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  1. #1

    Of Tale of Tales' withdrawal and indie economics

    A bit of old news, this, but reading Tale of Tales' Sunset post-mortem/farewell letter, what really stuck out for me was their sense that a less-than-spectacular launch day was the final nail.

    Knowing that we have some devs and industry-watchers here, I want to put the question to you, hivemind: is that where we are now in indie game development?

    In other words, is there no long tail anymore? Either you make lucre hand over fist on launch day, or your game is a flop? Or is it just that expectations got too high, thanks to a maybe now burst indie bubble, and much-promoted success stories like Gunpoint?
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  2. #2
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    I think its quite pointless to talk about an indie developer failing, because that's what they do.

    I learn in business courses that 80% of small startups fail in the first 5 years and another 80% of the remaining 20% will fail in the next 5 years.

    There has never been an indie "bubble". Indie games in total don't even account for 5% of the total market capitalization of gaming in general.

    Just because 1 indie developer fail doesn't mean anything. It's common and happens all the time.



    On the other hand, when big games fail, they deserve more attention, because big games do actually use a lot of resources.
    Take for example, the canceled projects of Activision Blizzard, Electronic Arts and Microsoft.

  3. #3
    Network Hub dudebro's Avatar
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    Larger game company failings make larger ripples. What happens on Wall Street when a billion dollar company starts having trouble?

  4. #4
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    Quote Originally Posted by dudebro View Post
    Larger game company failings make larger ripples. What happens on Wall Street when a billion dollar company starts having trouble?
    They get fistfuls of free cash?

  5. #5
    Secondary Hivemind Nexus alms's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by GunnerMcCaffrey View Post
    In other words, is there no long tail anymore? Either you make lucre hand over fist on launch day, or your game is a flop?
    Being neither a dev or an industry watcher, my impression is there's a whole lot of games being announced, talked about (released or not released), and coming out each day.

    Lots of competition for attention and time (also backlogs), so the importance of being able to sell an idea or game concept in whatever way, is now peaking, although it was always important, as major indie hits were often long anticipated.

    You have to be able to make people WANT TO PLAY your game, long before it's in their hands.

    It's not that the long tail has vanished, rather than launch day sales have always been a strong indicator of the game's performance on the market. There's things like sleeper hits, though probably the exception rather than the rule.
    Last edited by alms; 30-06-2015 at 09:26 PM.
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  6. #6
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    Short answer to this - too many games being released, too much PR floating around - very, very hard to get attention for almost ANY games these days - lots of developers are going to suffer (it's not new, been going-on well over a year now)

    Tale of Tales output was far from mainstream, but they've made games before and if the people who bought those didn't leap at their latest title it's because

    a - it didn't appeal to them
    b - they had a bad experience with an earlier game
    c - they're simply waiting for the inevitable bundle

    I don't get how developers think every game they release will magically pull-in people their earlier games didn't - if your last game didn't grab people, what makes you think your next one will.

    Hell, even if your last game DID there's no guarantee your next one will - there are JUST TOO MANY GAMES - and frankly, anything remotely 'arty' or 'leftfield' is probably SoL in particular.

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    The long tail is a thing, but your initial sales are going to be indicative of your long term sales.

    ToT had, what, 4,000 sales including their discount sales. That wasn't enough to monetarily sustain them in the short term (it doesn't matter how long your tail is if you can't pay your bills right now). It is also indicative of how big their tail will be. A game like GTA 5, FTL, Terraria, Rome Total War, etc... will have quite a long tail, and the tail will be big enough to actually count for something.

  8. #8
    Network Hub dudebro's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Serenegoose View Post
    They get fistfuls of free cash?
    Haha, true enough. Bonuses for everyone before that long vacation to a tropical island somewhere.

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    Specifically for Steam - Valve also set a sales targets for new games, if your game hits the target, you get publicity and promotion such as space on the rotating banners and some other benefits.

    If you fail, you're consigned to being 'off the page' and can kiss your initial sales bump goodbye.

    I do wonder what some people expect in sales tho - not having sold any games (on PC at least) I've no idea what people think they'll get - but reality is that some new games on Steam would probably KILL for 4000 sales.

    Some games on Steam probably don't have 400 - some may not even have 40!!

  10. #10
    Quote Originally Posted by trjp View Post
    Specifically for Steam - Valve also set a sales targets for new games, if your game hits the target, you get publicity and promotion such as space on the rotating banners and some other benefits.
    Interesting.

    I do wonder what some people expect in sales tho - not having sold any games (on PC at least) I've no idea what people think they'll get - but reality is that some new games on Steam would probably KILL for 4000 sales.
    See, this was much my thought as well... Sunset was by their own admission their first attempt at a "mainstream" game, whatever that means - for them it seems to have meant actually trying to reach a a broader audience (even though it's an audience for whom they seem to have contempt). So, "only" getting 4000 sales (and a bunch of reasonably good reviews) on your first foray doesn't seem like a reason to burn the whole place down and move on. I almost wonder if part of the wants an excuse to give up on "gamers."

    That's kind of an aside, though. Mostly it's just worrisome, if the rule is launch day success or nothing. I wonder if that can look different to publishers than devs; Slitherine, for instance, seems to be trundling along just fine in (relative) obscurity and with (relatively) high prices, but I gather they've also been nurturing a loyal niche audience for a good long while.
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  11. #11
    If this was their attempt at a mainstream game, I'd say they failed on one core level. I'm a fairly big games enthusiast. I have a massive backlog on my Steam account. I buy games on a nearly weekly basis. I play all kinds of indie games. And I've never heard of this company or their games. Looking at some reviews, they don't seem like the kind of games that I'd really want to play, but I can't say that for certain because I often play a game that looks like something I wouldn't enjoy and end up loving it. But I'd say that they failed at even getting word out about their games. Or perhaps their games were so unlikeable that people didn't feel compelled to spread the word.

  12. #12
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    I think the most important thing from their statement was the reveal that they spent significantly more money than they had, figuring that the game would make it big if it had more marketing.

    It's my belief that they could have stayed sustainable if they aimed to make the game purely on the money they raised on Kickstarter (they raised more than double their target) because they had a small group of people who were devoted to them and would buy any game they put out, including kickstarting their next one. (I could be wrong, though. It's possible it would have been impossible to live on the Kickstarter money.)

    Instead they gambled on growing their audience, but the gamble didn't pay off. I'm a bit surprised that they thought they could make popular games for gamers, because I never got the impression that either of them played and enjoyed games much. How does one make a successful product when one doesn't appreciate it oneself? I personally loved their stuff as art, but they made pretty bad games.

  13. #13
    After reading their farewell letter, I looked at youtubes to find some footage of it. It's a game about cleaning someone's house while there is a revolution brewing, and the main exposition device is what the cleaning lady thinks while doing her job and looking at the city.

    The premise is really cool actually, and I don't want to say that it failed because it wasn't a game ... clearly we live in a world post - Dear Esther. But maybe they would be better off if they didn't try to put any gameplay there at all. From what I've seen ( and read ), they wanted to add some "game" to their game so they could sell big instead of what meager amounts their previous titles brought. And then they spent a lot of money on marketing.

    It obviously left a bad taste in their mouths and it's a shame they did such a bad job of it because again, the premise is interesting and this is the sort of thing what the typical RPS reader likes. They even say exactly that, they expected good reviews and big sales from websites like RPS and their readers.

    Maybe if their game was a bit better this wouldn't have happened, not that they seem to accept the failure as their own and it is the ignorant masses who couldn't find the diamond covered in the proverbial crap. Even as the gameplay is so boring it would have been better to not have it, and their social commentary collapses under it's own weight [ in my opinion, being a philosophy graduate I've been exposed to this sort of thing a lot ( obviously not in games )] they don't think it's their fault.

    Always sad to see a developer give up, of course.
    Last edited by Caddybear; 01-07-2015 at 12:41 PM.

  14. #14
    Secondary Hivemind Nexus Heliocentric's Avatar
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    I wish I'd sold 4000 copies of a game.
    I'm failing to writing a blog, specifically about playing games the wrong way
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  15. #15
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    I wish I'd made a game.

    I didn't played Sunset, but from RPS reviev it seems like it's a game with Mass Effect paragon/renegate style choices. No wonder it's not really popular, as any Telltale game since TWD or Life is Strange offers much the same, but is more polished, focused on fun bit (story and choices) and leaving boring parts (cleaning the house?) behind.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Heliocentric View Post
    I wish I'd sold 4000 copies of a game.
    Buy a pre-built Unity package (or just pirate one), pay the $100 to put it through Greenlight, sell it for a couple of bucks, put it in sale and get it in a game bundle, and you too can sell thousands of copies of a game.

    I was going to check the SteamSpy stats on Uncrowded, because by now it probably should be in the thousands of copies owned range. Except the "developer" (Uncrowded is one of several Steam games that are really nothing more than the Unit Z asset package for Unity) has apparently had the user details for the game blocked. (SteamSpy filters out the game, and if you go directly to its page by using its app number, there is no data and even the developer and publisher names are displayed as "Hidden".)

    I never really cared for Tale of Tales art games, but they were at least better than some of the stuff Steam sells these days.

  17. #17
    Lesser Hivemind Node TillEulenspiegel's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by fenghuang View Post
    I learn in business courses that 80% of small startups fail in the first 5 years and another 80% of the remaining 20% will fail in the next 5 years.
    Yep. All kinds of businesses fail for all kinds of reasons, very very frequently. Not having a good, complete business plan is one major reason.

    But...I think aspiring indie developers who don't have a clear vision should feel discouraged. If you don't have a great game bursting to get out of you, you're probably going to fail with whatever mediocre crap you do produce. I've seen these people at meetups. They make competent but completely uninteresting arcade games or platformers or whatever. Making something great needs a lot of things, but it's gotta start with that clear goal, a singular idea.

    And then there are the people who are just making personal art in the medium of videogames. Which is fine. But the commercial viability is often dubious.

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    I haven't actually played or bought one of their games, but I have of course heard of them because they get a lot of coverage (for indie games).

    I'm perplexed by this, although I haven't been following it closely and may have missed something.

    Their games have never been aimed at a large audience and big profit, right? They make art games that are, I assume, exactly what they want to make.
    They did a kickstarter for this, and got double the amount they asked for.
    It seems to me that there is an audience for their games, it's just a very specific limited audience. Yet in this era of kickstarter and patreon, it seems like the best time to be that kind of developer. They're never going to make it rich, but they'd have the freedom to make their kind of games for people who appreciate that kind of game.

    I think they did benefit initially from being one of the first wave of indie game developers. Those guys got a lot of coverage and front page games on steam, etc... It's probably much harder to do that now there is a crowd of thousands of indie developers on steam.
    But still, seems odd to me..

  19. #19
    Secondary Hivemind Nexus Jesus_Phish's Avatar
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    Their game was massively overpriced for what it was, they wasted money on advertising it in the wrong place. They aimed a product at a market they didn't understand.

    The reason they got to keep making games was because they were the Uwe Bowl of indie gaming. Public funding kept them alive. Once that dried up and they had to go it alone, they did a bad job of it.

    It's been the way you describe for a while though. There's very few indie games which didn't hit the ground running but then went on to be successful later. Who are the long tail games? Thomas Was Alone did alright at the start if I'm remember it right, but it was fairly priced. Gunpoint is another example. But both of those took different route. Thomas eventually did very well from bundles and Gunpoint was heavily featured on Youtube. And they both had reasonable prices for what they did. Sunset was $20 on release, released close to a Steam sale and frankly isn't up to much.

    There's people saying that ToT make games for developers and I think that's true. They make the games that developers will then turn into "proper" games for the rest of us. Austin Walker over at GB said "First you get Romper Stomper, then you get American History X".
    "Halo is designed to make the player think "I look like that, I am macho sitting in my undies with my xbox""

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  20. #20
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    Quote Originally Posted by Baines View Post
    I was going to check the SteamSpy stats on Uncrowded, because by now it probably should be in the thousands of copies owned range. Except the "developer" (Uncrowded is one of several Steam games that are really nothing more than the Unit Z asset package for Unity) has apparently had the user details for the game blocked. (SteamSpy filters out the game, and if you go directly to its page by using its app number, there is no data and even the developer and publisher names are displayed as "Hidden".)
    Yeah, that's something Sergei added after a few companies complained about SteamSpy - some for 'commercial reasons' but one company complained because "where they live, people knowing you're making money can be dangerous" !!

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