MLY! started as a gleam in my eye back in early 2012. Ichiro @ Dejobaan Games and I chatted and prototyped for a few months (the original iPad-only prototype was called Alien Baby, hah!) before we decided to run with it, and officially announced the title. Dejobaan handled the art, marketing, and writing; my studio (Radial Games) handles all the code and tech-stuff. Design and grander-vision stuff was done by both our teams.
Since Dejobaan and I were both working on different projects at the time, initial development was slow; I estimate we worked full-time for only a few weeks before we showed our first prototype off at PAX Prime in August. I think this experience was key for two reasons:
- We took a well-polished 10-minutes-of-gameplay prototype to PAX and exposed it to the public. This gave us invaluable feedback, and a much-needed shot in the arm; at that point confidence about the project was running a little low.
- We got some good press exposure and made some contacts in the media and industry (e.g.: Valve!) that could help us out later on.
- This was my first booth; I gained valuable experience on how to show things well on an expo floor. My experience putting together a cheap booth spawned one of my more popular blog posts.
It wasn't all roses though; the prototype we showed at PAX Prime was significantly different from the final released product. Many press outlets that reported on our game had mentioned the Tamogatchi-esque elements in the early prototype that never made it to release, and we had to deal with the disappointment of some of our longest-term fans.
However, taking the good with the bad, I think it was a net-positive experience, and I don't think I'd alter my course if I had to do it all over again. In late November we got confirmation that we'd be on Steam, which I sneakily mentioned in one of my blog posts, but otherwise kept mum at the time. This was a huge deal for me - getting onto Steam is financially great, sure, but it's moreso a career milestone for me. Something to be proud of -- achievement unlocked!
Speaking of Steam, SteamWorks integration gave me a few headaches, but I was ultimately able to overcome them. MLY! is technically a fairly simple game; in terms of displayed-to-the-user stuff, the game is largely just a pile of tweened animations and not a whole lot else. The real magic is all invisible behind-the-scenes stuff.
MLY! was so strongly narrative- and art-based that it required very quick turnaround on content assets. That meant cutting re-compiles out of the iteration loop, and it meant the development of a quick-and-simple narrative-engine language. Dejobaan laid out a bunch of suggestions and requirements they'd need to make the language work for them, and I set out implementing a parser on the code side. The result is what we call "Boa," and is a very powerful (yet simple, child-readable) scripting language. I'm really proud of it! I'll probably write about it in a future blog post, if there's any interest.
As a minor victory I claim for myself, Monster Loves You! is the first Haxe game published on Steam. I used the NME library, and as a result of my tool and IDE choices, the dev environment for MLY! was completely free of charge. Dejobaan handled all the art and narrative production, and I'm super proud of what they've done and how amazing it all turned out. They are wizards! But I can't speak to that experience, so I'll just point you at their blog for updates and thoughts on that end of development.
We internally estimated that our nice, non-violent, cute game that requires reading lots and lots of text would not do so well on Steam. We had beers a few days before launch and guessed in the $30K - $60K range for the year of sales; maybe $100K gross revenue for the year if we were lucky and were promoted a bunch by Valve. I mean, Steam is the place where indies go to get money, right? But our game really just didn't seem like a good fit for the platform. No headshots, no action, no explosions. It was a big gamble for us. MLY! launched a few days after that conversation, on March 18th, at a price point of $9.99 on Steam (PC only).
Here's our launch video:
[Embeds broken on Gamasutra. See it here]
And here's my reaction to our first sales figures, on Vine:
[Embeds broken on Gamasutra. See it here]
In other words, it completely blew away our expectations. In the first day and a half of sales (launching at Noon on March 18th, running through to midnight on March 20th), we blew through our best expectations: $65,783.
And in the first week we came just a few dollars shy of our best-case-scenario yearly-sales figures: $99,480. That's why I posted the Vine. Myself, and the whole of the Dejobaan team, was completely jaw-agape at how staggeringly-well sales were going. This was unheard of for us! Success continued even after launch week, grossing another $50,408 in the post-launch month:
That's a daily average of $1,575. For a poor indie-dev like me, these numbers are kind of dumbfounding. I remember sitting at the pub, staring into my beer - I would make enough money to pay for that beer in just 5 minutes of sitting there. Faster than I could* drink it. Let's zoom out and see the entire sales chart, from launch to current date:
This gives you an idea of just how important launch-week is: The huge sales spike dwarfs everything else. Notable mentions and fluctuations in the long tail of sales are hardly visible here, but if I trim off the launch we can see it a bit better:
Now those peaks look a whole lot steeper! Almost each of those peaks correspond with "let's play" videos and video-reviews. Though MLY got a whole lot of support on gaming blogs and press publications, almost all our traffic spikes came from Youtube. Super interesting stuff.
The big peak on the far right of the graph there is the start of the Steam Trading Card beta, which you can read about here.
Of course, some of you readers out there have successful studios with big expenses! Maybe these figures are kind of lackluster. Let's put this in perspective for me, as an indie-dev, though:
- Current lifetime sales of MLY equates to more money than all of my games have made, combined, since 2008.
- Cash expenses only included two PAX booths (a few thousand each) and another few thousand in travel for a few weeks of working-together-in-person.
- Everyone working on the game was paid on rev-share (with a couple of weeks of exceptions), and we all worked from our own home-offices. Expenses were super low.
- We didn't do any advertising or paid marketing campaigns.
- Though it took a year to bring the game to market, we only spent a few months of full-time-work on the game (and were working on other projects at the same time).
So, as of this writing, the game has been out for just over two months, and has grossed a grand total of $177,019. I'll do another post a little way down the road when I have more data to share.
Of course, I'm not bragging about my personal riches, here: Valve takes their big bite out of that figure, and the remainder gets split up amongst our two teams. It still is a nice sum to keep me floating, though.
Steam Trading Cards
I already made a blog post on MLYs Steam Trading Cards, after they had been out for only 24 hours. Not enough time has really passed yet to do a proper analysis, so I'll save that for a later catch-up post on these figures.
The Future of Monster Loves You!
Of course, this is just the beginning for Monster Loves You!. There is potential for mobile ports, Mac, Linux, direct sales, and bundles. It's almost comical how few locations we are selling the game!
Then there's Steam Sales and holiday packs and other promotions.
That's not to mention additional content packs, holiday narrative bonuses, extra art assets, and new Steam Trading Card sets. All potential sources of new sales spikes.
And that's not to mention the idea of sequels!
It really does feel like MLY! is just getting started.
The Future of Radial Games
After MLY! is squared away and sitting pretty (probably another year!), there is now a niche market for narrative-based games awaiting us on Steam. The Boa engine is flexible and mature enough that spawning new titles and franchises out of this model will be relatively easy; if I had a team of writers and an artists, I could probably support several games per year like this! Not that I'm sure the market would bear it!
I'm just excited about the opportunities that MLY! has opened up for Radial Games. Finally, there is a viable market for the types of games I want to make. And I want to start making games for change. Serious games. Educational games. Give back to the community a bit.
I'm very excited about the future. Except doing my taxes, ugh, that is going to be really painful!
All of my major game projects get a "by the numbers" post, and each becomes some of the most popular posts on my blog. If you found this interesting, consider checking them out: