Greg's Design Blog

A collection of posts by game designer Gregory Carslaw, including mirrors of all of his blogs maintained for particular projects. A complete index of posts can be found here:
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In Service to Numbers

United Kingdom
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Original Post

I started this blog to share my experiences as a game designer working in a small business. In general my experience hasn't been too unusual so most of my blog posts have been about game design more generally, but there were always going to be difficulties working this way and one of the recent ones has been a cause of slightly elevated stress on my part so it's worth writing about.

Small businesses can bounce around a little bit, if you do fewer products then each one is going to make a big difference. This means that a few lucky or unlucky breaks can change the playing field quite a lot. In general if one is well run (and this one is) then there's a degree of resilience to the slings and arrows of fortune, but you still have to adapt. In our case there've been a few unlucky spikes in a row and while it's not causing and problems in the broad sense it does eat into the budget for experimental stuff.

Games are experimental stuff here.The original plan was to release a few games to establish ourselves in the world of gaming. Since a sequel or expansion will typically do about 50% better than the original on kickstarter (Not because more people are buying the expansion, but because people use the 2nd kickstarter to pick up the original) we figured that we could suck up a small loss if it happened and make it back in future years. As things stand we may no longer have that luxury.From a personal point of view here's how it shakes out: I need to release two games (404 and Wizard Academy) on kickstarter by the end of the year and they need to do at least well enough to cover their costs, either each covering their own cost or one doing well enough to cover both. Succeed and there will be three more games next year, fail and they'll be the last games we ever make. Here's how the numbers shake out for 404:

530 sold: Worth making, game gets published, but game dev almost certainly canned.
760 sold: 404 paid for itself, it's all down to Wizard Academy
1000 sold: 404 justifies the expansion into game development singlehandedly.
10000 sold: Commendation from the queen (I'm pretty sure.)

It's a bit of a shame that it's all on the kickstarter rather than any retailer sales, but there simply won't be time for those slower paced sales to happen before the decision needs to be made so ultimately they're not going to count (actually they may be counted negatively, as units that must be paid to be disposed of), but that's out of my hands. I've no idea how this is all going to shake out, since there are so many unknown variables involved. I see a lot of numbers for how these things might go, recommendations that a first time game won't do better than 500 or that 800-1000 is average or plenty of projections ranging from "much worse" to "much better".

Speaking as an unlikely oracle, this sort of uncertainty in the future bothers me a fair bit. Really I should put the whole thing from my mind and get back to making the games as awesome as possible ensuring that they do as well as they possibly can. It's not like anything has really changed on a practical level, I always knew that this was an experimental area of the company and that at some point an economically driven decision would have to be made as to whether to continue or not. It's just a shock for that deadline to suddenly come forward by a month or two.Ah well, worrying never fixed anything. Back to work!
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