Flippfly, developers of procedural racer Race The Sun, have released some rather depressing stats that prove just how important a Steam release is for a small indie game. Race The Sun came out a month ago and has only sold 771 copies, earning the two man dev team about $7400. Their worst day of sales ever was apparently the 16th, with a dismal two copies sold.
As Aaron, one of the developers, is quick to point out on this blog post, Race The Sun has been a critical success among those few who do own the game. There are a number of positively-received Let’s Plays and first impressions videos on YouTube, and the handful of reviews the game does have put it at an 81 Metacritic score. Moreover, statistics from their leader boards show that the average session length of Race The Sun is around 2.5 hours.
So what happened? Aaron admits that they have done pretty much everything they can do short of getting the game on Steam:
“About a year ago, we decided to pivot as a company, and re-focus ourselves on the PC platform, rather than mobile. Mobile has largely moved to “free to play”, and this wasn’t a direction we wanted to focus on as a two-man company. We felt that the PC audience was largely still happy to pay decent money for a good game, and so we focused our efforts on PC and Steam. It was about this time when Steam introduced Greenlight – and at first, we saw this as an opportunity.
However, we’ve now been on Greenlight for over a year, and our launch has come and gone, and we’re still seemingly a ways off.”
Aaron says that a lot of the feedback they are getting from gamers who haven’t purchased the game usually boils down to “Steam or no buy” or “I’ll get it when it appears in a Humble Bundle,” an attitude that seems to be getting more and more common amongst PC gamers as Steam continues to be the dominate digital distribution platform. Aaron suggests that Race The Sun also has a perception problem, as some gamers view it as yet another one of the many simple “endless runners” that flood iOS and Flash game sites:
“The other thing we feel is a factor in our sales, is that we inadvertently shoehorned ourselves into the “Endless Runner” genre, without realizing the damage this would do. We felt the concept of an arcade-style, highscore focused game deserved a pure, HD treatment, free of microtransactions and with a focus on depth – and our customers seem to agree. But there seems to be an immediate and general stigma around this genre (thanks to the mobile revolution no doubt) – that “runners” should be free, and they don’t belong on PC.
The final straw that convinced me that this perception has hurt us was the rejection feedback from Indiecade last week:
“I really appreciated the simple 3d visual design, and the progression was very well tuned. Also, procedurally generated levels … are a nice touch. However, this genre of game is fairly well played out. I hope you are releasing it for iOS and Android.”
Aaron feels that Race The Sun‘s best bet at success stills relies on the game being Greenlit and getting onto Steam. In the meantime, Flippfly is looking into other digital distributors that might be a bit more lenient than Steam:
“We’ve had talks with Kongregate about updating the web version of the game there, and we’ve even talked with Facebook, and considered how to do a mobile release. The truth is, those platforms are filled with gamers who prefer a free-to-play model, and we’re not ready to jump into redesigning the game with that model in mind – not yet.
In the meantime, we’re exploring other platforms, and distribution channels like gog.com, Amazon, and Desura, in hopes of finding sustainable income. We’re also preparing our first update, with “featured user worlds” and other tweaks, and we plan to continue improving the game. But as I write this, we’re running out of money, and will likely need to take on some other work to keep ourselves and our families fed for a while.
It’s also worth pointing out that we’ve been approached [by] publishers wanting to add Race The Sun to their portfolios. These were pretty appealing, but ultimately we decided that we want to retain our independence, and keep Race The Sun as a flagship Flippfly title.”