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a multiplayer game of parenting and civilization building

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#1 2018-03-09 23:07:56

Registered: 2017-02-13
Posts: 245

Launching a game Off-Steam: Sales number from Week 1

I've heard it many times, from both friends and strangers alike (and even a bit from my spouse):  "Jason, don't you think you're nuts for not releasing this game on Steam?"  Steam has changed a lot over the years, though.


Back in 2011 when my game Inside a Star-filled Sky launched on Steam, Valve worked with me directly to pick a release date that had no major conflicts.  My game was the only game that came out that day on Steam.  I'll repeat that for emphasis:  my game was the only game that came out that day on Steam.  It remained on the new release list for almost an entire week, sitting there on the front page of Steam for everyone to see.  That exposure helped this otherwise-unknown game sell 649 units on the first day and 704 on the second day, and achieve a peak of 43 simultaneous players on day two.  For me, at the time, those sales number were huge and career changing.  Of course, the normal drop-off and long tail followed, with occasional spikes during the sales that I participated in.  But the biggest influx of players and revenue came during launch.

Fast-forward almost seven years.  On Tuesday, February 27, 2018, I counted 83 games launching on Steam that day, the same day that I launched One Hour One Life off Steam.

Steam still has a lot to offer:  a huge install-base of dedicated players, a channel for games to spread virally (because you see what your Steam friends are currently playing), and a top-notch player-submitted review system.  And of course, some players "just don't buy games that aren't on Steam."

Some people even claim that no game released off-Steam could ever be successful.  Such games, it would seem, are doomed to failure.

However, we have to keep in mind that the very most successful games of all time on PC have never been on Steam and will never be on Steam:  Minecraft, League of Legends, Overwatch, and Hearthstone.

Minecraft is a great example:  the order form, as I originally encountered it back in the day, was worded in Swedish, and the price was only listed in Euros.  The point is, if a game is good enough and attractive enough, players will overcome their hang-ups and find a way to buy it, even if it's not on Steam.  My goal is to make a game that's so good that it won't matter.  Shouldn't I be trying to make a game that is just that good?

Finally, I certainly might have doubled or even tripled my first-week sales numbers if I had launched on Steam.  But, as a solo developer, I'm barely able to keep up with the demand and influx of players as it is.  I'm doing personal tech support and community management.  There were a few show-stopping bugs on certain platforms that I didn't catch before launch.  The servers are already half-full, and it will be time to get more up and running soon.  This kind of game---a super-complicated multi-server, multi-platform, multiplayer game---pretty much requires a slow roll-out.

Another big difference is the nature of the "games press" these days compared to seven years ago.  Back then, every news and review outlet covered Inside a Star-filled Sky at launch.  I had an even bigger press response to The Castle Doctrine a few years later.

But in the mean time, the game press essentially vanished.  Some websites don't exist anymore.  Others are helmed by skeleton crews.  Still others have shifted focus and pretty much don't talk about new games anymore.

Thus, to get the word out about my launch, I was really depending on Twitter and my 19K-member mailing list.  However, email, as you're probably aware, is riddled with delivery issues.  I'm paying for services that supposedly ensure inbox delivery, but they don't work very well.

All these factors conspired to make my launch numbers pretty sad:


Oh crap, look at that!  The exponential decay curve was already kicking in just a few days in.  Was it all down-hill from here?  If so, the future of the game was bleak, because the top of the hill wasn't very high at all, relatively speaking.  484 units.

But if the games press isn't relevant anymore, how do people find out about new games?  There are two ways:  word of mouth, and YouTube videos.  Word of mouth has always been the most important factor for any game, I think.  When your friends keep playing a game and keep talking to you about it week after week, you are much more likely to buy the game yourself.

YouTube is a comparatively new factor, but it's a bit like crowd-sourced word of mouth, and also a form of try-before-you-buy.  You watch someone else kick the tires so that you know what you're getting into.

But here's the thing:  some games are way better at generating word of mouth and YouTube videos than others.

What kind of game generates the most word of mouth?  A game that players tend to play long-term, week after week, month after month.  Your friend will talk about it this week, and next week, and the week after that.  Your friend will just not shut up about this game.

If your friend is still playing months later, it's likely that the game is somehow generating an endless supply of unique and interesting emergent situations.  And guess what?  That kind of game also makes for great videos.  Each video can show people something from the game that they've never seen before.

A game that doesn't have these properties depends on buzz at launch to sell.  It also depends on the critical mass that Steam can bring, to give it a chance to go viral during the brief window that people are collectively playing it.

But the press is gone, so buzz is much harder to generate, and Steam is crowded, so going viral there is much more uncertain.

The new world of video game success seems to be happening mostly outside the game press and independently from the impact of Steam's crowded new release list.

I designed One Hour One Life intentionally to operate well in this new paradigm.  It is, hopefully, a unique-situation-generator, down to its core, and it's endlessly replayable.  It also generates unique situations at a kind of meta level, because civilization collectively advances even when you're not playing.  If you make another video next week, it will show something quite different from the video that you made last week.

But these things take time to cook and build.  Word of mouth isn't instantaneous.  YouTube videos take time to make.  To my shock and happy surprise, the downward trend started reversing a few days after launch:


Until finally, today, I had my best sales day ever, by a large margin, a full week after launch.

The Castle Doctrine was a pretty huge hit for me, relatively speaking.  It generated a lot of press buzz and word of mouth, and it managed to bring in something like $70,000 in the 11 months that I sold the alpha through my own website, before launching on Steam.  But yeah, that was over eleven months.

I realized today that in just over a week, One Hour One Life has brought in nearly as much as what The Castle Doctrine brought in over 44 weeks.  And The Castle Doctrine's graphs, both on and off Steam, always had the classic exponential fall-off after the launch spike.

So what's happening here?

Well, YouTube has been a huge factor, as several 100K+ view videos started getting posted a few days after launch.  The comments on these videos are telling, with many people begging the YouTuber to make more videos about the game.  And some of those YouTubers have.  Some are on their third video at this point, with each video thrusting them into new and interesting situations.

But the other factor is that the players who started playing the game around launch are still playing the game and talking about it a week later.  They are not "finished' with the game.  They haven't moved on.

I'm getting ready to put out the second of my weekly content updates since launch, but even without my input, the game world is changing as civilization advances, making it worth coming back to.  Thus, the critical mass of hourly active players is growing:


Given that I've been working on this game for three years already and have at least two more years of work to go, the revenue generated by this game during launch week has not come at all close to making it a financial success.  However, it does look like it might be operating in a new paradigm of public interest in games, which is a slow build up to steady growth over the long haul.


#2 2018-03-10 01:27:16

Registered: 2018-03-09
Posts: 12

Re: Launching a game Off-Steam: Sales number from Week 1

Congrats my dude, the concept of this game is awesome and innovative, enjoy the well deserved success .... I think a lot of people have not discovered it yet ... the real numbers will come in the next weeks to me.


#3 2018-03-10 02:01:02

Registered: 2018-03-01
Posts: 27

Re: Launching a game Off-Steam: Sales number from Week 1

Thanks for sharing these charts and the brief postmortems. I have followed for awhile now and enjoy seeing your various creations come to life. It has been inspiring as a solo indie dev myself to walk in the footsteps of the denizens of /r/gamedev.

My only suggestion right now would be to start identifying people in the community that can moderate for you. This game attracts...interesting... people and dealing with that should be delegated to volunteers who care about the future of the game and have community standards in mind

Having run a few different discord and TS servers over the years, this can become a full time job. I implore you not to waste your most precious finite resource, time, moderating children in a chat room.

Thanks again for being transparent with the details here. It helps other people more than you know to see the realities of gamedev in or out of Steam's greenlight.

Last edited by sammoh (2018-03-10 02:01:47)

Two Hours, One Life - a curated OHOL server with select modifications.



#4 2018-03-10 03:16:39

Registered: 2018-03-06
Posts: 15

Re: Launching a game Off-Steam: Sales number from Week 1

Let me be frank: your ability to communicate with your audience/clientele is 10/10, and in combination with your purposeful design, you should go far. Best of luck to you.


#5 2018-03-10 03:43:42

From: Las Vegas
Registered: 2018-03-10
Posts: 1

Re: Launching a game Off-Steam: Sales number from Week 1

I believe this game has a legitimate chance at becoming a cultural phenomenon.  I have been reading and watching videos about it over the past 5 days.  I am one of those "will only purchase if on Steam" people but decided to pick up a copy today after reading your post. One of the reasons I really like Steam that you haven't mentioned is the playing time stats and achievements which it tracks.  Are there individual stats kept for each player in OHOL ?  Any chance of some sort of achievement system down the line?

Also, I would like to reach out and see if you need any help with web / database development ?  I'm a software engineer and would be happy to provide mySQL, PHP, JAVA, HTML services for free to help build out community functionality.  PM me if interested ; )

It doesn't seem possible but I guess TV has betrayed me. - Bart Simpson


#6 2018-03-10 06:34:20

Registered: 2018-03-09
Posts: 35

Re: Launching a game Off-Steam: Sales number from Week 1

Somehow, a video of your game came into my youtube feed three days ago by a Youtuber I didn't know. It took only 5 minutes after of play for me to buy the game. What hit me? A grandpa about to die teaching the youtuber how to keep the carrot farm going and the emotional farewell before he gave him his clothes to go die in the wood. Looking forward to move into the Bronze/Iron Age!


#7 2018-03-10 15:01:47

Registered: 2018-03-10
Posts: 5

Re: Launching a game Off-Steam: Sales number from Week 1

Antarys wrote:

Somehow, a video of your game came into my youtube feed three days ago by a Youtuber I didn't know!

Same exact thing, that video came up for me too and I was enamoured with the idea of this game.

I'm glad that One Hour One Life has picked up in the last week Jason, thank-you for providing players an ever-changing, uniquely situational experience.

"Good luck in our little game."


#8 2018-03-11 10:16:59

Registered: 2018-03-11
Posts: 1

Re: Launching a game Off-Steam: Sales number from Week 1

For what its worth, I've found out about your game from a RockPaperShotgun article from 2016(?), and it was one of the few games I have been looking forward to ever since (another one is Routine, which is yet to be released). Don't Starve visuals, interesting gameplay - what's not to like? I haven't played any of your other games before.

It might not reflect well on me, but it might bring you some joy knowing that this is only the second piece of digital entertainment/product I have paid for, ever (I'm 27 and from Eastern Europe, please don't judge). The other was a documentary on Nicolas Winding Refn from MUBI.

As for the game itself, it is great and the potential is unique. It intuitively teaches about environmentalism ("don't dry the ponds", "don't pick the last berry", "leave some carrots for seeding", "pick milkweed only when fruiting"). It is probably the only game where creating and perpetuating oral culture is a crucial part of game mechanics and "victory conditions".

Looking forward to what you do with it.


#9 2018-03-11 14:20:00

Registered: 2018-03-08
Posts: 40

Re: Launching a game Off-Steam: Sales number from Week 1

I randomly got a recommended video by some YouTuber (I might have been watching his Hand Simulator video before or something), I saw the fire making process and that was enough for me to decide to buy. I think YouTube is probably your best advertising channel, as long as it's reasonably competent and entertaining gamers posting the videos. The first part seems to be a bit tricky, I've been struggling to find videos of somebody who's actually good at the game, but hopefully that'll come with time.


#10 2018-03-11 19:04:22

Registered: 2018-03-03
Posts: 3

Re: Launching a game Off-Steam: Sales number from Week 1

For what it's worth, I found out about this game from this tweet … 5697071105

"If you watch one video from me, do me a favor and watch this one.  This game by @jasonrohrer is one of the most unique I've played in 28 years of gaming:"

I bought it straight after watching his video and I was hooked for 2 days. I don't get much time to play during the week since I have work and kids but if anything it probably means I'll not get bored of it soon and there's chance of changes everytime I play it, whether it's through updates of civilisation advanced.


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