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Race The Sun, A Month After Launch: Losing Steam
by Aaron San Filippo on 09/18/13 04:21:00 pm   Expert Blogs   Featured Blogs

The following blog post, unless otherwise noted, was written by a member of Gamasutra’s community.
The thoughts and opinions expressed are those of the writer and not Gamasutra or its parent company.

 

Note: Originally published on Flippfly.com


It's been  a month since we launched Race The Sun 1.0 via our website, using the Humble Widget. It seems like a good time to talk about numbers.

Spoiler: Launching a PC game without a major distribution platform such as Steam, is asking for trouble.

BACKGROUND

For those not familiar with Race The Sun, it's a procedural racer, with a sort of retro "Star Fox-esque" aesthetic, and an endless world that generates daily, along with daily leaderboards and a unique solar-powered mechanic. We've been working on it for over a year now, first launching a very early "alpha demo" on Kongregate, then running a successful Kickstarter in March '13 to fund further development. We've been selling "early access" copies for most of development, and using feedback and statistics to continually improve the game. We've tried to go beyond the simple "endless runner" formula, by adding features such as portals that take you to other worlds, and a built-in world creator with mods hosted on our servers.

We've also had the game on Steam Greenlight for over a year now. Currently we are just outside of the top 100.

Here's our launch trailer:

THE LAUNCH

Given our past experience with PR, and the high investment we'd put into the game's development, we decided to hire Evolve PR to help with our launch to give us the best shot at success. Brian from Evolve had reached out to us after PAX East because he loved the look of the game, and some of the introductions and early media attention he was able to get for us convinced us that they were a good fit for us.

Brian had some great suggestions right away that we hadn't thought of: We would hold a "public beta" in the weeks before launch to try and build up a fanbase and bolster our user-created content. He also planned out several bursts of announcements: The "Apocalypse Mode" reveal, previews, Let's Plays, and reviews. He recommended us to Joystiq for the "Indie Pitch", and got us mentioned or featured on almost every major game site including Kotaku, Polygon, Gamespot, Gametrailers, Destructoid, and others. Perhaps most importantly, he handled all of this while we were able to focus on finishing up development in the last few frantic weeks.

Finally, these weeks of planning culminated in our launch day on August 19th.

THE NUMBERS

Ok, the part you've been waiting for: here are the numbers.

Website Hits
Since our website is the only place to buy the game at the moment, the hits on our website are pretty important. Here's what the graph looks like over our launch month:


Website-Hits-OneMonth

As you can see, our hits peaked about about 4k hits in a day on August 21. We haven't gone below 1000 hits/day since then, and a "Race The Sun" google search has our site at the top. If you landed anywhere on Flippfly.com, Race The Sun is prominently displayed. The game's homepage was simplified for our launch: Just the launch trailer, and the humble widget below it. We wanted to be sure we weren't losing people on the website.

Reviews and Media

Despite the wide circulation for announcements, and a plethora of "let's plays" from midsize to large Youtubers, we didn't see a ton of actual "reviews" from major sites.

But the ones that did review it were generally very positive:


  1. Tom Chick from QuarterToThree.com had us on his podcast and absolutely loved the game, and gave it a 5/5. 
  2.  Kotaku did a "watch us play", and Steve Marinconz said "I'm enjoying the $%&! out of this game."    
  3. Edge Magazine gave us an 80%, and called it "a confident genre hybrid worthy of your time and patience."    
  4. Gamespot gave us an 8/10, and said "Race the Sun is compelling in a way that could make it a daily habit."

Overall, we sit at an 81 on Metacritic, and were previewed, reviewed, played by, or otherwise mentioned on well over 100 media outlets. Evolve did their job, and they did it well. More importantly, perhaps, the gamers who try the game seem to love it: A visit to the greenlight page's comments section is very encouraging for us, especially compared to when we first launched the campaign - we've found our fans, and we've made them happy.

The anonymous statistics we collect tell a similar story: On average, players spend over 2.5 hours in the game in each session.

Sales

Here's where the story gets a bit discouraging. In our launch month, we've sold 771 copies, or about $7,400 worth.

The sales graph:
Humble-Sales-Graph

Sales have fallen off pretty steadily as the media attention has died down. Our worst day came last week, at 2 copies sold.

This may seem like a pretty big number to some - but keep in mind there are two of us, with families to support, and bills to pay. Additionally, the game's online features require a back-end server, and there are monthly costs associated with that, as well as our web hosting and other expenses.

So What Happened?

About a year ago, we decided to pivot as a company, and re-focus ourselves on the PC platform, rather than mobile. Mobile has largely moved to "free to play", and this wasn't a direction we wanted to focus on as a two-man company. We felt that the PC audience was largely still happy to pay decent money for a good game, and so we focused our efforts on PC and Steam. It was about this time when Steam introduced Greenlight -  and at first, we saw this as an opportunity.

However, we've now been on Greenlight for over a year, and our launch has come and gone, and we're still seemingly a ways off.

In the meantime, it feels like there are two attitudes that have become prevalent among many PC gamers:
"I'll buy it when it's on Steam."
and
"I'll buy it when it's in a bundle."

I'm just not sure it's realistic to expect to be able to support yourself solely with self-distribution via your website in 2013, unless you're Minecraft.

The other thing we feel is a factor in our sales, is that we inadvertently shoehorned ourselves into the "Endless Runner" genre, without realizing the damage this would do. We felt the concept of an arcade-style, highscore focused game deserved a pure, HD treatment, free of microtransactions and with a focus on depth - and our customers seem to agree. But there seems to be an immediate and general stigma around this genre (thanks to the mobile revolution no doubt) - that "runners" should be free, and they don't belong on PC.

The final straw that convinced me that this perception has hurt us was the rejection feedback from Indiecade last week:

"I really appreciated the simple 3d visual design, and the progression was very well tuned. Also, procedurally generated levels ... are a nice touch. However, this genre of game is fairly well played out. I hope you are releasing it for iOS and Android."

Ugh.

What's Next?

We're still targeting Steam, as we feel it's our best chance at success without a F2P redesign, and a great fit for the game's social features. but we've got a long ways to go on Greenlight:

Screen Shot 2013-09-17 at 3.34.24 PM

If we can double the votes we've had in the past year, we'll be in the top 10.

We've had talks with Kongregate about updating the web version of the game there, and we've even talked with Facebook, and considered how to do a mobile release. The truth is, those platforms are filled with gamers who prefer a free-to-play model, and we're not ready to jump into redesigning the game with that model in mind - not yet.

In the meantime, we're exploring other platforms, and distribution channels like gog.com, Amazon, and Desura, in hopes of finding sustainable income. We're also preparing our first update, with "featured user worlds" and other tweaks, and we plan to continue improving the game. But as I write this, we're running out of money, and will likely need to take on some other work to keep ourselves and our families fed for a while.

It's also worth pointing out that we've been approached a couple different times from publishers wanting to add Race The Sun to their portfolios. These were pretty appealing, but ultimately we decided that we want to retain our independence, and keep Race The Sun as a flagship Flippfly title.

Lessons

It's hard to say exactly what we would do differently with this game. We took a lot of risks in investing this much time in the game, and we feel we've created something special. We've stayed true to our values, and created a game that we've never seen before. And we're hopeful that with continuing effort, we'll eventually get on Steam, and we'll find a steady enough income to support ourselves for awhile so we can continue improving the game and focus on what's next. The truth is, there is no sure-fire path to success in game development, and sometimes there are some detours.

There you have it! We're not anywhere close to giving up on this game, but it's been a rough start. Perhaps the biggest takeaway is that if you want to find financial success, you should not only make a great game, but partner with proven, trusted distribution platforms that can connect you with an audience that's ready to pay.

If you do feel inclined to buy the game or a poster, you can do so here, and of course, we always appreciate greenlight votes. Thanks!

(And yes, if you buy it now, you'll get a Steam key later if we get on Steam!)

 

 


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Comments


Kyle Redd
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You didn't mention the game's price anywhere in your blog post. I would bet that if you were to survey people who visited your site but did not buy the game, the #1 explanation you would get is that the game seems like a poor value at $10.

Lately that $10 price seems to be set in developers heads' as the absolute minimum they should charge for their game. I'm sure your game is a superior example of the genre, but since even premium quality runners on mobile are ever priced at more than $2, justifying a five-fold increase in cost just to play one on PC would be difficult for most gamers to justify to themselves, regardless of quality.

The only comparison you could probably make is to something like Bit.Trip Runner, another well-reviewed game in the same genre that also cost $10. But based on the performance of that game's sequel, I would guess most people who purchased the initial game at full price feel like they got burned.

And since game critics rarely factor a game's price into their review scores anymore, it's pretty hard to take their opinions seriously, even when they give a game glowing marks as they did with yours.

Aaron San Filippo
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Fair points! Inevitably, since there aren't other recent examples of "Runners" on PC, folks will inevitably just compare us to free mobile games. I sort of alluded to this in the blog post.

However, I'm not sure pricing the game at $8 or $5 or $3 would've fundamentally changed the revenue picture we have right now - and starting at $10 gives us some wiggle room for sales.

And thankfully, folks who have paid $10 seem to overwhelmingly be happy with the decision in their feedback so far.

Kyle Redd
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I would add that I definitely appreciate your decision to go with a full-priced game that is both DRM-free and completely devoid of micro-transactions (the lack of DRM in particular is so valuable to me that I routinely pay full-price for games on GOG that I wouldn't even consider buying outside of a sale on Steam). Personally, I would never compare your $10 game to a f2p mobile title - I would only compare it to premium titles that have the same consumer-friendly profile. But yeah, even those mobile games tend to top out at $2 in price.

And, admittedly I am not a fan of runner games in general; I share the sentiments of your contact at Indiecade that, even though the genre is relatively young, the core gameplay mechanics are so limited that it has already been played-out. I believe I did purchase Bit.Trip Runner as part of a steep discount during a Steam sale, and I hated it so much I still feel like I got ripped-off.

So I would definitely not rely on my opinion to guide any of your business decisions. Still, based on what I've now read of your blog post and a couple of reviews, I'd be willing to bet that I may very well like Race the Sun just as much as your other customers have. I'm just not ready to pay $10 to find out.

Tyler King
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I think the bit.trip.runner games would disagree. Of course they already have a large following and are on steam. However the Runner genre isn't capped at .99. The problem though is showing why your game has $10 worth of value, which because of the hundreds of cheap runners out there is going to be difficult to do.

Bob Fox
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I'm sorry but your article reads as typical delusions of an indie developer. You made a really crappy looking low budget racing game. I'm sorry to burst your bubble but that's reality. The gaming media simply can't be trusted because 99% of gaming media is run for profit and their #1 concern is to be socially acceptable and nice to developers even if their game sucks. Most media outlets just don't have the intelligence, nor the balls to tell you point blank, your game is crap. This is why so many bad games get good ratings they don't deserve on metacritic. They aren't reviewed by expert gamers. They're just reviewed by those who are a part of the brainless media hivemind.

As a PC gamer, why would I want to play this and not my huge library of AAA games that have deeper gameplay and better racing and million dollar budgets? When you release a game you are competing against all games a gamer would rather be playing. Especially if you're releasing in the racing genre.

The question for a gamer is : WHY SHOULD I BUY THIS? Especially given that the market has been flooded for years with the same genre by every tom dick and harry game developer.

Kyle Redd
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High-quality AAA games are not sold for $10 until many years after their release, if ever, so that comparison is pretty silly.

jin choung
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That's not true. Lara croft and bio shock infinite have both been available around that price within months of release through various deals and sales.

Also, a 2 year old AAA title is still AAA. And if your game can't compare in graphics or depth to something 2 years old, you're still screwed.

[User Banned]
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This user violated Gamasutra’s Comment Guidelines and has been banned.

jin choung
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Exactly right.

Your game isn't competing against other indies... It's competing against ALL other games. Including AAA games that are older (sometimes as little as a few months from release) in the same price range.

And I'd say that this is not an example of an unfortunate label sticking but an apt label that describes the game accurately.

There isn't much DEPTH to the game and that's why it feels like it belongs more in the mobile realm than in the PC domain.

And yeah, $10 seems insane.

Consider cutting your losses and moving on to something more viable. Sometimes, low sales are not a reflection of word not getting out but a simple manifestation of lack of interest.

Simas Oliveira
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I think you are right if you look at this purely from the mainstream gamer and/or games businessman point of view, but there's much more to life than that. So many people across all kinds of walks of life.

This man clearly put some effort and there's definitely artistry and craftsmanship poured all over his game, that's something for loads of people, excluding maybe the stereotypical FPS/Sports gamer.

I see your point and agree that some people simply think "I made a simple game and I'll hit big just like X, Y and Z because why not". That's delusional and harmful, but I don't think that logic applies here. It seems to me this game strikes a different chord, the same as low budget films or unknown music that sometimes have that undefinable quality that makes you enjoy them, depite not being nowhere near in production values of the summer blockbuster or the latest Black Eyed Peas single. I call that quality,foolish as that may sound, heart. A game, or any other piece of entertainment or even the meal your favorite aunt makes, that has the heart of its makers are worthwhile, despite what you stated. Some people will not stop playing a "crappy looking low budget", as you define them, to play that 3 months old super hyped AAA game they just bought on a sale for $10 on Steam.

If you don't mind me saying you have a very jaded view of the world, and it might serve you well and even be true 99% of the time, but I think sometimes we just have to accept that people are doing the best they can, and that's good enough, be them game reviewers, developer or whatever.

Aaron San Filippo
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Or alternatively, maybe reviewers actually play the game before deciding whether it's crap or not ;)

Michael van Drempt
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I just don't understand this "the game looks crappy" response, especially if you're in the industry. You realise that aesthetics and graphics are not the same thing, right? Here you go: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5oK8UTRgvJU

As far as I'm concerned, this is a gorgeous game; about 5 secs into the trailer I was sold. Dat Speed.

Also, the sound design is incredible. I waste jumps just to hear the cargo-plane bass drone on the tail end of the SFX.

This is a good game, and it's worth the price of admission. Maybe the sales pitch could be better, but I don't think the problem is the game.

There are two suggestions I'd make:

1. A Demo. It doesn't have to be up-to-date with the product, just maybe the same game without online play, and it stops your progression after level 5. I play a lot of demos for games I wouldn't consider buying normally, then sometimes I buy them.

2. Release on GOG or Desura. Steam is huge, but any distribution platform other than your website will get you a lot of traffic that you otherwise wouldn't get.

Amir Barak
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I fully support the GOG assertion, I've been looking for this game on it for a while actually as I refuse to buy any more games on Steam. And I wouldn't worry too much about people like Bob Fox and his ilk, see Gabriel's greater internet theory for an explanation about them.

Pallav Nawani
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@Aaron: I would advise you to start a new game. You made a good game, that's great - but there is no way you can the combat mobile game phobia that PC hardcore gamers have. If a game even vaguely looks like a mobile game, your chances of selling it to PC hardcore gamers are shot. Even if you improved this game, marketed it, you would still be in a position of selling people what they do not want. When you try to sell this game, you are at a *disadvantage*. Everywhere. When you try to sell it, when you try to get it reviewed, when you try to get it on steam. Just check the comment by Bob Fox above.

The most important thing that you should _actually_ learn from this, is that you should consider the audience before you make the game. Make sure there are people who actually want to buy your game, *and* the market is large enough to support you.

I know this sounds like a very un-indie thing to say, but you gotta put food on the table.

And the best thing is the world? You make a game that has a big market, and your game has a hook that makes people *want* to buy it.

Long story short, I think your game is a lost cause. I advise you to try and get over the disappointment (easier said that done, of course) and quickly start work on a new game.

Aaron San Filippo
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Thanks for the feedback! However I totally disagree the game is a lost cause. Our customers love it, and many come back to it every day. Our sales numbers via our website aren't great - but we're just getting started and hope to do much better with the likes of gog.com, amazon, desura, gamersgate, and eventually, Steam. The game is niche, but we've accomplished what we wanted and we have an audience.

And lastly - we *will* be porting it to other platforms. We're in talks with console folks, have talked with Facebook, will probably do an updated Kongregate build (the early demo drew half a million plays so far) and will bring the game to mobile once we nail down exactly how we want to do that. With the Unity engine and the simple controls, it'd be crazy not to give the chance to thrive in these places.

In short - we're just getting started :)

Sean Monica
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I honestly like what you're doing and I'm really happy to see you guys are sticking to your values while so many branch out.
I want to share my opinion though because you look like such a great guy with a huge dream. As someone who plays games every day of every genre (even sports games!) this looks like a ton of fun, and the endless flights look sweet. However I can totally see where everyone is coming from. When I saw your video and how you had a scoreboard the game immediately reminded me of a small free game on addictinggames.com where you are a snowboarder going down a mountain. It was literally the same thing. When this came to mind I was crushed and thinking, "what else does this offer!". I understand it is in alpha and believe me I look forward to seeing more. But in my honest opinion I think if you guys took a step back and really thought about how amazing IOS and Android can be for a simple 2$ sale then you could support it into an amazing pc version. Think of it like if I may, you sell it on IOS and Android for 2$. With one or two levels. Then on PC you can sell your version for 10$ with tons of levels. I mean its just a simple and on the spot idea but as for business I think expanding could really save your butts here!

Best of luck I look forward to seeing more!

Nicholas Lovell
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"Our customers love it, and many come back to it every day".

You know that is the holy grail of F2P game design, right? :-)

Nando Guimaraes
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@Pallav: My team launched a Kickstarter campaign earlier this year to raise funds for a casual mobile game (called Dream Swim). Unfortunately, we have made the same mistake of not considering the audience. Kickstarter users are mostly tuned into premium PC games, with a certain level of distaste for casual games––doubled that when they're mobile.

The result was extremely poor, yet the lesson learned is practically the same: mind your audience.

Christian Nutt
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My first thought when looking at this is not "mobile game" but "console game" -- like Aaron says, you think (SNES) Starfox or maybe a PS1 racing game.

I have to admit to mobile stigma. I didn't back Edo Superstar for Kickstarter despite loving the art because it was originally an iPad game and they did the Republique thing -- announced a PC port to boost a flagging campaign because the style of the game was a mismatch with the tablet target. Happy they made their goal (I want to try it) but the idea of playing a traditional ARPG type game on a tablet, even ported to PC/console, well... I guess it's cynical of me (though not to the extent of the commenters above, GOOD GRIEF) but I do expect compromises to be made on depth, control, etc.

Aaron San Filippo
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Nicholas: I know, I know ;P

Seth Poulos
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This sounds like horrible advice to me. You've finished your main development cycle. You have good Metacritic reviews and you're not going to get reviewed twice, so that's not going to change. You haven't exhausted your distribution options (console, mobile, OSX app store, other game outlets like GOG). You could still get the Greenlight. Why in the world would you start over from scratch now?

Curtis Turner - IceIYIaN
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I think you should spend six to 12 months and remake it as a Star Fox clone and call it Sun Fox.

jin choung
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Solar fox sounds better IMO.

moo yu
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Firstly, I wanted to thank you for this post. It does remind me of the reality of developing indie games and painted exactly the kind of picture I worry that I'll be in a year from now.

I'll start by saying that I don't think that Race the Sun is a game for me, but I'm really rooting for you and will do what is in my limited ability to help you out.

I think your passion is amazing and I don't know if you have PR skills or if just being honest, genuine, and vocal is serving you extremely well. While your game isn't for everyone, I think the important thing that people are overlooking is that it's a very honest game. It is exactly what it says it is. When you see the trailer, you can see exactly what it is and decide if it's for you or not. There's no hidden microtransactions. There's not a bunch of cutscenes that don't actually look anything like the gameplay.

The only question left is if it'll make enough money to be worth Steam's effort. I think it will, but not just by the game alone. I think it's the combination of the game, the honesty, but most importantly your passion, your honesty, and your story.

If I were a betting man, thanks to this blog post, I'd expect you to be on Steam soon and that you'll make enough money that you can focus on making great updates or great new games. People who say "your game sucks" lack perspective. People love your game. You have proof of that. It's just a question of how many. I think lots. In fact, I'm going to go buy it now.

Dane MacMahon
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As someone opposed to both DRM and the Steam monopoly this is a depressing read.

Kujel s
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I've been decrying this issue with steam for ages but sadly noone who games on PC wants to listen :( I'm looking into Android myself because PC has become far too closed to make a living on but sadly android has it's own set of issues.

Dane MacMahon
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@ Kujel

Consumers love convenience, so they shout down concerns as long as they're getting what they want.

Samuel Green
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As a first time developer who wants to eventually release a very niche game on Steam, Greenlight is scary.

Maria Jayne
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You know I spotted something in this trailer which didn't have the effect you may be looking for.

"A beautiful minimalist game"

That right there isn't a good quote for a promotional trailer in my opinion. When I saw that, however wrong I may be, I thought of minimal effort design. If I perceive you as having put minimal effort in, that degrades my interest in playing this, especially buying it.

The game looks ok, I like the solar powered mechanic, and it looks visually quite attractive. However the last thing you want to do is associate yourself with the word "minimal". Minimal typically means less, smaller, more shallow, while the RPS quote is intended as a positive, that context seems lost putting it in the trailer.

As Pallav says above, you need to move on and start making something else. The good news is that because of the way greenlight works, providing you stay on it, you will eventually reach the top ten, obviously sooner is preferable, so keep trying to generate more votes.

By the time you get your next project finished, you may well be approved for Steam with this game. Which gives you an automatic free pass for whatever you are making next. You only have to be approved on greenlight once, then anything you put in after goes to the store as far as I'm aware.

So the game has value in more ways than simply being sold, however much that would obviously be nice!

Albert Meranda
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You can't argue the rightness or wrongness of a first impression but fwiw: "Minimalism describes movements in various forms of art and design, especially visual art and music, wherein artists intend to expose the essence or identity of a subject through eliminating all non-essential forms, features or concepts. Minimalism is any design or style wherein the simplest and fewest elements are used to create the maximum effect." Hundreds was a successful minimalist game.

Maria Jayne
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Albert, I am familiar with the term "Minimalism" in artistic endeavors, I still didn't associate it here. Are you going to try and argue with everyone who watches the trailer and first thinks what I did, that they are wrong?

Good luck with that. They already walked away. You have to be careful what thoughts and impressions you give, I was simply trying to point out the first review quote they put on that trailer, made me think of a word that suggests a lack of substance.

Christian Nutt
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This comment seems silly if you know the difference in meaning between the words "minimal" and "minimalist" but it's actually salient, in a "the customer's always right" sense.

Albert Meranda
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I started out with, "You can't argue the rightness or wrongness of a first impression but.."

So no, I wouldn't argue that any impression of that trailer is wrong.

I just disagree with this: "However the last thing you want to do is associate yourself with the word "minimal". Minimal typically means less, smaller, more shallow,"

If you choose a minimalist art style and throw in a quote that describes it as "a beautiful minimalist game," that's valid. Personally, it made sense to me.

I do agree that if the majority of your potential audience is interpreting that negatively, then again, the "rightness" or "wrongness" of that impression doesn't matter, and you should rethink your approach.

Jennis Kartens
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Steam just became so convenient.

It's easier to just browse their store, maybe GOG.com too and then chose a game instead of actually reading websites. Forgotten games gets highlighted every now and then too, so it sure can be seen as vital to have it there.
I was aware of Race the Sun a few months before it was released and found it pretty nice, but still lost track of it due to the mass of other games arriving on a daily basis.

Sean Monica
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You're absolutely right. I love steam and the fact it offers greenlight. I cannot imagine trying today to go solo. Maybe not today, but one day solo sites may come back. I cannot imagine myself leaving steam today because of their amazing customer service and work.

Artur Correa
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Aarom,

PUT OCULUS RIFT ON IT !!!

Aaron San Filippo
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http://flippfly.com/news/oculus-rift-support-coming-to-race-the-s
un/
:)

Aaron Grossman
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The game looks unfinished in the trailer. If I wanted to stare at gray surfaces that occasionally change I would be spinning in my chair at work. A minimalist art style can work well, but it still needs to a style applied to the world that isn't just shades of gray. There is a bit of color, but those feel like prototypes while the rest of the game is made. If there was shading, or textures, or something to give the current game objects a polished look, like they were done being worked on, that would be different. It might still be a lot of gray, but it's an intentional gray rather than the current look of a tech demo.

The game is also predicated on a simple runner mechanic, which again seems like a fit for mobile, or maybe a Facebook game, or a console game. Not a single player advertised PC game. If this is the core of the game, the rest of this needs to be filled in with social mechanics. The video mentions multiplayer for a few seconds, but multiplayer is the only reason I would ever consider this game if I wasn't playing it for just a couple minutes while on the train.

I had a lot more, but it basically boils down to, where's the audience? This seems like a great hobby project, but not something to try and feed the family on. If you did want to add opportunities to monetize, adding themes to the world so it doesn't like quite so drab would be a great starting place.

Good luck, and I hope your future gaming endeavors are more successful.

Jean Baptiste
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It's a bit sad you're undertaking your market research once the launch is done, and it's a very common mistake unfortunately : making a game you'd like to play instead of making a game consumers would like to play (and earning money thanks to that)

Good luck for the future

Aaron San Filippo
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Indeed, we could've instead made a game that we thought the masses would enjoy more, rather than a unique project we wanted to see.

But if that were my goal I'd still be sitting in a cubicle making Call of Duty :)

Jean Baptiste
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Don't misunderstand me, market research is not incompatible with indie games, it's not a one dimensional study which always concludes that if it's not a CoD clone it won't work.
It helps to prevent a lots of mistakes such as : is launching a game without Steam a good idea ? is 10$ the good price ? (right now I'm a consumer who would like to play your game, but 10$ is a bit too much for me)
IMHO, once it's on Steam market, it will probably be a major hit.

Aaron San Filippo
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We knew from the get-go that launching without Steam was not a good idea. As I said in the article, we've been on Greenlight for over a year. We're a two-man team, and we've done our best throughout the project at balancing development and PR. Ultimately though, we finished the game, weren't even close on Greenlight, and felt we had to ship to raise the profile and build an audience. This wasn't a failure to do "market research" it's just the reality that we can't *choose* to launch on Steam as unknown indies.

As for the $10 price point - I'm not sure shipping at a lower price would have fundamentally changed our revenue curve. And being at $10 gives us some wiggle room for sales and adjustments, so we think it was the right choice. Our customers don't regret paying $10 for the hours of enjoyment they get out of the game, and in that sense I consider the pricing a success.

Troy Walker
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just in general, I think monetizing a game today is so much different that it use to be... and just putting a price tag on it, and throwing out for sale just seems risky to me... and your numbers are proving that.

I think, this was something you are not perhaps considering, but a better monetization strategy is needed imo.

Phil Maxey
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First off let me say I think the game looks great, from a visuals point of view and gameplay (haven't played it yet, this is judging by the trailer). But I can see a number of issues overall with it.

On the face of it this game should appeal to players who like retro styled games, but I don't think the visuals are colourful enough for that, if anything the soft visual style makes me think more of Nintendo than anything else.

2nd, the endless runner approach, I'm not sure this does actually lend itself to the pay-up-front revenue model, if anything I think it lends itself more to micro-transactions, and no that's not totally the influence of mobile why I'm saying that, I'm thinking back to playing Star Wars in the arcades and the number of coins that had to be continually put in to keep going!

3rd, Who is the audience for this? I think males, 30s-50's would want something a bit more hardcore, i'e more colourful visuals, shooting things etc, where as it seems a bit too 1 dimensional, lacking character perhaps for the mass market casual crowd.

4th, the game seems to have (compared to many other indie games) a huge amount of exposure, with that amount of people being aware of the game, but yet the game still not doing well, you have to ask the hard questions about whether it's worth keeping on with it or not. You and I may think it's great, but you're not making it for the fun of it, it has to make a return on all the time and energy that's gone into it and if it's apparent that's not going to happen, then you need to move on.

That's not to say you can't evolve what you have into something else. Release a sequel, make it so you can rescue little people and drop them off somewhere (Rescue On Fractalus-ish), or maybe go down the sports angle of the game, I definitely got a SSX vibe from it as well.

Aaron San Filippo
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Thanks for your thoughtful feedback.

Christian Nutt
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God, as a male 30-50, I say, please do not make another game that asks me to shoot something.

sean lindskog
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Hi Aaron,

Thanks for writing this. I think your game looks cool. I appreciate your insights on your experience.

I'm not too familiar with the pricing of these sorts of games. But $10 doesn't seem off to me.

Pallav Nawani wrote this above:
> The most important thing that you should _actually_ learn from this, is that you should consider the audience before you make the game. Make sure there are people who actually want to buy your game, *and* the market is large enough to support you.
> Long story short, I think your game is a lost cause

I'm glad you disagreed with Pallav in your comment. You should disagree. It seems to me you did your ground work by running the KS campaign, and $20k would have been enough for me to run with it.

One of the big differences between indie games vs. AAA is that indie games tend to take larger risks. It is often difficult to forsee how well they will sell. Many very popular indie games, from Minecraft, to Introversion's entire catalog, to Team Meat's stuff, while all very good games, would not have been predictable in their success before their launch.

For sure, you need to have a good game. Race the Sun looks like a good game. Beyond that, it seems to me there are a number of golden (or at least bronze) tickets for indies. These include:
- placing in the IGF
- getting reviewed by one of the gigantic Let's Play folks
- possitive reviews in large mainstream press (although smaller, indie PC sites are fantastic and we should do our best to support them as they do for us).
- releasing on Steam

I'm not sure how "golden tickety" a steam release is these days - they're starting to greenlight a lot more indie games, so there's more noise to launch against. Still, I would agree that the sales potential of your game will not be fully realized till you launch on Steam. My game recently got greenlit (it took a year), and so I might have more to say on this in the near future.

You've got some decent traffic to your site. I see you've got a greenlight link there. I would make that link more shiny (graphical button? "Please vote for us on greenlight"?) so you can turn more of that traffic into votes.

I agree, you should release on Desura/GoG/GamersGate/Amazon/etc if you can. And here's another site that advertises indie games (I think for free): http://www.showmethegames.com/
Individually, none of these may make a major splash. But you need to get your game visible where people will buy it. That should help towards your greenlight efforts. You gotta climb over the little rocks before you get to the top of the mountain. ;)

In case you haven't read Lars Doucet's awesome articles on his game's sales (Defender's Quest), they're worth a read:
http://www.gamasutra.com/view/feature/168303/defenders_quest_by_t
he_numbers.php
http://www.gamasutra.com/view/feature/186940/defenders_quest_by_t
he_numbers_.php

Aaron San Filippo
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Hey Sean, thanks for your thoughts! I'd love to hear more about your experience once you do your Steam launch, and congrats!

Chris Hendricks
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When I saw the screenshot for the video, I brushed over it. It looked bland. Then, I saw someone praise the trailer in the comments, and I went back and watched... he was right. The game looks amazing when in motion.

Lars Doucet
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I'd just like to weigh in on this real quick - a lot of people are hammering away at Aaron and all too eager to point out all his and his team's "mistakes" ... but I'm not sure success is as simple and cut-and-dried as people are making it out to be.

In short, there's a lot of "post hoc ergo propter hoc" going on here.

My team's PC game did pretty well in its first year despite not being on Steam or any other major distribution platforms, and although I have some *ideas* as to why, I'm not entirely sure. I could fool myself into false confidence into thinking I did everything "right", but we actually had a lot of similarities to Aaron:

--We both used Kongregate as a major part of our strategy
--We were both favorably reviewed by Rock, Paper, Shotgun and other media outlets
--Both our graphics were criticized as being a major weak point
--LOTS of people said our price was "too high" and that "nobody would buy it."

There's plenty of differences too, to be sure, that might have made the difference, but I point out the above because people are using them as examples of "why" the game "failed*".

We tend to be less critical of success stories and assume they succeeded because they did things right, and tend to be more critical of "unsuccess" stories and assume they failed because they did things wrong.

Probably we both did some things right, and both did some things wrong, and life and circumstances filled in the rest.

*I'm still holding out for an eventual breakthrough. It had a successful kickstarter after all, which proves it has a niche fanbase, it's a great game in it's own right, and I think it still has a good shot at wider distribution.

Jonathan Ghazarian
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Didn't your game have a slow start as well? I feel like whenever I've read about your game, it was persistence that sort of paid off. You kept a lot of opportunities for customers open and continued to support the game.

People saying to just abandon it sound like every company in silicon valley that just drops a product they invested in the second it releases because there weren't a million downloads in the first hour. The game might not find more success, but the main development is done, and there are probably a lot of opportunities to build momentum.

I'm looking forward to the next update on this. Things might not improve, but we don't know that yet. Doomsayers can just wait for now.

Marc Schaerer
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Thank you for the article Aaron and your openess.

I don't think that the currently lacking success is really a problem of the game or the genre itself but more the surroundings it was born into:

1. Your game was just recently released. It takes time for indie games to make money back.
Thats nothing new, it was like that in 2007 and its even more the case today where your exposure is much worse due to the noise and mobile.

2. The game is at its core a highscore competition game. The decision to put it where it is and not have it integrate with a big service has definitely hurt its potential significantly.
Your game and its highscore nature have a serious viral spread potential which is currently unused.

3. Others mentioned it already above but get your game in front of the players. Even in the pre-mobile world your approach wouldn't have worked out in your favor, nowadays with all the noise its basically suicidical.

4. You need to find a way to get the experience onto stills, you have some action but it only shows in motion and even then not with enough 'oomph' in todays flashy times. manga style speed lines / Need for speed style motion blur lines for example could be ideas.

4. As a gamer and developer, I think the price of $10 needs some adjustment.
I'm not going to put a hard price here, to find the sweet spot in this case is a thing you should try to evaluate through sales or A / B testing.
Independent of where you put it though, I would not expect to see sale numbers going anywhere close to the $8k at $10 you made in that month in the future from a single portal / page on the desktop.

EDIT: Some say that such prices are fine for PC games but I've to admit that I consider some PC casual game prices but especially their prices on consoles totally hillarious given the fact that many of these games are cheap cross portations to these platforms from mobile games. While yours isn't, its visuals unluckily imply exactly that as a first reaction. In todays environment even great games like Darwinia would have quite of a hard time to get anywhere due to their '8bitish mobile look with pc price'


5. I'm sure you did but if not: Did you consider reaching out to Nintendo to get it onto the WiiU as you use Unity and can get the corresponding platform for free once nintendo accepted you?
Its not flooded, its users are used to higher prices and when you confront them with your price after they have been struck by $1 / f2p mobile games at prices higher than $10, you have a quite good standing, especially as you don't have a mobile version that they can get 'for less'

Ian Snyder
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I really appreciate the article and revealing the actual numbers. I wish you all the best!

Curtiss Murphy
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Each day, I check my latest sales figures. And with 5 products, 1000+ reviews, and 120,000+ downloads - I have been forced to accept that customers EXPECT FREE!

Free is an enemy you really can't fight. No matter of logic or reason can go against a basic, fundamental expectation. To a consumer, almost everything they do is free including browsing the web, news, data, apps, youtube, facebook, and almost anything on any mobile device.

For years, people said, "Focus on making a great game" and far as I can tell ... you've done that! I love the look, the trailer, the reviews, and even the 'minimalistic' ideas. And in reality, you've made a HUGE win - $70K is absolutely huge for an indie's first major game. Maybe it's time to move to the next product. Sell your IP, find an industry partner, and then build another.

Linh Ngo
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It's not as huge as you think: "...we've sold 771 copies, or about $7,400 worth." Looks like they got more from their successful Kickstarter campaign.

But getting on Steam or GOG might do the trick for them.

Linh Ngo
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Aaron, disregard the naysayers. You have a beautiful minimalist game. Being indie is about being different, and your game could set the stage for the runner revival on PC. If not, there's always mobile and console.

Definitely enter it in the 2014 IGF as the finalists all get Steam approval. The IGF loves artsy games, too, and on this, you might have an edge. Also, I've noticed that Steam will occasionally bypass their official Greenlight and approve a game that has received positive press (reviews, successful Kickstarter, etc). Maybe try to reach out to them or have your PR people do it.

Getting on other high-profile platforms like GOG will definitely help since they have fairly high quality standards, and are more exclusive like Steam.

Our first game took us three years to make and hasn't broken even yet. But like your game, I feel that there's more steam(!) left. It ain't over yet, and its premium price still earns us money monthly (primarily on Google Play, go figure). We've also taken the lessons from it, and built our second game faster and leaner. So hang in there. You have a better chance than most indies considering you did PR right.

Steven Smith
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The game reminds me of a UDK game called "Zineth" (PC game that's free). It has a very clean cut, monochrome feel to it which some may perceive as boring when compared to other games out there. However I don't think that the product is the issue here, more the marketing. Don't get me wrong, I think greenlight is a nice way to get indy developers some exposure but when you compare that kind of marketing to the multi-million campaigns of leviathan studios & publishers such as rockstar, EA (all the triple A's) there's simply no comparison. And this is the thing, these guys pay crazy money to occupy that top slot on the steam home page.

Now I'm gonna be one of those self professed experts and recommend a course of action...

Innovate further: Procedural levels was a good move but could be even better, try implementing destruction (physX SDK) (you're clearly smart enough to get somewhere with it)

Excite: Missiles, Lasers, Guns or something (or all of them and use them to introduce collectibles and incentives)

Discount: $5 (try it, there's nothing stopping you putting the price back up later)

Market: Every single game oriented website should know about the updates the innovation and most importantly, the discounted price.

One last thing, and this is just a pet hate if I'm honest. Lose the captions explaining game mechanics on the trailer, it's unnecessary and leaves little to the imagination ,potential customers have made their mind up by the end of the trailer so won't pay if they aren't nursing a semi at that point. [See GTAV theatrical trailer]

Anyway, to conclude what I've said I think its a great looking game that's fallen foul of the financial handicap from the start. I think you're at a point where you're gonna have to make a decision as to whether you continue to develop or move on. (you wouldn't have created this article if it wasn't the case)

The honesty in this article is really something I admire, it led me to sign up to this website in the hope that you might draw some ideas from my rantings and perhaps get the break you deserve.

Seth Poulos
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Aaron,

If you had an OSX build available, why in the world didn't you release a build for the OSX App Store? I can actively remember seeing your PR hit on RockPaperShotgun and was actually waiting for the game, and had no idea that you'd released.

If you had the ability to build to iOS or Android, I probably would have gotten that on a tablet as an alternative -- maybe not at $10, but at a decent price point, and even if it was 5 bucks, that's five bucks you wouldn't have gotten from me otherwise.

As far as I can tell, your rationale for not doing this is simply your theory that people prefer free-to-play games nowadays? Even if that's the case (and there are certainly a lot of folks who don't like the F2P model, myself included), what could you possibly lose by not just making that version? I realize that there's a tradeoff in your limited dev resources there, but you're already working on Oculus support, and the consumer version of the Oculus is a ways off. A mobile version would be an income stream, period, full stop.

I find this really baffling and hope you get your release; this hit on Gamasutra certainly won't hurt your PR. I've already convinced someone to pick up your game and also voted for your Greenlight. But your rationale seems weird. Am I missing something obvious?

Wes Jurica
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Thank you for writing this piece. I had forgot about your game after the initial attention it got. I think I played it on Kongregate or something and it was fun but pretty basic at that point. It looks like it has come quite a ways since then and I love the aesthetics.

As part of a two man indie company that just submitted our first game for iOS App Review, this helps me temper my expectations. We are releasing on iOS and Android with a $2 price point and the game is niche though the our target audience is very passionate. We have some hope it will do okay.

One of the game concepts we are thinking about for our next game is an endless racer, though much different than yours. Although we too have an aversion to the F2P bullshit that is pervasive on mobile and vaunted so enthusiastically on this site, we plan to do F2P for this next game. We figure there has to be an ethical way to monetize a "free" game that allows us to make money and be respectful to our players.

One of the ideas we are kicking around is a tiered reward system for the in game currency. The base game would be free to download and would give you 1x rewards. Then we'd have, let's say, 5 more tiers that reward the player 2x, 3x, 4x, etc that the player upgrades to in $1 increments. The players we hook spend $5 and then they are maxxed out. We make more sales then we'd be able to at the $5 price point and at the same time we don't exploit people for their weaknesses. I don't think consumables have a place in games no matter how much some people here try to equate it popping quarters in an arcade machine or whatever other kind of justification they give.

Wes Jurica
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BTW, I'll check out Race the Sun more and see if I'm interested. My fiance looked pretty interested when I showed her. 2 player mode?

*edit*
Ah yes, multiplayer. You got my sale.

Roy Triesscheijn
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If the game is worth ten dollars or not I don't know. However what I would like to point out is that the trailer doesn't make the game seem worth ten dollars. The trailer doesn't entice a player at all. What is the solar mechanic? Hard to deduce from the trailer. What does it mean that the word is generated every day? Cool shots of a level being randomly generated, different camera angles. Shots of cooperative multiplayer. And also important: music that builds up to a climax.

Karlo Eldic
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I would like to know more about your experience with the PR agency, the costs, the workflow and the overall effect it had on your campaign. Was it worth it?

Alan Rawkins
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I think it is a mistake to ignore iOS and Android (or mobile platforms in general) based solely on the idea that they are the domain of f2p. You have a great short form pick up and play game! It would work really well on mobile devices (or Vita+3DS for that matter). The controls could translate pretty well, and it has a great daily challenge to keep people coming back.

There are plenty of regular, traditional paid products on iOS/google play that do ok . No they aren't doing Angry Birds/Candy Crush numbers, but for small indie teams I think it's doable/worth it. There is an audience of gamers with iphones, ipads, Nexus, etc. that want good, quality games that are free of F2P tricks. I think your game has a shot there.


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