The Measure of Success – by Jonas Antonsson
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The thoughts and opinions expressed are those of the writer and not Gamasutra or its parent company.
This is the second time we get to write a “We just published a game and it was awesome!” post. It’s turning into quite the trend. We approve! The “awesome” part is a little different this time around, though.
Kingdom paid for itself within the first 24 hours from release. If Kathy Rain had done the same, we would have been both super surprised and probably sporting new adamantium enhancements right about now… but we can’t because Kathy Rain didn’t do that.
In fact, a quick Google search and visit to a certain site (cough cough SteamSpy) would confirm that sales haven’t been amazing.
What’s so awesome then?
Here’s the thing—Kathy Rain simply needed to exist. When we partnered up with Joel Staaf Hästö, the one-man army we know as Clifftop Games, we didn’t do so expecting to become insta-rich when the game launched. Nope.
We expected his game to be loved though, as we loved it. And we expected it to do well financially over a longer period of time. It’s a niche game from a new developer in a very tough space within games, and these things take time and patience.
So here’s what’s so awesome and in line with what we wanted—Kathy Rain has been received pretty well, with Steam Users giving it 92% positive ratings, and for the most part critics dig what Kathy has brought to the table.
Even though things have started off a bit slowly on the sales side, we know that eventually the game will turn a nice profit. It will grow a long tail because of its critical acclaim, timeless looks, and a story that tackles taboo stuff not typically discussed in video games.
It will take a bit of time but that’s A-OK. We were prepared for that. We can afford to be patient. We have money for a rainy day. We can wait. But do you know who can’t wait?
Joel. The developer.
And this is usually where the developer dies
Figuratively, of course. Here’s a classic example of why:
- A publisher invests money to see the game reach completion. They also fund marketing, promotional activities, and additional services. Perhaps they even invest in some additional post-launch content or DLCs. Maybe.
- At a minimum, said publisher requires that their investment be paid back before any revenue is shared between the publisher and developer.
- The game gets released and sales are slow. It will take time for the game to generate enough revenue to return the investment to the publisher. Sometimes a quarter. Sometimes six months. Sometimes a year or more.
- The publisher can usually live with that (and has more than likely factored in this risk) although they are likely to classify the game, at this point, as a failure—something to be shoved aside, with no further thought of additional investment for the game neither through money nor time.
- Way too often the developer can’t survive this sort of scenario, usually because they don’t have other sources of income. They are – to put it frankly – fucked. This is especially true for newer and smaller developers.
And herein lies the dreaded entrance to “The Developer’s Valley of Death.”
Some of us here at Raw Fury have spent many years on the developer’s side, and we are intricately familiar with The Developer’s Valley of Death. As the weeks and months pass by, you start to grow desperate. Maybe you take on a work-for-hire contract that, essentially, takes away some (or all) of your independence. Maybe you get more money from the publisher in exchange for the IP, an additional share of the revenues, your second child ,or some other added constraints. Maybe you just stop independent development altogether and walk away.
All the while, your critically acclaimed game goes on to slowly but surely cover the investment made by your publisher, allowing them to at least recover their investment and perhaps even make a bit of a profit over time.
The studio death scenario is not going to happen this time around though
Nope. Here is what we’re doing instead:
- We’ll continue funding Joel through his company, Clifftop Games, for the next 12 months or until the revenues generated by Kathy Rain have reached a point where we have recovered our total investment and the shared royalties can sustain the development studio.
- We do not require anything in return. Not the Kathy Rain IP. Not increased revenue share. Not rights to future titles, revenue streams, or anything else.
- In fact, outside of making a mobile version of Kathy Rain, which was part of the original agreement, Joel is free to do whatever he wants. We just want to make sure he has the freedom and ability to create more games. Speaking as gamers, we cannot afford to lose his creativity and passion in this industry. In fact, he’s already cooking something up—and we do not have sole or first rights to publish, or do anything really. Joel can do as he pleases.
Wait, why the hell is a publisher doing this?
Because we want to and we can. Well, okay. There’s more to it.
We also consider this an investment in ourselves. Our long term growth is found in our reputation, approach, and behavior. We want our actions to speak loudly. We’ve helped create and publish two amazing games already and here is an opportunity to affect a broader change when it comes to the dynamics of a classic publisher/developer relationship.And we truly want to be a catalyst of change.
You see, Raw Fury is about what makes us happy. And doing this—what we’ve just described by making sure an indie dev can stay independent instead of going back to work for a larger company—makes us very happy. We love games and we love nothing more than being able to help support the people that make them. That is what makes us tick and we truly believe that by focusing on the people and not the quarterly bottom line, we’re more likely to be both happier and better off in the long term. And, perhaps more importantly, help foster an indie ecosystem that thrives even when we don’t hit our targets right off the bat.
In this day where closing studios is the established and accepted norm, we want to do our part to combat the norm.
We want to challenge how success is measured and point out that money shouldn’t be the only applied metric. In an industry that is smack full of impostor syndrome, depression, anxiety, and other things that are sometimes associated with the emotional work that goes into creativity, it is also important to think about how we measure success and failure. Of course money is important, as an enabler, but sometimes you need help creating something that doesn’t only serve commercial value, but an artistic need. Not acknowledging that is to miss the point of making games.
For us, Kathy Rain is a success because it has something to say and players are hearing it. Creating it has changed the developer’s life, and through it we’ve been able to help tackle things that aren’t usually seen in games. And finally, because it raises our portfolio as a publisher, so in that regard it is even a business success.
Even though Kathy Rain has momentarily failed financially, it has succeeded in so many other ways. We should all think about how we perceive and handle our misses instead of only embracing our hits. For us, Kathy Rain feels like a success. Clifftop Games is a success.
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