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This article is being highlighted as one of Gamasutra's top stories of 2013.
Last January, we launched the initial version of our Tower Defense / RPG Hybrid Defender's Quest: Valley of the Forgotten. We sold the game directly from our own website, using a browser-based demo distributed via flash portals to drive traffic and sales.
It was a solid niche hit, receiving both critical acclaim and financial success (by our standards).
Three months later, we detailed the initial sales results in a featured Gamasutra article, Defender's Quest: By the Numbers. At the time, we had sold 13,846 copies and made $70,716 gross in revenue.
As hoped, our big update and promising sales numbers were able to attract the attention of Steam, GOG, Impulse, Desura, and GamersGate. We launched on all five services on October 30th. Afterwards, we took part in every sales promotion we could, going with whatever discount rate the platform holder suggested.
It's now been three months, and it's time to report on the results!
Lifetime revenue stats for Defender's Quest: Valley of the Forgotten, across all sales platforms, are:
NOTE: These numbers do not include figures from GamersGate, who requested we not disclose sales or revenue data from them.
That's a lot of money up there -- over a quarter of a million dollars in gross revenue -- but let's take a step back. First of all, we don't get to keep all of that,. Each store takes a cut. I can't give net figures this time around, since NDAs forbid me from revealing several platforms' percentage take, but I can say this: our direct sales payment provider FastSpring takes 8 percent, while Kongregate takes 30 percent of all Kreds revenue. Steam, GOG, and the others take undisclosed percentages. (The silver lining is that sales tax, VAT, chargebacks, etc., are all covered by the stores' cuts).
Next, we get to account for expenses! I don't want to get too specific, so I'll just say total expenses were somewhere between $30-40K. And after that's subtracted, the pie gets shared out between the core team members, who have been working on this for about two years.
It works out to a decent living for doing something we love -- a tremendous privilege in and of itself -- but this isn't anywhere close to Minecraft, Limbo, or Super Meat Boy levels of money.
With that out of the way, let's look at where the money came from.
Everyone knows you can make a lot of money on Steam. But how, much, exactly? And what about other platforms? Let's break it down:
Steam, unsurprisingly, is the lion's share of the market. However, over 40 percent of our revenue came from other sources -- and direct sales are still our number 2 source of overall revenue.
If you combine direct revenue + Kongregate Kreds, 32.6 percent of all revenue was earned outside of the major portals.
The first thing this chart tells me is that you should sell your game direct! Not only is it a big piece of the pie, you also get to keep most of the money (92 percent!), and build a direct relationship with those customers that no platform holder can yank away from you.
Besides, we would have never gotten on Steam and GOG had we not built up a base of direct sales to convince them with first.
But don't take it from me, take it from Cliffski of Positech games, developer of Kudos, Democracy, and Gratuitous Space Battles. Once you're done reading that, head on over to Pixel Prospector's big list of Payment Processors to set yourself up.
As for the major portals, GOG's star is clearly rising. Even under direct competition, GOG generated 14.5 percent as much revenue as Steam.
If Defender's Quest had not also been available on Steam, I suspect GOG revenue would have been even higher. Steam enjoys a captive market of ardent loyalists, but GOG is swiftly becoming an attractive alternative and gaining loyalists of its own, especially in the anti-DRM crowd.
I should note that GOGers are a passionate bunch. Since our background is in Flash games, we implemented basic gameplay metric tracking without a second thought -- it's just something you do in that world. Shortly after, GOG players started complaining about the game "phoning home." The fans convinced us that it should be removed or at least switched to opt-out, and we put out a quick patch to disable the tracking. Although we stumbled at first, responding promptly to fan feedback turned things around for us and won us a lot of support in that community.