I’ve written this post-mortem about five times over the last couple of months. It’s hard because I feel like I’m clutching at straws trying to nail down something as concrete as “these are the three main reasons TKC failed”. Rest assured, this game was a commercial failure. We might make some of our money back on the longer tail that adventure games have, as well as sales and such, but it’s not going to be enough to fund the next game.
Here’s the simple truth for most, if not all, indie developers. The success of the next game is life or death for your company. It’s only when you get a catalog of games that have residual income coming in can you afford a poor selling release. Even then, it’s tough.
So what actually happened?
Six months out from release, we’ve moved around 1000 copies of the game. Normally, I wouldn’t make sale numbers public, but I wanted to in this case to underscore this article. The Kickstarter campaign which funded TKC and Roehm to Ruin funded the production of both games. That is, we paid our artists and workers up front for their work (contrary to what some outside commentators have claimed). The only people waiting on sales from this were Steven (Blackthorne), James (Broomie) and myself.
You can put your own numbers on the value of people’s work, but the game took approximately six months to make and of those three people, there were two full time staff and one part-time. 1000 copies, at a retail value of $10 (minus the distribution costs of the various digital platforms) doesn’t come close to covering these costs. Or leave enough to fund the next game.
Why did it sell so poorly?
Did it just suck? That’s the question I’ve had to ask myself. And honestly I don’t think so. Don’t take away from that statement that I think it was perfect, I know it’s not everyone’s style or genre and that’s cool. I think in an attempt to move away from sarcastic humour, we went too far and made Finn quite stiff. I’d certainly add a bit more life to him if I was to revisit the game.
For this game we tried to make something that used modern adventure gaming sensibilities. There were no unwinnable situations, no player deaths. A modern two click interface with action text to direct the player. Different play styles were taken into consideration, particularly with the lute allowing both a basic and advanced mode. And the voice recording was held to a much higher standard of quality. All these things were noted in reviews and comments about our first game Quest for Infamy as needing some work, so we did them better.
The game reviewed quite well in the game press and the Steam and GoG reviews were pretty good too.
The only answer I have to why it sold poorly is that people don’t want this particular style of adventure game anymore. Go back to the 90’s and it was Sierra Online vs LucasArts. In 2016, the only successful adventure games use the LucasArts style. Order of the Thorne, while nodding mechanically to some of the LucasArts ideas, still told a very Sierra story. Most people would know that the background and animation work for large sections of this game came from a King’s Quest fan-game we started once upon a time. The King’s Challenge is basically King’s Quest without King Graham.
Yes, there are successful adventure games. And there are successful low-res pixel art games. But the ones that work are darker in tone. Maybe take a more adult approach to story-telling. And the artwork reflects this, the backgrounds use a lot of darker colours which in my opinion make the artwork stand out even more. The King’s Challenge in contrast is light and bubbly. Yellows, greens, blues. The artwork is beautiful, but does it reflect what modern adventure game fans want? I truly don’t know. I thought that there was enough room in adventure games to make different styles, dark and gritty tales and light and bubbly tales. Now, I’m not sure.
So that’s all I’ve got really. I’ve got thoughts about the general state of adventure games too, but I think they were well covered in the latest http://www.backseatdesigners.com/ podcast, which I would have to assume is the highest rated episode ever.
There IS a little light at the end of the tunnel for Infamous Quests. The “get of jail free” card has always been depending on the sales of our next two games, Roehm to Ruin and Fortress of Fire. So please, let us know your thoughts on The King’s Challenge. I truly would love to know what you think and what we can do to make our next two games better.