We Made A Botched Launch
The launch of I Make Saints - Steam Edition was nothing if not eventful. The game, a new edition of a title originally launched on Itchio in 2017, was revamped and released on the Steam platform for millions of players to see. And buy. And criticize. And break. And refund. Ugh. So, alright, let's get this straight : I normally wouldn't have any hesitation sharing the sales figures of the game, it is not something we should shy away, it's an important discussion that is often obscured and left vague in the indie scene. However, I'm sorta forced to leave it vague, because of Steam contractual obligations; I cannot show the Steamworks dashboard nor share actual numbers, lest I anger the Steam gods. And, well, I'm kinda hoping to make a living out of this, so yeah, I won't be doing that.
So, the first thing that happened right after launch was...a bug we didn't catch. Classic story, right? Turns out, people encountering a game-breaking bug are pretty vocal about it, justifiably so. So they leave negative reviews. The first impression I Make Saints - Steam Edition left on the platform was one of a broken, unfinished game. All for a bug we did not discover before release (even though we reasonably QA'ed it internally) and, when we were alerted to it, we could NOT reproduce it. In fact, it took us a full week to identify the actual cause and fix it. One week. Its first week on Steam. Anybody who knows anything about Steam know that the first week is a crucial moment : I am hesitant to consider it the be-all-end-all time period some people refer to it as, since I believe in our case, the type of games we make are slow burns and prove to have several good selling cycles, as observed through Itchio's analytics. However, I am confident saying the situation definitely had a disastrous effect on the first impression the game left on potential customers.
Quick aside here : we owe a HUGE debt of gratitude to the fine folks on the HauntedPS1 Discord server for agreeing to my request for some quick QA while investigating the issue. They were trusted friends when we needed them the most. Love you all, gals and guys!
Triggering The Wrong Kind Of Software
Worse still, in the process of attempting to fix an issue we couldn't identify, we reverted the game build from its upgraded Unity 2018 engine back to its original Unity 2017 engine. Which, if any old timers recall, sometimes introduce an incompatibility with antivirus software, where the antivirus will detect a false flag in the Unity 2017 files and, in some cases, automatically quarantine a file, preventing the game from launching on a player's machine. The game-breaking bug, the antivirus triggering, plus the fact that the game is short and is a weird walking-sim...all of those factors contributed to our current refund rate. Right now, the game stands close to a 10% refund rate, which is definitely heart-breaking for me, the original dev behind I Make Saints.
Like, of course I get it, I get all of the reasons why one would refund the game, but I can't help taking it as a personal defeat in most cases. The refunds related to bugs and being scared of viruses get a pass but break my heart; the ones where they are just gaming Steam's system and getting to play a short game for free get a stern judgmental stare from me. You'll cowards won't even pay for an indie game, for shame.
Still, it's not all bad. We had some very VERY conservative sales projections for I Make Saints - Steam Edition. Initial projections were aiming at a humble three-digit number of sales in the first month. We had to set this number low, considering the sensitive subject matter and the fact we did not want to spend on advertising for the game. In the long term, we're honestly hoping for a small snowball effect, with other upcoming titles rekindling interest in the back catalogue, bundling the games together, etc.
So, taking into consideration all of that, I Make Saints IS actually meeting our sales projections. Slowly but surely, if the regular sales keep budding along as they are now selling a handful of copies daily, we should meet the expected numbers. We are already more than halfway there anyway. It's looking good.
What is next for us? I think the immediate future should be obvious : we have a back catalogue to revamp and adapt to the Steam market before we can show you newer and bigger things. It's all about building a good reputation on Steam as an indie dev. And after the partial fiasco of I Make Saints's release, we need to gain some trust back. I am confident we'll get there. You'll see.