A bit over four months ago, my company Brushfire Games released Shipwreck, our first game. After sharing some loose numbers on Twitter, it was suggested that I do a little post mortem so here's a little look at Shipwreck.
To date Shipwreck has sold a total of 1,299 copies for a total gross revenue of $2,605.15 USD. Here are some pretty graphs that show the units sold and gross revenue (USD) over time, split by platform.
(Click for full size)
There are three red lines marked on the graphs designating three big post-launch events. From left to right we have the launch of our Mac/Linux ports, our one-week $1 sale, and then our final price drop from $3 to $1.
So after looking at these graphs, these are the big things I take away:
- Xbox Live Indie Games wound up being the majority of our revenue (about $1600 of our $2600). This is humorous to me because originally Xbox wasn't even in our plan. I made the port in the last couple months of development just because I could. Good thing I did.
- The $1 sale was huge on Humble but did relatively little on Xbox Live Indie Games. This is probably because there are various sites/bots checking for sales on Humble, whereas there's nothing like that for Xbox.
- Given our rate of sales didn't change much at all on Xbox, we didn't see any huge spike on Humble, and Humble sales in general have dwindled to nearly nothing, we probably would have been better served leaving the game at the $3 price point and earning that higher price share per unit sold.
Making Shipwreck was a cost of about $5000 to me (not counting time I took away from work and the opportunity cost of that), so it's still a fair ways short of making back the investment, but it was still a worthwhile experience. I also do software contracting four days a week which means that this loss doesn't cause me any distress since my rent still gets paid.
Generally the game was well received, though I'm sure some of that was caused by nostalgia or being easy on us because it was our first game. Indie Gamer Chick was the only review that was overall negative and while I wouldn't agree with all her points, she pointed out a lot of things the game could have done better.
Here are a some quick quotes I took from some reviews with links so you can read them in more detail if you'd like:
Everything in Shipwreck looks, feels, and sounds (Catchy soundtrack? Check!) authentic, and the love it shows towards the source material is evident. So lap it up, ladies and gents.This is probably the closest we’ll ever get to a Legend of Zelda game on Xbox, and I can’t imagine it being any better than this.
I like how, instead of enemies dropping hearts (even when you have full health), they drop apples that you can save and use later. Now that’s a good idea. I liked the desert dungeon. And…….. well actually that’s the only stuff that really stood out to me. Everything else never got brutally awful or anything, but Shipwreck was bland and boring from the start and never really picks up steam.
Shipwreck really works as a retro adventure title, and is more than worth what you pay for it. Admittedly, there isn’t a great deal of content, but for a quick blast of Memory Lane fun, you can’t go wrong.
The game is short, as in can be completed within less than half a day. But don't let that put you off. I believe that the overall design of the game is well done. The puzzles and dungeon type levels makes the game challenging. The obstacles and enemies also make the game fun to play.
This game is a loving tribute to the Legend of Zelda franchise and Brushfire Games first foray into the world of video game development. For anyone who is a Zelda fan, Shipwreck is a must-play game. I mean that. Go to Xbox Live and get it immediately. You’ll never find a better tribute to the classic games like this one.
Unlike the overwhelming majority of A Link Between Worlds, the dungeons in Shipwreck feel dangerous. This danger can come from things that you might find unfair, such as taking damage when falling to a lower floor as part of a puzzle. Is that unfair because the design severely hampers the player, or is it unfair because the game deviates from what we’re used to in Zelda?
So after all those reviews and quotes, what am I taking with me to learn for the future?
- This game was a bit of a stretch for me and was quite seriously almost canceled at least three times. This was the first time designing a game. This was the biggest game I've ever made. Unfortunately that lead me to cut things down so I could complete it in a reasonable time with my sanity in check.
- If you make a game resembling a popular franchise, you will likely be compared to it in every way, regardless of why you made certain decisions. Your game will also be seen as either a clone or an homage, even if you're just sharing the genre. It's not always a bad thing, but sometimes it can hurt.
- Ty and Dan, who did the art and audio respectively, should be super proud because practically every review had nothing but praise for their work.
I feel like including some notes on what went well and what went poorly, but don't feel it's particularly useful to go into deep detail because I feel the bullets speak for themselves.
What went well
- I designed my first game and it was a fairly sizeable one at that. I learned a ton about why certain design decisions were made in other games by challenging their conventions in my own.
- I got great people to work with me who really brought the game up to another level of visual/audio quality.
- I shipped the game on four platforms across three stores with only one major bug that I'm aware of.
- The game gave me purpose and drive to start Brushfire Games and was the first game I completed after leaving my cushy job at Microsoft to focus on making indie games.
- I finished the game.
Seriously finishing the game is a huge win in my book. It took me over a year to get from the original prototype to the shipped game and while that's longer than I had hoped, I am glad I managed to stick it out and release the game. Finishing games is hard and don't let anyone tell you otherwise.
What went poorly
- In challenging the idea that an adventure game needs a lot of items, I learned that there's a really good reason why games like Zelda have a few dozen items. It's hard to create interesting dungeons and puzzles without it. With our limited item count, we struggled to create interesting dungeons throughout the game that didn't feel repetitive or boring.
- Using the standard "different ecosystems for dungeons" concept was pretty bad in hindsight. While it gave us some themes, they felt a bit forced and disjointed, and limited our ability to craft the island the way we may have gone otherwise.
- Combat was generally boring and repetitive. It took so much of my time/energy to design what we did have, that I didn't spend the time to iterate and expand upon the enemies in the game to provide for a wider range of combat opportunities. Also having every enemy in the game have the same amount of health is kind of boring.
- Exploration and story took a huge backseat in the end. This is actually an area I focused more heavily on early in the development, but much got downgraded or cut by the time we went to ship simply because we were losing steam and the project was always teetering on the edge of me canceling it because it wasn't living up to my dream. We had a whole set of collectable items and secondary dungeons, but we just didn't have time to make it all up to par with the rest of the game.
Ultimately Shipwreck was a good experience. I managed (barely) to hang on for a year and see the game out. The design changed a couple times and I nearly canceled it a few times, but in the end I did design and program a full 2D adventure game in the style of the old Zelda games which was my goal. Was Shipwreck everything I wanted it to be? Of course not. But I finished a game, learned a lot, and am proud of the work I did.
Now to make the next game.