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Frictional becomes a two-game studio as Soma surpasses 250k sold

"It's interesting to ponder what kept the game from selling even more. One stand-out thing that we've identified is that the game falls between two genres: horror and sci-fi."

Frictional has made a name for itself by perfecting the art of horror game design, finding its feet with the Penumbra series, before going on to create its breakout title, Amnesia: The Dark Descent

In September last year the Swedish studio continued its remarkable run with Soma, another horrifying effort that aimed to dial up the intensity and send players to hell and back. 

Soma was Frictional's most ambitious project to date: the product of a five year development cycle, a rather sizeable investment, and an ambitious live-action marketing campaign

Six months on, Frictional's creative director, Thomas Grip, writing on the studio's blog, has revealed Soma was worth the time, effort, and, more pointedly, the money.

"The total number of sales, across all platforms, is currently at a bit over 250,000 units. This is pretty good; it'll only take 20k - 30k more until we've earned back our entire investment in the project," wrote Grip.

"Given that the daily sales are still solid (about 125 units a day) and we have regular boosts from various sale events, this is bound to happen well before this year is over."

While he's thankful that Frictional looks set to recoup its investment, Grip admits the game could be performing better, referencing Firewatch, which has sold over 500,000 copies, as evidence that Soma has room to improve.

Despite that, he's pleased with the studio's decision to commit to a long-term development cycle, and is now more confident than ever about building another game similar in scale and scope.

"Soma is well on the way to becoming profitable after just 6 months, despite not being a runaway success. This makes us a lot less worried about making another game of similar scope," continued Grip.

"Still, it's interesting to ponder what kept the game from selling even more. One stand-out thing that we've identified is that the game falls between two genres: horror and sci-fi. 

"What this means is that the game might feel a bit too sci-fi for someone looking for a pure horror experience and vice-versa. While we think the mix works very well for the game, it seems quite possible that this has put off potential buyers."

The problem with Soma occupying that middle ground is that Frictional effectively created competition for itself, and as soon as Soma landed, it began to eat into Amnesia sales.

The solution? Make a conscious effort to diversify your projects. It'll ensure you avoid consumer confusion, but it'll also help you reach a wider audience. 

"The moment that Soma came out, sales of Amnesia: The Dark Descent went down too, and has stayed down ever since," explains Grip. "We saw the same happening when we released Amnesia: A Machine For Pigs, but since Soma is in many ways quite different from Amnesia, we thought it wouldn't happen this time, but it did."

Going forward, Grip notes that the studio will be reorganizing in order to work on two games at the same time, a first for Frictional.

"For the first time in company history we're now developing two games at the same time. This will require non-trivial changes in how we manage the team, but in the end we're very sure it'll be worth it all," Grip writes. "By having two projects going at the same time, we can release games at much higher frequency. In turn, this let us be more experimental as we don't have to rely as much on each new game being a big money generator. We're still in the early phases of this transition, but it's shaping up really well so far."

You can read Grip's full six-month postmortem over on the Frictional blog

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