Friday, 2 August 2013

A Year of Killshot

I am the Warden!!

Yesterday, I posted the sales results for Killshot after a year on the shelf. Today, I'm looking at those results from a game designer POV.

As a publisher, it's my decision that Killshot is financially successful, but only by a small margin. While it's currently in the hole by $121, that's easy enough to make back over a few more months if things continue on a predicted course (meaning the attention from last month slows down exponentially until it dries up again by the end of the year). While it's not a profit, it's not a loss either and in independent publishing, that's pretty good for a first time at bat.

Regular readers and Killshot fans will know I've been knee deep in putting together a sequel to the game, Killshot Reloaded. With this kind of information in tow, especially when combined with the ENnie award (which is a HUGE factor compared to the same time last month), I need to make adjustments and decisions about Reloaded, how it will be designed, and how it will be released. Plus it's handy for other project down the road as well, especially with Optional Core.

The thing about Killshot as a whole is that it was one big experiment. Everything, every single step in the process, including design, was an experiment to analyze for future projects. How it was released was another step in the experimentation and these numbers provide some crucial facts on the success and failures of that experiment. Here's what I've gathered.

1. Stick To One Product

Killshot's release was provided in two versions: you could purchase individual sections of the game (the player's guide and the Director's guide) or you can get the whole kit-and-kaboodle with the Director's Cut. It was an experiment that didn't work as the only individualized guides "sold" were through a charity bundle. While I could consider releasing future releases with PWYW guides and sections of the core product, it's clear there's no need to complicate matters. Just give the consumer one product to focus on and build from there.

2. Supplements Do Not Guarantee Core Product Sales

Over the past year, I have released two additional supplements for Killshot: one free quick-start guide and a paid supplemental product. Both of them were released under the Killshot Files banner and there is very little evidence demonstrating crossover sales between supplements and the core product. Even with the quick-start guide, there is little benefit to Director's Cut sales. With the paid supplement (Killshot Files #1), there is absolutely no correlation - it made no difference.

However, once things were changed to the PWYW model, that changed completely as people were going for the whole shebang. During last month's introduction of this pricing plan, roughly 70% of all downloads included both Killshot Files supplements and my guess is that when you can control the price, consumers are more inclined to throw in extra goodies to their shopping cart.

Supplements are great tools for maintaining an existing audience and may provide a boost to core sales by demonstrating the game's longevity and reach, but not directly enough to make it worth the effort... unless the supplements are PWYW. Such an approach is the reverse of my understanding of the standard RPG product line (sell the core rulebook as a lost leader and make back your money on supplements), but when you're working at a smaller level from the big guys, sometimes deviating is the next logical step. PWYW supplements provide incentive for both existing and possible consumers to check out additional material for your game with less financial risk and that helps the core game continue on in the market for those months that would otherwise struggle to hit double-digits.

3. PDF Remains King

All of Director's Cut sales, POD (print on demand) comprised of only 13.6% of total units sold and 24.1% of total sales. That's not bad, but it's the reverse of how the big boys play. For publishers like WotC, Cubicle 7, and more, print is at the top of the heap with PDF pulling in a decent margin. For independent publishing, it's the reverse. You're more likely to sell PDF copies over POD or print because (as I figure it) there's less risk for the consumer.

From a game design standpoint, this could be crucial for some of the ideas I'm considering at the moment. Ideas I haven't discussed openly, so I'm being vague for a reason. Each format provides its own options and tools. Killshot was designed to work as a PDF and print product together, meaning it had to work with print's resources more than a PDF. Designing a game to suit the needs of only a portion of the product's sales doesn't make sense, so I'm starting to think Reloaded should be designed as a PDF game.

What does that mean? Colour, hidden layers, video elements, fillable forms, and more, that's what it means. That being said, there's still some additional considerations to consider, such as how Killshot fans generally access their PDFs. For example, opening them on tablets does not guarantee these special tools will be available. I can't do anything with layers on PDFs opened on my phone, so maximizing layers on a Reloaded final release may not be wise, but it's something to consider.

Overcoming the Playing Hurdle

There's one fact a year's collection of sales figures doesn't confirm, but it's something I know from direct communication with Killshot fans: few of them have actually played the game on their own. This is a huge hurdle I want to overcome in the future, hence the above breakdown. What I need to do is devise a way to make these three realizations adapt and improve Reloaded (and any other future project, such as Optional Core) so that consumers will start playing the game rather than reading and storing it in a file folder with all the others.

And that's a topic for another day.