Partnership vs solo
Ever since the release of March of the Living, I’ve become really aware of what it takes for a game to be financially successful. I mean I always knew it wasn’t easy but MotL’s success helped to make this even clearer.
The success of MotL is probably enough for me to not look for a day job for possibly the next two years. I’m making this statement with data I currently have but things change so fast that it’s hard to tell for sure. A game released in 2013 that would have the same reception as MotL would probably have done even better for many reasons because things were slightly different back then.
Anyway, yes, I should be good for the next two years. But what if we would be splitting money among 3 persons instead of 2? MotL still would have been a success but a much lesser financial one for me personally. I’d still probably be good for the next year but there would be a lot more pressure to release something new soon. If the money would be split between 4 persons then I’d have to look for a day job.
A quick comparison
So the difference between a team of 2 and a team of 4 is quite extreme when it comes to evaluate the financial success of a game. I mean any game that sells as many copies as MotL must be considered a success but in some case it might not even be enough and that’s what really showed me how difficult it can be to make games for a living even though I knew it was difficult for trying for 9 years.
I see many games doing as well or worse than MotL and when I go check who developed such games I often see teams of 5-6 persons if not more and this means that even if they released a successful game they might still have financial troubles.
When we released MotL there was one other game that seemed to have the potential to do very well that was released the same day: P.O.L.L.E.N. If I remember right it was the only game released that day competing with MotL in the newly released chart. It turns out that things went a lot better for MotL if you compare the two SteamSpy pages.
Just looking at SteamSpy doesn’t tell the whole story however. On this website there is a picture of Mindfield Games (devs of P.O.L.L.E.N) and there are 8 persons on this picture but if you check LinkedIn you’ll find at least 14 persons working at Mindfield Games (assuming this is valid info). So even if P.O.L.L.E.N would have sold as many copies as MotL it’d still be hard to say it’s a financial success to them. They are probably doing other consulting work so this game might not be the only thing they were counting on to make money but yet it shows how big results a game must get for such team.
As for MotL the money is only split 2 ways and we don’t have fees like an office or other things eating up the revenue so it means it’s a very profitable game.
How much are you willing to risk
I think many indie devs see game development as the lottery. Don’t hold anything back, don’t think about the worst case scenario and hope to make something great because you have a strong team of people with many talents and then sell 100,000 copies like some of the extremely successful games and you’re set for the next few years. Yes, people win the lottery each week but “strangely” it’s rarely you… What I mean here is that it’s not a very reliable strategy.
The way I see it is a bit like poker. Yes, there are still many things I don’t control and if I’m dealt bad cards then there’s little I can do but at least I can decide to fold instead of going all in each round and that way I can hope to play a bit longer and leave the table with some chips instead of nothing at all.
So that brings me to the topic of this post. Going solo, with 1 or 2 partners or risking more and hoping to do well with a bigger team. It could have been easy for us to get an artist as a partner instead of paying a contractor. We probably could have pump much more assets into the game and maybe hope this work would have help to sell even more copies. The problem of course is we’d be splitting the revenue 3 ways so it would definitely mean that I wouldn’t be able to publish my next game alone even if MotL would still have been a success.
Not getting Creaky Corpse as a publisher and just partnering with an artist myself still wouldn’t have been a good plan as there was a 6 months period during which I needed to get a revenue. Having a publisher made that possible. What about now? I don’t need a publisher to pay for my expenses right now so I could just partner with an artist and do this. Well, this comes with challenges as you need to find the right person. I mean, I get a few offers from time to time to do this but I don’t feel I’m able at this point to take such risk.
The great thing about going solo
If you can afford to pay for development (your time + assets + music + whatever else you might need), it’s probably the best approach unless your ambition really is to start a game studio that will grow over time. If you’re just happy like me to make a salary and to not have to manage too many people beside contractors then going solo offers a big advantage.
This advantage is that you don’t need to get a big success on each release. If I work solo on my next game and it does only half as well as MotL then it means I’m still making the same money I made with MotL which is really nice. If it does as well as MotL it doesn’t mean I’ll become rich but I sure won’t have to fear to release a flop or two in the following years.
So to keep going solo I don’t even have to think at beating MotL results which is reassuring in a way.
But splitting money 2 ways can still be the best choice
I don’t spend money I still don’t have so while MotL seems to be doing great, to this day I only received the money from the sales of the first 10 days the game was released in April (it was released on April 20th). I know there’s more coming so that’s not the issue but I don’t quite know yet how much that will be in 4-5 months.
I need to start thinking about my next project right away so it means I already started to analyze what kind of spending I might need to do for this new game. Right now these expenses are already as high as the money I received so far for MotL. I sure wouldn’t spending that money all at once but to be able to make a budget it would mean I need to consider the money I made so far is already gone. I could just hope for the best in the months to come and tell myself that MotL will keep doing okay but then I won’t be able to sleep at night.
I sure would like to keep 100% of the revenue my next game will be making so I have to make a choice. Do I deal with the risks or do I prefer to stick to something safer. My #1 goal is to keep making games full-time as long as I can. It’s not to release a mega hit or become some sort of celebrity so as great as it would be to keep all the money to myself it might not be the best approach to meet my objective. At least not until MotL has been out there for a bit longer to really know how much money this game will get me.
What I will certainly not do though is partner with more than 1 person. I’m comfortable with games performing in similar ways as MotL and the step to do better might be hard to reach. I’d be okay with a game doing only half what MotL did if I got at it alone but then I still need to be able to pay for it and that’s still not clear at the moment.