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Endless Reach - Virtual Reality Market Sizing

An in depth look at bringing a mobile shoot 'em up title to virtual reality, and what an indie dev can expect from a burgeoning market.

I am Scott McCutchen, the founder of Soverance Studios and creator of Endless Reach, a virtual reality shoot 'em up for the Oculus Rift.  I'm about to open up the book on my project and show you a bit about making a fun, simple mobile game into an entirely different experience through virtual reality.  Maybe more importantly, I'm going to show you our numbers and financials, in hopes that they'll be useful to other developers in similar positions as myself.

A quick preface on me: I am not an industry veteran.  In fact, I've never had a job in game development, ever.  I have relatively little experience as a game developer, and am almost entirely self-taught.  I am simply one guy who was inspired by virtual reality and wanted to make great games.  I recently wrote a blog post right here on Gamasutra describing what drove me to begin this venture, if you'd like to read more about it.  But here I'm just going dive right into the details.

I created Endless Reach in December of 2013, as a student project for a programming course I was attending at the Art Institute of Atlanta.  Built in Unity 4, I released the very first version of Endless Reach to PC and web browsers via my website, which you can still download and play today.  It was free, but nobody noticed its release as I did not promote it, and the game was terrible anyway.  I do not have download numbers on this version, but I'd imagine it was probably just me and my instructor at the Art Institute.

Even though the game was terrible, I decided the most important thing at that moment was to get the game in front of people who would play it and provide me with feedback.  To that end, I set up the company and released the alpha version of Endless Reach to Android and Windows Phones in March of 2014, again as a free download.  I wouldn't do much with it for another couple months.

Windows Phone was definitely the more popular platform for this version, gaining 180 downloads between its March 3rd release and June 17th, when I finally took it down from the store.  I should have taken it down much earlier, which I'll touch on again later in this post.  The Android version gained 95 downloads during this period.  These were all free downloads, obtained through zero advertisement.  I also gained little to no feedback, and what I did get was never useful.

In May of 2014, I connected with an old friend who created original sprites for the game as I began overhauling the gameplay.  I was also able to gain access to the game's complete soundtrack through another friend of mine, local Atlanta artist Shiny Baubles, who was kind enough to let me use eleven of his tracks for free.  We swapped the control scheme from a horizontal landscape to a vertical one, and we added ten new levels and a bunch of new gameplay features, enemy types, unique bosses, and more.  With this stuff in place, we became recipients of Level 1 incentives in Microsoft's Windows Phone offer for Unity Developers, and we launched the complete version of Endless Reach to Windows Phone and Android on July 3rd as a $0.99 download.  We also provided free versions of the title on both platforms, which included only the first level.  In addition, we provided a PC standalone port of the full mobile version as a pay what you want download on the game's official website.  We then began a campaign on Steam Greenlight two days later.

Our first day on Greenlight was a lot of fun, despite the numbers being low.  Simply getting so many people to look at the game was exciting, and those who played gave some decent feedback.  Our first day Greenlight results are below.  [Click for full image]

I have no frame of reference for if these are good numbers for your first day on Greenlight, but I wasn't particularly impressed.  It should be well noted that at this point, our Greenlight campaign had no mention of our plans for virtual reality, and the game itself was still rather basic.  I mean, how many mobile shoot 'em ups have you seen?  Yeah, a million.  Nobody cares about yet another shooter for a mobile phone, and Steam is definitely the wrong audience for that anyway.

The biggest morsel of information I gleaned from Greenlight is that you'll get a pretty fair amount of exposure simply for submitting.  Until your game falls off the "Recent Submissions" page anyway, after which you're destined to zero visibility and permanent obscurity without some form of marketing.

Now that the game was out on mobile, my original plans for virtual reality could be realized.  I had actually been working with the Oculus Rift for nearly a year at this point on various Unreal Engine side projects, and something I'd always envisioned for Endless Reach was to help bring shmups to virtual reality.  One of the things that interested me the most about VR was actually alternate perspectives, and through my experiments I had already released what was arguably one of the first native third person tech demos for the Rift.  I figured a shmup would be an ideal project to further experimentation with these perspectives in VR, which is one of the primary reasons I created Endless Reach.

Implementing Oculus Rift support into Endless Reach was a somewhat trivial task, but it required yet another entire overhaul of many of the game's aspects. But we were able to come out with something two weeks later, on July 14th, as a playable demo available as a pay what you want download directly from our website.  This VR Beta version was featured on the July 20th Sunday VR live stream of Cymatic Bruce, a major VR evangelist, and received a good review with excellent feedback.  You can watch a recording of the stream on our YouTube channel.

To coincide with the release of our VR beta, we also began a campaign on the Square Enix Collective service.  For those of you unfamiliar with the Square Enix Collective, it's a recent initiative by the publisher to find indie developers and provide them with exposure and crowdfunding partnerships.  Essentially the service works similar to Steam Greenlight, where users can vote "Yes" or "No" on whether or not they would back your project through crowdfunding.  Each Collective campaign lasts for 28 days and, if successful, Square Enix would help you promote your crowdfunding campaign through Indiegogo.  Not a bad deal, really.

However, we did not do so hot!  As of this writing we're only 9 days away from the end of our Collective campaign, and we currently sit at 30% "Yes" votes to 70% "No" votes, out of 81 total votes.  See image below!  [Click to enlarge]

Some thoughts on the Collective:  81 votes is nothing.  I'd be surprised if we break 100 total votes before the campaign ends.  I'm sure most of this is because you must be logged into a Square Enix account in order to vote, and that immediately limits the audience.  With that in mind, we had to reflect on who Square Enix's customers were and what they wanted to see from a game.  Sure enough, the comments we received on the Collective were pretty much summed up by this one:


"Sorry, change the art style, and make it more Einhander'ish and you've got yourself an awesome project that people would love to get behind you with."

While we launched on that service with placeholder art (which is still in the demo right now...), our artwork definitely did not resemble anything like what Square Enix fans would want.  As far as I can tell, Endless Reach is easily the worst received project on the Collective service.  Of the nine projects I can see on the service right now, every single one has a positive "Yes" to "No" ratio except for Endless Reach, and the next worst is like 71% "Yes" to 29% "No".  Obviously a pretty large difference.  Pretty sure we're looking at the wrong audience here.

Also, one portion of our pitch on the Collective service claims that we'll release the game regardless of funding.  In retrospect, this is probably a stupid thing to say when you're asking people if they'd be interested in crowdfunding you.  But it's true... we'll release the game anyway, funded or not.  My artist and I currently both work day jobs, so we're bootstrapping our development on evenings and weekends.  The Collective campaign was never about obtaining funding, instead it was simply a way to gain more exposure and feedback on our project.  In that regard, it was somewhat successful.

At this point, the VR version had begun to help attract some attention towards our game, which translated into 134 downloads of the first VR version.  We gained a lot of excellent feedback, and released an update for the VR version eight days ago, on August 2nd.  This new version included a number of new, VR-specific features as well as numerous tweaks and bug fixes.  It also included support for the Oculus DK2, which had just recently seen its first shipments.  A playthrough of the 2.1 VR Beta version update can be seen below.

The response from this update was incredible!  We gained over 200 downloads in the first 24 hours of being live, and we were even fortunate enough to receive $12 in "pay what you want" donations that day through our website.  Eight days later, as of this writing, the 2.1 VR Beta update has received 740 downloads and $17.92 in pay what you want donations.
 
Below you'll find a graph of the latest numbers for Endless Reach, as of today, August 10th.  [Click to Enlarge]  The graph includes download numbers, gross revenue, as well as the sales model each version uses.
 
As you can see we've had over a thousand downloads across all versions and platforms, and generated nearly forty dollars in revenue.  Our VR version of Endless Reach is obviously the most interesting, as it is quite literally a game unlike anything else available for the Rift.  Even still, the numbers are not spectacular.  Our marketing budget is effectively $0, so we've done nearly all of our promotion through social media and the great folks over at r/Oculus.  Effective use of Twitter hashtags has been another major help, and even though I'm sure you've heard them before, I must reiterate there are three nearly imperative hashtags any indie dev should be using: #indiedev and #gamedev for just about everything, and be sure to do #screenshotsaturday every week.
 
Something I'd like to point out concerns a one star review we received in June on our Windows Phone page, just days before I pulled the alpha version from the store.  It was the first and only review we had received, and it blasted the alpha version of the game.  Unfortunately, this review and score stayed on the page after we released the complete version in July.  I'm willing to bet we've lost a few sales because of it, because the Windows Phone store page does not denote that the review is based on a previous version.  I never could find a way to remove or hide it, and am far too lazy to talk to Microsoft support about the issue.  In retrospect, I should have taken the alpha version off the store much earlier.
 
Our Steam Greenlight campaign looks like this after 36 days:  [Click to enlarge]
 
As you can see, we're not really killing it on Steam Greenlight.  After we fell off the "Recent Submissions" page after the first five or six days, we pretty much stagnated around 13% or so while our visibility on the service dropped to zero.  We managed to slowly get up to 18% over the last month, mostly through continued promotion on social media and reddit and the release of our 2.1 VR Beta version update.
 
I am unsure if our ratio of "Yes" to "No" votes is better or worse than the average game out there, but I'm willing to bet it's worse.  Simply put, we needed a better game and a better showing to impress the Steam crowd while we had our first few days of visibility.  I have faith that, as we continue to build Endless Reach for virtual reality and make it better, we'll be able to eventually be Greenlit.  At this point we've got about one in five saying they'd buy our game on Steam, so I'm pretty happy with that.
 
Now on to the business stuff!  Setting up a company is hard, but I've had some previous experience.  This time though, I am bootstrapped, working about 30 hours a week in the IT department of a sporting goods manufacturer while I build Soverance Studios in my off time.  I'm willing to say that since January 2014, I've put in an estimated 60+ hours a week into developing things for the company while making no income.  I generally work just enough at my IT job to cover my bills and put food on my table.
 
That being said, have a look at my company's 2014 financials!  [Click to enlarge]
 
As expected, our highest expenditure came in February, an estimated $251 spent on setting up business licensing and mobile development accounts.  Our only monthly reccuring expense is our website hosting, at $7 each month.  The company began generating profits in May, thanks to $100 monthly recurring payments from the Georgia Game Developers Association for our work on their GGDA and SIEGECON websites.  In July, we had some costs associated with launching Endless Reach (namely the Greenlight submission fee), though we also began seeing the first sales and donations.  We expect these sales to gradually increase over the coming months as we spend more time marketing the title.
 
Again, note that our revenue does not come from Endless Reach, and instead comes from my work as Webmaster of the Georgia Game Developers Association.  Because we are bootstrapped, it also does not include the losses we would incur from paying the living expenses of myself, or compensating the work done by my artist or musician partners.
 
All in all, I'm pretty happy with the path we're on.  Endless Reach is beginning to blossom into an amazing game, and I'm excited to be a part of heralding a new generation of shmups in virtual reality.  We've had such great response from the people who have played, and they've provided us with some pretty excellent feedback.  It's incredibly validating that, even though we've only made about $40 on Endless Reach, some people thought it was totally worth a few bucks.  Those were forty hard earned dollars, and I'll be forever grateful to those people.
 
I'm very excited about the future of virtual reality.  It's an exciting position to be ahead of the curve for once, on the cusp of something great.  I expect our numbers will only grow as virtual reality becomes more common in the coming years.  I can't wait to see what the VR dev community creates for us.  As long as we continually push ourselves to create better experiences, and more openly share the process of doing so, then better virtual reality can truly come into ubiquity and be better for everyone.
 
I hope some of this can be helpful to any indie devs in a similar position.  Let me know what you're thinking in the comments below.
 
We'll be continuing to develop Endless Reach in virtual reality over the coming months to make it the best experience we can.  We hope you'll check it out, and provide us with your feedback on the game's official subreddit.
 
 
 
If you enjoyed this post, maybe you'd like to follow me on Twitter @Soverance!  We'd also love a vote for Endless Reach on our Steam Greenlight page, and don't forget to check out the game for yourself on the official website!
 

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