Monday, March 19, 2012

Post-Launch Debriefing

It's been two weeks since NEO Scavenger launched, and things are going well. Truth be told, I'm a little surprised at the reception it's getting. I figured there were some folks out there like me, who revel in hardcore sim-ish RPGs, but the response was better than I expected. Fans and publications alike seem to really like it! I'm thrilled!

For today's post, I figured I'd speak a bit about the experience I had launching the game, as well as some of the sales performance I'm seeing. It's a pretty unique experience so far, and I wasn't entirely prepared.

The Stress of Succeeding

One of the biggest surprises to me was that stress doesn't just come from frustration and hardship. I've been pretty lucky in that I can recognize when stress is getting to me. There are certain things I do, and thoughts I have, when I'm stressed-out. However, until now, I've always associated those behaviors and feelings with negative situations.

Imagine my surprise when a successful studio and game launch was causing the same symptoms! I announced my studio, Blue Bottle Games, and NEO Scavenger on Monday, March 5th. For the next several days, every waking hour was consumed by anxiety. There was this tightness in my chest, and tension in my shoulders, not to mention gritting of teeth and constant shivering. Every thought I had was about player comments, articles about the launch, or what steps I had to take next. It felt like the entire world was focused on my every move, and I had to act both swiftly and cautiously not to let onlookers down.

Of course, by "the entire world" I'm exaggerating. It's more like "my entire world." Friends, family, colleagues, and the niche-within-a-niche that actually enjoys games like NEO Scavenger. (A niche which I'm still trying to define: turn-based, post-apocalyptic, choose-your-own-adventure-survival-RPG?) The positive attention is awesome, but it's also scary. There's a dark thought haunting me that this might just be a bubble, and that the swell of praise may suddenly turn to disappointment.

Rochelle is currently taking a counseling class, and we had a practice counseling session. In it, I spoke about these feelings, and tried to explain why despite the massive praise, I feel anxiety. I eventually came to start referring to a separate "Dan Fedor," the PR version of me that's "out there" on forums, in emails, and interacting with the world re: NEO Scavenger.

One of my biggest worries is that I'll somehow let fans down: I'll forget to respond to them, or fail to visit their forum of choice, or I'll make a design change to the game that's contrary to their tastes. I realize it's impossible to be everywhere and do everything right, but it's hard to walk away from my desk at the end of the day and accept that. So far, I've been pretty good at maintaining regular hours. I still sneak peeks at email, forums, sales numbers, and magazine reviews outside of regular business hours, but considering this is a company and product launch, it's probably far less than it could be.

Sales Figures

Speaking of sales, I should at least touch upon that point. It's too early to tell if NEO Scavenger is going to be a financial success. Having sunk almost a year's work with no salary into it, I have a long way to go before it recoups the cost.

Still, for the first 5-6 copies sold, I would excitedly tell Rochelle "we made $50 today!" or "we made $38 today!" when she got home from class. We'd both be genuinely excited that someone, out there, thought the game was worth their money. This was after announcing the launch to my various social circles, mainly friends and family.

I also had my new studio mentioned in two BioWare-related articles:


Direct sales as a result of the above pieces were a bit slow to materialize, but I believe they were integral to this next development: just as I was getting ready to start sending emails to other game journals, I was scooped. Within a day of each other, I received coverage in 3 major games journals:

plus threads at Reddit, RPG Codex, Something Awful, Bay 12, 4Chan, and many more. I suspect the Escapist and VG pieces were what tipped off the magazines, which cascaded into other forum coverage. (FYI, RPS was the biggest contributor to traffic, by far, followed by Reddit, indiegames.com, and Something Awful.)

It literally transformed the sales performance. In the 48-hour period after those stories broke, I sold over 200 copies. Rochelle and I were floored. Sure, that's not Ferrari money or anything, but that was, like, rent and groceries money. We could afford food and shelter again!

The spike subsided, as most game launch spikes do, and has settled into a 20-40 sales per day range. I'm waiting to see if that is a plateau, or just the most recent slope in a long tail. Either way, it's a pretty good result for my first gig. I'm definitely glad I went the self-publishing route on this one, and not sponsorship. It's possible sponsors would've offered more than I've earned so far for the game, but there's a good chance I've crossed at least average sponsorship price tags already, and this is only week 2.

Of course, this was an unusual Flash game. 9-months in development means NEO Scavenger will take quite a few more sales to break even, and even the best sponsorship deals would've barely broken even, financially.

I'll have more to say on that topic once time passes.

There are other areas I'd like to talk about as well: the launch impact on hosting and bandwidth, feature voting, offers for volunteer help...a lot has come up in a short time.

However, I should really get cracking on NEO Scavenger's save game feature. It's been a big request, the leader on the voting boards, and I think I can have something working in the beta today. Only if I stay focused, though!

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