Initial thoughts a week after Cinders’ release

It’s done! Cinders is out. I can finally get back to being a living person instead of an elaborate computer peripheral. And to writing this blog.

 

I plan to do a full post-mortem in a few months, but for now have some of my initial thoughts a week after the game was released.

 

 

The release itself:


 

Hubert and Agnieszka, looking scary

 I love these guys, but they really look scary in this pic

 

It all went rather smoothly. Once Hubert and Agnieszka joined as our writers, we were able to set an internal deadline for finishing the game. It took some crunching near the end, but we managed to keep it.

 

It’s a pretty large game with a lot of branching, so I was afraid QA is going to be an issue. To avoid it, we did it in small steps — released a new version to the testers (thanks, guys!) every time a significant amount of content was added. We only moved to the next bit after the last one was already tested and fixed. With a script consisting of over 150k words and hundreds of choices, not having to test it all at once was a big help.

 

Cinders was sent to the pre-order owners a week before the official release. We knew that even if we think we checked everything, there could still be some issues on the more exotic story routes. We were right, the game still had two rather important bugs and several typos. Having it available only to a relatively small amount of players allowed us to make quick fixes before it went public and could cause an actual problem.

 

The final release version ran smoothly and we’ve haven’t had any issues with it so far, except for a few people whose BMT download passwords had expired. There are still some typos in the game, but we plan to fix them in consecutive updates. So yeah, as far as game releases go, pretty smooth.

 

 

Reception and promotion:


 

Our traffic near the release

It’s interesting how after each spike the passive traffic also grows

 

The game was received surprisingly well and we certainly can’t complain about the amount of attention it got. Especially for a visual novel. It got covered on most of the outlets we hoped it would, reviews are all positive so far, and we experienced the biggest surge of traffic in the history of our website. We owe a lot of that to the completely unexpected Kotaku post. It’s the first time our game got covered there, and the initial onslaught of demo downloads almost killed our servers. That said, we didn’t really notice any significant surge of sales afterwards. Seems like a VN is always going to be a more niche product. The best thing about the Kotaku feature was that it made several other outlets notice the game.

 

One thing I realized though, is that it’s rather hard to actually get a VN reviewed on the bigger websites. A feature or a news post is one thing, but from the larger outlets, so far only Gamezebo and IndieGames.com went for a full review. We really hoped to get it reviewed on RPS, but they limited themselves to a short news post, which also slightly mocks the game’s ambitions. I think there’s some genre stigma involved, that so far only Christine Love’s works seem to be able to avoid. Too bad, as we hoped to get to the players from outside of the usual VN circles. Mainstream reviews help to make a proper impression on Steam, too. I also noticed that it was much easier to communicate and explain the game’s values with female journalists, which is — well — not a big surprise, unfortunately.

 

Our most valuable traffic came from the fans, however. Blog posts like this one, or forum Let’s Plays don’t bring as many people as mentions on gaming websites do, but the traffic is very directed. Average time spent on our website is much higher for them, and people were much more likely to purchase the game after a recommendation from another fan. It shows how tight-knit and niche the VN community still is. Really charming, to be honest.

 

 

The sales and prospects:


 

Sales near the release

 Funny to see Magi still selling a few copies after all those years

 

In a bit more than a week, the game sold 300 copies. It’s pretty good for a visual novel, though we still have a long way to go before we reach our goals. We need at least 1000 sales to be able to call this game a success. It still wouldn’t be a very profitable project, considering how long it took, but it would at least give us enough to just scrape by until our next release. Cinders could be seen as an investment then. 2000 direct sales would be enough to make it an actual commercial success.

 

300 copies in a week make our first success threshold seem reachable, though the sales slowed a bit already. In the first few days, it was 40-50 copies a day, now it’s usually 20-30. It’s probably going to settle down eventually and remain there for a while, but it’s really too soon to make any predictions. So far, it looks like what we do has the potential to be profitable, but we’ll probably have to soldier on until our next release. After that, we should be fine. For some comparison: average gross salary in Poland is around $1200 a month.

 

We’re also going to approach Steam in the near future and it could potentially shift things quite a bit. Still, we prefer to assume we won’t get accepted and plan accordingly. After all, if we need a distributor to survive we aren’t independent anymore.

 

 

 

We’re pretty happy how it all went so far in general. Though, we still can’t forgive ourselves for the delay. It definitely made everything much more difficult. But what can I say — another lesson learned.

 

I’m going to remain open about our progress. In a few weeks, I plan to write a bit about how we see our game from the design and storytelling perspective. What went right, what could be better. Then, a few months from now, I would like to do a full post-mortem article about the whole project.

 

For now, I’ve got to prepare for the Cinders release party at my place. Believe me when I say this is the one thing I can with certainty predict to be a huge success…

  1. Angelo wrote a comment on: June 30, 2012 at 2:55 pm

    This probably was asked before, but… What are the prospects of this game appearing on STEAM? It would give the game’s sales a big boost.

  2. Waxx wrote a comment on: June 30, 2012 at 3:15 pm

    That’s quite a lot of sales for a week. Wish you guys reaching your goal.

  3. TeeGee wrote a comment on: June 30, 2012 at 3:45 pm

    Angelo, I think we have some actual chance to get on Steam, but it really depends on them. Though, as I said — I prefer to plan everything as if Steam wasn’t a possibility. Prepare for the worst-case scenario and all that.

  4. Armaan wrote a comment on: June 30, 2012 at 4:02 pm

    The thing about Christine Love is she’s a lesbian and speaks out a lot about gay issues and women’s issues and stuff like that, which is a hot topic these days and makes her a “personality” in the media. Big sites love that, so she gets coverage. There are lots of VN designers/writers who have been around a lot longer than her and make much better stuff (like Winter Wolves) and get no attention because they’re “boring”. By that I mean they just make games and aren’t controversial or newsworthy otherwise, so the sites ignore them.

    Don’t lose hope, though. Word of mouth is the best way to get sales in the VN community and you’ve priced the game appropriately, so sales should be enough to keep you going until the next game. Winter Wolves has been doing this for years and has been successful, and you will too!

    I’m certain Steam shouldn’t be a problem for you. Just remember to be persistent. Even if they reject you, wait a month and try again. From what I understand, a large part of whether or not you get on Steam has to do with the person who reviews your submission, so keep trying and getting different people. Remember too that IF and VNs are starting to get more popular, so selling them will start getting easier soon, too.

  5. TeeGee wrote a comment on: June 30, 2012 at 5:28 pm

    I certainly am not losing hope. In fact, I find our initial stats to be very promising, and not that different from Christine’s (btw, Cinders tackles a lot of feminist issues too) or WinterWolves’. I think that’s quite a success, considering this is our first entry in the genre.
     
    Also, I think her games are actually really good and deserve the attention they get. I would just like the press to treat VNs more seriously in general.

  6. matt wrote a comment on: June 30, 2012 at 5:55 pm

    Yeah unfortunately it just seems that they want something with quick action to give it a quick review, otherwise if they don’t even bother playing it you can still see the condescending tone in their words. I play very few VN’s, but after playing the demo on launch day Cinders is definitely on my “Games to buy” list.

  7. ne_zavarj wrote a comment on: June 30, 2012 at 6:18 pm

    ” This probably was asked before, but… What are the prospects of this game appearing on STEAM? It would give the game’s sales a big boost. ”

    Steam sucks for this kind of game .

    I’d like to see Cinders on GOG and on Big Fish Games .

  8. TeeGee wrote a comment on: June 30, 2012 at 6:23 pm

    Actually, I think BigFish is far worse for this kind of niche game than Steam. BFG sells only one type of games really, for $6.99, and the developer’s cut is around 35%. On the other hand, Christine’s Steam sales are pretty impressive, and she managed to do so without heavily undercutting the price.

  9. ne_zavarj wrote a comment on: June 30, 2012 at 10:09 pm

    And what about the GOG version ? I hope you are going to release Cinders in there too .

  10. Gabriel Verdon wrote a comment on: June 30, 2012 at 11:54 pm

    Thanks for posting this Tom!

  11. ne_zavarj wrote a comment on: July 1, 2012 at 10:05 am

    You will lost a customer if you are going to release Cinders only on Steam .

  12. no wrote a comment on: July 1, 2012 at 10:26 am

    … how would it be released only on steam when it is, in fact, already released?

  13. winterwolves wrote a comment on: July 1, 2012 at 10:53 am

    Honestly I think GoG is MUCH LESS likely to carry a VN than Steam is… I even submitted my RPGs but they rejected them.

  14. Colm wrote a comment on: July 2, 2012 at 3:24 pm

    Congrats on the release! Will be interesting to see more numbers in a couple of months after more promotion and (hopefully) some steam action.

  15. Justin wrote a comment on: July 3, 2012 at 8:22 am

    Out of curiosity, would you care to explain the reasoning behind the $23 price point? It seems fairly non-standard and I was wondering why you chose to sell the game for $23 as opposed to, say, $20 or $25.

  16. TeeGee wrote a comment on: July 3, 2012 at 10:06 am

    Sure. The price was actually suggested by Celso Riva of WinterWolves. He’s one of the most experienced and successful indie VN developers, and we asked him about a lot of things in the beginning. He said that we should mark the higher quality we are aiming for with a slightly higher price.
     
    So, those 3 extra bucks (compared to the average of $19.95) are in fact more a part of the game’s marketing than anything else. They are supposed to say: “This is not your average VN”. They also help us in reaching the profit margin, as the game took significantly longer to make than most visual novels.

  17. Vincent wrote a comment on: July 3, 2012 at 7:26 pm

    Could I be the one who bought Magi (mac)!? I bought the game around June 15 I’m a nerd and I enjoy your game!
     
    Anyway, thanks for sharing and hope your sales go well!