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My Experiences Selling A Game Maker Game


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#1 snailfox

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Posted 24 January 2009 - 07:41 PM

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Back in April 2008 I finished work on my last Game Maker creation - the dinosaur platform adventure, Sixty Five Million And One BC. I'd decided a couple of months prior to finishing that I wanted try and make some money from the game (at the expense of Game Maker karma, it turned out!), so I bought a domain name, set up a BMT Micro account and did a bit of marketing. Now, nine months later, the game has just sold its 50th copy and I've made $670 for the total domain name cost of $68 - not enough to buy a mansion and retire to the South of France, but a lot more than I was expecting and well worth all the efforts involved in development and marketing. I thought I'd write a bit about the course I took in case others are hoping to go that same way.

I should point out here that I'm not trying to break into the indie game market or forge a career in game design. Developing 65M+1BC was a pleasure and a hobby, and not something I would have expected to be paid for. If this weren't the case, I'd probably see the whole commercial venture as a complete disaster because the game took me nearly two years to make, and $670 just isn't that great an amount for two years and nine months' worth of work. Developers who think of game making as a chore probably shouldn't go down the same route as I have!

Here's a basic timeline:

April 08 - Finished game, set up website, set up BMT Micro account, preemptive marketing
May 08 - Publically released game and launched website, marketing
June 08 - Marketing
July through December 08 - Nothing
January 09 - Lowered price

Needless to comment, it's a fairly sparse timeline. The initial two months was the period in which I did the vast majority of the work - the game's website, its distribution and payment system, and the marketing.

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The website
A website was always going to be vital for me, since I wanted to market 65M+1BC outside the Game Maker community and referring non GM-users to the game's forum thread here wouldn't have been impressive. I registered with the domain name provider, 1&1, and bought the domain name 65millionand1bc.com. Incidentally, one of the biggest regrets for me has been the game's ridiculously long name, which I should have thought through better. It serves its purpose in being distinctive and memorable, but fails miserably where ease of typage is concerned - I can imagine users starting to type 'sixty five million and one bc' into Google (as they apparantly have been - I'll get to that), only to give up halfway through and surf youtube instead.

1&1 deal with hosting as well as domain names, but you can reconfigure mysterious DNS things to point a 1&1 registered domain name to a different location if you are hosting your game elsewhere. I opted for the second-to-least expensive option at £4.99 per month, but only because I wanted to make use of PHP on my website - the cheapest package would have sufficed had it not been for that. One thing that caught me by surprise here was that there can be a huge price difference between the various domain suffixes - a .co.uk domain would have cost about 1/8 of the price of the .com one that I ended up buying. Aside from Game Maker itself, the hosting and domain name ended up being the only things I paid for during the commercial process. The 65M+1BC website ha been averaging out at between 1.5 and 2.5 thousand unique visits per month after its initial starting-up peak of over 5,000 - figures that I have been relatively pleased with.

Distribution and Payment
There are several companies that sell online payment and distribution services - you register an account, upload your software, specify its price and a way for the company to pay you, then they take a small cut of the money every time a customer downloads your software. This sort of thing saves the developer from having to deal with any of the complicated payment stuff and it's utilised by a lot of small scale software and indie game developers. The company I signed up with is BMT Micro, who don't charge anything either for registration or long-term account ownership. They currently host the full version of my game, while the demo version is hosted on my 1&1 website. When users navigate to the download page of my site, they are directed to BMT Micro's product payment, styled (as I was able to request) to match the design of my own site. The cut they take is 9.5% of each purchase, or a minimum of $1.25 - so in my case, for every $20 paid by a customer somewhere, BMT gets just under $2 and I get just over $18. It's a setup that works very well for me and I don't see it being problematic for anyone that wants to sell their Game Maker games. I set US $20 as the starting price for the game, but on reflection I feel that was rather ambitious and will probably have stunted the sales figures, which grew gradually to a peak of 15 sales in July and have since leveled off at 3 - 5/month. A lower starting price would almost certainly have increased figures.

Marketing
I thought quite carefully about paying for online adverts, but in the end decided not to on the grounds that it would have been too big a gamble to justify. So I can't say whether or not they are a good investment. My suspicion would be that you would have to spend a lot of money to see any difference in your site traffic, but people might well be more susceptible to online advertising than I give them credit for - I'd be genuinely interested to know. My methods of marketing consisted first and foremost of spreading awareness of 65M+1BC around the Game Maker Community (through posting in relevant topics and submitting to competitions) and in other forums - most notably the Indiegamer Developer discussion boards. This is easy to do as it generally only requires free, quick registration and a nicely presented forum topic; it can't really backfire unless people become enraged at seeing your game all over the place and begin spreading negative press, but as far as I'm aware this hasn't happened to me!

A more drawn-out method I undertook was to e-mail the administrators of a lot of game download sites - essentially the first twenty that come up in a Google search for 'game downloads' - and ask them if they would be willing to host Sixty Five Million And One BC. Of the half or so that replied, three agreed - Fenomen Games, Melon Games and Games du Jour - but in the following months I was contacted directly by several more game download sites with offers for hosting. Thanks to a combination of these external sites and 65M+1BC's relative popularity on the Yoyo Games homepage, the game was picked up by a handful of bloggers and general interest stumbleupon-type sites, and it's been sites like these that have contributed the most to traffic through my website (and to successful sales, I presume).

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Ensuring that my game's site was highly visible in Google was a high priority and there are many well documented ways to maximise your site's ranking. Google also provides an excellent free set of tools - Google Webmaster - for site developers to monitor their site's popularity within the search engine, and using these I was able to see which search queries turned up my page ("velociraptors", "compies" and "game magazines", awesomely enough), and check which sites linked to any of my pages, amongst other useful things. I get the impression that these Webmaster tools would be especially useful for working out which sites to buy adverts on, but for me they were mostly just interesting.


And that about does it! I haven't put as much effort into the commercial aspects of game design that I know some other members of the GMC here have done, and for people planning a serious jump into the indie game market this quick writeup probably won't be of much use, but I hope it might be useful for people like me who enjoy making games for a hobby and perhaps have one they feel could make the transition from freebie to commercial product. It might lose you a few fans among the more... traditionalist members of the Game Maker community, but it certainly feels good to find that people will buy something you've created - and it might make you some money for your hard work!


Other miscellaneous things:

License free material
Fortunately for me, I had the tools and time to make my own sprites, sound effects, backgrounds and music, but if this isn't the case for you, there are several sites where you can download royalty-free material - three that that leap to mind are iStockPhoto, Soundsnap and The Free Sound Project. It's always going to be better if you can make your own material though, just in case some twerp gets it in his head to try and claim ownership of your game (only happened once, thankfully).

Site validation
Your website will be liked better by Google and displayed more consistently in browsers if it uses valid markup. You can check this at http://validator.w3.org and it's well worth taking the time to do this!


- Thanks to Mr.Chubigans for his topic that I read before starting my own venture :-)
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#2 Flipbee9

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Posted 24 January 2009 - 07:45 PM

Oh wow! That's a lot of money! Good job! This just shows that indie game developers can be good enough to create good quality commercial games. This is the type of game that makes GM even stronger.
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#3 mrpickle:)

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Posted 24 January 2009 - 08:04 PM

wow... nice job!
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#4 Mr.Chubigans

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Posted 24 January 2009 - 08:20 PM

It's awesome to see more people share their experiences in the selling biz. Nice work man!
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#5 Flipbee9

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Posted 24 January 2009 - 08:25 PM

Yeah, it kind of makes me want to create a game right this moment :)
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#6 Tepi

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Posted 24 January 2009 - 11:45 PM

Very cool. Something that we didn't get proper answers to previously. But you totally deserve the money#, 65 million and one BC is very amusing in all its aspects. I don't think that any of your customers have had regrets on their bargain either. :D

Thanks for writing this. From this on, I'm sure to know what to do if I decide to commercialize my future work.

#On a side note, this is practically the same as if you'd got 2nd in the Yoyogames contest last year. ::lmao::
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#7 JordanMaster22

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Posted 25 January 2009 - 12:22 AM

Congratulations.

Also, BMT Micro is cool. I might use that in the future.
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#8 Flipbee9

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Posted 25 January 2009 - 12:25 AM

Congratulations.

Also, BMT Micro is cool. I might use that in the future.

Yeah, I bookmarked it.
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#9 JordanMaster22

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Posted 25 January 2009 - 01:33 AM

Congratulations.

Also, BMT Micro is cool. I might use that in the future.

Yeah, I bookmarked it.

Omg lol so did I.
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#10 Desert Dog

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Posted 25 January 2009 - 01:54 AM

Thanks for sharing, snailfox! This is very helpful, and useful for all future game sellers. I find it interesting, and surprising, that you've only sold 50 copies. But, I guess it's still been only 9 months...

Good luck with future sales!

~DD

Edited by Desert Dog, 25 January 2009 - 01:56 AM.

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#11 rinkuhero

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Posted 25 January 2009 - 03:38 AM

Was that stumbleupon traffic intentional or accidental? My own overall traffic is higher than yours (averages 5k per month) but I've very little traffic from stumbleupon.

My top referrers from jan 1 2008 to dec 31 2008 for those who are curious:

just-whatever.com 15,432
gemtowerdefense.com 4,864
google 4,403
direct/none 4,212
logiste.be 2,202
wikio.fr 1,777
jayisgames.com 1,744
indiegames.com 1,389
gametunnel.com 1,308
caltrops.com 1,033

I've 9000 traffic sources in total, but those are the ones with over 1000 referrals in that year.
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#12 dmitko

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Posted 21 February 2009 - 04:37 PM

It is nice to know people sell GM games. And the topic is of course very useful for the ones who intend to sell their game (like me). Thank you for sharing your experience with us, snailfox.

Good luck with future projects!
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#13 ydawg314

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Posted 21 February 2009 - 08:50 PM

How big is your game?
Was there a correlation between size and sales?
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#14 rinkuhero

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Posted 22 February 2009 - 12:03 AM

"size"?

Length?

File size?

Something else?
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#15 ydawg314

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Posted 22 February 2009 - 12:12 AM

"size"?

Length?

File size?

Something else?

sorry I meant file size...
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#16 rinkuhero

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Posted 22 February 2009 - 12:15 AM

I believe there used to be a slight increase in sales with smaller file size some of the time, because people with modems are more likely to download a smaller (<10 MB) demo than a large (>100 MB) demo. But with the advent of broadband I believe that's not really an issue anymore. But it's still a good idea to keep your demo as tiny as possible, because you do have to pay for bandwidth; I pay around 12$ in bandwidth per month just for people downloading the 17 MB demo of Immortal Defense. Once you start getting thousands of downloads a month, the bandwidth costs begin to add up, and smaller demo sizes help keep costs down. But it really depends on the game and genre.
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#17 ydawg314

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Posted 22 February 2009 - 12:29 AM

I believe there used to be a slight increase in sales with smaller file size some of the time, because people with modems are more likely to download a smaller (<10 MB) demo than a large (>100 MB) demo. But with the advent of broadband I believe that's not really an issue anymore. But it's still a good idea to keep your demo as tiny as possible, because you do have to pay for bandwidth; I pay around 12$ in bandwidth per month just for people downloading the 17 MB demo of Immortal Defense. Once you start getting thousands of downloads a month, the bandwidth costs begin to add up, and smaller demo sizes help keep costs down. But it really depends on the game and genre.


o wow
1000 downloads x cost per month = $12000+ per month!!!!!

so you pretty much make $8 per game if the game is $20

Edited by ydawg314, 22 February 2009 - 12:30 AM.

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#18 rinkuhero

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Posted 22 February 2009 - 12:35 AM

No, I meant that I pay $12 a month for my current number of downloads per month, not $12 each download. I pay around a third of a cent per demo download. Also, that's just the demo download, not the download of the full version, typically only 1 in 100 or 1 in 200 people who download the demo buy the game.
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#19 ydawg314

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Posted 22 February 2009 - 01:03 AM

No, I meant that I pay $12 a month for my current number of downloads per month, not $12 each download. I pay around a third of a cent per demo download. Also, that's just the demo download, not the download of the full version, typically only 1 in 100 or 1 in 200 people who download the demo buy the game.


o ok
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#20 walkerqaz

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Posted 25 February 2009 - 10:58 PM

I know the price of the game is now 10$ what was it when released?
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#21 ydawg314

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Posted 26 February 2009 - 12:54 AM

I know the price of the game is now 10$ what was it when released?


$20 I believe
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#22 Xeodisc Games

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Posted 02 March 2009 - 01:49 AM

I believe there used to be a slight increase in sales with smaller file size some of the time, because people with modems are more likely to download a smaller (<10 MB) demo than a large (>100 MB) demo. But with the advent of broadband I believe that's not really an issue anymore. But it's still a good idea to keep your demo as tiny as possible, because you do have to pay for bandwidth; I pay around 12$ in bandwidth per month just for people downloading the 17 MB demo of Immortal Defense. Once you start getting thousands of downloads a month, the bandwidth costs begin to add up, and smaller demo sizes help keep costs down. But it really depends on the game and genre.



It is my understanding that certain hosts, such as bluehost. have unlimited bandwidth. Bluehost is only $7 per month for unlimited everything. Unless of course their page is falsely advertising.
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#23 rinkuhero

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Posted 02 March 2009 - 01:56 AM

Best to change your understanding, then -- shared servers promise things like that but they can't actually deliver. Chances are, if your host is promising a TB or more of bandwidth a month, it'll never actually deliver that before going down. Shared servers aren't equipped to handle a large amount of traffic. So yes, it's definitely false advertising to offer unlimited bandwidth for $7 a month. Ever notice how sites that get slashdotted or Dugg frequently go down because they can't cope with all the traffic? It's usually because they were using shared hosting.
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#24 Xeodisc Games

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Posted 02 March 2009 - 02:06 AM

Best to change your understanding, then -- shared servers promise things like that but they can't actually deliver. Chances are, if your host is promising a TB or more of bandwidth a month, it'll never actually deliver that before going down. Shared servers aren't equipped to handle a large amount of traffic. So yes, it's definitely false advertising to offer unlimited bandwidth for $7 a month. Ever notice how sites that get slashdotted or Dugg frequently go down because they can't cope with all the traffic? It's usually because they were using shared hosting.


Yeah, I see what you are saying, but Bluehost has been around for awhile and I believe that Mr.Chubigans uses it, the screen shots look like their control panel. From most of what I have read about them on blogs, forums, review sites, etc, is positive.
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#25 rinkuhero

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Posted 02 March 2009 - 02:09 AM

Yes, I'm not saying it's a bad idea to use shared servers. They are usually sufficient when you have low traffic and won't cause any problems. But when you get into thousands or tens of thousands of downloads a month, you will need something better than a 7$ a month host. There's a reason why, for example, the owner of YouTube (Google) doesn't just pay 7$ a month for its bandwidth from Bluehost -- it'd be ridiculous, because the amount of bandwidth YouTube uses every month is extremely high and isn't appropriate to a single server, let alone a shared server.

Edited by rinkuhero, 02 March 2009 - 02:11 AM.

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#26 Xeodisc Games

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Posted 02 March 2009 - 02:29 AM

Yes, I'm not saying it's a bad idea to use shared servers. They are usually sufficient when you have low traffic and won't cause any problems. But when you get into thousands or tens of thousands of downloads a month, you will need something better than a 7$ a month host. There's a reason why, for example, the owner of YouTube (Google) doesn't just pay 7$ a month for its bandwidth from Bluehost -- it'd be ridiculous, because the amount of bandwidth YouTube uses every month is extremely high and isn't appropriate to a single server, let alone a shared server.


Well, I think I heard that youtube alone uses more than half the entire bandwidth of the internet. Obviously indie developers don't need anything even remotely close to that. The "Unlimited" part I was emphasizing is that they won't charge you extra just because you use more bandwidth. So they may not be able to deliver truly "unlimited" bandwidth, but you also won't get extra money attached to your bill at the end of the month.
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#27 rinkuhero

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Posted 02 March 2009 - 02:36 AM

Yes, but I'd actually rather pay more for the extra bandwidth than have the site be too slow to use or crash when it has too much traffic, which is what often happens on shared servers. As a business it's important to have your site up and running at an acceptable speed all the time, instead of slowing down when there are more people using it. When I used a shared server for instance, the download speed of the games on my site varied wildly between 1mb/sec and 10kb/sec depending on the time of day and how many people were using the site (and all the other sites on that shared server). Pages also sometimes took 30 seconds to load and sometimes loaded immediately, depending on the traffic at the time. That doesn't feel very professional. Using 'pay only for the bandwidth you use' services like nearlyfreespeech.net or Amazon S3 is much better for the site's users, even though it might cost a little more.
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#28 Smarty

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Posted 06 March 2009 - 10:05 AM

Thank you for sharing this information, snailfox. In retrospect, I must admit that it seems like a considerable effort given the net gain - the sales seem rather modest with respect to the exposure the game was given.

I have an additional question. The full version is made available after payment of the $20. You do not mention any kind of registration procedure to activate the full version, so I assume that after downloading it's relatively easy to copy the thing around.

Did you do anything to track down illegal (full version) downloads, and if so, what actions did you have to undertake?

Edited by Smarty, 06 March 2009 - 10:06 AM.

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#29 rinkuhero

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Posted 06 March 2009 - 04:29 PM

Thank you for sharing this information, snailfox. In retrospect, I must admit that it seems like a considerable effort given the net gain - the sales seem rather modest with respect to the exposure the game was given.

I have an additional question. The full version is made available after payment of the $20. You do not mention any kind of registration procedure to activate the full version, so I assume that after downloading it's relatively easy to copy the thing around.

Did you do anything to track down illegal (full version) downloads, and if so, what actions did you have to undertake?


I don't know about him, but for me, piracy is definitely at least 10x that of legit sales. I do take some actions to ameliorate it, such as uploading fake torrents that just have the demo rather than the game, and requesting removal of rapidshare and megaupload download links on those sites, but there's really not much you can do other than that.

Edited by rinkuhero, 06 March 2009 - 04:29 PM.

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#30 Smarty

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Posted 08 March 2009 - 05:54 PM

Cheers, I expected as much. I was wondering if the distribution service took care of such matter. In any case, it seems rather difficult to estimate the genuine illegal-to-legal ratio. There's no telling what travels around through mail or other media, such as LANs and USB sticks.
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