfortunately, working on two projects at once put quite a strain on the team, so it's not something we'd ever do again. While theoretically we can hire and train another team and let them handle joint projects as it's certainly a profitable venture, it's a very different business model that would eventually turn us into project managers rather than game developers.

Since we can't disclose the financial aspects of this project, they aren't included in the revenues posted in this article.

[…]
More information.
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February 14th, 2018, 00:53
So they made 1.5 million. How many people do they have to support ?
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February 14th, 2018, 01:42
I do love how transparent Iron Tower is with the business.

Too bad about Dungeon Rats, I thought it was great.
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February 14th, 2018, 03:56
Originally Posted by you View Post
So they made 1.5 million. How many people do they have to support ?
I believe ITS, at least at the time, was 3 people, including Vince. I'm forgetting the other gentlemen's names right now, but there were a programmer and an artist. The artist pops up around the Watch occasionally and likes salsa dancing. Go figure.
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February 14th, 2018, 04:04
Dungeon Rats was surprisingly good, I believe I finished it in November of 2016. I would totally purchase and play a sequel, and it goes without saying that I'd buy just about anything made by these fine folk.
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February 14th, 2018, 04:16
The core team was 5 people: programmer, animator, 3D artist/designer, writer/designer, 2D artist. Plus a composer, another writer, a couple of concept artists, and other contributors.

For The New World we expanded the core team to 6 (another programmer) and added two great contractors (3D models and concept art) who'd work with us for many years, hopefully.
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February 14th, 2018, 06:16
Great to hear that Age of Age of Decadence turned out a succesfull product for you. It doesn't seem to be an easy task to remain an indie developper and make great rpgs. I thought AoD was one of the most intresting rpg titles of the last decade and I'm really looking forward to your next title.
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February 14th, 2018, 06:33
My feedback for Dungeon rats would be that it was too hard to course correct if you make "bad" character creation choices and then level up in the "wrong" way. The reason I have put bad and wrong in quotes is because some logical choices can end up being great for 80% of the game but end up causing big issues in the end game.

For example, the first time I played it I played on the hard difficulty and found it reasonably easy going until I hit the Roxanne (name might be wrong - the bandit lady who can join you) series of quests and just run out of rations and heal pots. I then realised my mistake was that I tried to make a character that could do too much i.e. high enough charisma for a full party, a crafting skill and axe and shield and crit strike. My points were spread far too thin. But the problem didn't manifest itself till after about 4-5 hours of gaming.

So I started again and this time built a max dex spear/dodge character and played on the normal difficulty level with only 2 npcs. I blazed through all the combats until I reached these robotic type enemies who I could just not damage enough with my lowly spear meanwhile they would hit for massive damage. So I resorted to explosives and oil but eventually those run out and it was just too painful to continue. Up until then I was having a blast and I have to say that for a "normal" difficulty it probably was too hard. I read up on tactics for dealing with the robots and watched a few videos and came to the conclusion they would be much easier with a shield character that can do a few hits and then push them back so they don't have enough AP to do their devastating triple strike. My spear push back wasn't reliable and the other 2 characters I had (Roxanne with a crossbow and Marcus with a 2handed hammer/dodge) were next to useless in these fights. At the time of these robot fights I had 10 dodge, 9 spears, and 4-5 critical strike.

I think I could definitely build a character that would have no trouble with the robots but I just can't bring myself to play through a 3rd time.
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February 14th, 2018, 07:30
This was a damned interesting read. I really want to like AoD but find it a little too punishing for my tastes. I’ve tried a few characters but end up either hitting a combat encounter I just can’t overcome or losing interest in a non-combat character. Don’t think I’ve ever gotten out of first city in the 3-4 hours I’ve spent with it. Admittedly I haven’t dedicated much time to learning the game systems and probably need to go back and give it a fair chance. But maybe I just suck at this game. Dungeon Rats is wishlisted but my lack of success with AoD has made me a little hesitant to buy it. But maybe I should just to support a developer who clearly put a ton of effort and love into his games.
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February 14th, 2018, 08:11
These people specifically said they were making a "niche" game for "hardcore" roleplayers, so they should pretty much know they're limiting their audience to that in the first place. I played AoD, beat it, loved it; but it was different in terms of roleplaying games I've played before. They definitely took a risk and seemed to have profited from it, which is good in this genre.

When people set out to please a very specific audience, however, I don't know really what they should expect in terms of sales numbers other than getting that niche audience to buy their product. Sure, make that "hardcore" ultimate difficulty dungeon crawl; just don't be shocked when in 2018 your main audience are people like me, ie., late 30somethings with a craving for old school games.
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February 14th, 2018, 09:38
Originally Posted by ElderGnome View Post
These people specifically said they were making a "niche" game for "hardcore" roleplayers, so they should pretty much know they're limiting their audience to that in the first place. I played AoD, beat it, loved it; but it was different in terms of roleplaying games I've played before. They definitely took a risk and seemed to have profited from it, which is good in this genre.

When people set out to please a very specific audience, however, I don't know really what they should expect in terms of sales numbers other than getting that niche audience to buy their product. Sure, make that "hardcore" ultimate difficulty dungeon crawl; just don't be shocked when in 2018 your main audience are people like me, ie., late 30somethings with a craving for old school games.
Yeah, as much as I love "hardcore, niche" RPGs, they don't seem to sell all that well. I haven't played Darkest Dungeon , so I'm not sure if that is considered niche or not, but a game like that took off a bit on some "right place, right time" type thing. It's rare you see that with less "flashy" hardcore RPGs like Lords of Xulima or what have you.

Haven't played AoD yet but I heard great things. I'm just happy we get to play these games all the same, support the devs and just keep our fingers crossed for future offerings.

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February 14th, 2018, 11:09
I'm playing DARKEST DUNGEON at the moment and I like the game - but it reaches a point where the difficulty kills the fun. I'm on the easiest setting and even after max'ing all of my characters, the missions at the same skill level as your characters is super difficult. And the boss fights are even worse, I think killing them requires good luck more than skill. And since there is permadeath, and the bosses will often kill your characters (taking their trinkets with them) it just becomes a huge grind. Surely there could have been some room for "challenging" vs. "nearly impossible".
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February 14th, 2018, 12:50
Are you guys confusing Darkest Dungeon with Dungeon Rats? Or just derailing…
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February 14th, 2018, 13:58
Originally Posted by ElderGnome View Post
These people specifically said they were making a "niche" game for "hardcore" roleplayers, so they should pretty much know they're limiting their audience to that in the first place. I played AoD, beat it, loved it; but it was different in terms of roleplaying games I've played before. They definitely took a risk and seemed to have profited from it, which is good in this genre.

When people set out to please a very specific audience, however, I don't know really what they should expect in terms of sales numbers other than getting that niche audience to buy their product. Sure, make that "hardcore" ultimate difficulty dungeon crawl; just don't be shocked when in 2018 your main audience are people like me, ie., late 30somethings with a craving for old school games.
I'm not complaining. AoD did much better than I expected (didn't think we'd sell more than 50,000 copies) and I assume we'll hit 150k copies by the end of the year. We don't take it for granted and we're well aware that selling 150k copies of The New World will be an uphill battle.
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February 14th, 2018, 14:46
I am really impressed that the game kept selling so good, I guess there was a lot of people who didn't know it existed upon release? and when they found out about it bought it ? Or maybe it was just because of the discounts…..
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February 14th, 2018, 15:09
Originally Posted by Lemonhead View Post
Are you guys confusing Darkest Dungeon with Dungeon Rats? Or just derailing…
Both
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February 14th, 2018, 15:32
Very interesting read. I'm one of the folk who came to AoD late (finished it a couple of weeks ago, loved it, immediately replayed with a different character, currently planning a new hybrid run ). I've bought Dungeon Rats but haven't played it yet beyond a quick look at character creation. I'm glad AoD sold well, and the New World is a definite day one purchase.

Originally Posted by GothicGothicness View Post
I am really impressed that the game kept selling so good, I guess there was a lot of people who didn't know it existed upon release? and when they found out about it bought it ? Or maybe it was just because of the discounts…..
Yeah, not sure why it took me so long to get round to it. In the end I gave it a go as a result of a positive review posted on this site a month or so ago. Some of the comments on the review from watchers really chimed with me, so I gave it a go and got hooked.
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February 14th, 2018, 15:39
Originally Posted by GothicGothicness View Post
I am really impressed that the game kept selling so good, I guess there was a lot of people who didn't know it existed upon release? and when they found out about it bought it ? Or maybe it was just because of the discounts…..
I think many people do not buy games new anymore and wait for sales to reach a certain point before buying.

I just have several more games in my backlog before I start buying new ones and I will likely prioritise heavily discounted games too.

I think the only games I buy full price are for developers I want to specifically support. A few examples of these games include Age of Decadence, ELEX and Banner Saga.
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February 14th, 2018, 16:55
Plus there are sales all the time and you can routinely get 20 or 25% off new titles from approved shops.

I won't even mention bundles.

In any case this was a very interesting piece.
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February 14th, 2018, 17:02
I was derailing and talking about Darkest Dungeon being a sort of "hardcore" RPG that still sold decently and had a bigger buzz to it. Dunno, not much to say, continue.

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