Monday, September 24, 2012

The Week of Hardware, and Sales Follow-up

I bought my first Mac last week.

Gone Rogue Going Mac

I've been a PC user since the early 90s. Before then, I owned an Atari ST (and an 800, prior to that). My dad occasionally brought home his work IBM, and my friends all had IBMs (or compatibles like the Franklin), so I had some exposure even when I was an Atari owner. And my schools always seemed to have Macs/Apples, so I've had my fair share of Mac exposure as well. But I've leaned in the Windows direction for decades.

However, once NEO Scavenger was released on Desura, I was on the hook to make good on my multi-platform promises. Flash had served me well to-date, but Desura doesn't sell Flash games. It sells downloadable applications. So it was time to accelerate plans to acquire some Mac hardware.

Deciding on which Mac to buy took a bit of research. Any old Mac would probably do for creating Flash projectors. However, if I'm going to drop some cash on a Mac, I figure I should look into what else it could do. iOS development, for example, requires an Intel-based Mac running OS X Snow Leopard or later. And since my Windows laptop is from 2001, and chugs even when running Lubuntu, maybe I can dual-boot the Mac as my Linux box.

Ok, so Snow Leopard and up, Intel-based Macs. My search begins.

First of all, new Macs are expensive. The cheapest new Mac is the Mac mini, starting at $600. And that's without any display nor input devices (I'd need a KVM or similar setup to share my current PC's monitor and inputs). The next cheapest option for a new Mac is $1000+ for a MacBook Air.

So what about Apple's Certified Refurbished program? Surprisingly, that's not much better. The minimum price there is $700 for a MacBook Air. Granted, that's cheaper than a new Air, but for an indie on a budget, who just needs a beater to generate Mac binaries, that's still too much. I'm thinking sub-$500.

Off to eBay, kijiji, and craiglist. A ha, that's more like it. MacBooks in the sub-$500 ballpark. There are even some Pro models in there. In the end, this is the route I take. And for $500, including shipping, here's what I got:

Dan's first Mac: a 2008 model MacBook Pro
 As you can see, it's been around the block once or twice. Maybe even fell onto the curb. But it runs fine. The dent is cosmetic, the "D" key needs re-seating, and apart from some scuff marks and an aging battery, it's in good shape. A few days of finagling later, it even dual-boots OSX and Lubuntu.

So what do I think? I'm still pretty new to the world of Macs, so it's too soon to be sure. But here are some initial impressions:


  • Slick Design - Without a doubt, this is a very well-designed piece of hardware. At every turn, I can picture Steve Jobs hovering over the engineer's shoulder, pushing for uncompromising perfectionism. The way it latches shut, the back-lit keys, the machined parts and shape of's an industrial designer's dream.
  • Everything Works - Probably related to the above, it just works. There are no missing drivers, no features that sometimes fall short. Everything you expect it to do, it just does, out of the box.
  • UI - It takes some getting used to, coming from the PC world, but the UI is well-designed. The trackpad scrolling, accessibility options, brightness control...I was impressed at what control I had over these little things.


  • Expensive - One could already guess this from the previous paragraphs. Macs are downright pricey. Even used ones seem to suffer from the inflation of the Mac brand.
  • Closed Ecosystem - I don't like the "closed" feel of the Mac world. They're harder to upgrade, they have proprietary connectors for everything, they can have unfriendly customer relations, and they seem to have an inordinate fear of users accessing their own data. Did you ever have a friend who's parents were OCD about decorating? You know, like everything was wicker and crochet, tables had doilies on them, and the bathroom towels are not meant to be used? This is what using a Mac feels like to me.
  • UI - As much as I praise the UI above, it has its quirks too. Like the right-click. Ok, I get it. Macs are different. They don't need a right mouse button. Except that's not true. Context menus are everywhere in OSX, and I have to double-finger-tap my trackpad to get at them. Why is this? And what's with the app install process? Is it really more user-friendly to download, then mount an image, then drag an app from the left side of a pop-up to the right, instead of double-clicking a file and following prompts?
Like I said, I have a lot to learn when it comes to Macs. So far, though, I like it overall. It won't replace my PC anytime soon, but I enjoy playing with it. And it finally means I can deploy Mac and Linux builds!

Why You Shouldn't Deploy Mac and Linux Builds

Ok, that's not really what I'm saying. But I want to caution indies out there who are gung-ho about multi-platform. 

When I was only deploying Flash versions to, a build was a matter of maybe 30 minutes. It involved changing some compiler constants, switching from debug to release, compiling, uploading, and maybe doing those steps a second time for the demo as well.

Now that I have downloadable versions, the build and upload process takes hours. It's literally most of an afternoon to get all SWF versions compiled (Flash beta, demo, and downloadable beta), then create projectors for all three platforms, then create the Desura MCF versions (their build management system), then upload them all.

So if you're thinking of distributing multi-platform, either be prepared for build headaches, or find a way to build more efficiently than I do.

You could also just wait until later in the dev cycle to release to the public, but I wouldn't. Having NEO Scavenger out there and in the hands of actual players has been an amazing help in shaping the game that we have today. Like the Agile philosophy of always having a working build, this goes a step further to put it in the hands of the end user. Sure, there are sometimes speed bumps along the road, but I wouldn't do it any other way.

Other Hardware Fun

Also, within a few days of getting my MacBook Pro, this happened:

Bench testing my PC for faults.
My video card went kaput. I got some fuzzy blue dots, then everything froze. Subsequent reboots yielded strange ascii characters in the BIOS, then eventually, nothing.

It took about a full day of testing and research to narrow it down to the video card. It was fairly obvious, based on symptoms, but I wanted to be sure before I made the trip for new parts in town.

And better yet, my primary HDD started clicking within a day of getting the new video card. I spent almost another half day checking backup data, and probing the HDDs for faults. Both checkdisk reports came back ok, and the clicking has since subsided. But I have a new 500GB HDD sitting in anti-static paper on my desk, just in case.

As I said to readers at, it's like I drew a card in a board game. "Hardware failure! Pay $200."

It was an expensive week, let me tell you. But it's good to have the PC running again, and to know that my target platforms are covered now.

Desura and Greenlight Follow-up

Last week, I talked about the effects of Desura and Greenlight on revenue. Before I depart today, I want to provide some follow-up data. Here's how things are looking, two weeks later:

Daily gross revenue in USD since launch.
The main thing we're looking at here is at the far right. Not surprisingly, the Desura and Greenlight launches produced a short-lived spike. I expected as much, so I'm not too disappointed.

However, the thing I was keen to see was how this spike differed, if at all, from the initial launch spike. Interestingly, I think the spike has about the same width as the March launch spike. It's not as high, but it lasts about the same amount of time: about 2 weeks.

Both spikes have tails beyond 2 weeks, of course, but that's an interesting figure to keep in mind if you're launching or making a big announcement. Expect roughly 2 weeks of activity to result from a PR push.

I'm also interested in seeing how long tail sales are impacted by the additional Desura channel and Greenlight PR. It's a bit soon to tell for sure, but so far, there's an additive effect. It's not quite enough to tread water, financially, but it helps.

That about does it for this post. Maybe someday I can create another sales spike, and do a follow-up with Android/iOS ;)

Monday, September 10, 2012

The Effects of Desura and Steam Greenlight

It's been about 5 months since I last spoke about NEO Scavenger sales. The playable demo and beta are both pretty advanced, compared to the game that released in March. And with its recent debut on Desura and Steam Greenlight, it's starting to get a lot more attention.

Since I've seen some folks discussing the impact of Greenlight on indie games, I thought I might share some (thinly veiled) data to illustrate my experiences.

How is NEO Scavenger Doing?

First up, how is NEO Scavenger doing? And for that matter, Blue Bottle Games in general?

NEO Scavenger development started way back in May 2011. It was almost a year before I was able to launch the beta, opening it up for pre-sale. Here's a snapshot of what that means, in terms of finances:

Figure 1: Daily gross revenue in USD since development started.
There are some interesting spikes in there, but the large majority of the past year and a half are low-to-zero income. That purple line represents my cost of living: paying rent, buying groceries, utilities, etc. It's missing a few spikes of its own, for things like software licenses, service fees, hardware, and such, so the cost is slightly higher than depicted. But it's good enough for comparison.

How do the peaks and troughs compare?

Figure 2: Revenue vs. Cost to-date
Unfavorably, I guess you'd say. We're still a long way from recovering our investment. However, NEO Scavenger has been selling more than cost of living during the past week. And while it's likely to be a spike similar to the first one (visible in Figure 1, around March 2012), it's possible that the additional sales channel of Desura means the subsequent trough may be closer to break-even cost of living per day.

Did Greenlight Affect NEO Scavenger Sales?

Yes. However, it's hard to say by how much. Here's a better look at the lead-up to Greenlight launch:

Figure 3: Daily gross revenue in USD since August 16, 2012
Prior to August 16th, I hadn't done too much to promote NEO Scavenger. I primarily published news on, which folks either followed directly, or read about on their forum of choice (primarily Something Awful forums).

However, on August 16th, I started integrating with IndieDB and ModDB, and publishing news there as well. Here are some details on the lettered annotations in Figure 3:

A - Launched on First news item published, and product page started.
B - Launched on Steam Greenlight.
C - Launched on Desura, and offered for sale.

As you can see, the IndieDB news was a pretty subtle effect. There were a few postings in the following days, and it started to create momentum, but it was hard to distinguish from the regular sales behavior.

Steam Greenlight caused a pretty significant surge, however. Over that whole weekend, awareness increased, and sales with it. It was a welcome financial shot in the arm.

Desura also caused a boost in awareness and sales. It's hard to tell if it's as great as Greenlight was, but it definitely caused its own spike. And what's more, Desura sales seem to have surpassed my own website's performance.

What's the Big Picture?

Figure 3 shows us some interesting data points, but what do they mean? Well, look back at Figure 1. Better yet, here's a zoomed-in version of it:

Figure 4: Daily gross revenue in USD since launch.
Greenlight was good, but take a look at that spike in March. What was that? Looking over Google Analytics, that month's biggest contributors were:

Figure 5: Top referrers to in March 2012
Rock Paper Shotgun was the leader by far, followed by Something Awful forums, YouTube, and Of course, not all of these referrers were definite sales, and as you can see by the gray portion of the pie chart, a large number of folks arrived via no referrer (i.e. direct URL).

That month was also the world's first taste of NEO Scavenger, so it likely had a larger proportion of visitors who were not yet customers.


So far, Greenlight has proven to be a valuable marketing tool, if nothing else. It drove a significant number of sales on its own, and the comments on the Greenlight page have served as a welcome ego boost. What's more, calculated approval rates appear to be growing slowly. They're only at 2% now, but it's good to see them grow over time. Perhaps once NEO Scavenger is ready for prime time, the votes will be nearing critical mass.

One unfortunate downside to Greenlight, however, is the lack of direct linking to my product page. I had to present a link to my demo as plain text in my Greenlight page, which means users must type the link manually to see it. I'm betting a significant number of users are lost to this barrier, despite their interest.

Additionally, Greenlight is still sorting out discoverability issues. People need to be led directly to my NEO Scavenger page there to know it exists. There are a few brave souls who browse the games, page-by-page, rating them all. But I suspect most are too tired to slog through the hundreds that are presented.

Desura has also proven to be a valuable partner. As a sales channel, it may even surpass my own website's. No doubt this is due, in large part, to the existing customer base and ease of reaching them/deploying builds. I'm very interested to see how it's sales performance changes over time. Will it prove to be another flash in the pan? Or, fingers crossed, will the additional sales channel help push NEO Scavenger daily revenue up to sustainable levels?

Finally, don't underestimate traditional coverage. RPS, Something Awful, and the other major players can really help to get the word out. In fact, this most recent surge in traffic is also largely driven by non-Steam sources, such as PC Gamer, The Indie Stone (Project Zomboid forums), Reddit, and RPGCodex. There's definitely a synergy effect going on, too.

It's a ton of work keeping up with the various sites that mention your game, but it's totally worth it. Show them you appreciate them, and they'll do the same!