Wednesday, September 15, 2010

One week after the release of Amnesia

It has now been a week since we released Amnesia: The Dark Descent and I would like to go through some areas of interest. There is a a lot to say really, but I will try and be brief and only concentrate on the most important things.

Making the game available
This was the first time that we have had a game that would be simultaneously released for six different stores on the same day, so we were a bit nervous on how that would go. To make sure that all stores had enough time we sent out the game more than a week before release. This seems to have worked and all the stores had the game available in time for release.

Added to this, we also had a system for pre-order customers to get their download link, serial key and Steam key. Jens have tried this over a month before release and it was very well tested once released. The only problem was some mix up with keys and people loosing their mail, otherwise all went well.

In summary, we are quite happy how the availability of the game turned out and we actually expected there to be more unknown factors popping up and make our lives harder.

Press Response
We had already gotten a few previews and thought we had some idea where the reviews would land. However, reality turned out far beyond our expectations. There has some extremely positive response (as can be seen on the game's page and at meta critic) and we are extremely happy about this. From all the graded reviews so far, all but three have been 80+ (about half of these 90+) and interestingly two of the less positive ones had has a major complaint that there was too much horror in the game. Which in a way makes us happy as well...

We have also been able to reach out to a lot of media, and most major sites have covered the game. A bit disappointingly, a few sites that reviewed and covered the Penumbra games have not mentioned Amnesia. We assume this is because we no longer have a publisher and thus lack the proper channels. For the Penumbra games we handled very little of the marketing ourself and thus lacked email/contacts to many sites (we still tried to contact all media we could think of though).

Player response
Like reviews, response from player has gone beyond our expectations. We noticed this first at the release of the demo. We were unsure of how interesting it would be, but it was received very well. Since then, the name Amnesia has spread like wildfire across the Internets. I think there have been more videos, discussions, etc released at the time of writing than we have accumulated for any of the Penumbra games. It is also telling that the within 24 hours of release, pretty much all major secrets in the game was found out (it took much longer for the Penumbra games).

I think the most alarming thing was that the game was available as a pirated copy 24 hours or so before release. This kind of 0-day release can be quite hurtful, as otherwise paying customers might be so anxious to play that they pirate and then forget to pay for it. Since we released the game online only, we were not expecting this and the source of the illegal copy was one of our review copies (with tracking info hacked away). We are not sure what to do about this in the future, but we will have to be more careful and perhaps not send out review copies to so many outlets. It could have gone a lot worse though as a the first review copies (of early builds) were sent out almost a month before release.

As many of you might already know Amnesia is a sort of make or break game for us. At the time of writing, we are very close to our "all is good"-goal, meaning that we are still in business (due to contractual stuff we cannot release any numbers right now)! However, there are a few "buts" to all this.

The response we got from the game is a lot better than we expected, yet the sales are only "good" according to our, much more modest, expected response. This makes us wonder what sales we would have gotten if the response would have been more like what we thought it would be. If this is our time in the spotlight, then a lot less noticed game would probably put us out of business. As it looks now, we still have to be quite careful in budgeting our next game (although much less careful than what we had to be with Amnesia). We were hoping a really successful release would makes 100% unworried about finances, but that is not what has happened.

Can we really judge sales from just one week? According to current graphs: yes we can. Even though reviews keep coming in from major outlets and we keep pushing out marketing material (videos, release of tools, etc) sales are dropping fast. Around 50% of our current earnings where made in less than a week and on pre-orders from before release. The sales where at the top during the last hour of the Steam 20% discount, and has since dropped almost exponentially, being pretty much halved each day. It will be really interesting to see at what level it pans out.

This is of course not all the income we will make from the game, but is still a bit discouraging when comparing to recent XBLA releases and similar. So why is not sales higher? Piracy? People waiting for future massive discounted sales? Game too scary / niched? Right now we have not got a clue, but hopefully it will become clearer further on.

Finally, as this was a multi-platform release, some preliminary sales distribution should be of interest. Around 90% was windows users, 5% Linux and 5% Mac. In defense of Mac and Linux we did concentrate our marketing efforts on the Windows user base.

Technical Issues
When releasing for PC, there is bound to be tons of technical problems, especially since we released for three different OS. So it is kinda surprising that it has not been that much. As with Penumbra, the number one problem has been OpenGL driver issues, something we unfortunately cannot control.

The largest single issue is probably the problems the ATI X-series and below range of cards for Windows. I'd like to add that we had tried it on a 9600 for a Mac successfully, but on Windows it fails due to various issues. In a way this is a driver issue too, but I think it might be some piece of code that it simply dislikes and I am hoping to fix it for an upcoming patch.

In general game issues, there have been less than expected too. There is the standard falling out of the map and physics messed up bugs, but less than we thought there would be. In-game crashes are also very few (most caused by some cache issues it seems), which is nice and we feel that the game is quite stable.

Game feedback
There has been a ton of feedback for the game and we try to read and discuss most of it. Discussing in detail would take up too much space so I will just take up two points, that I found extra important.

The main thing we will do for our next game is to skip any "forced" and incoherent mechanics. What I mean by this is puzzles that does not really make sense in the game world and break the immersion. An example would be the corpse-puzzle that forces the player to use very specific items to complete it. Trying to get rid of all these elements and further increase the feeling of being part of an actual world, will be one of our top priorities.

One of the main themes of the game, was for the player to slowly regain lost memories and to make up their mind about Daniel (ie their past self). While most still refer to the protagonist as "Daniel" (and not "me"), many players have really thought about the details discovered in a way we hoped. The game medium is so great for setting the audience at the center of the drama and force them to take a stance. It feels as if many people did this in Amnesia, and we hope to take this even further and on different subjects for future games.

Final thoughts
On almost all fronts, we area extremely pleased with this release. It has in many ways exceeded our expectations and it makes all the hard work, pay cuts, etc worth it in the end.

The most distressing thing is the sales though. Even though we are far from complaining, it feels like we do not have the financial security we would like to have, to truly be able to focus on making the best game possible. So what should we do? The things we have discussed include: Increase the cost of the game, doing a console port instead of Linux/Mac, do a less niche title and more. Now is too soon to make a decision though and we have to see how the coming weeks and months go.

Finally, I know I say this a lot but we truly mean it: Thanks to all who have supported us by buying the game, spreading the word, and what not. We hope you all will continue supporting us in the future as well! All of Frictional Games sends their finest regards and thanks for this support!