Independent game developer best-known for hit indie game Gone Home spends $140,000 on a new project and ends up making $0 in return.
Game development is no joke, especially for independent creators who are looking to create a career on their own.
Outside of the big leagues where triple-A companies make hundreds of thousands of individual incomes each year doing what they love, the financial plight of most game developers remains to be standardized.
For some, that means working from home for the rest of their lives.
For others, that could mean spending literally $140,000 to create a game… only to get $0 in return.
Johnnemann Nordhagen, indie game developer best-known for his hit game Gone Home, published an article on Medium last March entitled, Where the Water Tastes Like Wine Postmortem.
The article talked about the developer’s most recent release, Where the Water Tastes Like Wine, an American folk tale that “attempts to capture the world of American music”.
It garnered a lot of attention, gained multiple awards, and was even highly acclaimed by various game critics.
The game was an E3 nominee to the 2017 IGN Best of Show awards as well as The Developer’s Choice Awardee for IndieCade 2017.
On Steam, its reviews are ‘very positive’ on average.
Since the game focused heavily on story and music, Nordhagen hired the “best performers and writers” for the job.
In fact, according to the article, “nearly every review of the game, except for the ones that were wrong, recognized and celebrated the incredible work of the character and vignette writers”.
And yet, it still turned out to be a commercial failure.
If this sounds very familiar to you, that’s because it’s similar to another case that happened roughly three years ago.
In 2015, Indie game studio Tale of Tales, famous in the game development industry for their numerous ‘artsy’ and somewhat ‘philosophical’ games, said their goodbyes after their most recent release turned out to be a commercial failure.
Sunset, a game about a household helper living in the middle of a civil war, ‘sold’ only 4,000 copies after its release and ended up bankrupting the small studio.
This was after being covered multiple times by different game websites and highly reviewed by critics.
The game was even funded successfully through Kickstarter, but after all the backers had been given their copies, the developers realized that Sunset wasn’t selling much at all and ended up leaving game development for good.
Tale of Tales’ plight was already a cautionary tale for other indie game developers, but it seems like history may have repeated itself once again.
So, what exactly went wrong this time with Where the Water Tastes like Wine?
How did a game with a budget of $140,000 end up earning $0 in a few months?
Nordhagen listed several problems in the postmortem article, recognizing his and his team’s own faults in creating the game independently.
He listed lack of playtesting, lack of expertise, loss of people, overlooked PC peripherals, too high ambition, and wrong timing as the reasons why Where the Water Tastes Like Wine failed.
Despite all their marketing efforts, some gaming news channels have now labeled the game as a ‘flop’ or a ‘failure’ due to the $0 revenue a month after release.
Nordhagen, with his dry humor, even admits that “fewer people bought the game than I have Twitter followers, and I don’t have a lot of Twitter followers”. Recent reviews on Steam have also put the game on a ‘mixed’ rating.
Regardless of the tepid responses, Nordhagen still remains positive about the whole experience.
Instead of being sad about the dismal sales, the indie game developer believes that the game is still “an amazing artistic achievement”.
In addition to this, the team still has “a lot of work planned to attract new players”.
That seems like something to look forward to.
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