Mommy's Best Games, Inc. is an independent game developer founded in 2007. This is a view behind the scenes of our game development and marketing!


Sunday, March 29, 2009

Big fish in a shallow pond

(Edit: Read to the end and check out the UPDATES on this story!)

True to their word, Microsoft has provided Community Games sales data by the end of March (2009). The results are, in one word, sobering.

First, let me just reiterate that we have been very upfront about what Mommy’s Best is trying to achieve. We want to make kick ass games, full-time. I left one of the best video game employers to strike out and make my own games. This is my full time job, I am not a hobbyist and Weapon of Choice shows that. It is a full-fledged game, which took a full year to make. Not only did we hope sales would recoup the savings we spent during the year of development, we hoped it would provide enough financing to support the development of our next game. So, as the end of the month started breathing down our necks, we had our numbers categorized into:

10,000 units = “That hurts”
20,000 units = “We can live with that” and
30,000 units or more = “We’re in business!”

Obviously, with a $5 game and these projections, we’re not looking to make millions, buy a Porsche, or vacation on the Riviera. We just wanted a sufficient salary and money for future game development and marketing.

The time for truth... Weapon of Choice’s sales, from November 19th through March 26th, made below “That hurts.”

At GDC 2009, Microsoft stated that “Several Community Games top sellers will be taking home more income from four months of sales than the average U.S. citizen earns in a full year.” According to the US Census 2005, “median annual earnings were $32,000.” Based on this, it is fair to say that Weapon of Choice is a top seller. Although this number may look enticing to a hobbyist, we can only look at sales data and what it means for Mommy’s Best Games, taking into consideration (not necessarily in this order):

  1. Microsoft’s baseline cut of 30% and remittance rate.
  2. Microsoft’s potential additional 10% to 30% cut depending on the amount of Microsoft promotion for the game. (Edit note: it has come to our attention that Microsoft has "decided to maintain the 70/30 split across the board whether your game was featured or not." Therefore, this is not longer a factor to consider. Thank you Microsoft!)
  3. Royalties owed to our contractors.
  4. State and federal taxes.
  5. Cost of development, not including salaries, i.e. membership, software licenses, travel, hardware and marketing.
  6. Although this is only 4 months of sales, except by the grace of God or a divine new marketing strategy, we do not anticipate seeing sales staying this strong.

What all that means to our bottom-line, we do not yet know, but it does not feel great. Maybe rational people hang up their keyboard and call it quits. But if you played Weapon of Choice, you realize we’re far from rational. We feel that Mommy’s Best Games has made a name for itself. Just check out our press page!

Our new title, currently in development, has recently moved from preproduction into production. It just hit that magical point, the exciting part in the development process, when the game is actually FUN! (Non-developers note: it takes a while during development before fun games actually become fun). Even while I was processing the low sales numbers I was almost annoyed with myself for being excited about waking up the next day to work on our next game.

I’d like to close by thanking all the fans and journalists who’ve supported Mommy’s Best Games and enjoyed roasting some freaky alien nut-sacks. Stay with us, I promise the next game will be even better!

UPDATE 1: Weapon of Choice is being prepared for release to the PC market, but we don't have a date yet.

UPDATE 2: Weapon of Choice has crossed the 10,000 sales mark. It still doesn't un-"hurt" but it is money which keeps us going!

UPDATE 3: Shoot 1UP, our second game, has passed 15,000 sales. Check out daily sales data here:


Anonymous said...

Wow I must say sad to hear this. I feel like there is a lot of misconception about XNA. I've heard game store employees spread the rumor that you must be apart of creators club to get the game and I feel things like this are what is causing this. Not to mention the amount of garbage you have to filter through to find a good game. Its sad when your game is so good and can easily be compared with something like braid which sold > 50,000 in the first couple weeks. All the same good luck to ya hope the times get better.

Deejay said...

I think it's about time we try and rally the community to spread the word some more. We can't rely on Mirosoft to do it, so we'll have to raise awareness ourselves, somehow!

Anonymous said...

i like xna, im making a game with it. i spent no money on my art or sounds (i am aware of the human costs involved in the transmission of electricity), just looked around web for public domain stuff. its a pretty simple game but i think its fun.

i read that the biology battle game on cg channel cost 100k dollars american to make. that seems like a lot.

at least you got people interested in your game. so your next one will sell more copies. ill check out your game too. although i cant buy it right now since im on a budget :(

arrogancy said...

Yeah, that's why I stopped production of Awesome Game really. It's only cost efficient to do smaller production time games at this point, unfortunately, unless Microsoft somehow drives more buyers onto the service.

frederictessier said...

Ouchhh 8-(

Indeed that must really hurts a lot, I can also easily understand why. This is not like an hobbyist like me and my friends who are working on a XNA project. We still have our regular paying jobs, so even if our project doesn't bring high sales it wont bring too much stress (disappointment most probably, but it will be a learning experience).

Ive seen a a lot of coverage for your game and it is indeed of high quality. What we can see now is that consumer aren't aware enough of XBLCG, we really need MS to step in to bring in more customers. Ill be curious to know how many XBox Live user actually just go browse this section, this could give a big clue of what is actually going on (if for example many people go take a look but dont download anything, will be quite different than if very few peole actualy visit the section).

And also like Deejay mentioned, maybe developers should get together and find a way to raise XBLCG awareness in general.

Wish you the best for your next project. Hoping by that time the situation will have improve.

Stegersaurus said...

I think Microsoft said on the XNA site news that they won't be taking that additional 10-30% "featured game" fee for the first 4 month sales, but still... under 10k sales for a title that was acting as a flagship title for the service is quite disheartening. Especially considering all the "free" marketing you got from the game staying featured by being placed in the "contest finalists" section.

I'm currently working on my first XNA title as well, and was hoping to use CG as a possible revenue stream as part of my job as an independent game developer, but it's now looking more dangerous to use CG as a main revenue stream, especially on a large title that has a long production cycle (which fortunately my current game isn't). If even the top tier games can't make a decent wage, your chances on CG might fall below even your chance of success on the iphone!

Hank said...

It's too bad MS doesn't allow intermediate pricing. Selling the game at 500 or 600 points sounds like it would have made a real difference.

Anonymous said...

I am sorry to hear your sales were so low. I sure hope the service picks up in the future. We need more browsers or people who can navigate to the games to go try and buy them.

I have to say i am interested in just how many people downloaded your game though. The largest number i have seen so far claimed is 68K.

thanks and good luck.

Anonymous said...

Maybe you should consider publishing your game in other platforms.

Better luck with your next project, anyway.

NewGuy said...

I do C# development for my day job and was interested enough in XNA to go through the starter kits, try my own game, etc.

However, even with all that interest and knowledge of Community Games, I still have only tried about 5 demos. Most of these were last Nov when the NXE launched.

And at this point, I still am curious about Xna, but I groan when I see headlines like "200 games launched." Currently I haven't been to the Community Games tab in the dashboard and have no plans to do so.

A community ranking system and some coverage by sites like Joystiq would absolutely change this. Could any of you suggest ways to send feedback/suggestions (from non-creators club members) to Microsoft?

Nathan Fouts said...

Thanks for the support everyone!

@Stegersaurus--we've since updated our post here, and yes we saw that MS won't currently be taking a promo %. That's great, but it's pretty silly that they buried that info in another news post. Keeping an extra 10-30% is big news where I'm from.

I agree! We'll have to figure out how to best do this, but some sort of group... promoting games ourselves if MS won't help more may be a great way to handle things.

@Voodoo Chief
We may end up releasing our download numbers at some point.

To others, we're not giving up on Community Games yet. I think Microsoft will be able to make changes to help everyone out and help bring some visibility and awareness to the platform.

I really think things could work out, or we wouldn't be working this hard on our next game.

Unknown said...

I followed the dream build play contest, where I first saw Weapon of Choice. I'm very sad to hear your numbers, since it is a fantastic game, and the effort you put into it really shows.

As I was hoping to make a living out of being an indie myself, this news is very disappointing.

I was working at a local mobile game developer before being recently laid off. My experience there has led me to making my first game for the iPhone.

Apple has set up a system for developers which is a similar to XNA and Community Games. Because independant developers are one of the main sources for games on the iPhone/iPod Touch, it can be a little easier to succeed if you have a stand-out game.

Recent success of Subatomic and Field Runners at the IGF proves they can be successful. I hope Microsoft can learn from this, and perhaps merge community games with the xbox live arcade so people like you and your games can have equal visibility as big name publishers.

I intend to port my iPhone game (which is nearing completion!) to community games as well. So I hope we all can find a way to better support each other and encourage each other to make and buy great independent games.

Best of luck to you in the future, and I'll be buying your games for sure!

Hunty said...

Hi Nathan! I expanded on what I wrote on the XNA forums, and posted my own take on this (which is partially a response to this post) here.

I look forward to your next game, and I hope that it doesn't break the bank now that we've discovered that community games aren't nearly as profitable as we'd hoped!

Unknown said...

Hey Nathan,

I'm sorry to hear about your disappointing sales; I was thinking that your game should clear 30,000 no problem since it was only $5 and of high quality.

This is a bit off-topic, but don't you think you guys could get your next game published on XBLA rather than XBLCG? Your team has already proven it is capable of following through on creating a high quality title, so I don't see why you couldn't get on XBLA.

Anonymous said...

Well I think part of the problem is that community games aren't available everywhere. For example here in Finland (Europe) we don't get ANY community games. And boy does that suck. I'm really interested in Weapon of Choice and some other community games, but for some odd reason Microsoft doesn't want our money. :(

Random Guy said...

Darn, thought Weapon of Choice would've done much better. Hope it improves!

Tim S said...

WOW, this made me so damn sad,
I get so pissed off at microsoft for this.
Its obvious some indie teams put so much work and effort into their games and microsoft says " Whatever put them on CG",
then some fucking 12 year old replaces the sprites in the xna basic tutorial with butts and he gets on the xbox 360???!!
This makes me mad beyond belief, this is the most disheartening thing ive heard in a long time.

I agree with Deejay, we gotta spread the word and do shit, microsoft doesnt care, as long as they get your membership fee their doing alright :(

Nathan Fouts said...

Again--thanks everybody!

@Hunter--you're blog post was amazing and eloquent.

@Nicholas--good luck on the iPhone. I think it could work!

To the XBLA comments--yes we're looking at XBLA for our next game--it's tough to get it in.

And like Tim S said... let's do shit!

Joe said...

Any game you put out, I'll buy. You made more than a sale when you put out WoC, you made a fan. Bring on the next one, and I'll keep spreading the word!

Uhfgood said...

Just an opinion, could it be because the game just isn't that good? Granted I realized you put a lot of work into it but personally I didn't find it all that engaging. I'm not trying to just flame you or it. Kudos for finishing a game as ambitous as this. From the screenshots the game looks interesting, once it moves though it just didn't do that much for me. It was hard to jump and control the direction of the gun. Just hard to get used to the controls in general. I was going to review the trial on my site too. No one has given you a negative comment, except me... However I'm not going to be anonymous, you can flame me to your hearts content.

Keith aka Uhfgood
Uhfgood -at- verizon -dot- net

Anonymous said...

maybe you should try putting the game on psn?

Nathan Fouts said...

Thanks for the feedback. I realize there are some more options we could offer the player in terms of controls.
In our next game I plan to have controller mapping options available.

@Anon: PSN is definitely an idea, but would be as tough to get onto as XBLA, and *also* include a port.

You're awesome!

Kris said...

I'm sorry to hear your numbers aren't better... Weapon of Choice is definately one of the bright spots amid a lot of junk on the Community Games tab.

I may have to disagree though that your numbers won't get better... first off, Community Games are not available to all XBox Live subscribers in all regieons. There are a lot more people still left to introduce to your game that simply cannot download it now.

Second (and maybe this is just wishful thinking) I am hoping Microsoft will take these disappointing sales amounts and retool some of the promotion and ways to access the Community Games. Too many people don't know what Community Games are and too many people can't find the good games and falsely assume everything is junk (New Release and Most Popular list are not a good indication of what the best we have to offer, a real ranking system is required).

Remember, this system is still early. There is still time for it to get better.

Keep up the good work... I look forward to your next project.

Don said...

Nathan, I'm sorry to hear about the disappointing sales, your game deserves far better, IMO.

From what I can figure, a lot of people just don't know about XNA. It's really kinda buried in the NXE interface, and I doubt I would have even known of it had my little brother not told me of it first.

I think the best thing that could happen for you is just plain old word of mouth, and I'll do what I can to spread the word. I've posted my review of it on gametrailers and Youtube, but I'll spread it around further.

There's an appreciation thread on NeoGAF I'll try to stir up, too.

Mike Kelehan said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Uhfgood said...

Hopefully they'll have some sort of rating system, so that players can rate what they like and don't like. That's really all it would take. Like stumbleupon or digg, thumb up or thumb down

Keith aka Uhfgood

Anonymous said...

well, this sucks. i mean, the game is awesome. the art style is pretty cool. it makes me sad :(

DevlinB said...

When I first downloaded Weapon Of Choice I was having a blast, for all of a few minutes then the demo ended. I was rather pissed off, if I'd been able to get another 15 or 20 minutes into the game I would likely have bought it.

Since the demo time was expanded awhile back , I revisited Weapon of Choice again and will be buying it once I finish up BC:Rearmed.

Short demos suck, it is unfortunate XNA doesn't let indie devs show off how awesome their work is on the developer's terms.

Dave said...

Kudos on getting your game out. When I read that you left Insomniac to take a swing solo, I was a bit surprised.

I find it interesting that you haven't cracked 10k units. It's mind boggling, I'm curious though, wouldn't your contact at MSFT be more receptive to pitching Weapon of Choice now? I mean, you'd have to pick up the cost of the devkit, translation, and rating... it could give it a much more "legitimate" looking face. (It would give you a chance to shore up some loose ends, so to speak.)

Another question, as this is what interests me, what kind of post production marketing did you do? I remember Gamasutra, but what else was there, and more importantly, did it convert to sales? I see often where developers put out quality product, but then lacking a publisher, don't properly market it. (Due to lack of expertise?)

Then again, what options do indies have for "Guerilla" marketing? It's not like we have the cash to rent segways and dress in steam gear a la Prof. Layton's '08 GDC marketing.

@Anon: PSN is something. When I was speaking with their account people, they wanted to see financials showing $300k reserves in a bank before they'd even review my application packet. Being a small shop, we didn't have anything near that. Also, developing for the PS3 is a completely different beast, WoC on PSN wouldn't be so much a port, but an entirely new beast, but with old art. Not worth it for a product that's already been released, unless Sony is looking to first party it.

Amy said...

re: Post production marketing
Besides Press, our website and devlog, we marketed WoC through
Launch Parties
• Podcasts (see interviews on Press Page)
• Promotional Cards and Frisbees delivered to game stores across the country by friends and family Picture of cards and frisbees
Speed Run Skirmish (Contest)
• Sponsored other websites’ contests
Café press store
Xerxes' MySpace
• Trailers on many sites
• Solicited reviews (MS does not provide review copies of CG)

Anonymous said...

There is another sale coming your way when I get home... It is a shame the numbers are low. Hopefully Microsoft will realize that they should more promenently place the community game in stead of burying it in a UI that makes it hard to find... (Hopefully they realize this before I launch my games :P)

Dave said...

Good info. You covered most of the bases I was thinking would be the best option at this distribution channel.

Are there thoughts on expanding to other digital distribution channels such as Steam, Stardock, etc.?

The skirmish idea definitely is something that should have legs.

Have a great weekend.

Anonymous said...

Funny thing about the sales being low - I recall reading reports about this games low sales - and it was because of the coverage that I was able to 'discover' the game.
I didnt even know it existed up until the end of March! I picked up a copy and its wicked! hope the next game is also a fun one. Good luck.

Anonymous said...

That stinks... can you put it in dream-buld play contest?...that seams like the best way to really get out of what you put into the game--either your new game or your other game. Microsoft makes it sound like its the best thing ever but its really a huge fail.

Thomas said...

Let me just say that I have learned from you. Don't develop a XNA game. With the announcement of Sony's Pub Fund, I believe I will take advantage of it. What made you choose a Live game over PSN, especially after working at Insomniac?

Thomas said...

Bah, I didn't realize the comments on this blog are actually useful. Thanks for the information.

Anonymous said...

I've never made an XNA Creators Club game, but from the sounds of it, your games aren't sold on the Xbox Live Market Place. It sounds like Creators Club games have their own separate catalog. If it were integrated into the Xbox Live Market place, XNA games would get a lot more attention than they do, and would be a lot more successful. Then, maybe people trying to make a respectable living off of XNA would be better able to.

Anonymous said...


1) Please take up Althea on her offer! ha ha

2) I loved Weapon of Choice--so polished, so fun, so much replay value. I will be eagerly awaiting your next endeavors!

3) Please don't let this get you down. I hope we can get a user rating system in hand to help bring WoC to the top of the heap!

Anonymous said...

It is sad to hear your game didn't reach your sales expectation.

And I agree that XNA is a difficult platform to get your game up and running, definitely when you see the junk released on the xna marketplace.

But to give you feedback, why do you create a side scrolling platform shooter on an indie platform? There are so many games identical as yours available on Xbox Arcade. I mean that your game is not really innovative or really brings out a new perspective to side scrolling shooters. Your game looks great, plays great, but is not innovative enough to purchase imho. It is more that your game is a fish in a pond with a lot of other big(ger) fishes .

I see XNA as a platform for indies to let create them games which big game companies do not dare or think to develop.
And i agree that XNA also needs to improve and grow up, to filter the polished games from the junk.

Nevertheless, good luck with your next project and hopefully you can show the world that XNA can be a great platform to develop games on.

Unknown said...

Do you not recompile your code for windows? I'd happily buy your games if they were on the windows platform.

Anonymous said...

Really sad to hear this. I think a huge problem is the availability of XNA. I probably would buy the game, but where I live (The Netherlands/Europ) XNA simply isn't available for us Xbox users. Something I don't get, as there are some really interesting titles I would love to get.

Prince_Porter said...

Glad to see the game is still generating some sales, being an indie developer is a tough job. I'm a flash game developer myself and have faced the wrath of not making nearly as much as anticipated. Keep your spirits up, keep working hard, you'll pull above eventually, and it'll be well worth it.

Anonymous said...

I know this will get me flamed but, I don't think its fair to slam MS, XNA, XBL or any part of the process for a failed game or make these generalizations.

After reading this blog, and having been an avid XBL gamer and purchaser, I decided to give your game a shot.

Unfortunately, neither I nor my friends liked it. Who am we? Nobody, but if your game doesn't appeal to certain (or many) audiences, then that's a design flaw or a poor stroke of luck.

There seem to be many success stories from games which, in my opinion, have a much more universal appeal.

Just because you're developing an Indie game doesn't mean you stop making the same design and marketing decisions that the big players have to make.


Term Papers said...

"Big fish in a shallow pond" Its interesting game,Certainly Microsoft is always introduce unique project for us.



Nathan Fouts said...

Please feel free to email me or post what elements of the game didn't appeal to you, so that I may take it into consideration during our future game projects.


DroBuddy said...

I found all of this to be very interesting. As an experienced web developer who just started to dabble in Game Development, I find it disheartening that XNA hasn't really taken off. I was hoping to make a MMO, as there aren't really any quality options for the 360 (whether by major development companies or indies, afaik).

Ah well, I guess I'll just use Unity3D and wait until something like Visual3D comes down in price (which will probably be about the time the next Xbox console comes out and development for the 360 becomes free... Sadly). Then I'll come full-circle back to where I wanted to be. :(

Damn Micro$oft.

Anonymous said...

Ever think it's because your games aren't good?

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Can I just say what a relief to find someone who actually knows what they are talking about on the internet. You definitely know how to bring an issue to light and make it important. More people need to read this and understand this side of the story.

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