What is Ring Runner?
Ring Runner: Flight of the Sages blends the action game play of a space shooter with the storyline and customization of an RPG. My brother and I created it under the studio name Triple-B-Titles as we learned all the skills necessary to make a game. Our meandering path from gamers to game devs is evident in the game’s wandering design. Our scope wasn’t just allowed to creep; it went backpacking around Europe trying to find itself.
You’ll discover everything from trench runs and races to base battles and tower defense missions in Ring Runner’s 20+ hour campaign. There’s full online multiplayer with scenarios ranging from zombie survival to a MOBA (League of Legend/DotA-like) mode.
Here’s the breakdown of Ring Runner’s earnings to date:
Kickstarter – $27,193 (kept around 24k)
After hearing some horror stories of projects that had too many physical rewards, we decided to keep as much as we could to strictly digital. Thanks to that, we were able to maximize our income from Kickstarter. I also feel compelled to thank our extended family, which on their own were almost enough to help us reach our initial $12,000 goal. We also received a few large sums from some very generous strangers, some of which didn’t even care for their rewards!
IndieGameStand – $4,207
At the time, this was enough to push Ring Runner into the top 10 Daily Deal earners of all time on IndieGameStand.
Groupees – $4,285
At 18,939 units sold, I feel the Be Mine 9 bundle somewhat underperformed, given all of the other awesome games and music that it featured, but it was still a pleasure to participate. It helped bump us up in the Greenlight standings and gave us our biggest boost in new customers.
GOG – $8,297
Working with GOG has been fantastic. They’re friendly, thorough, and give even smaller games the respect and attention they deserve. Although we have to maintain a separate build of the game to work with their service, it’s been an honor. I highly recommend working with them if you have the chance. The amount listed above only includes the first quarter of doing business with them.
Steam – $70,014
After 399 days on Greenlight, Ring Runner finally reached Steam. We were accepted along with 100 other games – not the first time Valve ushered in titles in bulk. Within a couple of weeks, we were ready for launch. It took less than a day to get bumped off the “new releases” section, which gives you an idea of the rate at which games are being released nowadays. Of course, this had a pretty big impact on our initial sales.
Thankfully, our Valve representative, Tom Giardino, was nice enough to get us featured when we added Steam Workshop support to Ring Runner, giving players the capacity to easily share builds with one another. For one week, we were placed in the rotating image carousel on Steam’s front page. This week accounts for almost half of the total we’ve earned from Steam, not counting the subsequent trickle effect it had thanks to word of mouth. You can see the spike in the graph below.
Other revenue – ~$10k
Other revenue include the “Not On Steam Sale,” that earned us over a thousand in income, our FastSpring sales, sales from a variety of other sites like GreenManGaming, GamersGate, and Amazon, book sales, soundtrack sales, pendant sales, and money earned at conventions.
This brings us to a total of: $120,803
Divided by two people = $60,401
Divided by five years = $12,080
A full-time worker earning minimum wage ($7.25) makes $15,080 a year (averages taken from 2012), which means we were making 80% of minimum wage, or roughly $5.80 an hour. But before you call the authorities and report me for failing to pay myself a living wage, take into consideration that most of this game was done “for college credit.” The way I figure it, we were our own interns.
Of course, Ring Runner’s earning potential is in no way exhausted. I’m confident it will continue to earn a buck here and there for a couple of years to come, but when you factor in taxes and other expenses, the numbers above are more or less what we can expect to eventually come away with.
I also thought I’d share with you our regional distribution. Because Ring Runner is heavily story-driven, our audience has been mostly restricted to English speakers, though many of them would list English as a second or third language.
Ring Runner has been fairly well-received by reviewers with scores typically ranging from 7-9s. This is despite a design that I believe is entirely inconsiderate to reviewers as discussed below.
Although Ring Runner has failed to achieve broad appeal and has scarcely earned enough for my brother and me to continue work on our next project, the players that it does reach love it. I’ve been overwhelmed by all of the positive feedback we’ve received. For six years, my brother and I put all of our passion and nearly every minute of our free time into Ring Runner. To hear that there are fans who place our game amongst their favorites is a true inspiration and the greatest reward for all of our work and sacrifice.
What went wrong
Inconsiderate design for reviewers:
With dozens of games hitting the market each week, it’s selfish, and in the case of unknown indies, downright boneheaded, to ask 20+ hours out of a reviewer’s busy schedule. Unfortunately, that’s how long it takes to fully appreciate Ring Runner’s qualities. You might argue that any story-driven game requires a full play-through to review, but there are core qualities like variety, customization, and extensive multiplayer options which are not immediately evident.
This was done primarily to avoid overwhelming players, but could’ve been handled with greater consideration to real-world time constraints. As it is, many of the reviews we earn are based on only a small portion of the game, and we’ve no one to blame but ourselves. Depth by its nature is not immediately appreciable, but a good designer should take every step to guarantee that the potential for depth is immediately obvious without the need for research.
When we first started on Ring Runner, we were raiding dungeons on a daily basis. We’ve always been the kind of gamers that are more interested with what there is to do in a game once you’ve reached the “end,” rather than how it begins. We tried to create a game that takes a step forward from the kind of game play that titles like World of Warcraft or Diablo offer, failing to acknowledge that this is something that perhaps only a small minority of gamers actually desire. In order to take that next step, we blended modern RPG complexities with the challenges of a space shooter, an admittedly limited-audience genre, leaving us with a pretty esoteric product.
(By the way, if you’ve ever been challenging the high-end of any competitive RPG and thought, “gee… I wish this was harder and took place in space,” stop reading this and go try Ring Runner!)
The controls were tuned to yield the best game play for experienced players rather than facilitating entry for beginners. Craftier developers should find a way to do both, but first-timers are probably best served with keeping it simple. Needless to say, this decision has been polarizing, frustrating some and providing deeply satisfying game play for others.
Overly Ambitious multiplayer:
Again, this was a symptom of putting our desires ahead of realistic design considerations. It’s tough for a small indie title to achieve a thriving multiplayer community. Yet ensuring that every ship and ability are synced to work in multiplayer added a tremendous amount of difficulty to the development process. Thankfully, this is a mistake that benefits players.
Delay before customization:
The introductory portion of the game can be skipped, and scenarios allow for immediate customization, but customizing your ship doesn’t happen until about 2 hours into the campaign – believe it or not, it was even worse at first!
There are two reasons for this: first, we wanted to introduce players to Ring Runner’s novel game play features and five unique archetypes; and second, due to limited access to testers, we were mostly gathering impressions from players who don’t typically play this genre of game. Our goal was not to overwhelm players; we wanted to show them what the archetypes are about before they had to choose which they wanted to pursue. This is a challenge in any game that doesn’t adhere to established class choices.
In hindsight, I believe it would’ve been better to offer players the choice upfront and restrict them to one of the five archetypes early on. This would allow them to start customizing within the first 30 minutes of game play, at the same time making the onslaught of options more manageable. As they continued down the path, they’d find that most of our Rank 5 ships are hybrids, which would’ve provided them a way to introduce themselves to other the archetypes’ qualities.
What went right
Ring Runner is written in the style, albeit not quality, of a Dr. Who or Douglas Adams – free-spirited, humorous, and thoroughly ambitious Sci Fi. It’s based on a novel I’d been writing for around 3-4 years prior to beginning the game’s script, and I believe that people find its depth refreshing, particularly within the space shooter genre. In a time of procedurally generated content, lively characters and unexpected, handcrafted events are still appreciated.
The depth of game play:
There are hundreds of abilities in Ring Runner. Special care was taken to ensure each had the capacity for profoundly affecting the way you play. Invariably, each player will develop preferences for different abilities based on their style of play, but what appears more powerful to one may not for another. In essence, we wanted play style to be a balancing factor, and I’m happy to say that we’ve somewhat achieved that, while allowing for the AI to use of any procedurally equipped combination of skills in a coherent fashion.
Even after five years of playing, it’s possible to be surprised by a combination of abilities, whether it comes from another player or an AI opponent. Abilities in Ring Runner are like tools that can be used to construct countless effects. As far as game design is concerned, I would say this is the game’s greatest triumph.
Here’s an actual example: Lay out a field of mines, consolidate them with a gravity field, hit an opponent with a laser that adds a Gemini Beacon to them, fly towards your own cluster of mines, and, at the last moment, activate your Disteleplace Array, which trades places with an opponent affected by a Gemini Beacon, teleporting them into the mines. These abilities can be combined in hundreds of ways with others to produce radically different results.
The learning experience:
In half a decade, we went from know-it-all gamers to know-it-little developers. Still, my brother and I have managed to create our own engine, soundtrack, art, sound effects, novel/script, and everything else it takes to make a game. None of it came easy, even making our own website was a challenge, but it was all worthwhile because now we’re equipped with all the skills we need to create new, better games. Our journey led us across many long work nights, a nerve-racking, yet successful Kickstarter campaign, over a year on Greenlight, and even an IGN reality show, before finally landing us on Steam. In the end, it’s an experience I can only recommend to those who have ample time and passion.
Zero commercial consideration is a double-edged sword. While it has no doubt lopped a leg off our time-and-effort-to-earnings ratio, it’s yielded a game that is unlike any other. Why? Because there aren’t many other developers out there who are stupid enough to make a game like it!
Ring Runner may offer a lot of value, but it also asks a lot from players. Although it borrows extensively from the RPG genre, it can be dismissed at a glance as “just another space shooter.” We were thoroughly clueless about marketing and how exposure worked in the industry, creating a product that is not easily pitched, summarized, or swallowed.
My brother and I set out to make a game that we wanted to play, never pausing to ask whether others would feel the same. Creating a game “for yourself” is a dangerous endeavor that seldom pays dividends, but I still encourage hobbyist and affluent devs to attempt it. You may not get a game that’s liked by many, but you’ll have a game that’s loved by few.
For the last 4 months, we’ve been hard at work on our next title, which we’re calling “Project PUD.” It has nothing to do with Ring Runner; after nearly 6 years, we need a little break, but we plan on circling back to Ring Runner in the future.
Project PUD will keep Ring Runner’s style of humor and capacity for nearly infinite game play possibilities, but will focus more on ease of use, immediacy, and accessibility. We want to create a game that anyone can play, yet is still fun for the most seasoned of gamers. Using Unity, will be able to reach multiple platforms, and we’ll be prioritizing replayability over raw depth. With any luck, we hope to significantly increase the percentage of mothers who ask their children to “stop playing with their PUD.”
In short, we didn’t learn our lesson; Project PUD will be no less ambitious than Ring Runner, though perhaps a bit less naïve. We hope to release a Kickstarter in March or April. You can follow me on Twitter to keep up to date with the latest news on PUD.