The Witness Sells Well, Next Game “Maybe Bigger”

I’d normally not care one jot about how many copies a game has sold, but there has been enough reportage of The Witness‘s budget that I can’t deny I’m interested in how it fared. So maybe you’d also like to know that Jonathan Blow has said on Twitter that the game “is on track to sell more in a week than Braid sold in its first year.”

Here are the tweets:

There aren’t hard figures on how many copies Braid sold in its first year, but it reportedly sold 55,000 in its first week. According to SteamSpy (which can only estimate) The Witness has already sold around 45,000 copies at the much higher price of £30/$40, with likely many more sales coming via other stores and on PlayStation 4.

The Witness’s initial budget was $800,000, but over its seven years of development that figure increased to somewhere around $6 million. It’s not unusual for budgets to increase and in the grand scheme of videogame development $6 million is but a pittance. It’s interesting in this case however as Blow was part of the first wave of modern indie successes who made a small game and hit it big. While most of his peers followed their hits with games of equivalent ambition, Blow put together a team and aimed larger with The Witness. It sounds like a gamble that’s paid off. Even pirates are digging it.

If however you’re still torn as to whether or not to buy the game yourself, we should have a review of The Witness for you tomorrow. When the time comes, just complete this maze in order to find the link.

68 Comments

  1. Banks says:

    The attention to detail and production values in this game are just mindblowing, and of course, the game itself is brilliant. It’s also delightful that a 40$ puzzle game has managed to sell so well.

    I’m sure that whatever blow and his team decide to do next, It will keep moving the medium forward. But please, don’t keep us waiting another 8 years.

    • haldolium says:

      I wholeheartly agree. The Witness is a very refreshing game with outstanding environment and art design, not to mention the great puzzles that keep me entertained even though they all take place on panels. I am happy that it sells well.

      For many reasons, this is one of the very few indie titles that deserve much money.

    • Urthman says:

      Kirk Hamilton said it best on Twitter: “Time to visit Mr. Blow’s Island and do a bunch of lines.”

  2. somnolentsurfer says:

    Wasn’t Braid Xbox exclusive for a year?

  3. Premium User Badge

    Don Reba says:

    What kinds of NDAs could an indie developer be risking to break by disclosing sales numbers?

    • meepmeep says:

      The ones where Valve won’t let them reveal Steam sales numbers, because that’s precious information that could be used by a competitor to possibly very marginally improve their marketing and price trajectories.

      • Premium User Badge

        Don Reba says:

        Huh. I didn’t expect that from Valve.

        • Cronstintein says:

          Yeah me neither, I assumed it was on the Playstation-Sony side. I’ve definitely heard lots of Devs talking about how their games do on Steam.

      • Rhodokasaurus says:

        Sources? Or you just suppose that’s the reason.

  4. WombatDeath says:

    That’s a crap maze. I’m an RPS supporter, therefore I demand that you spend seven years and $6 million making a good maze.

  5. Psychomorph says:

    Next game “maybe bigger”.

    Expect it to be 14 years in development.

  6. Shuck says:

    A $6million game and maybe 55K sales? Bigger, more publicized games tend to have more sales upfront, so it’s not going to follow Braid’s sales pattern. Maybe he should hold off until he’s closer to paying back dev costs before he talks about making the next one bigger… I hope he makes enough to do that, but I wouldn’t be counting any chickens before they hatch.

    • rochrist says:

      That’s not what he said a couple of days ago. He was all about piracy and the end of the world :P

      “It seems The Witness is the #1 game on a certain popular torrent site.
      Unfortunately this will not help us afford to make another game! :(”

      I guess he can afford to make another game now due to sales having nothing to do with piracy rate :)

      What an excellent excuse for stealing!

      • Premium User Badge

        Don Reba says:

        I find it’s the murder part of piracy that is more disconcerting.

  7. Seafort says:

    That’s not what he said a couple of days ago. He was all about piracy and the end of the world :P

    “It seems The Witness is the #1 game on a certain popular torrent site.
    Unfortunately this will not help us afford to make another game! :(”

    I guess he can afford to make another game now due to sales having nothing to do with piracy rate :)

    I’m going to buy the game myself at some point but it’s not an essential buy at this point. XCOM 2 comes first as well as some other games. That’s a non-sale too just as much as piracy is.

    • ChrisGWaine says:

      No, there’s been no actual contradiction between what he said about the level of piracy and making enough for another game.

    • LionsPhil says:

      It’s almost like it had no demo or something, leaving piracy as the only means to try-before-you-buy for something that costs thirty quid.

      • Oozo says:

        I always found “there is no demo” to be a somewhat a flimsy excuse for pirating a game (unless you will buy it afterwards, in which case it’s not an excuse).

        But I think that’s even more true so since the new refund-policy turns every game on Steam in its own demo.

        Is it great to have to download the whole of Witcher 3 in order to find out if it’s running well enough on your PC, the way I had to do lately?

        No. But it’s acceptable, considering that no dev owes you a demo, and you do now have perfectly legal way to check out if a game is for you or not. (2 hours are more than enough for that…) It should be more acceptable than in helping along an illegal practice, which is what you usually do when you torrent a game.

        Of course, YMMV. I just wonder if there will be a point where people won’t find excuses for piracy anymore. (Though, as I said, there are reasons that are not excuses.)

        • anHorse says:

          “But I think that’s even more true so since the new refund-policy turns every game on Steam in its own demo.”

          Yeah until you do it a few times and Valve ban you for abusing the refund system

          • sweerd says:

            I don’t think that happens. You can refund games if you don’t like them (I’ve done that multiple times), and even if you’re abusing the system, they’ll only stop you from refunding more titles.

  8. Shazbut says:

    If I click on that maze link and my immediate response is “NOPE!” and close the link, does this mean I won’t like The Witness?

    • Shazbut says:

      I don’t know why I’m asking. I know this game isn’t for me. It’s just annoying because it looks so pretty and well put together.

  9. bouchacha says:

    I desperately want to understand the appeal of this game. To me it just looks like you wander around and complete mazes. Why did this take 7 years to develop? Why is it being sold for $40? Why do people seem to enjoy it? I really want to know.

    • Urthman says:

      The mazes aren’t the puzzles. The mazes are an interface for communicating with the game to show that you’ve solved the puzzles.

      • theslap says:

        That’s a good explanation. The game is truly a masterpiece. If you have an interest in puzzle games, you will enjoy this game. The game has the ability to make you feel incredibly smart and incredibly stupid at any point. Yes, the price is a bit steep and I was leery at purchasing at that price but I had been waiting years for this game and the 20+ hours I spent completing the game was well worth the $40. I haven’t even completed lots of the extra puzzles.

      • PancakeWizard says:

        It still doesn’t really sound like the high-minded interlocking puzzle island he gave the impression of in preview cover. I thought it was going to be more like, “oh I draw a symbol in this japanese stone garden and one of the rocks glowed blue. Maybe if I stand by the lake at a particular moon phase something else will happen. I wonder how it all fits together?”

    • Rhodokasaurus says:

      Don’t worry, there’s also patented indie “audio logs” which you can collect that say random nonsense that has nothing to do with the game. Also, there’s no resolution to the “story” it presents and everything was just a dream.

      If that doesn’t get your juices flowing, nothing will!

  10. deadly.by.design says:

    “Even pirates are digging it.

    Good grief. I can’t understand the mindset of some of the people justifying piracy in those tweets. What a bunch of whiny, entitled cheapskates.

    But then again, it’s Twitter.

    • theslap says:

      Seriously.

      I can understand why some people might be tempted to pirate when they don’t have the means to pay, but people trying to justify piracy because the developer did “this or that” is just sad.

    • Premium User Badge

      Don Reba says:

      There is no need to justify sharing. There is nothing wrong with it.

      • Shazbut says:

        Would it be ok if one person bought the game and then “shared” it with every other person on the planet?

        Because then the game would never have been made at all.

        If not, then how many people is it ok to share it with? 10? 1000? 1000000?

        • Emeraude says:

          Because then the game would never have been made at all.

          This game in particular? Maybe. Games in general? Not at all. We know because games were made way before it was a viable business decision. And they were made – are still made right now – because some people just want to create.

          Hell we know that intellectual monopoly laws do *not* boost creative endeavors. We didn’t enforce them for that purpose but supposedly as a way to make things more fair to creators – originally to protect creators from publishers.

          Victor Hugo was saying at the time intellectuals were debating those issues in France that the day those rights would actively prevent access to culture to the poorest, then they would have to be amended or even gotten rid of. I tend to agree with him. All the more now that none of those privileges we’ve given fulfill their original constitutional mandate.

        • Premium User Badge

          Don Reba says:

          Would it be ok if one person bought the game and then “shared” it with every other person on the planet?

          Yes, that would be totally fine. The game industry is already largely past relying on direct sales: some of the it is government-subsidized, some relies on subscriptions and microtransactions. Some developers release their games for free, some ask for donations. The sky won’t fall if direct sales disappear altogether.

          • theslap says:

            The next game I want to play is Jonathan Blow’s “American Witness” brought to you by American subsidies (NOW featuring microtransactions!)

          • Premium User Badge

            gritz says:

            “The game industry is already largely past relying on direct sales:”

            You live in a fantasy world.

      • deadly.by.design says:

        Most of what bugs me is the attitude of “You did [x], so I’m going to enjoy your product for free,” or “If you really cared, you should have done more to protect it.”

        How exactly is someone creating content supposed to react to those attitudes? They show absolutely no regard for someone’s work, and strike me as folks who only care about consuming their next piece of media.

        • golem09 says:

          What if x is “not offer your game for sale in my country”?
          What if x is “offer the game for a price equivalent to my entire months wage, which I also need to live off”?
          I know people forget it sometimes, but civilized western society is not the entire world. Should we deny art to millions of people because they will never in their entire life be able to pay for it?
          Piracy for us of course is lame and sad. I preordered the game without even playing it for the full price to support the developer. Gonna have time for that in about 3 weeks.

          • theslap says:

            His comment suggests nothing about for those people who can’t afford the game or for those whose country it is unavailable. He is talking about people who have no regard for the work done; who pirate to spite the developer.

          • Premium User Badge

            gritz says:

            He specifically calls out Region 1 (USA) as the #1 region for the torrent.

          • Unsheep says:

            Gaming is a luxury hobby, it is not essential for living.
            A person’s priority should be shelter, safety, water, food.
            Playing ‘the Witness’ is not exactly a necessity.

            Just because everybody around me drives a car and I don’t have one, does not make it OK for me to steal one for myself.

            If you want to play games but don’t have much money there’s no excuse for pirating because you DO have other options: buy indie games instead of Big titles, buy classic games on GOG, buy bundles on Bundle Stars, buy pay-what-you-want titles on Humble Store, etc.

            There’s also a decent number of free games available out there, most of them are MMOs and such but still, they are free to play.

            Since you can buy older games very cheap and play some games for free, the ‘price and affordability’ argument is a not a good one. Nobody is forced to play new expensive titles, you don’t ‘have’ to play them, there’s an abundance of games around besides these new expensive titles.

            You adjust your spending according to your income, I can’t afford to pay for a Ferrari…so I simply don’t buy a Ferrari, instead I either buy a used-car or a cheap Suzuki.

            Yet somehow, there are gamers out there that feel they are entitled to owning a game. By the same reasoning, I could argue that since I feel like I ‘should’ own a Ferrari I should probably go ahead and steal one then.

            So ‘no’, I don’t buy the ‘I live in a poor country’ argument. People pirate games because they feel the world somehow owes them something.

          • Premium User Badge

            Don Reba says:

            If you want to play games but don’t have much money there’s no excuse for pirating because you DO have other options

            There is no difference between downloading a pirate copy of The Witness and opting for a free game — Jon Blow loses a sale either way.

          • Emeraude says:

            I know it’s involuntary, and not the point being made, but it’s kind of funny how the sequence of theslap and gritz’ comments seem to come with the implication that there are no poor people in the US.

      • fish99 says:

        Except it’s illegal.

        • pepperfez says:

          This is, in my experience/opinion, a counterproductive argument. Once we start talking about the legal state of intellectual property and “piracy,” we get away from the question of whether it’s right or wrong to play a brand new game without paying for it and into the fundamental corruption of the system as it exists, and that’s all rather different and not something JBlow should be punished for.

          • fish99 says:

            Well in that case, piracy is also wrong. Sharing is not good if it’s something you don’t have the right to share, and you’re depriving someone of the income they would have otherwise received from their work.

            People claim piracy doesn’t equal a lost sale, but I know plenty of people (including myself when I was younger) who pirated games they could afford and would have bought if piracy wasn’t an option.

          • Emeraude says:

            Sharing is not good if it’s something you don’t have the right to share

            Which is beside the point when the argument is that you should have that right.

            you’re depriving someone of the income they would have otherwise received from their work.

            So do I when I lend my copy of a game. Which I know, some right holders would love to see made illegal. It’s funny how they can not only argue that point but actually enforce it without waiting for the law to be amended, but when it’s the other side doing it, it becomes something to be shamed.

          • Premium User Badge

            Don Reba says:

            you’re depriving someone of the income they would have otherwise received from their work

            Not all work gets to be compensated. You make something without making sure people want to pay for it, and it turns out they don’t — well, tough.

          • Baines says:

            fish99, once you start arguing whether or not is it good rather than simply against the law, you get into some pretty murky debate territory, because it has been argued that the laws themselves aren’t good. Patent law is broken, too easily abused and unsuited for areas of relatively high speed innovation anyway. Copyright has been extended to an insane degree through the acts of corporations like Disney, in order to protect their money flow at the cost of the public good. (Disney, which made its empire in part on retelling public domain stories had done all it could to make sure its own products never entered the public domain.)

            Of course that isn’t a justification for pirating a game a day or two after release. It is just that “legal” doesn’t necessarily mean “good”, nor “illegal” mean “bad”.

    • Person of Interest says:

      This probably isn’t representative of most pirates, but…

      I started pirating games again six months ago, after not doing so for five years. I did so because I had stopped buying games: thanks to dozens of seasonal sales and hundreds of Humble Bundles, I already own most of the good games made in the last 15 years, most not even installed yet.

      So, new rule: I’d pirate games, and the ones I fall in love with, I’d buy; new games at full price, older games on their next sale. And I’ve spent more money in the last six months than in the previous two years combined.

      The Witness is the first full-price game I’ve purchased since D-ablo 3. There’s no way I would have done that if I hadn’t been able to pirate it day-one due to its DRM-free release, and play it until I could see what made it so special.

      Entitled pirates can go to hell. It’s like what the pirating groups print at the beginning of each cracked installer: “If you like this game, BUY IT!”

      • Pizzacheeks McFroogleburgher says:

        Yes so to be clear you’re a good pirate. And you definitely buy any games you actually like.
        Yes… Off topic, I’m going to stop eating so much junk food. I have a rule, you see; if I eat a donut I have to follow it up with a carrot and 30 star jumps.
        That donut I just ate was exempt because I had a cup of tea with it so that’s OK.. The rule starts tomorrow. Not including weekends. Friday to Sunday. Monday morning. With exemptions. It’s all about sticking to your rules. Self discipline.

      • fish99 says:

        You know if everyone pirated games and then bought them in a humble bundle that would take >95% of the revenue out of the industry, and it would collapse, taking all your favourite developers with it.

        • pepperfez says:

          I think you misunderstand the comment. The commentor is saying they started pirating games after having only bought games in bunudles, as a way of getting excited about new games and buying them straight out. So if everyone used unpaid downloads to increase their games buying, there’d be much more money sloshing around the industry.

        • Person of Interest says:

          Pepperfez has the right understanding, but you’ve also brought up a good point. I recognize that the price of any game, whether new or on sale, has the risk that I won’t like it factored in. If I were wholly on the up-and-up, I would buy £40 pre-orders every month; or buy cartloads of £4 sale games with catchy titles, in the hopes that I’ll like one or two of them.

          And some studios, like Arcen demonstrated this week, need money now, not after I’ve played for a while.

          So Pizza McF’s point is noted: it’s still dishonest of me to pirate, even though I claim that the ends justify the means.

    • Unsheep says:

      Most of them are probably kids and teens, I think that explains it. As you mature you [hopefully] develop principles.

  11. Itkovian says:

    I know this isn’t important but that title makes me wince. In the context of the original tweet, ‘maybe’ is fine but in the context of the article title, you need to use ‘may be’. ‘Maybe’ means ‘perhaps’, so you’re saying ‘Next game perhaps bigger’ rather than ‘Next game may (even) be bigger’ which is what you wanted (and what the guy actually said). Maybe (!) you were happy with the slightly awkward grammar for the sake of getting the quote into the title but, in my opinion at least, it doesn’t read well.

    Apologies for the grammar pedantry but maybe someone will find it useful or interesting.

    • draglikepull says:

      Because it is a partial quote from a tweet by Blow, it would be incorrect to change it (he wrote what wrote said, even if he wrote it wrong). In this instance, in the full quote “maybe” is correct:

      “we’ll be able to make the next game at a comparable budget level (maybe bigger)”

      • draglikepull says:

        Really wish we could edit comments. I meant “he wrote what he wrote” not “he wrote what wrote said”.

    • Premium User Badge

      Don Reba says:

      I know this isn’t important but that title makes me wince.

      Same here.

      • Pizzacheeks McFroogleburgher says:

        Wince, twice.. Three tiiiimes a pedant. What a bunch of arse.

  12. Csirke says:

    He actually meant it by revenue, not copies sold:

    link to twitter.com

    “More by revenue. Number of copies will beat Braid’s first week but not year, I don’t think (maybe!)”

  13. Unsheep says:

    Games that are popular with gaming media tend to sell really well.

    Personally I prefer puzzle games that have some kind of storyline behind them, like the Talos Principle, Portal 2, The Journeyman Project and the Myst series.

  14. fish99 says:

    Obvious question – how/why did it take 7 years? Surely Braid can’t have paid for that.

  15. doodaddy says:

    I don’t get it. The videos of The Witness look like I solve mazes on virtual paper all day, with some pretty, cartoon graphics between newspapers.

    What am I missing?