Ethan: Meteor Hunter – The loosy indie platformer who sold 100 000 units

Dec 18, 2014 @ 16:22

And that’s sell-through, before you ask @Oscarlemaire

One year ago we released Ethan: Meteor Hunter on PC (without Steam) and PlayStation 3 (self published) which wasn’t really successful as you may remember (we sold 127 units on PC at the time). What did prove to be successful, however, was the post mortem we wrote about it.

What happened since?

The post mortem did buzz a lot and we had a lot of feedback: 150+ comments on our website and more than a thousand on Reddit. We even made it to the front page of reddit! Which was incredible and definitely not expected. It lead to TotalBiscuit tweeting about the post mortem and crashing temporarily our website, with a single tweet…

We also got great feedback from Gamasutra community but overall that was it. As we’re French-based we got a good cover from French video game press and streamers but no international press talked about it (except you Joystiq <3). That was really a social network (Twitter/Reddit) thing.

Most people, if not everybody, would then think with that amazing exposure “tons of people will no doubt pity buy it” or maybe just buy it.

Answer: “nope”.

However, our greenlight page at the time did explode and we got greenlit a month after the post mortem was live. Massive thank you everybody! With this new feedback from our first failed launch, we thought of the Steam release as a new launch, a fresh new start for the game. We asked reddit about which image would fit best into Steam’s front page for release and, again, it worked pretty well and even better than the postmortem: 2500 comments and 320 000 views on Imgur! With these exposures we hoped everything would go better.

What we sold and how

Back in December 2013 we were in a difficult situation as we didn’t expect to do so few sales at launch, PC and PlayStation 3. So our partner PlugInDigital suggested to go into a bundle to help get greenlit and get a bit of money back. We were not really fond of it as it was only two months after release but we didn’t have any choice.

Overall, we took part into 4 bundles as of today. We also released the game on PlayStation Vita in April. As of today, we have sold, across PC, PlayStation Vita and PlayStation 3:

112 567 units

WOOHOO! Much better than the 127 units last year hu? That’s +8772%! Let’s hope next year will see the same progress!

With Sony’s blessing (thank you!) we can say this number includes 4 050 units on PlayStation 3 and 2 763 units on PlayStation Vita, which makes a 105 754 units across all PC stores and bundles. 88% of these units are from bundles so 12% were sold between Steam, GoG, Humble, Desura etc…

Interesting thing is that we released a demo at launch on Steam and at the exact same time on PlayStation 3, back in February 2014. As of today, the demo has been downloaded 150 000 times on PS3 and 10 000 on Steam. This big difference shows how the two stores are made regarding demos: when you go to the PS3 demo section on the PSN store, Ethan’s demo is 3rd or 4th line in Europe, which makes it strongly downloaded since. Exposure! And yet we sold more units on Steam than on PS3, despite way less demo downloads. So we wonder: do demos really matter anymore? Was our demo not good enough?

So… You’re rich now?

Not really. Let’s talk about revenue: when you compare PS3, Steam and Vita revenues you have:

  1. PS3 41%
  2. Steam 32%
  3. Vita 27%

And keep in mind that in terms of units we have:

  1. Steam
  2. PS3
  3. Vita

So obviously the average net revenue per unit sold is very different: it’s 80% more important on Vita compared to Steam’s one, and +91% on PS3 than Steam! Why is that? On Steam, 9% of total units were sold full price = 91% discounted. To compare, 60% of our units were sold discounted on PS3 and 65% on Vita: it’s still a lot, I would point mainly PS+ discounts that are very effective and we did many discounts as, well, we needed money in. We got asked about our Steam Cards revenue: it represents 1.2% of our total Steam revenue.

Is this low average revenue on Steam a consequence of doing a bundle before release? Being part of multiple bundles? Or just the way less famous/excellent games are sold on Steam? Also to note that we only got exposure on Steam when we were discounted… So there’s that. However, we’ve had something similar on Vita: after our first discount, our weekly sales (full price) decreased, but they were still stronger compared to Steam.

Now when we include all PC revenues and not only Steam:

  1. PC 57%
  2. PS3 26%
  3. Vita 17%

PC is obviously our first source of revenue but Steam isn’t the leader:

  1. Bundles 39%
  2. Steam 34%
  3. PlugInDigital 17%
  4. Humble Widget & GoG 5% each

With 4 bundles including Humble Bundle (PlugInDigital weekly one), bundles are our first source of revenue… Not really good news, is it? Is that a new trend for “normal” games? PlugInDigital is our distribution partner taking care of Amazon, Green Man Gaming, Desura (etc…) but they also got some retail deal we wouldn’t have had by ourselves and most of bundles we were in are thanks to them. We could possibly have been into these bundles by ourselves but reality is we didn’t, so:

  1. PlugInDigital 51%
  2. Steam 34%
  3. Bundles (we did one ourserlves), Humble Widget & GoG 5% each

If we keep Bundles apart and just keep the PlugInDigital Humble Bundle, which obviously wouldn’t have happened without them, we have:

  1. PlugInDigital 39%
  2. Steam 34%
  3. Bundles 17%
  4. Humble Widget & GoG 5% each

Basically Humble Bundle is 50% of our bundles revenue! Very important and have a major advance on other bundles, just like Steam has on other stores.

What we learned and doing differently with Inside My Radio

Art is First

Well, technically in Inside My Radio music and sound are first but Art is second, both ahead of gameplay. On average, people stayed only 17 seconds on our Steam page: they basically look at screenshots and very briefly our game description. Art in Ethan got the product almost killed, so we’re trying to avoid that. However, gameplay is still something important for us as core gamers, but when there’s a conflict, it’s 1) Sound 2) Art 3) Gameplay.

Testing the product

We started working on Inside My Radio back in December 2013, about the same time we posted the Ethan postmortem. What we did is show the game to people we know without really announcing the game. We tested the pitch of the game, the art, the feeling before announcing anything. We actually showed it at a couple of local gaming events to gather people thoughts about the game and make changes accordingly. Then announce something (hopefully) more solid, more polished.

We also playtested the game with Steam gamers and turned out people who say they prefer rhythm game very much enjoy it, whereas people who prefer platformers enjoy it but not as much. It confirmed our communication: it’s all about the rhythm and that’s what’s special about the game.

Putting aside the fact Ethan wasn’t art-appealing, we did not do a great job at showing what was special about it. In the launch trailer, the telekinesis feature only appears at the 34th second… Way too late. Focusing on what is special about Inside My Radio, a rhythm-driven platformer adventure where your actions must follow the beat to bring music back alive, is top priority now.

Getting the first impression, the first feeling, right

Ethan was a hard game. Not “difficult” (well a bit), but hard to get into it. From our Steam leaderboards, we discovered that out of all people who finished the tutorial, half of them stopped playing after the third level. We lost 50% of our players after only 3 levels out of 50! Only 7% did start the second world (out of 3), which means that 93% of people who started the game only played one third of it. And finally, only 0,95% actually finished it… Congrats 🙂

So yeah, loosing half of your players who actually started it is not what you want. Not to mention only 16% of people who own Ethan on Steam actually finished the tutorial… So when they start, you want them to enjoy and stay with your game, otherwise what’s the point of developing all of this content? As mentioned, we did a playtest to improve our rhythm feedback and tutorial. With such a strong mechanic, people usually have rhythm or not, we need to make sure most people find it enjoyable to play the game!

We spent a lot of time doing multiple iterations of the game in order to have the best possible feeling for most gamers. We definitely switched from “let’s do 50 levels” like in Ethan to “let’s get this feeling right and plan the content to what makes sense for the story”. Quality over quantity.

There are so many great games out there every month that having a “good” game like Ethan and its 70% of positive reviews is just not enough. To break through we have to be excellent and have that feeling right. 90% positive games are just the norm in today’s market.

Less press, more banners

With our strong marketing/PR team of half a man (that’s not because he’s short, that’s because this), we decided to switch from “send an email to every single video game blog out there” to focus on the bigger ones and spend the saved time to put sales and operations in place. Getting banners! If your product is king, then banners are vital. It’s about fitting into platforms’ politics, like we did with the IndieFrenchSale operation on Steam in September or with the Vita version of Ethan using front touch screen and back touch pad. Supporting console features to make your game unique and fit better on the platform helps a lot! Last but not least, pushing your first discount as far as possible is key to keep strong-full-price weekly sales.

Overall, we’re happy we’ve sold many units but let’s not forget most of them are from bundles, thus not bringing a lot of money. However, it’s enough to survive and have a second chance with Inside My Radio, coming out early next year on PC. Feel free to be honest about the trailer in the comments, that’d help as we’re working on the launch trailer at the moment 🙂

2 commentaires sur “Ethan: Meteor Hunter – The loosy indie platformer who sold 100 000 units

  1. Flouiz

    It’s great to share its experience with hindsight. In fact I also think that banners works more than an article or a product page.
    For me the journalists are above all the players and find the contact who will echo our passion for our project can be difficult. I would prefer to dedicate my resources to 20,000 lambda players for 15 journalists and influencers.
    After each project is different and, in your case, to me Ethan look less catchy as Inside My Radio.
    So I wish you the best for it, and I look forward to your next project! 😉

  2. Oursique

    So is 1.2% revenue from Steam cards not negligible? I can’t put it in perspective. Sure it’s extra money you wouldn’t have had a couple of years ago. Did it pay champagne? 🙂

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