Dear Esther, We Sold 16,000 Copies In A Day, Shepherds

By John Walker on February 15th, 2012 at 4:16 pm.

They'll be making boats out of tenners now.

Dear Esther, the minimalist first-person explorer, made its costs back in the first five and a half hours on sale. A quite remarkable achievement for an indie game, and a rather impressive vindication of The Indie Fund, the gathering of successful indies who are funding new projects. It has sold 16,000 copies in its first 24 hours, and made back all $55k they’d invested in the game before it was even six hours old. And by the rules of The Indie Fund, that means the developers thechineseroom are now making profit. You can read all about how it went down here. Alec adored Dear Esther, as he writes about here. I didn’t think it was nearly so good, as I explain here.

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51 Comments »

  1. Theoban says:

    One of those copies is mine and I don’t care who knows it. Hey you! I bought this! Mum? I bought this. Oi you down there, I bought Dear Esther. I bought Dear Esther everyone.

    • Forceflow says:

      Me too – I bought this after the first 5 hours, so my money was pure profit to them.

      The game (I don’t even know it’s a game. There’s no sense of winning or achieving, but there is a sense of progress, of understanding) does require people to get into it with a different frame of mind than entering Skyrim.

  2. The Dark One says:

    Maybe now they’ll have the funds to work on the cut multiplayer DM functionality.

    • CaspianRoach says:

      And a console port. Looks like a perfect candidate for 360 to me.

    • Forceflow says:

      They should definitely bring back the escort mission with the generic hostage in orange overalls.

    • Man Raised by Puffins says:

      I’d like to see the eye-gouging QTEs reinstated, I was bitterly disappointed when I heard they had to cut them.

    • Blackcompany says:

      Maybe they’ll even restore the scripted boss battles where you abandon all the game’s mechanics and destroy the boss limb by limb until finally his body becomes vulnerable and he can take damage. Gee, I miss those.

    • JackShandy says:

      What happened to those great vehical sections from the teaser trailer?

    • Donjo says:

      And where did all the breasts go? I DEMAND breast.

    • ZIGS says:

      I’m frankly appalled at the decision to cut the cover system at the last minute

    • RobF says:

      Sneezing a dragon out of the sky with ES TEH HAR was pretty cool though.

  3. trjp says:

    Whilst I love to see stories like this – they just remind me that we’ve created an Indie gaming market which works EXACTLY the same as the full price gaming market in that only big sellers/hits will make any real money (and games which spend eons building up some hype will do better than those which fail to).

    It’s scary to think that we took the idea of making less costly/simpler games and ruined it by driving down prices to a point where the risk is almost exactly the same as making a big game!!

    Hey ho – what’s costs nothing and all that…

    • The Sombrero Kid says:

      What the hell are you banging on about, if people don’t hear about something they’re not going to want it, it’s not possible for it to work any other way & the risks of dear esther or any indie game are much lower than a AAA game, which is exactly why it can start making profit in the same day it’s released.

    • jrodman says:

      Well, yes, there’s the same type of risk and reward dynamic.

      However, it’s definitely LESS risk, and indiefund (if successful) will allow it to be done at possibly acceptable risk to the team (even if they fail, they still have their house etc, they just likely need a new job).

      And, this market gives indie creators a chance to realistically craft and sell a small production game, that was possible before but seems typically a bit more possible now, especially while retaining ownership of the creation.

      So yeah, your criticisms are valid but there’s definite upsides.

    • whydidyoumakemeregister says:

      Yes, we still live in a capitalist society. Creating and selling a product is how it works. I’m not sure what worries you so much about that.

  4. Premium User Badge LTK says:

    Great, Dear Esther is released and it immediately becomes buried under a pile of DLC in Steam’s new releases list.

    I think I’ll be playing this once I get paid. Or maybe I can buy it right now and have an enhanced deserted-island-exploring experience due to having an emtpy stomach…

    • Forceflow says:

      That will actually enhance the experience, I think. :)

    • Tayrtahn says:

      Gah, they really need to move the DLC releases to their own tab!

      I had no idea Dear Esther had been released until I read this article. Hopefully I’ll have my headphones on, sitting in the dark, playing it tonight.

    • Blackcompany says:

      Agreed. Steam is burying actual games for sale under loads of DLC. And much of it Day 1 DLC, to boot.
      .
      I would just like to new games, please. If my games have DLC i can see it from my library or the game’s page when I click on it. I don’t need to have new titles buried under DLC.

    • Khemm says:

      That’s one of the reasons why I always laugh when people post nonsense like “devs, put your games on Steam! You’ll get great sales and EXPOSURE”.
      That might have been the case two-three years ago, but right now, Steam has no purpose. Games like Minecraft and Gemini Rue were doing fine without Steam releases (Valve rejected Gemini Rue, only when it sold a few copies and got a following did they come to their senses) , and the only exposure you get on Steam is when your game is given away for free during “-75% off” sales. Case in point: Amnesia, which sold the majority of its copies at stupidly low price points.
      There’s so much mainstream crap and tons of DLC coming to Steam now you’re guaranteed to miss out on most gems if you don’t have a look at the store at least once a day.

      I fear that Legend of Grimrock will land on Steam and end up being completely unnoticed.

    • NathanH says:

      On the other hand, I suspect that for instance Terraria had a lot of success thanks to Steam. Although the price is far too low for such a masterpiece.

    • RobF says:

      “That might have been the case two-three years ago, but right now, Steam has no purpose.”

      Do you have any stats to back that up? I know you *dearly* love your anti-Steam rants but come now, numbers, right? Because every single figure I’ve seen pretty much directly contradicts your assertion. As do the numbers in this article because if you believe you shift 16,000 in a few hours of something like Dear Esther elsewhere… bless you.

    • jrodman says:

      My friend talked me into getting magic the gathering planeswalker thing to play with him. The sheer amount of DLC which flooded into my recommended list is horrifying. I can’t even figure out what the crap the stuff is.

      I’m all for corralling the DLC notices into a DLC ghetto where it belongs, and you can see it if you click on the New DLC tab, but not under the New Releases tab. If I didn’t care about the game before, I certainly don’t care about the DLC for it. Maybe it would be fine to have it be in unobtrusively mentioned in the lirbrary for games i own, off to the right, ignorable and disableable if desired.

  5. JackShandy says:

    I don’t understand how this happened. Dear esther is crazy! Crazy games don’t make money!

    My entire world-view is being challenged here.

  6. RyuRanX says:

    The game is beautiful and the environments are very life-like. I explored that fantastic island with my jaw dropped all the time, especially inside the caves. Unfortunatelly I can’t recommend the game for anyone and to be honest, it doesn’t worth $10. It seriouly needs some actual gameplay. If it had physics based puzzles and item interaction, Dear Esther could easily become the next Myst.

    • Igor Hardy says:

      That’s a funny comparison, given it is a well known fact that most people who bought Myst did never solve the puzzles needed to visit any other world in the game, yet still enjoyed their experiences.

      The Miller brothers called those people “tourists” and they had huge impact on the decision to go for an open-world all-areas-connected structure with Riven.

      Not that I wouldn’t love Dear Esther with actual gameplay. I believe you can cater to the two types of player at the same time.

    • Jesse L says:

      Wow is Dear Esther ever NOT about physics puzzles. That’s the last thing it wants to be. And apparently, it doesn’t need to. This is great news.

    • RagingLion says:

      But the thing is, what puzzles or other gameplay would you put in that would allow the experience to keep the some tone and tap into the same set of emotions that Dear Esther currently does? I struggle to imagine any typical sort of puzzling gameplay that wouldn’t be completely trite and unrelated to the themes explored.

    • Igor Hardy says:

      True, it would require a lot of creative design to come up with something fitting and meaningful. Just putting in e.g. some sokoban puzzles and FPP platforming would feel pretty awful.

      But that doesn’t make me a fan of the “let’s leave the setting bare of any interactions” approach. That’s the laziest thing to do.

  7. Khemm says:

    Decided to buy it after all. Downloading now… sloooowly.
    There’s no Gamersgate version or a direct download option, unfortunately, which is a shame, because I’d vastly prefer those.

  8. Paul says:

    16000…I would hope for more.
    Le sigh. Still, over its lifetime it will probably get to 100K or so.

    • Memphis-Ahn says:

      I actually think that much is generous. I mean let’s be honest here, it’s $10 for an hour and a half worth of content that is pretty much devoid of gameplay. I doubt Dinner Date sold anywhere near that much (it’s actually on daily deal for really cheap) and it’s the same kind of thing, although granted Dear Esther has exploration and whatnot.
      Let’s not forget there is the free mod as well, which anyone could play instead of this for the price of free and simply miss out on the polish and some extra odd ends that are inconsequential in the grand scheme of things.

    • jrodman says:

      I saw the deal for Dinner Date and thought: Why do i want a virtual dinner date? This sounds terrible.

      I saw Dear Esther was released, and I thought: Oh, that poignant exploration game, I like exploration and emotive content and dare I say it, well done ungame experiences.

      I would have probably have regarded them the same way without some prep. Not sure why I never heard about Dinner Date when reading here and indieblog. Maybe there’s some other source I could have used?

      Oh wait, I read about Dinner Date, and now I definitely don’t want it. Experiencing awkwardness vicariously? No. Definitely not.

  9. Juan Carlo says:

    Good for them.

    Now we can all not feel guilty about waiting to buy it until it’s 75% off–which is really what this game is worth. It’s a neat experience, but not worth 10 dollars.

    I’m a bit confused, actually, why they charged 10 for it at all. Tons of games are debuting on steam these days at 5 dollars. I bet they would have sold 3 to 4 times as much at that price point as well.

    • Nuahaun says:

      Perhaps $5 is/was the better price point, but we’ve got to remember that this was a hugely uncertain venture for the developers/investors. How big is the audience for a “minimalist first-person explorer” anyway? Maybe most people that are interested in that sort of thing wouldn’t blink at paying $10 instead of $5, while those who aren’t wouldn’t bite at $1. I’m not saying this is absolutely the case, but if you think you’re only going to get a small number of sales no matter what you may as well charge what you can to recoup your costs.

    • Premium User Badge LTK says:

      Correct me if I’m wrong, but whether or not we buy the game on sale doesn’t affect the devs, right? The publishers don’t decide whether to put their game on sale; I always figured whoever distributes the game is free to sell it for -25%, -50% or -75%, as long as they forward the agreed upon price per unit back to the publisher. I doubt EA has to give permission for every time someone puts a game of theirs on sale somewhere.

    • skalpadda says:

      @LTK
      In the retail business a store will buy games wholesale from the publisher and there you don’t have an immediate effect on the devs although of course a store is less likely to buy up a lot of copies of a game (or your next game) if they can only sell them at bargain prices for minimum profits, so it certainly does have an effect.

      In digital distribution the online store has an “unlimited” amount of copies and takes a cut from each one they sell (speculation says Steam takes 30-40%). I don’t know about other DD services, but judging from the Steamworks FAQ page and comments from developers, publishers (including single devs self-publishing through Steam) will get a suggestion of a price Steam thinks is reasonable for their game which they are then free to adjust.

      How much control a publisher has over pricing in specific sales or if and how much the cut to the distributor changes I have no idea, but for Steam there seems to be at least two ways to have a sale: Either you get “invited” to a sale event (like the Summer or Christmas sales) or a publisher will approach Valve saying they want a sale or price shift on their games. Either way I would assume that lowering the price of your game will directly affect the cut of the sale a publisher or developer gets.

  10. Stellar Duck says:

    I don’t know. I just bought it for 8€. That’s half the price or less of a movie ticket here in Denmark, and a third of the price of a movie DVD I’ll watch once, so I’d say that an hour and half of content for that price seems fair, especially as the enjoyment I get from Dear Esther is greater than what ever dross Hollywood is pumping out these days.

    I haven’t been to the movies in a year and a half due to modern cinema being shite, but I’ll throw 8€ after an interesting game any time.

    It’s actually interesting how my consumption of content has changed. I spend a fortune on games and books, but basically nill on music and movies. I don’t even pirate it. I think the movie industry and the music ditto have to change a lot if they want some of all that money it appears I’m willing to spent.

    Edit: Bah! My first reply fail. Apologies. Was meant as a reply to Juan Carlo right above me.

    • jaypettitt says:

      That’s what I thought too. It’s a bottle wine on a different day. I don’t mind that.

  11. HoosTrax says:

    Doesn’t Valve specifically ask developers not to publicly disclose Steam sales figures? NDA broken?

  12. Suva says:

    They do not. Valve does not publish the sales figures themselves, but every publisher is free to do with their own stats as they please.

  13. quincunx says:

    This is just great, I hope the sales continue steadily for a while because I believe thechineseroom will be releasing more exciting and innovative titles in the future.

    By the by, in my experience the game is pretty easily two hours long. I’m kind of tired of hearing the one hour and hour and a half quotes being thrown around like insults. Of the folks who are hating, how many have actually played? I can respect your opinion if you’ve experienced it and aren’t happy with the outcome..otherwise, go find some sand to pound. Your baseless opinions aren’t wanted (by me at least).

    • David Shute says:

      People always seem to round down the amount of time they took to finish a game. I don’t know if it’s just a weird psychological thing while playing games, that we lose ourselves and tend to be really bad at gauging the passage of time, or maybe it’s a sort of pathetic macho posturing, (“I beat Portal in two hours! I am better than you!”) But whenever someone tells me the length of a game on the internet, I mentally add on another 25-50%

    • NothingFunny says:

      Reviewers usually rush through games. You can easily multiply the time stated in reviews by 2.

  14. Slade says:

    Okay, now they can recruit someone to do a remake of Korsakovia.

  15. wearedevo says:

    Can’t wait for Dear Esther 2: Esther’s Revenge.

  16. dethtoll says:

    They should’ve made it free once they recouped their expenses. People are always willing to throw away their money at anything as long as they feel good for doing it, but it’s rather mean to take advantage of stupidity like that isn’t it?

    It took me all I had to suppress the desire to watch something dumb and violent after playing this, so negative was my reaction to the frankly terrible prose. “are you sad yet? are you? are you? are you? also, goats and yoghurt”

    http://www.smbc-comics.com/comics/20111013after.gif

  17. Daniel Klein says:

    I’m so happy I bought a copy. Two, actually, one as a gift to a dear friend. What a strange, strange experience that game was.