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  • Postmortem: Spaceslingers

    - Drew McIntosh
  • Find the original post here:

    This is the part two of my original post A Pre-Post Mortem About Marketing, if you haven't read that, I highly recommend you do so as I won't be covering the same material here and a lot of people found the original post helpful.

    So what does a successful failure look like? Well, first, let's talk about success.

    I had two pretty clear goals in mind when it came to launching Spaceslingers. Goal 1 was to learn the process of launching a commercial game through Steam. I've made many games over my last 15 years (on and off) of hobbyist game dev, but I had never made something that I had tried to sell and, as I started along the path of graduating from amateur to professional indie dev, that's a very clear and obvious hurdle that needs to be leapt over. I released the game, so that's this goal achieved.

    Goal 2 was to make back the money I had to spend in order to make the game. I wasn't looking for profit, I was looking to break even in direct dollars that came out of my bank account. I managed to make the game with $0 in external costs (besides, of course, the cost of my time), so I essentially had to make back the Steam fee and I was in the clear for this goal. Did I do it? Yes, but juuuuust barely.

    So I managed to achieve both my goals and I'm genuinely happy with that result. I learnt a LOT that I can apply in the future, which was really the meta-goal of both of my actual goals and I think I know where and how to improve for the next one.

    However, this is where the failure comes in. When developers think of a game being a success, they are generally thinking in terms of how much money it made. Critical acclaim, everyone loving your game, achieving internally set goals...All of that is great, of course, but that won't pay the bills by itself. If I had to rely on the income from Spaceslingers to live by, I would've died a cold, lonely death from starvation a long time. This is not what would generally be called a success.

    Before we forge ahead, let me briefly explain what Spaceslingers is so the article is a little less abstract. Spaceslingers is a physics based puzzle game revolving around delivering packages to target planets using gravitational slingshots. The game uses the actual formula for gravity F=G*M*m/r2 (almost all space games don't use this, they instead use the Patched Conic method, which essentially boils down to only calculating two bodies at once) and avoids the N-body problem by...well, brute forcing it in a small enough arena. It also has interstellar bodies that are both real and proposed, such as blackholes, wormholes and whiteholes.

    Now that's out of the way, let's go over some points I came to learn as I trod the (well-beaten, at this point) path towards professional indie development...


    First, let's get the stats out of the way. Here's some of the publicly available data about the game:

    SteamDB is one of the only public sites that shows some stats for Spaceslingers (that I could find) and as you can see, the number of players is very low, with the peak being two and the blue morse code along the bottom of the graph being little periods of 1 players.

    The owner estimations are also hilariously off, so remember to take that with a grain of salt if you're ever looking through info on games. I got a 100% positive rating, which is true, but means nothing unless people are finding and playing the game (and also, with the small number of reviews I've gotten, all it would take is a bad review or two to highly skew that number in a different direction).

    So I did not sell many copies at all. Now, avoiding NDA breaking situations, let's look at a cropped version of my actual sales history:

    The first burst is obviously the launch. I launched with a price-point of $7.99 US ($10.99 in my home currency of AUD) and a 10% discount. It definitely felt good to see copies selling but it was also immediately clear that things weren't looking super sunny on the sales front.

    The second two spikes are Christmas period, which I had no sale going on for and I can't really account for any reason beyond people doing some Christmas shopping. By this point, I had very clearly come to the understanding that the game was not going to make much money at all, but again, it was nice to see some more sales.

    The third, flat period actually encompasses another sale, a 35% off sale, which moved the needle not at all. People often talk about the long tail of sales, but unless some magic voodoo happens, I think I gave birth to a tail-less variety of game (though, I think this is more common than is commonly discussed). So what went wrong?


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