Friday, September 30, 2011

New Blog Digitopoly

While this may not interest all readers here, I just thought I'd mention a new blog that I am a part of -- Digitopoly. It covers the economics of the digital world.

Saturday, September 24, 2011

Hockey without apology or knowledge

Child No. 1 (daughter who is now 12 -- I know it has been awhile) played her first ice hockey game today. She was playing in a 'mixed team' although, as it turned out, she was the only girl .

As she walked away to get changed into her, how should I put it, armour, an elderly man accosted me in a fashion that would make a great opening scene from a bad sports movie.

"Is that your daughter?"

"Why yes it is."

"It's not right. I've told them. It's not right." [I should add here that I am absolutely not making this conversation up]

"What's not right?"

"She shouldn't be playing. They haven't got what it takes."

"You mean girls?" 

"Yes, they should be in their own team. Too timid. Won't stick their nose in."

At this point, I wasn't too sure what it would take to stick her nose in and so was getting a little lost.

"She can take care of herself I think."

"Is she a fast skater?"

"I don't know about that but she does have a black belt in Taekwondo."

He regarded me with an eye that suggested he could tell that this fact was not too relevant and that he resigned himself that I would be unpersuaded of that truth. I bade him goodbye and wondered for a brief moment if the rest of the afternoon might play itself out according to B-movie scripts.

I needn't have bothered. You see, I should also tell you of one other fact. This was her first hockey game. And by first, I mean she hadn't actually even seen one before. If there any nuances, tricks, appreciation of skill or rules about the game, she would go into it blissfully unaware of them.

Their coach told them one thing: stay in your position. As it turns out, this is the one thing that no-one -- except for the goalie -- seems to do. The rest try very hard to get close to the puck in the hopes of -- intentionally or otherwise -- scoring a goal. For that reason, they rotate the players every 90 seconds in the hopes of getting some of them out of the way.

This wasn't my daughter's problem. She was a defender, fullblack, bludger -- I have no idea what the term is. She stayed back, on the left, near the goal. And she did it religiously. Basically, she made a decision that skating anywhere wasn't a good idea but that if anyone came her way she would be unmoved. One large boy from the other team attempted to negotiate that policy and found himself flat on his back. They all avoided her spot after that.

From a spectator's point of view, that meant an hour of watching -- when she was on the ice -- my daughter standing with a good 5 metre birth away from anything that might look like interesting action. You can see what I mean from this picture. She is No.7 in the front of the picture. Suffice it to say, no movie director will be optioning the story anytime soon unless they are interested in ruthless inaction.

And what was the outcome of this whole affair. Her team lost 3 to 9. I guess having that one extra kid up near the front of the line mattered.

Friday, September 9, 2011

Amnesia - One year later

A year has passed since we first released Amnesia and a lot has changed for us at Frictional Games since. We have gone from being pretty much out of money, to being financially stable in a way we never thought we would be. Everybody in the company has gotten raised salaries and we have more than enough money to complete our next game.

Our financial situation is far from the only change though. The success of Amnesia has led to us getting a lot more known among players and the press. Reactions to the game are still pouring in, and it feels extremely good and humbling to be able to have that kind of impact on people.

With that little summary, now let's get down and dirty with some more detailed information. (And oh, see end of post for a wee surprise.)

Let's start with what most people probably are the most interested in: how many units have we actually sold? During the GDC EU lecture I noted that we were now above 400k units total, but as we scrutinized all of the figures it turns out this was not quite correct. Jens did a recount of all income we have gotten so far and the figure ended on 391 102 units (which is of course not correct when you read this as the game sells at about 2 mHz).

This sounds like a huge amount for sure, but there is something to consider with this figure. About 75% of all the sold copies, that is 300k, were on discounted sale. This is quite substantial really, especially when you note that a good deal (almost half) of the remaining 100k were sold at launch. In the end this amounts to around 50% of all our earnings coming purely from discounted sales (most at a 66% or higher discount).

While discounted sales indeed dwarfs our normal sales, the day-to-day sales are quite expectational as well. Right now we are selling around 6000 units per month at full price. This is actually more than enough to cover all salaries and operational costs for each month, which is a situation we still have not really gotten used to. Another interesting fact is that monthly sales have actually increased, they are almost double now from what they were half a year ago. What all this means is that we can work with a healthy buffer that makes it possible to take more risks and down the road spend more money on outsourcing for sound, voices, art and more. Both of which should allows to make our next game as good as possible.

The distribution between platforms depends a bit on how you count it. In our own store it is as follows:
Windows: 70%
Linux: 15%
Mac: 15%
However, our store is the only one that sell a Linux version of the game, so in total sales the percentage of Linux is a lot less. When looking at other stores the distribution is around 11% Mac and 89% Windows. The Mac percentage goes down a bit during sales, where Windows sales increase 3 times or so more compared to the Mac ones. An interesting note here is that Mac sales in our own store did not go down as a other online outlets like Steam started to provide mac versions; meaning it did not steal our customers but opened up to a new market. We think it is a good incentive for other stores to support Linux as well!

The final data regarding sales is the difference between physical and digital sales. As of now, a total of 35, 000 boxed copies of the game has been sold, or around 9% of total sales. This is not too shabby considering we had no release in Europe and that the American box came out half a year after launch. The money earned from a physical unit is much less than from a digital one, but a physical release can still be helpful (however, other problem arise that might make it not worth it, something we will cover later on).

Impact on Penumbra
As Amnesia gained popularity, we already had our Penumbra games up for sale. We were quite curious in seeing how these sales would be affected by Amnesia's success. As Penumbra is quite similar to Amnesia i terms of gameplay and mood, and that both were made by the same company, we thought that we would see a boost in sales and attention for Penumbra. Turns out that Penumbra was almost not affected at all.

The number of monthly visitors for Penumbra are still the same as they were before Amnesia. Same with sales; the monthly total is still a little above 500, which it has been for over two years now. The only influence Amnesia could have had is to keep the average up.

So why did Amnesia have no (or very little impact) on the sales of Penumbra? We think one reason is that main bulk of Amnesia buyers simply does not connect the two. While they are similar, the first look is quite different. Penumbra takes place in present day and Amnesia in the 19th century. Another reason is that whenever there is some exposure for Amnesia, Penumbra is almost never mentioned, so most people that enjoyed Amnesia never learn there is a similar game available.

User response
I noted earlier that the daily sales have gone up over the last year, and large part of that has been due this - responses from the players. Still now, a year later, once a week or more some new post about Amnesia goes up on reddit, youtube or a similar user generated site. This kind of constant bombardment of Amnesia related material has continued to raise awareness of the game.

The major example of this would be the the Amnesia WTF video that reached 4 million views before YouTube, because of mysterious reasons, removed it (here is a copy). Others include this pug picture that managed to spread quite virally, images like this one, and much more.

Another pleasant surprise was the amount of custom stories that have been made. In Penumbra we only knew of a single attempt to make a user-created level and that one was never released in public. For Amnesia at least 300 custom story projects have been started, and 20 or so have actually become completed, high quality, experiences. There has even been a Tetris clone made with the tools!

This surge in interest has made our community a lot more active too. A year after we released Penumbra: Black Plague, our forum was quite dead, having a post every other day or so. Right now we average about 200 posts / day, and all of it is pretty much thanks to the custom story creation. This has also spread to other parts of the forum, and there is a lot more general chatter, technical help between users, etc . It really shows that supplying users with creation tools is well worth the time.

The making of Amnesia
As a year has gone by a few resources on how Amnesia was made has popped up, so it seems like a good time to sum them up now:

The Terrifying Tale of Amnesia
A post-mortem of Amnesia at the Escapist, that describes what we went through when creating the game. It mostly deals with the financial side, but also on how corporate decisions lead to changes in design, screwed everything up, and other juicy stuff like that.

Birth of a Monster
The design and production process of the grunt monster, written by several of the people involved. Do not forget that there is a second part.

Evoking Emotions and Achieving Success By Breaking all the Rules
A talk I gave at GDC Europe about a month ago. It goes over a lot of the design decisions that went into Amnesia.

Next for Frictional
So what is next for us at Frictional Games?

First of all, we want to get up to speed on our next game. Since we spent all resources we had on getting Amnesia done, we had to start the new project without any sort of momentum. Added to this was the potato thingie that also took a lot of time (but was really worthwhile). This has lead to a discrepancy between design, technology and art that we just about caught up to now. We have done a lot of work on the next game, but it is not until now we are close to having a nice work flow.

Because of this, a major issue for us to fix is to be able to manage multiple projects. We want to have a nice reallocation of resources at the end of each project and make sure to keep the flow going. However we do not want to grow the company too much, and thus we are looking into other avenues. If everything goes as it should we will announce our first stab at a solution to this quite soon!

Another big change for the future will be consoles. The main reason for choosing consoles is purely financial. Right now our main income comes from very few channels, and we need to spread out the risk somehow. The other reason is that we feel we are missing out on exposure by not being on a console and not reaching as many players as we should be able to. Unfortunately consoles are really old compared to the PC right now, so it will be far from straightforward to develop for two platforms. Our current thinking is to make the console get a lower end version and make sure console specs influence the PC version as little as possible.

Finally, in regards to what our next project is about, the basic idea is to use lessons learned from Amnesia and then take it to the next level. We have mentioned before that the next game will not be as horror focused as our past ones, but still have a scary atmosphere. Our intention this time is to dig into deeper and more intellectually demanding subjects. Another goal for us is to get past having classical puzzles that break the flow, but without making the game into a spoon-fed type of experience.

We are all really excited about the future, with tons of ideas we want to try out and now with the resources to do so properly. This is the first time for us developing a project that we know we can fund all the way and not worry about tight resources. It will be very interesting so see what will be possible to create this time!

More questions?
Anything else you want to know? Well, you are in luck because the entire team will be available for an Ask-Us-Anything at Reddit! Just go here:

It is really simple to register at reddit, so just do so and fire away in case you are curious! And do make sure to up-vote it so it gets some exposure!

And finally, thanks to all who have supported us, pre-ordered our games, put up crazy stuff on the internet, provided help in the forums and in other ways helped to spread the word!

Thursday, September 8, 2011

GDC Lecture now online!

The lecture I gave at GDC EU 2011 is now up here:

It is one of three lectures that were put up (so far) and it is 100% free for you to watch :)

Monday, September 5, 2011

The Ex

This weekend we ventured to the Canadian National Exhibition or 'The Ex' as locals call it. I guess some divorced parent gets to say 'the ex took the kids to the ex.' Anyhow what this is is a carnival on a massive scale; similar to the Royal Shows in Australia (e.g., the Royal Easter Show in Sydney or Brisbane's Ecca but without showbags). Nonetheless, it was huge and included a full air show. Quite impressive. It also had the feature that it was a dream to get to by public transport and so we had no trouble finding parking right on the show grounds.

Anyhow, I'm going to focus on the food. We entered the 'Food Hall' expecting to see agricultural exhibits but instead were greeted with the mother of all food courts. The array of foods was impressive but it did err on the 'carnival-side' of the health equation.

So here is exhibit No.1.
This turned out to be both serious and, accurate, in the circumstances. It really was the "healthy choice." Moving on to exhibit No.2.
Yes, it is a 'Mac and Cheesery.' We sampled the deep fried Mac and Cheese which is quite something. This we had to do after opting not to have the 'Mac and Cheeseburger' at the Cheesecake Factory last month. Continuing on the deep fried them, we went for one deep fried Mars Bar shared between us.
Now I had thought this was an Australian invention but had never tried it until now. It is a once in a lifetime experience and that is what it will stay.

Finally, and when you see Exhibit No.4 you will understand why the first aid tent was located next to the Food Hall was this ...
The thing next to it I had seen before but this was combinatorial innovation never before imagined. You just know that more foods await us. Suffice to say, this one would have to wait. The queue was too long and we didn't go there. There is always next year.

Spy Kids (with Smell-o-scope)

We have been doing some travelling and so our movie going activities have been slim this summer. For some reason we caught, Glee: The 3D Movie, in Australia; one advantage, we had the whole theatre to ourselves -- a private showing. That said, we paid too much for it. 

Today, we went to our first movie here in Toronto. Unlike the previous experience it was packed. I have no idea why as the weather wasn't too bad but I guess summer is officially over. The movie we saw was Spy Kids: All the Time in the World. It turns out that this is actually the fourth movie in a series that I dimly remember seeing the first of. Suffice it to say, the kids in that movie were no longer kids so they had to focus on two new ones. Same basic plot: kids think parent is lame -- in this case, a step-mother -- until she turns out to be a spy and is in need of help. We, the audience, know she is a spy right from the beginning as she goes into labour (being 9 months pregnant) and still manages to catch the bad guy. Then, with baby in tow, she sticks around the home for a year or so under the cover of being an interior decorator. The house comically breaks her cover -- or does it -- hard to know with artists. 

Anyhow, she is brought back into duty as something happens to time. What happens is an opportunity for the script writers to engage in cliche and puns on a scale never before seen in movies. Think of all the "time" and "clock" puns out there and you'll get the picture. I, for one, was thinking that I really shouldn't be spending time in this movie and the time could be better used. Apparently, that was a theme for the parents in the movie too which I guess made me wonder about the overall irony of the situation. 

But I digress. The other feature of this movie -- if the obligatory third dimension wasn't enough -- was a fourth dimension, smell. This movie included 'Smell-o-scope.' Now, it used to be the case that when you advertised that a theatre would smell that was a problem for the theatre. Well some marketing geniuses have made lemonade out of lemons and sold the smells as a feature rather than a bug. Of course, if you were expecting some technology -- pumped into the theatre or integrated into the obvious place on the 3D glasses -- you would be disappointed. They just handed you a card with numbers that you scratched to reveal a smell with the numbers carefully integrated into the movie. 

Anyhow, I had to admit that the movie producers did not seize this opportunity. With 3D they throw stuff at you to cause fear. The same was clearly possible here. They had a baby appear in the first five minutes. If you can't make a fearful smell out of that, you are not trying.

Then again, it would have been just an amusement factor for us parents or, as it was in actuality, a lot of sniffing what seemed to me to smell like cardboard. I think that fourth dimension isn't going to take off.

Now I'd like to give you more insight into the plot of the movie, how it turned out, was it suitable for kids and all that. But I can't. Somewhere around smell number 5 I feel asleep and didn't wake up until the closing credits. I was surprisingly refreshed. Hey, what do you know, I did end up using the time well. (Note to movie-makers: the 4th dimension in children's movies is to provide an environment where parents can have an afternoon nap. That is something we will pay for.)