by Tim Cushing || Thu, Sep 13th 2012 || Techdirt.com
Swedish developer Frictional Games is celebrating two years of success with its sleeper hit “Amnesia: Dark Descent.” In a lengthy blog post (via Rock, Paper, Shotgun), the developers run down the continued success of their very niche horror game, along with praising the communities that have grown around the game.
[If you’re not familiar with the sphincter-clenching scariness that is Amnesia, take a look at the following video, which will allow you to hilariously enjoy someone else’s complete hysteria. NSFW.]
Frictional Games attempts to run down the sales figures on Amnesia, a problem somewhat complicated by its inclusion with a Humble Indie Bundle. Long story short, though: sales were unexpectedly good.
The biggest reasons for the uncertainty is that Amnesia was part of the Humble Indie Bundle (HIB) earlier this year and Potato Bundle last year. Both of these account for quite a lot of sales. Without counting the units bought there our total lands at 710 000 units. Adding all HIB and Potato Sack sales gets us to 1 360 000 units in total, which can be called the optimistic figure. This means that, optimistically speaking, Amnesia has sold almost 1.4 million units!
Frictional adjusts for the Humble Effect by providing a “pessimistic” estimate based on the assumption that ⅔ of all bundle purchasers already owned a copy of the game:
This gives us about 920 000 units in total, pessimistically speaking. So saying that we have sold a million units seems fair. Wait… a million units! Oh shit!!
Not a bad total at all, especially for a non-AAA studio whose game featured combatless horror and whose advertising was mostly word-of-mouth. Even more surprising, the two-year-old game continues to sell at a brisk pace, even at full price:
Not counting any discounts, the monthly full price sales lie at over 10 000 units. This means that less then every 5th minute someone in the world is buying a copy of Amnesia.
Why are sales still so strong? Frictionless credits two very active communities:
This success is due to many factors, some of which are the uniqueness of the game (horror games without combat do not really exist on PC), the large modding community (more on this later) and the steady flood of YouTube clips (which is in turn is fueled by the modding community output).
Opening up your game and letting your fans build on your foundation is one of the best ways to rack up sales months (or years) after the release date. Just ask the developers of Arma, whose Arma 2 (another 2-year-old niche game) continues to sell very well, thanks to a strong modding community, including one of its own employees who developed the amazing “Day Z” zombie survival mod.
The output of modding community has been quite big as well. Amnesia is as of writing the 2nd most popular game at ModDB and sports 176 finished mods. Not only do this amount of user content lengthen the life of the game, it has also increased the amount of YouTube movies made with an Amnesia theme. There are lots of popular Let’s Play channels that have devoted quite a bit of time with just playing various user-made custom stories. As mentioned earlier this have probably played a large role in keeping our monthly sales up.
It is quite clear that allowing users to create content is a feature worth putting time into. I also think that we managed to have a pretty good balance between having simple tools and still allowing a lot of possibilities.
When you give your fans a toolbox and invite them to not only create, but share the results openly, they become your advertisers. Without spending a cent on promotion, a developer can turn hundreds of individuals into a street team that shamelessly plugs your product because they love it. Respecting them enough to allow them to build on your original creates the sort of loyalty that locked-down software never will.
Oh, and as for piracy, the supposed bane of PC developers’ existences? Here, in total, is all the developers have to say on that subject:
It has been over a year since we even thought about piracy. With sales as good as above we cannot really see this as an issue worth more than two lines in this post, so screw it.
Make great games. Extend the life of your software by opening it up to modders. Support your community. These simple steps (well, the last two are much simpler than the first) have allowed a small developer (11 employees) to command the attention of PC gamers and critics, resulting in Amnesia earning back over 10 times its cost. Who needs to worry about “lost sales” when so many people are clearly willing to pay?