Order of the Thorne The King’s Challenge – Post-mortem

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.

  • Douglas Baxter

    I wrote too much on Facebook concerning this post but I’ll add a little something here as well wishing all of you the best. It is so hard to do a great job and hear more crickets than applause. Maybe the world has moved on, maybe Roehm needed a BFG to find in the game but it doesn’t matter. A great group of people put together a fantastic set of games and I would be happy to help out again if the need arises!

  • Philip Halabi

    I finished the game today. It reminded me of the game Mixed Up Fairy Tales, another Sierra game with no death consequences and dead ends. I liked that you included Snow White and Rose Red. That’s one of my favorite fairy tales. I’m looking forward to the sequel, and if you ever release the King’s Quest game you were working on, Kingdom of Sorrow, I would like to play it. I’d even buy a copy.

  • http://www.demetriosgame.com Breton Fabrice

    Well my game Demetrios is following the same trend when it comes to sales. And if you check on SteamSpy, you’ll see that many adventure games released this year haven’t sold much better.

    It also had good reviews (about the same metacritic as your game). For me it’s not a disaster because I’m the only one who worked on it (although it was for almost 2 years), I still have savings and it’s my fist game so, to be honest, I didn’t expect much better. Also, I’m waiting to do my first sale on Steam, and I’m planning various ports, including at least one console port.

    But clearly, adventure games are not doing so great lately. I’m following the trends on SteamSpy and very few adventure games do well, and the pattern isn’t clear at all.

    I don’t agree 100% about the “dark” adventures that sell. The remake of Day of the Tentacle has sold incredibly well, and yet this is totally cartoonish. (so is my game) And some dark games released recently haven’t done well at all. But maybe this is still true, to some extent.

    What I know is that, for my next game, I’ll do something very different and unique that has never been done before – because I feel like it’s the only way to reach new audiences outside the adventure gaming crowd. Maybe it will not pay off, but what do I have to lose? :)

    Maybe you could try to add something unique to your next games… That’s my suggestion…

  • Scott Meyer

    Big fan of QFI. Like, enormous. But I only stumbled across it because it popped up in my Steam queue one day last year, I had never heard of it before. Then I saw the kickstarter stuff i missed out on and I was pretty bummed. QFI is easily one of my top 5 favorite games of the last few years, and if you look at my Steam profile I’m coming up on 300 games owned. I recommend it to everyone.

    As for Order of the Thorne… I just couldn’t get into it. The music component seemed a little weird to me, and it overall just seemed way way way too easy. Didn’t have the kind of vibe I was hoping for but let’s be honest, QFI set that bar extremely high.

    I think there is a decent sized market for both QFI and OOTT but imho it seemed like it was hard getting the word out on it, maybe? Though not at all the same theme, I know Fran Bow did very well as an adventure game.Sorry this is a little disjointed but just came down with a cold and my thoughts are kind of everywhere, lol.

  • Philip S

    I think one of the difficulties is that for those looking to scratch their nostalgia itch, there are some surprisingly excellent options available absolutely free. If people really want to replay King’s Quest, they can just go play the numerous fan remakes out there (Like the outstanding King’s Quest III remake that you made yourself back in the Infamous Adventures days.) There are even expansive and fun adventure games that are completely new and fresh AND free. It’s hard to compete with that, and although some people are willing to pay for it (I was) having a price tag attached also raises the bar of expectation.

    That, and OOTT was simply a smaller story, a little childlike and some might say “dumbed down.” I liked it and thought it was a great way to introduce my kids to adventure games, but I’m not surprised that there isn’t a huge market for it. I hope that this isn’t the end for you.

  • sstupid

    I very much liked your space quest 2 remake. You guys are clearly good at humor games, I guess you should stay with the humor genre. Steamspy says 87000 people own

    Leisure Suit Larry in the Land of the Lounge Lizards: Reloaded. Clearly s e x is very popular and games with such an theme sell. I would like to see such an game from Infamous Quests – either an new leisure suit larry or an similar sort of game. I guess there is an demand for s e x and humor type games. However any type of humor game would also be good.

  • sstupid

    Converting games which had the text parser to point and click interface would perhaps sell, for example Space Quest III / leisure suit larry 3. The jokes etc could stay exactly the same.