Monday, April 2, 2012

Sales, Metrics, and Doing the Right Thing

Later this week, I'll have hit the 1-month anniversary of NEO Scavenger's launch. The initial few weeks of heart palpitations have given way to a more calm work day, and the never ending stream of emails and forum posts have tapered off to a more manageable rate.

Month 1 Sales

Even though I touched on sales last post, I thought it would be useful to follow-up on that with recent developments. Below, I included a graph of daily NEO Scavenger sales since launch.

Month 1 Sales, in Dollars Per Day

Blue Bottle Games officially announced on March 5th. Initially, I only announced the launch in my social circles: Facebook, G+, Twitter, and here. You can see a tiny blip that week, representing the 4 or so sales as a result. I've also overlaid a red line representing the number of dollars I need to earn each day to stay afloat. Basically, every day I hit that mark, I can afford to work another day.

As mentioned in last month's post, press coverage made a big difference in sales. You can see the major upswing in sales as a result of nearly concurrent interviews, preview/reviews, and forum threads surfacing about NEO Scavenger. In addition to traffic from the articles directly, I did my best to run around the internet, commenting in threads and on articles about the game, answering questions, and generally letting people know I'm trying to interact. The first uptick in sales after the initial peak was the result of posting in the Something Awful thread that appeared, and the second was a MetaFilter thread.

As expected, sales taper off over time, and are settling into a few copies sold per day. I expect this rate will remain pretty constant without outside influence. There are two upcoming website spots that I'll be watching closely, to see if they produce similar echoes to the first coverage period.

Has it been a success? Hard to say at this point. It's at least paid for March and most of April development costs. However, if one counts my unpaid wages between last May and today, that's a huge money pit yet unfilled. Business expenses are also missing here (licenses, registration fees, printing costs, etc.). Hardly a lucrative investment so far :)

However, I have put little effort into promoting NEO Scavenger. Most of the coverage of the game has been due to the press scooping the game before I contacted them. And most seem willing to talk about the game again in the future, as it develops.

Furthermore, I have yet to try the demo out on portals such as Kongregate and Newgrounds. I expect that putting it there will garner additional visitors to Blue Bottle Games, and potentially customers. I've been waiting for the right time to do so, mainly due to bug and feature development. I think there are a few extra things worth adding to NEO Scavenger, to make it more attractive, before announcing the game to additional audiences.

Finally, I've also decided I'd like to try and make a downloadable client for the game. A number of fans have asked, and I think it makes sense to do so. It'll also open up additional sales channels, such as Steam,, Desura, and other outlets. Indie games are gaining serious momentum in direct sales portals, so I may be well-timed to take advantage of the trend.


I've been using Playtomic to track game play statistics, and so far, I've been pretty pleased with the service. It has some rough patches to sort out, but the service was a snap to integrate, is free, and has been quite valuable.

I currently have over 90,000 plays, and over 50,000 views of the NEO Scavenger Demo/Beta pair. The average play time is close to 90 minutes, which I'm thrilled about. It's not Kongregate or Newgrounds numbers, which can often be an order of magnitude more plays, but this is only from Blue Bottle Games traffic, a site which did not exist two months ago.

The site itself uses Google Analytics, which is a brilliant service, and I've hardly scratched the surface. For reference, Blue Bottle Games has had almost 30,000 unique visitors since launch, and almost 2500 registered users. (Registering is free, and provides the user a means to post in the forums, as well as a way to purchase the game.)

I've mainly been using Analytics's daily traffic dashboard and referrer logs. I use it to gauge relative traffic, and track incoming links to see if news has broken someplace. Google Alerts is also useful in this regard.

Doing the Right Thing

One other thing came up which I'd like to discuss. NEO Scavenger had its first major design decision made since launch, regarding saving and permadeath.

Initially, NEO Scavenger had no save feature. When a player died, that was it. Game over. Later, the save game feature grew in prominence on the feature voting page. I was admittedly nervous about making the wrong call on how to implement it, but I went to work on the feature.

A week later, the feature was in, and most of the bugs were sorted out. Players could save at any time, and load at any time. While there was only one load slot, the player could load as many times as they liked. That's when I stumbled across some interesting discussions (both at BBG and off-site) about the decision to add save games, and how that changed the feel of the game.

Folks were concerned that the game had become something different: that fear no longer played into decisions, and the game was starting to feel less original and challenging. When permadeath was in place, many players admittedly chickened out when faced with the House at Seven Gables quest. They saw the house, read the spooky description, looked back over all the struggle they endured to stay alive thus far, and said "Nope, not happening."

It was a beautiful example of exactly the kind of role-playing I was hoping to provide.

Fast forward to a later game where saving was possible, and players would just save the game, and continue without fear. They'd explore each path with impunity, and then move on to the next encounter. The entire experience was robbed of its weight.

After reading through the many discussions, I had to ask myself: why was I adding save games? It was meant to be a tool for the player to solve problems outside the game world. Namely, players who needed to walk away from the browser and wanted to come back later. It was not, however, meant to be a tool for dealing with in-game issues.

Several proponents of save games argued (rightly) that the game was unfair at times, killing players with random dice rolls and no way to mitigate the disaster. To them, save games were a way to make these game balance failures easier to swallow. And while that is one way to address such game design failures, it wasn't in the spirit of NEO Scavenger.

Instead, I want to provide players with in-game tools to deal with in-game problems. I want them to have more operational discretion in combat, for example, and more ways to deal with wounds than just waiting to die. I want the player's choice to be what decides their fate, and relegate chance to a minor role.

So I updated the save game one more time: based on some good suggestions, and some follow-up research into how other rogue-likes handle it, I decided to make save games delete on player death. I briefly considered making save games delete on load, but quickly reconsidered when it occurred to me that browser crashing  might lead to total game loss. At least on player death, I can be sure the player got a full game in.

The result? Hard to say, empirically. I know a number of fans are relieved, and happy to see the game restored to it's original challenge. I think the solution is a nice compromise in player convenience and challenge. And it just "feels right" to me. It's the way I want to play NEO Scavenger. It's true to the vision I have for the game. It's one of the things that makes NEO Scavenger unique, and keeps players talking about it.

It may be a no-brainer for some out there, and maybe this doesn't seem like a big enough deal to blog about. But it was a big deal for me. It was one of my first public game design decisions, and forced me to identify what NEO Scavenger is, and who it's for. It forced me to admit this isn't a game for mainstream audiences. That this is a game for people like me, who want the challenge and role-playing opportunities with real consequences. For people who are more interested in the journey than the destination. It feels good to identify that goal, almost like a crisis of identity averted.

Speaking of, I should probably get back to work, so I can avoid the crisis of falling behind :)