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Could I make a living being an Indie Game Dev?

Discussion in 'General Discussion' started by MrSanfrinsisco, Sep 28, 2018.

  1. MrSanfrinsisco

    MrSanfrinsisco

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    I'll admit, I've been doing a lot of google searches lately about how much new indie game devs make, or the average, but for a different reason. I'm not trying to make thousands of dollars, although it'd be nice it's not what I'm expecting. I'm not asking for numbers, as of right now I work at UPS, 3 days a week 5 hours a day. I'm not making very much money, I want to go to college to get a degree in Computer Science which UPS will pay for so I don't have to worry about that, but I still have a lot of other things I have to pay for, and getting a second job as well as going to college would make things really difficult for starting my career as an indie game dev. I see a lot of people asking this question but for all the wrong reasons, I have a few questions to ask and I'll list them below. I want to note, I know these questions can be difficult to answer as there isn't a direct yes or no, depending on different things to take in to account it can be different for everyone, so statistically speaking:

    Could I make a living off being a new Indie game dev? (I ask because if I can make a living, I could power through this tough time barely making enough and develop a game and not worry about having to get a second job, giving me more time to continuously work on this)

    If I can make a living, even if it's very small, where would I start? (I mean like, would the best place to start be steam greenlight? Or what sources are out there to put a game out)

    What would be the best way to go about making this a thing til the point I can make it a full time thing? (Being able to quit my job at UPS and work on games full time, maybe this is pushing it, idk. That's why I'm here asking)

    and lastly, how long does it typically take an Indie Game Dev to start growing? (I know this isn't really apparent to my question "Can I make a living off being a new indie game dev" but it would help give an idea on how long I should expect so I can take necessary actions meanwhile to maintain financial stability)
     
    Tom_Veg and AntonioModer like this.
  2. Murgilod

    Murgilod

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    Do not bank on being a successful indie. The dropout rate among game devs in general, let alone indie devs is really high. Keep working, go to school, work in dev time when you can but don't overexert yourself. Maybe take part in game jams when possible. Realistically, you're going to be looking at it being some time before you can use indie as a sustainable income source.
     
    rubble1, Kiwasi, Ony and 6 others like this.
  3. MrSanfrinsisco

    MrSanfrinsisco

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    I will definitely keep that in mind, thank you for your reply!
     
  4. Quingu

    Quingu

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    Being an indie game developer is a bit like having an indie music band. Most of those bands never get anywhere and almost nobody knows about their work. Of course, you will have a chance to make it big time, but it will require a lot of sacrifices. For ex. if you decide to have a wife and children before 30 then you practically can't do it, because you will need a reliable job and a steady, low-risk income.
     
    rubble1 and Kiwasi like this.
  5. BIGTIMEMASTER

    BIGTIMEMASTER

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    When I go hunting, I take food with me. That way, if I fail the hunt, I can still eat. Hunting is enjoyable and satisfying, which is why I do it, but if I had to get all my food from hunting, you could probably point out all of my ribs easily. Actually, let's be real, I'd just be dead.


    Get it?





    (hint : get a real job so you can develop games properly. Best bet, a job in the games industry!)
     
  6. angrypenguin

    angrypenguin

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    Short answer is "yes", because plenty of people do and therefore it's clearly possible. However, there are many, many more who don't, so it's also clearly unlikely.

    First of all, I'd say don't do game dev for the money. I don't say this for artsy reasons, I say it for the sheer practicality of the matter. There are other areas where you could invest your time and energy where you're likely to earn more money, even if you're applying the same or similar skills! So, while making money is good, and for large projects and teams it's even necessary, I wouldn't recommend getting into game dev unless there's something else you're getting out of doing so.

    Secondly, on the note of skill, you're going to be competing with people who've already been doing this for years and who have more time and other resources that you do. It's not fair, but it's life. You're going to have to put a lot of effort into learning the craft before your games are likely to have commercial value (there are exceptions to this, but they're just that - exceptions!), and you need to be cool with not making money from them until then, and be able to sustain yourself until then.

    Third... if you're talking about making money then you're talking about business. So, if you want to make games for money then treat it like you would any other business!

    This isn't to dissuade people from having a crack at starting a studio. It's great and it's rewarding and I freakin' love it. Just make sure that you're making informed decisions and, at least where money is involved, have considered alternatives.
     
  7. AndersMalmgren

    AndersMalmgren

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    I like Bordeaux and tasting menus, so I have a dayjob :p My pro tip, get a day job, work on the game on the side until things get a move on. You dont want to live like a hobo
     
  8. AkiraWong89

    AkiraWong89

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    In business perspective, everything might success once you see the demand, plus a little bit of luck.
    Time is 2nd, the key is how you sell it. Learn marketing and business skills could bring you great helps.
    I suggest you to keep working on paid job meanwhile slowly build your games in free time.
    Start from small uniqueness games first by knowing your abilities. I suggest not to follow trends but make yours.
    Once you realized one of your games accidentally being a hit, then you can fully focus on it. Keep it up.;)
     
  9. AnneSchmidt

    AnneSchmidt

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    No, you couldn't.

    It doesn't mean that you must stop making games on your own spare time though; maybe something could get out of them, even money that could buy you a new car? ;)
     
    Ony likes this.
  10. ShilohGames

    ShilohGames

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    Money can be made as an indie dev. However, the money tends to flow towards a small group of very popular games instead of getting evenly dispersed. For every indie dev that makes it big, there are thousands of indie devs that make nearly nothing. So statistically speaking, you are very likely to make nearly nothing as an indie dev.

    Additionally, nobody makes a hit indie game overnight on their first try. Everybody that has made a hit game also made a bunch of games as practice prior to their success. When you read about an overnight success story, remember the real story usually involves a bunch of work over years of time. People often talk about the one hit game somebody made, but they usually forget to talk about the 50 market failures that same person made prior. Success requires a lot of tenacity.

    The tools are fantastic and there are solid platforms for distributing games. If you love making games, then now is a perfect time to make games. But if money is your main reason to make games, then you will likely be very disappointed.

    As for Steam, it is a great market for indies to release games. Steam Greenlight is gone. What you would use now is called Steam Direct. Steam is my favorite platform both as a gamer and as a game developer. Steam is somewhat crowded, so most new games won't find any market, but there are millions of potential customers actively using Steam.
     
    neoshaman likes this.
  11. Cucci_A

    Cucci_A

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    You could, but it is not likely.
     
    Ony likes this.
  12. RichardKain

    RichardKain

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    Could you?
    Yes.

    Should you?
    No, probably not.

    I am given to understand that it can be, and usually is, extremely stressful.

    In all seriousness, the first thing you learn when you wade into a major game project is how much time and effort it takes to make even a simple game. And the answer is always A LOT. It is also always WAY MORE THAN YOU EXPECTED. The first major problem that most new indie developers run into is that they suddenly find that they have no free time anymore, and are forced to spend all day, every day working on their project. After 12 months or more of working like this, most people get ground down quite a bit.

    And then of course, there's the actual return, and the various factors that this entails. You aren't guaranteed any actual profit, and there are plenty of new indie developers who sweat over their freshman effort, and then make no money. Quite a few in fact. I'd say the majority of indie game developers make no or very little money from their first title. Normally you need to get two or three titles under your belt before you have the experience to start making something cleaner and more marketable. Which brings us to the next major point. Passion projects tend to be less marketable. And when your livelihood/income is tied to your project, it doesn't take long for you to start compromising your vision in pursuit of profit. You will start to alter your game to make it easier to sell and generate revenue. And at that point, you've thrown away most of the advantages that come with making a game independently.

    Stick to hobby development until you have more experience. Then perhaps re-assess the possibility of making a vocation out of it.
     
    Last edited: Sep 28, 2018
  13. hippocoder

    hippocoder

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    Don't ask this question until you've finished something. I probably should reply with that and lock each thread that turns up asking the same thing.
     
    LMan, MoeBull, Billy4184 and 5 others like this.
  14. Ryiah

    Ryiah

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    Can we respond to the ones asking if you can use assets from the store commercially with a link to the Asset Store EULA and lock them too?
     
    Martin_H, Ony and hippocoder like this.
  15. TonyLi

    TonyLi

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    Mike Rose gave an excellent talk on this at GDC 2018:



    His well-informed estimates:
    • Of the ~850 games released in February 2018, 82% didn't make U.S. minimum wage for a single person
    • 7% made enough for their studio to continue
    • The average game in February sold 50 copies and made $250 (first month revenue)
    • An estimate for first year revenue on this is $625
    When he removed the shovelware and amateur productions:
    • The average non-shovelware game sold 2000 copies and made $12,500 (first month revenue)
    • An estimate for first year revenue on this is $30,000
    He reminds the audience that these numbers are for February 2018. The market moves so fast that they may be obsolete by now.

    I hope I'm not doing him a disservice by boiling it down too much. It's a very worthwhile video to watch in its entirety.

    Keep in mind that it can take a few years to develop the skills to begin making something worthwhile. Like Quingu wrote, it's like an indie band.
     
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  16. BIGTIMEMASTER

    BIGTIMEMASTER

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    I think a lot of people want to be "indie's" because -- well, there is what they say and what is probably the real reason. What they say is, " I want to be my own boss, not a 9-5 slave." Alright, fair enough. Who doesn't want that? But I think the reality is most people want to be indie because they really want to make games but they don't want to face the competition of getting into the AAA industry.

    Now, this is pure speculation, but I'd wager if you work hard and stay honest with yourself, the chances of getting a good AAA game industry job is probably much better than making a living as an indie developer. And I'd further wager that the chances of being a successful indie developer is probably exponentially higher if you have AAA production experience. I mean, even if you hate AAA games and you hate working on big teams, don't you think it would make more sense to work in a good paying job at the cutting edge of the field for a few years, learn the ropes, and then go into indie development with proven methods for production?
     
    Kiwasi, hippocoder and TonyLi like this.
  17. RichardKain

    RichardKain

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    I could get a job in the AAA industry right now if I wanted to. It's not that hard. However, I've also heard all of the horror stories about getting burnt out working for the AAA game industry. And I've worked a previous job where I had to do far more overtime than I would have preferred. I'm not going back to that, not even to work in games. And of course, there are no AAA studios in the area I live in, and I would have to move in order to get a AAA game job. I'm at a point in my life where I don't want to move away from my family, so that's not happening either. And if I didn't want to move too far, I would basically have to move to California, and that's not happening. (far too expensive to live, and entry-level gaming gigs don't pay enough)

    I've accrued enough applicable technical experience in other industries that getting work in the game industry would be a walk in the park. I just don't want one in the current development industry. I can get more done as a hobbyist with a higher quality of living and far more free time. Getting a AAA gig in this environment would be self-destructive.
     
  18. BIGTIMEMASTER

    BIGTIMEMASTER

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    So that "I think a lot of people" part means, 1. I am just speculating, and 2. if it doesn't apply to you, it doesn't apply to you. You don't have to convince me of anything.

    The intent is not to say, "indie devs are just hacks who couldn't make it in the real world!" The intent is to say, "indie game dev is extremely insecure and the safest bet to give yourself the best shot at making it as an indie dev is to probably start by working in the AAA industry."

    Furthermore, a person must be honest with themselves if they want to be successful at any great endeavor. So the question "do i want to be an indie developer because that's the best option for me, or do i view it as an easy road to avoid doing things I don't want to do?" Because if you don't ask yourself that question and the latter is true, you are just going to fail.
     
    MoeBull likes this.
  19. Ony

    Ony

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    there's gold in them thar hills!
     
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  20. hippocoder

    hippocoder

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    I went from being a 9-5 slave to a 9-4* slave by becoming my own boss.

    *4am that is.
     
  21. AndersMalmgren

    AndersMalmgren

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    hehe, same here
     
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  22. ThunderSoul

    ThunderSoul

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    I have to pitch in and say it's possible, but highly unlikely.

    In my experience, I made two games. One in 2007-2010 that never saw any lights, and one released a few days ago. Both were professionally done by me (I'm a software dev). I think that the game I released a few days ago is the worst release ever on Steam. I might just pitch it to CNN or BBC to cover this horrible disaster.
     
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  23. Kiwasi

    Kiwasi

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    As an alternative if you have a partner willing to work full time, you can live off their income while you get established as a game developer. The supportive spouse is a common route to creative industry success that doesn't get talked about much.

    Either way, indie game dev is a wealthy persons pursuit. Its a career for those that don't have to worry about food and shelter day to day. At least for the start up phase.
     
  24. mgear

    mgear

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    relevant and informative video,
    few notes:
    - survived 11 years as an indie dev, without big hits
    - but requires lots of work, part time projects, loans, grants, supportive partner, luck, contacts, patience etc..
     
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  25. JohnnyA

    JohnnyA

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    Agree with above: Could is the wrong question, of course you could, but you could also win the lottery if you bought a ticket. More importantly success is unlikely.

    I would like to elaborate on something that @angrypenguin touched on: "Third... if you're talking about making money then you're talking about business. So, if you want to make games for money then treat it like you would any other business!"

    You can treat making games you want to make as a business, or you can treat making games as a business. Most people go the first route (or maybe even another route which is not treating it like a business at all) however given you have the discipline the second route is the most likely to succeed financially.

    This means building the kind of games that sell, it means building games that can be built cheaply and quickly, it probably means building stuff that you don't like, and maybe even stuff that you aren't proud of. It means your main concern is analytics, numbers, statistics.

    This doesn't by any means you are likely to succeed financially, and even if you do, it doesn't mean you would like what you are doing. It really means your job is much more like being a business person, investor or marketer than an indie game developer.

    Of course if your only concern is making money then you should be asking the question whats the best business to be doing that in... it's probably not indie game dev.

    ---

    Note: Its worth mentioning its not black and white but some kind of sliding scale between two extremes. Not many here push it to the extreme in the 'business' direction, although a lot push it to the extreme in the 'passion' direction.
     
  26. BIGTIMEMASTER

    BIGTIMEMASTER

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    Yep. Wife earning most of the dough is what's enabled me to do 3d all day everyday for a year now. Sometimes I see people ask, "I work 40 hours a week. How can I make time to study?" and other people who say, "I stayed up till 2am every night after work for 2 years before I got a job in the industry." I feel very sorry for these people. I imagine by the time they finally got their job, they were well burnt out on it already.
     
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  27. Kiwasi

    Kiwasi

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    Ours has been somewhat the same. She worked while I did school for engineering. Now I'm working while she is doing school for her next career change. Once that takes off, I'll probably be back to school for something else.
     
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  28. BIGTIMEMASTER

    BIGTIMEMASTER

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    Haha, same here. Once I get a job, she's going back to school.



    Lesson to the people is, find somebody you like a lot, and marry them. Then you have a buddy for life to help you live your best one.
     
    Last edited: Oct 1, 2018
  29. Billy4184

    Billy4184

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    As hippocoder said, there's no point even discussing this until you've tried. You might make a million, you might make nothing. I could say all sorts of things here but it would not be of any use to you until you have some idea of what you're capable of.
     
    Ony likes this.
  30. Ony

    Ony

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    this.
    Ok I think we messed up somewhere along the line because I started this business with my wife and we both jumped in head first as indie developers. No wonder I never was able to afford that McLaren. Maybe with the next game.
     
  31. hippocoder

    hippocoder

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    It's always the next game that promises the faster car.
     
  32. AndersMalmgren

    AndersMalmgren

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    Modern hyper cars are pretty tacky, get a old classic instead! Since you are american maybe a Ford GT40 1968?
     
  33. Ony

    Ony

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    I like what I like, and I like McLarens.
     
  34. BIGTIMEMASTER

    BIGTIMEMASTER

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    Anybody who drives slower than me is an old geezer, and anybody who drives faster is a maniac.
     
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  35. Murgilod

    Murgilod

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    lol who the F*** drives anymore it's 2018
     
  36. AnneSchmidt

    AnneSchmidt

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    Allowing machines to take control is a bad idea...
     
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  37. Ony

    Ony

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    I don't know the proper response to this question. I love driving and I love cars. Plus, not everyone can afford a personal teleporter. Unless they're a really successful indie game developer, that is.
     
  38. BIGTIMEMASTER

    BIGTIMEMASTER

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    She's just trolling.
     
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  39. Murgilod

    Murgilod

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    You legit can't tell the difference between a sarcastic joke and trolling?
     
  40. BIGTIMEMASTER

    BIGTIMEMASTER

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    you don't see the similarities?
     
  41. AndersMalmgren

    AndersMalmgren

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    Ferrari 250 GTO?
     
  42. Ony

    Ony

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    Of course. I dig pretty much all cars. If it drives, I probably like it. If it drives fast, I probably like it even more. There are very few cars that I would turn my nose up at.

    My car:

    Ok, enough about cars. Let's all get rich from indie game dev. That'll work.
     
  43. Kiwasi

    Kiwasi

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    Nah. Letting machines take over the world is a brilliant idea. Do you think the world could afford to feed game developers if it wasn't for the machines that have taken over food production?

    I for one welcome our new robot overlords.
     
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  44. hippocoder

    hippocoder

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  45. Ony

    Ony

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    * quits game dev to become an indie robot developer
     
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  46. ThunderSoul

    ThunderSoul

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    I highly disagree on "you might make nothing". As I mentioned in my previous post, I made 2 games. In the first game, I was at -$5k. Yes. Minus. On the game I released a few days ago, I put a lot more: $30k. I have 0 sales. So, I'm at -$30k on my second game. With interest from 2007-2010, I'm at a grand total of -$36k as of today.

    And unlike you other lucky fellas that have been posting on this thread, I have a wife, a 1.5year old child, and I am the sole bread winner in the house from my regular software developer day job; which I'm probably going to lose since I've been neglecting it (quite heavily, too) to work on my failed game.

    I also have a mortgage. The mortgage is actually what enabled me to borrow heavily from the bank ($24k), since I was able to "prove" to the bank that I can pay it back (because I have the mortgage). So they just added it on top of my mortgage, so now the amortization is only a lil' while longer on top of the decades I already need to pay it off. Not much of a difference in the very long run. Sort of like not haggling taking off $1,000 from a house that costs $500k. You'd be saving only $3 per month.

    You guys have it easy, and you are very lucky. You just don't have to give up. Somehow, I won't, either.
     
  47. Kiwasi

    Kiwasi

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    Speak for yourself. I gave up a couple years ago. Now I just hang around in the forums, do the occasional contract job, and mess around with cool prototypes.

    It took me a while to realise it. But I enjoy game dev as a hobby much more then I enjoy trying to do it as a career. Giving up on full time game dev was one of the better choices I've made.
     
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  48. Billy4184

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    Well, I don't know your situation, but I find it hard to understand how a game of any kind could make 0 sales, unless it is invisible. And given that you spent 30k on it, which is probably 29.5k more than most people do, that's even more strange. I'd be interested in reading a post-mortem, if you would.

    But I agree that yes, it can go in the negative. For sure.

    Also, if it's a few days old, go crazy and experiment with all sorts of marketing and promotion ideas. You probably won't save it, but you'll learn a lot for the next one.
     
    Last edited: Oct 2, 2018
  49. angrypenguin

    angrypenguin

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    Are you disagreeing on the basis that you might end up in the negatives? If so, agreed.

    If I may ask..:
    • How long has it been released for?
    • Where's it being sold?
    • What kind of marketing to raise awareness have you done?
    From what you've said elsewhere it sounds like a really recent release. Could it be that sales numbers simply haven't come through yet?
     
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  50. ThunderSoul

    ThunderSoul

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    I'm not sure what a post-mortem write-up is. However, I am also puzzled as to why it has no sales given that I put $24k into marketing. It has facebook ads, reddits ads, marketing, PR, and it has great visibility. It has been covered onto good and strong websites for its genre (estimated at hundreds of thousands of total viewers of said coverage). I just received a report from the marketing & PR firm I hired regarding ads on facebook and reddit. Here are the ad campaign results, for your curiousity:

    Facebook: 11.5k impressions, 7 link clicks <--- campaign cancelled due to poor results
    Reddit: 188.6k impressions, 548 link clicks <--- they think they should continue, but I don't - poor CTR
    Out of those 555 link clicks, 0 converted to sales, and 0 converted to wishlists. Not only is the CTR abysmal, but so is the conversion rate. It just seems to be a game no one is interested in.