I think this post may get slightly depressing, so, reader discretion is advised.
I'm writing this to summarize what I did during my first game development process and hopefully someone will find it helpful.
So, in 2016 I tried to make a futuristic racing game in Unity. It was just for fun and learning purpouses but I knew I want to try to put it on sale on Steam. I asked some of my friends if they would want to join me in the adventure. And this is probably the first thing not to do because if you ask anybody if they want to help you with creating and selling a game, they will say "sure, absolutely!" and then when you start to assign duties they never text you back again. And that's demotivating.
Couple of months went by, and the game was more or less complete so I decided to put it on the thing that doesn't exist anymore, which is Steam Greenlight. I was extremely excited to see other people comment about my game (seriously it was super cool). My greenlight page wasn't the most popular one, but it was doing pretty good. Eventually the game passed, and was ready to be put in the store. This was truly amazing because it wasn't easy to pass the Greenlight voting.
The game was kind of shitty as I look at it right now, but it was the best I could do back in 2016. It looked kind of like a 4/10 mobile game. Nevertheless people were interested in it since it was unique and there wasn't (and isn't) any games simmilar to it. I posted about it on some gaming forums and some Facebook groups, just to see what people would think about it. And every comment was always positive which made me super excited and happy. Eventually, my game went on sale.
At the beginning my game was selling ok to me, but when I read other people's stories, I understood that my number of sales was below miserable.
Back then Steam had something called 5 "Product Update Visibility Rounds" which means that when you update your game, you can use the "Visibility Round" and your game will somehow be very visible in the store. Essencially you get 500,000 views for one day. This used to dramatically (to me) increase sales, so I used 4 of them in like a week, which is exactly what you're not supposed to do. I left one round for later, because I knew that my game is not the best and I may want to remake it in the future, so the last round may be helpful to get some sales. After about 1,5 month the game was dead and it wasn't selling anymore. I was kind of disappointed but I was waiting to get my revenue.
This is when I got my first big disappointment. On the Steam developer page, my revenue was about $1000 and when I got the payment, it turned out that half the people who bought my game had it refunded. So my total revenue (1,5 month) was around $600. So my game was completely dead. I abandoned it and moved on.
About half a year later there was a Steam Summer Sale which I forgot I applied for and the game made $100. This was the point when I decided to refresh my game. I spent 6 months remaking it and when I was happy with the result, I uploaded it on Steam. I made a sweet trailer and everything and used the final "Visibility Round", expecting to revive my game and start the real indie dev life.
Huge f*ing disappointment #2: As it turned out, Steam changed the "Visibility Round" and now it doesn't do anything because I didn't get 500,000 views in one day... I got 1,276 views in 29 days.
I started searching for a PR company. I messaged about 8 different companies and one contacted me back. I explained that my game is out already, but I recently updated it. The PR company was cool, very friendly and professional. Unfortunately a revenue share wasn't an option and they weren't cheap (for me). They understood that and not long after that, we made a deal. I won't get into the details, but everything went cool and my game was supposed to get some attention (press announcement). I even got a chance to put my game on the Windows Store, which again, was super exciting. Microsoft guys were extremely nice to work with so if any of you are planning to put your game on sale I strongly recommend considering Windows Store.
For 4 months the PR company was instructing me on how to improve my game. It really was helpful, but come on, 4 months flew by. Although they were professional, suddenly we had a big misunderstanding. Somehow they didn't understand that my game is out already. Anyways, we were getting ready for the announcement and I had to make my website, which cost me some money. Also I had to buy a subscription for a multiplayer service for my game. (It uses Photon Network, I had to buy a subscription so more people could play online at the same time.)(Photon Network is great, strongly recommend it.)
Disappointment #3: I bought a page promotion on Facebook. Estimated: 310,000 people interested, 40,000 clicks to my page. Reality: 0 people interested, 20 clicks to my page.
The announcement happened.
And nothing more. 80 Steam keys for my game went out for the press, 41 were used, 24 websites wrote about my game, 6 hateful comments, 2 positive, 17 more visits on my Steam page, 2 copies sold which doesn't matter because it's to little for Steam to send the payment.
Estimated views of the press coverage: 694,000. Reality: probably less than 300.
I don't give a f*ck at this point about my game which I have worked on for 10 months. I don't care about all the money I spent either. I don't blame anyone. I'm just not sure what not to do in the future. I guess the main lesson here is don't try to revive a game, just move on and computers suck at estimating things.
Now I'm working on another game and I'm planning on making it free to play. I really enjoy making games, but it would be nice to have some feedback from the players.
If any of you want to know something specific about my game or anything, feel free to ask.
I expect nobody to see this post, so I'm probably going to paste it on some other forums.
(sorry for the title being slightly clickbaiting)
Been a while since I had the chance to start a topic on here... so I figured it was about time I did:
I'm not really one to second guess myself much, but in the interest of not becoming an intolerable human being, I try to gather some feedback from time to time when I feel I may learn from the process and somehow do 'better next time'.
Last year, I founded my own C-corp and went full-time. Things have been doing amazingly well since, for which I feel blessed and am very thankful. We've had amazing projects, and we're really getting traction. Suffice it to say that, as far as the 'indie scene' is concerned, we're probably in the top 20-30% right now (studios that actually have a change to survive more than 5 years). We make our own games, and we work with aspiring indies that want to get their games on the market and are not sure where to start. I know how that sounds, but you'd be surprised by the amount of dedicated individuals that turn out to be much MUCH more than the 'idea guys', and what they can bring to the table.
That being said, there's a recurring problem I've come across the past... (25 years?) that's refusing to go away, and I know it's a broken record to a lot of people around here. Let me first say that I am not against hobby rev-share projects. I have (and had) my own too. That's fine. What I am deliberately opposed to is people taking their hobby rev-share projects so seriously they feel everyone should agree to these terms. You know, people with a day job that are not taking any significant risk, but somehow expect you/me to. Most times, I just ignore them, as I find it better to do so than to jump in an argument, but today was the 'one-too-many' and I felt like venting (the canadian way, so no cursing!).
Here's what this individual actually sent:
This is the integral transcript, so apologies for the typos and lack of opening or closure... (the original post didn't have any bold).
Here's what the 7-lines short ad he referenced actually had to say about rev-share:
I'm sorry, what's that? but surely... you must be ok with rev-share right?
Therefore, I went ahead and replied:
I'm not seeking validation here and though I feel that reopening the whole 'biz vs hobby' discussion is pointless, I'm actually interested in finding strategies to avoid having to get that sort of mail which, frankly, is kind of insulting when you consider what they're saying:
I don't have 10k to spend, and I'm not going to bother to do anything about this, but here's a cool idea, you get to make it and maybe we split it 50/50.
I mean, how much more of that crap can a man take?
And, where are these people taking this idea from? I remember being green and wanting to make a rev-share game more than once (heck, if you look hard enough, you'll likely find a few of these posts on here!), but I don't recall going straight to people who did this for a living and asking them to do it for rev-share because I didn't have 10k on me...
I made it my business' mission to help out aspiring entrepreneurs and indies so that fresh games would get made, so I'm DEFINITELY NOT AGAINST people trying to make it out there.
Hopefully that doesn't stir some PR mess... I had to get it out of my system, and if anyone wishes to contribute constructively, I'm all ears.
Many developers count breaking even as a success, but without enough income to continue development that success may not be sustainable.
Daniel Cook discusses sustainable long term development, and the strategies Spry Fox employ to ensure they can continue making games.
I got into a conversation awhile ago with some fellow game artists and the prospect of signing bonuses got brought up. Out of the group, I was the only one who had negotiated any sort of sign on bonus or payment above and beyond base compensation. My goal with this article and possibly others is to inform and motivate other artists to work on this aspect of their “portfolio” and start treating their career as a business.
What is a Sign-On Bonus?
Quite simply, a sign-on bonus is a sum of money offered to a prospective candidate in order to get them to join. It is quite common in other industries but rarely seen in the games unless it is at the executive level. Unfortunately, conversations centered around artist employment usually stops at base compensation, quite literally leaving money on the table.
Why Ask for a Sign-On Bonus?
There are many reasons to ask for a sign-on bonus. In my experience, it has been to compensate for some delta between how much I need vs. how much the company is offering.
For example, a company has offered a candidate a position paying $50k/year. However, research indicates that the candidate requires $60k/year in order to keep in line with their personal financial requirements and long-term goals. Instead of turning down the offer wholesale, they may ask for a $10k sign on bonus with actionable terms to partially bridge the gap.
Whatever the reason may be, the ask needs to be reasonable. Would you like a $100k sign-on bonus? Of course! Should you ask for it? Probably not. A sign-on bonus is a tool to reduce risk, not a tool to help you buy a shiny new sports car.
Aspects to Consider
Before one goes and asks for a huge sum of money, there are some aspects of sign-on bonus negotiations the candidate needs to keep in mind.
- The more experience you have, the more leverage you have to negotiate
- You must have confidence in your role as an employee.
- You must have done your research. This includes knowing your personal financial goals and how the prospective offer changes, influences or diminishes those goals.
To the first point, the more experience one has, the better. If the candidate is a junior employee (roughly defined as less than 3 years of industry experience) or looking for their first job in the industry, it is highly unlikely that a company will entertain a conversation about sign-on bonuses. Getting into the industry is highly competitive and there is likely very little motivation for a company to pay a sign-on bonus for one candidate when there a dozens (or hundreds in some cases) of other candidates that will jump at the first offer.
Additionally, the candidate must have confidence in succeeding at the desired role in the company. They have to know that they can handle the day to day responsibilities as well as any extra demands that may come up during production. The company needs to be convinced of their ability to be a team player and, as a result, is willing to put a little extra money down to hire them. In other words, the candidate needs to reduce the company’s risk in hiring them enough that an extra payment or two is negligible.
And finally, they must know where they sit financially and where they want to be in the short-, mid-, and long-term. Having this information at hand is essential to the negotiation process.
The Role Risk Plays in Employment
The interviewing process is a tricky one for all parties involved and it revolves around the idea of risk. Is this candidate low-risk or high-risk? The risk level depends on a number of factors: portfolio quality, experience, soft skills, etc. Were you late for the interview? Your risk to the company just went up. Did you bring additional portfolio materials that were not online? Your risk just went down and you became more hireable.
If a candidate has an offer in hand, then the company sees enough potential to get a return on their investment with as little risk as possible. At this point, the company is confident in their ability as an employee (ie. low risk) and they are willing to give them money in return for that ability.
Asking for the Sign-On Bonus
So what now? The candidate has gone through the interview process, the company has offered them a position and base compensation. Unfortunately, the offer falls below expectations. Here is where the knowledge and research of the position and personal financial goals comes in. The candidate has to know what their thresholds and limits are. If they ask for $60k/year and the company is offering $50k, how do you ask for the bonus? Once again, it comes down to risk.
Here is the point to remember: risk is not one-sided. The candidate takes on risk by changing companies as well. The candidate has to leverage the sign-on bonus as a way to reduce risk for both parties.
Here is the important part:
A sign-on bonus reduces the company’s risk because they are not commiting to an increased salary and bonus payouts can be staggered and have terms attached to them. The sign-on bonus reduces the candidate’s risk because it bridges the gap between the offered compensation and their personal financial requirements.
If the sign-on bonus is reasonable and the company has the finances (explained further down below), it is a win-win for both parties and hopefully the beginning a profitable business relationship.
A Bit about Finances
First off, I am not a business accountant nor have I managed finances for a business. I am sure that it is much more complicated than my example below and there are a lot of considerations to take into account. In my experience, however, I do know that base compensation (ie. salary) will generally fall into a different line item category on the financial books than a bonus payout. When companies determine how many open spots they have, it is usually done by department with inter-departmental salary caps.
For a simplified example, an environment department’s total salary cap is $500k/year. They have 9 artists being paid $50k/year, leaving $50k/year remaining for the 10th member of the team. Remember the example I gave earlier asking for $60k/year? The company cannot offer that salary because it breaks the departmental cap. However, since bonuses typically do not affect departmental caps, the company can pull from a different pool of money without increasing their risk by committing to a higher salary.
Sweetening the Deal
Coming right out of the gate and asking for an upfront payment might be too aggressive of a play (ie. high risk for the company). One way around this is to attach terms to the bonus. What does this mean? Take the situation above. A candidate has an offer for $50k/year but would like a bit more. If through the course of discussing compensation they get the sense that $10k is too high, they can offer to break up the payments based on terms. For example, a counterpoint to the initial base compensation offer could look like this:
$50k/year salary $5k bonus payout #1 after 30 days of successful employment $5k bonus payout #2 after 365 days (or any length of time) of successful employment In this example, the candidate is guaranteed $55k/year salary for 2 years. If they factor in a standard 3% cost of living raise, the first 3 years of employment looks like this:
Year 0-1 = $55,000 ($50,000 + $5,000 payout #1) Year 1-2 = $56,500 (($50,000 x 1.03%) + $5,000 payout #2) Year 2-3 = $53,045 ($51,500 x 1.03%) Now it might not be the $60k/year they had in mind but it is a great compromise to keep both parties comfortable.
If the Company Says Yes
Great news! The company said yes! What now? Personally, I always request at least a full 24 hours to crunch the final numbers. In the past, I’ve requested up to a week for full consideration. Even if you know you will say yes, doing due diligence with your finances one last time is always a good practice. Plug the numbers into a spreadsheet, look at your bills and expenses again, and review the whole offer (base compensation, bonus, time off/sick leave, medical/dental/vision, etc.). Discuss the offer with your significant other as well. You will see the offer in a different light when you wake up, so make sure you are not rushing into a situation you will regret.
If the Company Say No
If the company says no, then you have a difficult decision to make. Request time to review the offer and crunch the numbers. If it is a lateral move (same position, different company) then you have to ask if the switch is worth it. Only due diligence will offer that insight and you have to give yourself enough time to let those insights arrive. You might find yourself accepting the new position due to other non-financial reasons (which could be a whole separate article!).
When it comes to negotiating during the interview process, it is very easy to take what you can get and run. You might fear that in asking for more, you will be disqualifying yourself from the position. Keep in mind that the offer has already been extended to you and a company will not rescind their offer simply because you came back with a counterpoint. Negotiations are expected at this stage and by putting forth a creative compromise, your first impression is that of someone who conducts themselves in a professional manner.
Also keep in mind that negotiations do not always go well. There are countless factors that influence whether or not someone gets a sign-on bonus. Sometimes it all comes down to being there at the right time at the right place. Just make sure you do your due diligence and be ready when the opportunity presents itself.
Hope this helps!