Tuesday, October 9, 2012

NEO Scavenger's First Bundle

I almost forgot to write today! Must be the Thanksgiving leftovers messing with my brain :)

Selling NEO Scavenger via Bundle

NEO Scavenger was included in it's first bundle last week. The bundle is called Be Mine 5 (BM5), and is put together by Groupees.


The general idea is that customers can buy the following 3 games for any price they want, with a minimum of $1:

  1. NEO Scavenger
  2. King's Bounty: The Legend
  3. X-Blades
Spending at least $5 rewards the buyer with the following:
  1. Tropico 3
  2. Oddworld: Stranger's Wrath HD
  3. The Sixth Gun Vol 1 (pdf graphic novel)
  4. Sharknife: Stage First (pdf graphic novel)
  5. Wasteland Vol. 1: Cities in Dust (pdf graphic novel)
Every few days, they announce new goals, such as mp3 albums at 6500, or additional games at 8500 units sold.

Revenue is split among the developers/writers/musicians, and a 20% cut goes to a charity. In this case, it's MercyCorps.

Wait, Isn't NEO Scavenger Still in Beta?

Yes, it is. I told myself I'd wait on participating in bundles until later in the dev cycle. Perhaps once it was gold and sales had died down. In fact, I gently turned down the first invite from Groupees (as I did with other bundle providers).

Looking over their previous Be Mine and other bundles, they regularly net about 5k units sold. 10 on more successful runs. Some even quote dollar amounts, which was helpful. I estimated that an average run for them was about 5k units sold, at about $5 per unit.

Given the number of titles per bundle (~5 games, plus 3-8 books and albums), and that 20% goes to charity, I expected the revenue share to be pretty low. And running the numbers, it was probably on the order of a few thousand dollars.

Just to be clear, a few thousand dollars is nothing to shake a stick at. That pays rent, utilities, and groceries for a month or two. But I was afraid of what revenue I'd be giving up selling at pennies on the dollar. What if this saturates my market? Would I be selling myself out of future revenue for a short burst now?

On the other hand, that's potentially 5000 new people playing the game. Potentially 5000 new people talking about it. In exchange for the majority of revenue per copy, I get more copies sold, and more publicity. And as many indies have already figured out, raising awareness is at least half the battle.

"What the hell," I decided. I was pretty sure there were more than 5000 people out there who'd buy NEO Scavenger. In fact, I'd bet there could even be 50,000, judging by some voodoo napkin math when looking at Playtomic play stats, Steam Greenlight votes, sales, page hits, etc.

When Groupees got back to me, I decided to ask for more info. Their offer was about what I expected, though their sales expectations were much higher. (They originally had some lofty titles in negotiation, which probably skewed those estimates.) A few emails later, I decided to sign the contract.

So? Was It Worth It?

As is always the case with data at Game Dev Gone Rogue, things are still developing :) 

The BM5 bundle launched last Thursday (Oct. 4th) at midnight. The offer runs for 2 weeks, so we're coming up on the end of week 1. As of this post, the bundle is selling better than my expectations, and more in-line with their other Be Mine bundles:

Figure 1: Not bad!
Of course, units can sell for as little as $1. However, the highest donation so far was $425, and with a bonus offered at $5, I expect we'll see an average price of $4-5 per bundle.

Web traffic also increased. The BM5 promotion roughly doubled visitors over the past few days:

Figure 2: Also not bad!
Given that the BM5 site doesn't directly link to bluebottlegames.com, that's pretty cool. It means a lot of people are bothering to learn more about NEO Scavenger than usual.

"Wait, BM5 doesn't link to your product page? What gives?"

True, this might seem a bit counter-intuitive. Though readers who have run promotions before won't be too surprised. The point is to sell bundles, and raise money for charity, first and foremost. So it doesn't make sense for them to lead viewers to another purchase option directly. 

However, they were good enough to direct-link to my Greenlight page. And the effects were pretty staggering:

Fligure 3: Blowing the average out of the water.
This is what game authors see on their Greenlight dashboard. It's a graph showing voting trends over the past week, compared to what an average top 100 game in Greenlight gets. The tiny green slivers on Wednesday and Thursday are what I'm used to seeing.

Following the BM5 launch, though, NEO Scavenger skyrocketed to four times the top 100 average, and is still holding at several multiples above what it used to be. What's more, NEO Scavenger ascended ranks from #71 to #62 in a matter of days. As a Greenlight promotion tool, BM5 was an unequivocal success.

So What About Sales?

What about the thing that scared me? Did the bundle cannibalize sales?

So far, that's a definite "no." In fact, I'm still watching the data to see if it might actually be the reverse. Sales at Desura appear almost unchanged so far. They're the usual spike-and-trough I've been seeing in days previous to BM5.

Sales through bluebottlegames.com, however, have either not changed or increased (depending on the weekend effect). These direct sales fluctuate a lot, even before BM5, so it's hard to pinpoint cause and effect. What I can say is that the days following BM5 have been better than average, but not-quite-media-event big.

Conclusion

Am I glad I did it? I am, actually. I won't know for some time whether there were any cannibalizing effects, and what the final tallies are in terms of sales and publicity. But it has definitely helped in the past few days, and might be just the kind of surge needed to level-up NEO Scavenger's success.

Plus, I was treated to some really entertaining mini-reviews of NEO Scavenger in unsuspecting players' hands:

MagSlug
It's like a Choose Your Own Adventure book combined with the early "explore the world" phase from a Civilization game combined with that one scene from They Live where Keith David and Rowdy Roddy Piper beat each other up in an alley.
or this pair:

Robert Miller
Who cares? As an indie bundle addict with hundreds of steam games I've never touched, I can say that Neo Scavenger is by far my favourite game in this bundle. It's tons of fun, even if it is still in Alpha and incredibly difficult.
nickelpat
Robert: I feel the same way. I bought it for Stranger's Wrath, but thought "Ah, what the hell, might as well check out this non-Steam piece of crap game." Yeah... still playing it.
Encouragement doesn't pay the bills, but it definitely feeds the soul :)

Every indie game and studio needs different things, so this isn't a one-size-fits-all case. But it's yet another valuable tool to consider when growing a brand. There's no doubt that bundles are a fast way to ratchet up awareness of your game. And it gets you a small boost in income.

On the flip side, it's sales at a fraction of the revenue you're probably used to. Especially if you sell your game in the double-digit dollar range.

I'll probably shy away from doing more bundles in the near future, at least until NEO Scavenger gets further along. I have a feeling that even in successful cases like this one, I would see diminishing returns from overusing the bundle approach. I'd like to try out some other tools before coming back to bundles.

However, I'll definitely be looking into bundles for later in the NEO Scavenger sales cycle, as well as for future titles.

11 comments:

  1. Oh great, all I needed was another series of bundles to be constantly tempting me! Out of curiosity, how did Groupees learn about NEO Scavenger? Anything specific or just general awareness? I remember reading an article saying that the benefits of bundles and sales far outweigh the drawbacks (people buying it for less, or assuming the regular asking price is too much), but I would think it'd be worth going in on a bundle if for no other reason that your game gets to be part of an awesome montage!

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    1. I'm actually not sure. Some of the games they were negotiating had a post-apocalyptic theme, so perhaps that's how. They're also pretty indie-focused (though less-so this bundle).

      Could be Greenlight, too. The top 100 are an easy list to review and look over for someone looking for indie games.

      And I think the bundle has succeeded in the way you describe: more awareness, revenue boost. I don't expect people will start wanting the price to come down, either.

      $10 is pretty cheap already, as games go. Especially games with NEO Scavenger's complexity. I've often considered actually raising the price, based on what fans tell me. But for now, $10-25 standard price seems like a good, medium range. Leaves room for sales (like the BM5 bundle), but also up-sell editions.

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  2. If this is a duplicate can you delete one? Soz bit tired and comment systems are mad things.

    Hello :) I just wanted to thank you for your blog! It's interesting and informative and loads of things beginning in in. Ing. I downloaded the bundle too tho I don't think your game will run on my aged ... well, nevm one day I'll upgrade. But it's the blog I like. Tx!

    Longime Lurker Av

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    1. Thanks raidsandthings! Hopefully I can continue to share info that you guys find useful and interesting. Going indie is a scary thing, so I try to help where I can!

      As for NEO Scavenger running on old hardware, what type of machine are you using? I use a pretty old laptop for testing XP here (@2001, http://www.powernotebooks.com/specs/PowerPro/c3-16.php), and it's a bit slow, but it runs.

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  3. Woohoo - 4g ram laptop but 956 intel chipset :( . I'm not at raidsandthings anymore btw but I was so tired last night I used my old blog to sign the comment. Will see if your game runs today while waiting for a builder. Our project is a hobby, so not in your league at all but you discuss the stuff we're discussing and in depth. That's part why we love ya!

    Av

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    1. 4gb ram, what a luxury! (My main rig only had that until about a year ago :)

      It's funny, when I read "our project is a hobby," I was reminded of my own start-up phase. It was only a year and a half ago that I was saying the same thing!

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  4. Dan, I would like to know if there're detailed instructions for the game anywhere. I find I'm googling for answers a lot, and it's too early for the Wiki to be a lot of use. One thing I would like to know is whether the cryo chamber can ever be fixed up to be a safe place to sleep and to leave items behind securely, or indeed whether there's any such place.

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  5. Hi G,

    Unfortunately, the instructions for the game are still pretty rough. I started writing some back when the game first came out:
    http://bluebottlegames.com/main/node/46

    but they're pretty basic, and with the game changing so frequently, I decided to wait until it was more stable.

    Folks on the forums tend to be pretty good with sharing strategy and tips on the game:
    http://bluebottlegames.com/main/forum

    And the info there can often be more up-to-date as folks ask about recent feature changes, etc.

    Regarding your question about the cryo facility, it's possible to fix up some amenities within it for comfort. And it can provide a fairly concealed campsite, making it harder for NPCs to spot you or find your stuff to loot. (Note: this is true for any campsite with a high concealment stat)

    Overall, though, there isn't any totally safe place to sleep or stash loot. NPCs always have a chance to see a campsite, even if it's really low.

    I may do a completely safe house somewhere in the future, such as in the DMC. But that's just an item on my wishlist for now.

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  6. Thanks Dan.

    NEO Scavenger is shaping up to be really special.

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  7. I think the 'hardcore' gaming thing is hard to balance right; the combat could do with a look.

    I was scavenging - hidden, with tracks covered, and attracted a dogman. Combat started with him two spaces away.

    I was very well equipped (cleaver) and in very good condition. I'd chosen the Strong and Melee traits. I'd killed a dogman unarmed in the cryo chamber at the start and another one later, with a crowbar - no sweat. I'd recently killed a bandit and got his rifle, and was pushing a trolley full of supplies. I'd just spent 15 minutes of my life organising this trolley and three backpacks.

    Because the dogman was so close and it was bad terrain retreat would have been a desperate option, so I parried, then caught him in a trap. I got three good hits in with my cleaver before he was able to strike back once with a 'graze'. He wasn't for running away so I traded blow for blow for three turns, hitting him each time. Third time he hit me, I died of 'cardiac arrest'.

    There was no right way to play the situation. Escape was no safer than confrontation (due to the terrain, tripping) and would have seemed too conservative a strategy given past outcomes. The dogman appeared too near for me to swap to my gun and fire, so I was committed to melee combat. I chose my moves well and got lucky rolls, but still died, following an optimal strategy under the best conditions.

    I can endure an unlucky setback, but sudden and arbitrary death is an absolute turn-off. I can't face going back to the game, cos it's not a safe investment of time and I don't see how I can learn from the situation and do better next time around. In an ideal game, defeat is always your own fault in some sense.

    This is meant in the spirit of constructive criticism; I'm sure the right balance can be achieved but it's not there yet.

    The other thing I wanted to mention is, when there're updates, do I get them in-game somehow or do I need to re-download from somewhere? I got the Be Mine pack - does that only get me that version or all future updates?

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  8. I'll start with the easy question first :)

    The Be Mine bundle comes with both a DRM-free download and a Desura key. The DRM-free download from their site won't update itself, so you'll need to re-download once a new build is ready.

    Using the Desura key, you should have access to new builds as they become available, either via their client or direct download. Their client will auto-update your build for you, but the direct d/l must be kicked off manually.

    Now, to the hard question: that of game balance and hardcore-ness.

    I started responding here, but quickly broke the character limit for comments. Plus, this is a discussion I think my players would enjoy reading/participating in, so I hope it's okay if I continue this there. Here's the link:
    http://bluebottlegames.com/main/node/994

    tl/dr: You make a good point, and I think out loud about the problem and propose some solutions.

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