Saturday, April 21, 2018

Primordia Sales Data

With the untimely death of Steam Spy, independent developers have lost one of the few free sources of game sales data. My friend Vincewith his transparency about The Age of Decadence, a game I adore—has convinced me that developers need to fill that gap by sharing their own data with others who might need it. In that spirit, here are some facts on Primordia.

Primordia has sold just about 200,000 copies for a total of a bit over $600,000 from December 2012 until now.  (Note that there is some lag time here because I receive sales data from the publisher a month after the publisher receives it from Steam and GOG, which is itself delayed a month for Steam and as much as a quarter for GOG.)  That means that the average (mean) sales price is about three bucks, 30% of the listed price of $9.99.

Of those sales, around 40,000 were from junk bundles that yielded almost no money (~$7,000 or something ludicrous like that). Unfortunately, Primordia was never included in the one bundle that makes some economic sense (the Humble Bundle). Of the remaining 160,000 sales that I consider more meaningful, about 46,000 were through GOG, 7,000 through the App Store (for the iOS port), with almost all of the remaining 107,000 through Steam (a very, very trivial number were sold directly by the publisher through BMT Micro).

Primordia sold well at launch (about 43k non-bundle copies in its first year), and has had a long tail (21k, 19k, 22k, 39k copies in each of the next four years, excluding iPhone sales).  But the overwhelming majority of the copies were sold, even during the first year, in the seasonal sales on Steam and GOG.  The only other time considerable copies were sold was during non-seasonal themed sales in which Primordia and a small number of other games were featured. Sales span multiple months, making it hard for me to break the data down. But in 2017, for instance, during months in which Primordia was discounted at least some of the time, we tended to move around 6,000 copies, while during non-discounted months, we moved around 150 copies.

In terms of the proceeds, of the $600,000, the first 30% went to distributors (GOG, Steam, and the bundlers). A further cut was taken by the publisher. What remained was divided among the three of us who developed the game (Victor, James, and me), not quite evenly initially but evenly now.  My own share has worked out to about $110,000 (for a game that took two and a half years to develop, and which I have tried to continue supporting for another five), which is to say 18% of the gross sales. Those proceeds have been divided about (1) a third to taxes; (2) a third to support (a) other developers through Kickstarter and charities and (b) our own development of Fallen Gods and Cloudscape (no out-of-pocket expenses for Strangeland); and (3) a third as “take-home” income.

I have always viewed Primordia as a surprising, resounding success commercially and, more importantly, in terms of player engagement. A devil’s advocate, or my own sometimes pessimistic self, might say that Primordia proves that it makes little economic sense to develop such games. After all, even assuming we could churn out a game that sold as well as Primordia every two years  or so, that would yield less than the median salary for an American game designer (different sites put that median between $60,000 and $85,000, plus benefits). And what if it sold less? As far as I know, Primordia is the third-best-selling game made in Adventure Game Studio, below Gemini Rue and the Cat Lady but above the rest, despite many of these being truly excellent games. Probability suggests that our next title might not be as fortunate. Faced with this math, and with an ever-growing field of excellent indie games on Steam, one could be discouraged.

Instead of being discouraged, I’ve spent even longer working on my next game, an RPG (Fallen Gods) in a market much more saturated than retro point-and-click adventures. To me, far from being in an omigod were going to need to bury millions of E.T. cartridges in the desert panic, matters are much more positive. As the song goes: “Look around, look around at how lucky we are to be alive right now!” This is a golden age for developing games. 

When I started out trying to make games in the 1990s, they had to be coded more or less from scratch, and it was extremely hard to connect with artists interested in, and capable of, making game graphics. Friends and I tried valiantly many times and got nowhere close to making a finished game; if we had, we would have had to try selling it as shareware. This wasn’t impossible—David Gray’s inspirational Hugo series of adventure games was made under just such conditions in the ’90s, and so were Jeff Vogel’s inspirational Exile series and Forgotten Sages’ amazing Gladiator (and dozens of other games I played to death back in those days). But it was a very steep climb. For me, the challenge was insurmountable.

Nowadays, Steam provides a huge sales portal to anyone who wants it and GOG provides a smaller, but more receptive, audience; Twitter, Facebook, Reddit, and niche game forums provide direct contact with customers; a huge panoply of streamers, Steam curators, and gaming news sites provide broad outreach; positive Steam reviews provide a perpetual motion machine for indie developers, as every positive review draws in additional customers who leave reviews; and a variety of engines (Unity, Love2D, AGS, RPG Maker, ChoiceScript, Inform 7, Twine, etc., etc.) provide relatively easy means to develop relatively professional games.  Moreover, the internet brings together people who want to make games from all over the world, an embarrassment of riches in terms of possible collaborators. And with Google Translate, I (and any other developer) can communicate (after a fashion) with players posting comments in Hungarian, Farsi, Mandarin, etc., who I would otherwise never have had a chance to meet.

If you had told me when I was toiling away on my fifth failed adolescent effort to develop an adventure or an RPG that in a scant 20 years I’d be able to work with amazing people from all over the world in turnkey development environments and super-easy distribution channels, I doubt I would’ve believed it. If you had then told me that hundreds of thousands of people would have bought a game I worked on, I would’ve started getting upset that you were clearly making fun of me. And if you’d added that thousands of those players would have provided bottomless moral support in reviews, tweets, emails, posts, translations, plushies, paintings, songs, sculptures, etc., I would probably have started backing away slowly in the face of such obvious madness.

How lucky I am to be making games right now. And one of my greatest joys has been hearing that the creators of the amazing games like Paradigm, K’Nossos, and Neofeud were inspired by Primordia to bring their own great games into the world. Of course, I hope that Primordia’s tail keeps growing indefinitely, as in Wanda Gág’s The Funny Thing, and that Fallen Gods manages to enjoy the same support when, at last, I cross “RPG” off the same adolescent bucket list that had “adventure” on it until December 2012. But even if Primordia stopped being sold tomorrow, I would count it a grand success. Hopefully the data in this post will, in some small way, help others enjoy successes of their own.

Tuesday, April 17, 2018

Fallen Gods Update #4: The Fallen God

Before you stands a man warped by time and wrath, crook-backed and bitter, barely able to heft the sword in his hand. Others crowd about, like and yet unlike the first, each twisted in his own way, smeared on stones so smooth and bright that they are like looking glasses. It is a maze made of you, and staring into it, you seem to see into your self.

The titular hero (or anti-hero) of our game may be fallen, but he is still a god. And even when cut off from Orm’s great soul-hoard in Skyhold, a son of the Cloudlands has many gifts that set him apart from mortal men.
The first is that he is very hard to kill for good. Only a few things are strong enough to make his soul abandon his flesh and bones. Most deaths merely mangle his body, and a few days and a bit of soul-strength are enough to heal even the ghastliest wounds. (Of course, every day is precious to a fallen god who must make it home within three months.)
Indeed, Ormfolk are very hard to kill at all, for even the most bumbling of them has a strength and skill with the sword that outstrips most hardened earthly fighters. And a god can grow even greater in might and wits by drawing on his soul-strength—“leveling up” in RPG parlance, though here at the cost of the same hard-won “mana” (i.e., soul) pool that feeds his greatest skills.

For a god, even a fallen god, has skills beyond swordplay. The player’s god has two out of the following five such skills: Soulfire (by which he can kindle souls into a holy blaze that can burn away curses or burn up foes); Healing Hands (by which he can heal wounds and cure sickness in himself and others); Death Lore (by which he can speak to the dead, calling on their wisdom or driving off restless undead draugar); Wild Heart (by which he can bend beasts to his will or cause the woods themselves to hasten him on his way); and Foresight (by which he can see what lies in distant lands or times to come). These too draw on soul-strength.
And a god has his “fetch,” the fylgja of Norse mythology (or “familiar” in folklore and modern fantasy). As the lore holds, a god’s fetch is female (a bitch wolf, a vixen, a hen raven, or a she eagle); a goddess’s would be male. Each fetch has its own advantages. For instance, the wolf fights beside you in battle, while the eagle can strike foes unaware before battle. Fetches also unlock new paths, such as letting your vixen lead starving miners astray to get them out of your way in the “Lost Ones” event.

Finally, the fallen god starts with a mighty item from the Cloudlands, such as the Lur, a horn that can stir the slumbering heart or clear the muddled head of any mortal man. And he will find more as he goes. Our items (as will be discussed in a later update) are like Lone Wolf’s: each is significant, providing not just a noticeable statistical bonus but also new abilities (like crossing streams with the Fording Stone) and new opportunities in events (such as covering an escape by opening the Fog Pot).
All of this power depends on soul-strength. When the god stirs the faith of men and women with mighty deeds (a faith born of fear and a faith born of love are equal sources of this strength), they freely yield some or all of their souls to him. He can also take soul-strength in harsher ways, such as killing lingering beings of old that are still swollen with souls from when they were gods themselves. And there are darker tricks still, like the Soultrap, which snares a soul as it leaves a dying body. One way or the other, perhaps one way and all the others, the fallen god must gather enough soul-strength to win his way home.
I’ve been writing primarily about the mechanical aspects of the god: what the player can do with the god and to the god. There’s a reason for that. The best way to define a character in a game is by the gameplay. Gameplay is like the “showing” of a character in the shopworn “show, don’t tell” writing advice, while narrative is like the “telling.” I’ve mentioned this in connection with Horatio in Primordia: he had to be a scavenger and a tinkerer and a near-pacifist because scavenging and tinkering and eschewing violence are important point-and-click conventions. Horatio needed to be laconic because with so many other characters, if he were a chatterbox the dialogue would become too extensive. Thus, his core traits were dictated (and I would say demonstrated) by the gameplay before any narrative. The same lesson applies to the god in Fallen Gods.
That lesson was first suggested to me in the mid-90s by Scott Dudley, who was making the ill-starred and in-hindsight-troublingly-named Legend of Talibah, a PC Japanese-style RPG. I was a high schooler well into my own ill-starred PC jRPG making career, and I corresponded a bit with Scott about his game, which featured a party member named “Staulker.” I opined that this name seemed a little much, and he replied that Staulker would prove his bad-assery in combat, which, he explained, was really the way that you show a player that a character is cool. A few years later the same lesson was repeated by Suikoden, in which the also ridiculously named Kwanda “Iron Wall” Rosman (an enemy general who could turn coat and join you) was defined primarily by his absurdly high defense statistic, and others of the 108 “Stars of Destiny” were similarly defined by look-and-feel rather than expository dialogue. Yet more years later, Chris Avellone made the same point about western cRPG companions (specifically, that players reacted to them primarily based on how useful they were).

So what character traits arise from the gameplay constraints in Fallen Gods? Well, the game doesn’t really have “quests” in the way a typical contemporary RPG does (i.e., meet NPC; learn about NPC’s problem; visit other NPCs to learn yet more context; discover various solutions; choose a solution; implement it over multiple steps; return to receive a reward). Our encounters usually resolve quickly, with a single paragraph of text describing the dilemma, a single multiple-choice decision resolving the dilemma, and another single paragraph describing that resolution. In order for those thin dilemmas to have meaning, they need to be about the god’s interests, since there is no pathos-laden dialogue tree to make the NPC’s interests compelling.

Thus, they typically take the form of, “Someone is between you and something you want: how can you get it most cheaply?” Whether a foe’s barring your path, a friend’s sharing a gift, or a stranger’s offering a reward, the god’s instinct is to give up as little as he can and get as much as he can. The game’s overall narrative needs to establish and reinforce this self-interest, and so the god—who is, after all, trying to escape the world’s sorrows and not lift them—must be a self-interested figure.
This self-interest is further compelled by constraints on interactions with followers. A mainstay of RPGs since Baldur’s Gate (arguably, since Ultima IV) has been intra-party interactions in which the player character talks to, and usually panders to, his companions. The more the player panders, the more his companion opens up, either as a romantic partner or a troubled friend in need of therapy, or both (as in Bioware games). This entails multi-stage, elaborate dialogue trees (e.g., the Circle of Zerthimon) delving deeply into the rich history and unique psyche of the NPC.

Fallen Gods has no dialogue trees. And the followers in the warband are not unique characters. Each berserk is like other berserks, each churl like other churls, and so forth. Mostly, they are ciphers like “hirelings” in Neverwinter Nights or Diablo II or soldiers in X-COM. Even when they interject thoughts and participate in events, they do so as fairly generic types, rather than as rich individuals, like a thinner version of the Clan Circle in King of Dragon Pass.
Image result for clan circle king of dragon pass
Thus, the god simply cannot be a thoughtful leader of men like Shepard in Mass Effect or The Nameless One in Planescape: Torment, one who takes the time to learn in excruciating detail the lives of his followers. He, like the player, must view his followers as chess pieces: means to an end rather than Kantian “ends in themselves.” He is again motivated by self-interest: what can they do for me and what must I do for them? That is true whether he’s giving them orders or giving them gifts. The latter is an important, thematic part of a saga-inspired setting: to be a leader is to be a ring-giver. But unlike gifts used in Dragon Age: Origins to foster romance and delve deeper into psychoanalysis, these gifts are given only to strengthen the followers and reinforce the bonds of loyalty tying them to the god. If a churl began to share sob stories from his rough childhood, the god would almost certainly stare him into shamed silence.

This overriding self-interest will likely create a gap between what the player wishes his avatar would do and the game lets his avatar do. Generally speaking, people want to do good, and that desire is particularly strong in single-player games, where doing good carries no meaningful cost (maybe a little less fictitious money paid to your avatar as a reward for his quest). People call this a “power fantasy.” Fine. But it is emblematic of the noblest aspect of fantasy: its ability to train us to view doing good as the proper exercise of power.
Fallen Gods has a crueler edge to its fantasy. Although the gods’ foes are mostly wickeder than he is, and although he is certainly capable of doing some good in the world, his motivations are ultimately selfish. He can be bold and open-handed, fearless before fearful odds, clever in outwitting evil minds… but at bottom, he is not on earth to accrue Paragon points, but simply to achieve escape velocity, no matter what gets scorched in his wake or battered down along his runway. Rather than a fantasy in which the player can practice goodness, it is a fantasy that hopefully will leave the player convinced he can do better in this world than the fallen god does in the game’s world, even if the player doesn’t have the same panoply of powers.

NEXT UPDATE: Witches and Dwergs. 

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Many people have asked about our pixel graphics.  They are made, dot by dot, by Daniel Miller, an avant-garde artist currently doing a series of residencies in Asia.  He actually does very little pixel art. While his live performances cannot be captured on a website, you can get a taste for the breadth of his work in his online galleries (as is not uncommon of artists portfolios’, these contain nudity): and

A little over a year ago, I talked with Dan Felder, a thoughtful commentator about P&P RPGs, about how gameplay considerations should dictate character- and world-building.  You can listen to the two parts of the interview on YouTube: Part 1 and Part 2.

King of Dragon Pass, mentioned in previous updates as a significant influence on Fallen Gods, is a gem of a game.  You can get it for PC (75% off as of 4/17/18) or iPhone. The great folks behind it are in the process of making a sequel entitled Six Ages, which looks marvelous.

I fell out of touch with Scott Dudley decades ago, but was pleased to see that he went on to be not merely a successful game developer but something of a renaissance man.  Heres his website:

Thursday, April 5, 2018

Primordia: Deutsche Übersetzung | German Translation

Mit großer Freude können wir heute verkünden: Primordia ist auf Deutsch verfügbar! Nach über einem Jahr unermüdlicher – wenn auch nicht ununterbrochener – Arbeit ist diese Übersetzung nun die dritte, die offiziell von Wormwood Studios herausgegeben wird. Jonas, der Übersetzer, konnte so auf die Erfahrung von Flavien Gaillard und Eduardo Moreno Martín zurückgreifen, denen wir schon die französische beziehungsweise die spanische Ausgabe von Primordia verdanken. Das, was Jonas erreicht hat, ist aber nicht nur Ergebnis der harten Arbeit von ihm und den Testern, sondern ist auch dem Enthusiasmus der deutschen Primordia-Fans zu verdanken, die Jonas bei diesem enormen Unterfangen immer wieder ermutigt haben.

Aus geschäftspolitischen Gründen hat Wadjet Eye Games diese Übersetzung weder befürwortet noch getestet und wird sie selbst auch nicht verbreiten. Aus diesem Grund kann die Übersetzung nur über die Primordia-Webseite heruntergeladen werden und ist nicht direkt über Steam, GOG oder die WEG-Seite verfügbar. Aufgrund der relativ überschaubaren Menge an Testern können Probleme oder Fehler in der Übersetzung bestehen. Wir wollen diesen Patch ebenso gewissenhaft und begeistert unterstützen wie das Spiel selbst – deshalb freuen wir uns über sämtliche Rückmeldungen zu Fehlern, so dass wir diese beheben können.

Wir hoffen, die deutsche Übersetzung bereitet Euch genauso viel Vergnügen, wie sie Jonas und dem Rest von uns bei ihrer Erstellung gemacht hat ... und vielleicht das kleine Bisschen Frustration, das zu jedem guten Adventure-Spiel gehört! 

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We are delighted to announce Jonas's German translation of Primordia, the third Wormwood Studios-approved translation of the game. It is the culmination of over a year of tireless—though occasionally interrupted—work by Jonas, who drew on the experience of the translators who brought the game to French (Flavien Gaillard) and Spanish (Eduardo Moreno Martín), and the assistance of friends and testers.  Jonas's achievement reflects not only his and his testers' hard work, and Flavien and Eduardo's hard-won experience, but also the enthusiasm of Primordia's German fans, who encouraged Jonas to undertake and complete this massive project. 

For business reasons, Wadjet Eye Games declined to test, endorse, or distribute the translation. Accordingly, it is currently necessary to download a patch through the Primordia website, rather than through Steam or GOG or the WEG site. Because of the relatively small number of testers, there may be glitches or errors in the translation. We intended to support this patch as diligently and enthusiastically as we've supported Primordia itself, so please report any bugs so that they can be fixed. 

We hope that the translation brings you as much pleasure in playing as it brought Jonas and the rest of us in its creation, and perhaps just a little bit of the frustration — because no adventure game should be too easy!

Grab it here: