Profitability: lots of small games or one big game?

Discussion in 'Commercial Games Discussion' started by watermark, Aug 27, 2019.

  1. watermark

    watermark Veteran Veteran

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    My question for veterans of selling games:

    Which turned out to be more profitable for you? Making lots of small games or making one big, long game?

    OR another way to ask this question:

    Say you have 1 year. Would it be better to make 3~4 games during this time, hoping one of them makes it big, or focus efforts on making one good game?

    What's your advice?
     
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  2. Indinera

    Indinera Indie Dev Veteran

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    Lots of small by far.
     
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  3. Shaz

    Shaz Veteran Veteran

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    I'm not a veteran of selling games, but I would agree with Indinera.

    If you make one big game, it could take you several years, and you can sell it to an individual once. If you make numerous small games over the same period of time, you can sell each one to the same individual. You have a repeat customer. And the repeat customers are the ones who will tell others about your game, and line up for the next one. You build up a fan base by releasing multiple games, not one game.

    What if you spend a year making one big, long game (you won't - it will take you several years, but let's just imagine you actually could do it in a year) - and it's not popular? What a waste, of time and opportunity.
     
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  4. Raizen

    Raizen Veteran Veteran

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    I won't disagree completely with both answers, it is the safest route, but...

    What is your goal exactly? Are you wanting to live as soon as possible with game earnings, or are you up to the risk?

    Big games have a much bigger risk, small games gives you continuous revenue, but hardly they will be a hit. Will you be satisfied with the result of your game? Even though I actually don't recommend it, I always go for the play big, I prefer trying to make something really different than doing smaller games.

    Another thing to know, you can actually finish a big game in 1 year, but you will probably need to touch your wallet... It can get pretty expensive.

    Resuming, the safest route is doing smaller games, its hard to say on average what would be more profitable, if you make a true Hit it obviously represents 10+ smaller games looking at it just financially, but if it flops its much more time used on it.
     
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  5. Indinera

    Indinera Indie Dev Veteran

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    Big games are interesting to make and can make more money than small ones but this era isn't fit for them.
    A market saturated with games gives yours less chances to stand out and garner media momentum to justify the time spent on it.
    Also, there is a rush to the bottom, price-wise. It means that it'll be harder to sell your expensive game when players get thrown at their faces so many $0.99 games. Sadly it has become like fast food now. Too many games, not enough time.
    So a big game without media push will not make much more than a small one... That's the sad truth of this activity.
     
    Last edited: Aug 29, 2019
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  6. Finnuval

    Finnuval World (his)story builder and barrel of ideas Veteran

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    Unless that 1 big game is a garantueed hit (which it is not by all likelyhood) multiple smaller ones is the safer bet.

    Aslong as the quality of the smaller game is still good it can be a succes and even if the return on it is smaller you Also put less of an investment into them, balancing that out.

    Have multiple small but games your risk-reward is more in favor then with a single, big game.

    And as @Indinera pointed out the market is not very favorable
     
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  7. rue669

    rue669 Veteran Veteran

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    I think a small game can still take you years to make. My game is about 7 hours long and I expect it to take at least two years if not more to complete.

    It’s a small game in term so gameplay hours but not small in terms of effort.
     
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  8. bgillisp

    bgillisp Global Moderators Global Mod

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    Many small games. Even the developers of the 80s and 90s often made many projects over the course of a year. In an interview with them (I can't remember who but I think it was the founder of Sierra maybe), one admitted that on average 1 of 10 games of theirs were big hits, another 2 of the 10 went on to at least break even and maybe even do respectable, and the other 7 of 10 didn't even break even.

    Granted, of those 7 of 10 they were counting projects that didn't get finished too, so that will skew the numbers some.

    That being said, make what you want to make. I made a big game over the last 5 years. Will it do better than the 3 - 4 games I could have probably made in that same time? Probably not. But it is what I wanted to make, so I made it. And honestly, I think that is important too. Many of the earlier developers of the big name games we know were often written because the person wanted to make them, and not necessarily because they wanted to be a hit. Did you know for instance that Kings Quest I was originally just a tech demo for a new line of PC's? It wasn't until they got flooded with people asking where to get that game that they knew they had something people wanted to buy. But originally it was never made with the intent of making lots of money, but because they made it they went on to found a company which made many of the classic adventure games of the 80s and 90s.
     
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  9. Parallax Panda

    Parallax Panda Got into VxAce ~2014 and never stopped... Veteran

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    Do you want money? If so, make many games - not one. I can’t speak of my own experience yet but like everyone here has told you, it’s fairly obvious.

    If you make one big (and expensive?) game, you have everything riding on it. If it flops, that will hurt and you’ll never get the time or money you invested into it back.

    By diversifying your income, making many simple projects, you also diversify your risks. And even if the individual chance to be well recived for each small project is smaller than that of a larger, more polished project - you’ll still be better off. Because of the combined chance of all the games you have made will be larger.

    It’s not just with games. If you’re gambling in a game where luck is a big factor, would you rather risk all your capital on one big bet or make several smaller bets to increese your chance of earning something?

    Luck is a significant factor for a small indie dev when releasing a game onto the market. So gamble wisely.

    But if you don’t care about money. Just do what you feel like and make the game you want to make, as a hobby.
     
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  10. jkweath

    jkweath Goes Fast Veteran

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    Nothing original to say here, but gonna agree with everyone on many small games being the way to go - @Indinera pretty much already said what I have to say on it. I'm on game #5 right now. If I'd spent all that time making one big game instead, I have no doubt the game probably wouldn't have made half of what I've made from having 4 smaller (8-12 hour game length) games instead.

    There's quite a few RPG gamedevs here who've taken the 'many small games' approach and seen moderate success; in my experience, the devs who take the 'one large game' approach either never finish the game, release it as a free game (usually because it's a passion project made with the RTP), or finally release it to no more success than they would have if they'd made a smaller game in 1/4th of the time spent.

    Edit:That's to say making one big game can't be successful. I wouldn't know as I've never made one - but IMO, for a larger project to succeed financially moreso than many smaller projects, it'd probably need a bigger budget for marketing and promotion, which the majority of devs here, like myself, can't afford.

    I'd also note that making smaller games doesn't necessarily mean cutting corners or rushing it. Rather it means being efficient and not spending time working on features or content that aren't necessary or wouldn't help your game sell. For example, it's tempting to use Yanfly's Synthesis plugin to add a crafting system, but depending on the scope of your game, implementing crafting properly could add weeks or even months of development time and, in the end, may not even add more value to your game than if you'd just left it out.
     
    Last edited: Sep 5, 2019
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  11. Parallax Panda

    Parallax Panda Got into VxAce ~2014 and never stopped... Veteran

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    I’d build on what @jkweath said and add that while the budget for promotion does indeed have to be bigger, you’d also have to have something worth promoting. The game would have to be incredibly enticing or look like it’s better than your average RM game to sell (a lot) better.
    In most cases, that would probably mean expanding not only the budget for marketing but also other things such as original high quality sprites and such, to make the game stand tall.

    But again, it would be nothing more than a gamble.

    I’d say look at what Dancing Dragon Games has done if you want to study some more polished (high budget I’d imagine) RM games. How profitable they were, I have no idea. Only the devs and their publisher (if they had one) would know.


    [Edit: Also, note that if you develop a high budget game in RPG maker you’d not be able to sell it on all the gaming platform out there. If it was me, trying to make something truly great, I’d choose another engine that allows for the game to be ported to any and all platforms to maximize potential profit. Especially if I had to invest A LOT of money.
    As things are, RM is a really good low budget game engine. In fact, making low budget games is where RM shines. While you can change a lot with plugins, consider that RM uses 4 directional movement and not 8 as a standard. It's the cheaper option for sure.
    Another thing of note is that RM also uses a choppy 3-frame animation both for walking and battle sprites. 3 frames is really the bare minimum and you'd get a lot smoother visuals with just one more frame, but 3 frames are cheaper than 4 and it works (kinda). Also, out of the box, RM does not even give the enemy battlers 3 frame animations - they get still images.
    So when you make a new project in RM, without heavy customization it's really optimized to be cheap, easy and fast to finish project. I'd say, use that to your advantage.]
     
    Last edited: Sep 5, 2019
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  12. Eric_SD-RPG-Studio

    Eric_SD-RPG-Studio Writer - Developer Member

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    Definitely many small budget projects, I doubt we even have a choice as an indie aim for profit. Time is money.
     
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  13. JosephSeraph

    JosephSeraph White Mage Restaff

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    The cool thing is that working on small projects vs. grand projects doesn't have to be a bad thing, I sense a lot "you can't work on these grand projects you love because they won't give you as much money" in the community but really, working on small games, from a creative standpoint, is wonderful also. Through several small games you have the ability to iterate on concepts, present different ideas, tell different stories and cover a lot of ground, potentially being a lot more creatively fulfilling than working on a single, grandiose project.

    And then comes the fact that learning and improvement is sort of hard-locked into you finishing things. Can't really get your hands on all that EXP before the victory fanfare plays, eh? Making multiple smaller games allows you to improve quicker as a dev, creating more higher quality titles faster and with a higher breadth of content. I see a win=win situation. In fact I think this drive to make epic, "four-disc spanning" odysseys is almost exclusive to RPG devs within the indie community tbh, which is understandable considering what the genre is, but it doesn't have to be like that.
     
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  14. jkweath

    jkweath Goes Fast Veteran

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    Wanted to add more to this discussion as I think it's actually an interesting topic - there are definitely plenty of developers who've had large success from "big projects". To The Moon and Finding Paradise come to mind, they're both short 2-3 hour games but likely had long development cycles due to the sheer amount of attention to detail, custom assets, etc. I imagine Hudell's Orange Season is also a financially successful larger project, LISA, etc.

    However, as I and others have said, the big difference between making lots of small-scale projects and one large project is that larger projects tend to come after the developer has already made plenty of smaller projects -- IIRC the developer of To The Moon actually had quite a few small games they'd made before that one, none of which I'd ever heard of or seem to have any popularity. Bigger projects also tend to have an actual budget (y'know, outside of the cost of the engine and store-bought assets) for marketing and promotion, artwork commissions, and so on.

    After thinking about it a bit more, I think it's definitely worth at least starting off with smaller-scale projects. This gives you the opportunity to release a small game and improve quicky via feedback and experience - plus if the game doesn't perform well financially (assuming you make it commercial to begin with), well, at least the project only took 4-6 months to make instead of the 1-2 years you might spend on a bigger project.

    And then, maybe after some years of making smaller projects and continuously improving, you can use all of that experience, your audience, connections made, and perhaps some of the money you've generated to create a bigger project that has significantly more income opportunity.
     
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  15. bgillisp

    bgillisp Global Moderators Global Mod

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    To add to that, if you start with one big project the odds are high you will not finish, or higher than they would be if you started small first. I was so exhausted by the time my first game was done I joked my next game was going to be Harold Makes his Bed, or The Search for Mr. Whiskers the Lost Housecat.

    But in all seriousness, I did decide to make my 2nd game a short non-commercial dungeon crawler. Ok, the dungeon is an island you have to find the way off of as you got stranded there, but you get the idea. I'm already on the 3rd to last zone of that game and it looks like I'll hit 60 maps...maybe. And the only reason it's even that high was I restricted myself to maps of no bigger than 45 x 45 for this entire project too.
     
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  16. Parallax Panda

    Parallax Panda Got into VxAce ~2014 and never stopped... Veteran

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    In the midst of all the “pro-mini game” arguments in this thread, I think it’s important to emphasized that it doesn't have to be one or the other.

    Yes, if you want money (like I do), starting with making smaller projects is probably the best strategy. But there is nothing stopping you from slowly working on a grand passion project on the side. Keep the focus on the smaller money making projects, and allow your grander vision to take the time it needs. You could even use the money you earn from your smaller games to slowly build up the budget needed for that "magnum opus" you're secretly working on when you have some time over.

    I think I'll eventually go down this path myself. But unless you already have a bunch of games out there, focusing on those smaller manageable projects first should be priority.
     
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  17. watermark

    watermark Veteran Veteran

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    Recently watched this quite inspirational video:


    Which seems to support the more small games is more profitable than one big hit theory.

    Some other takeaways:
    - keep marketing your small games years after they are made.
    - keep track of actual hours spent on making game to calculate real hourly wage, which is a good indicator of profitability.

    My other big shock after watching this was realizing that this guy made more money from making match-3 games (which takes 3 months dev time) than an average RM RPG, which takes much longer than 3 months. I used to look down on these "easy-to-make" casual games. This talk changed my perspective on that. Now I know there's a lot of details and work that happen behind the scenes.

    I still like RPGs better though. :p
     
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  18. Andar

    Andar Veteran Veteran

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    if that comes as a shock to you, then you didn't really research the background of the business.
    Match-3-games are targeting casual gamers, RPG-games are targeting a subset of hardcore gamers.

    the customer base of casual gamers is about fifty times as many as hardcore gamers (or even more, the fifty is a guess from me) for a lot of reasons, including available time (you can play a match-3 within 5-10 minutes and stop between levels, try that with a RPG).
    So it's no wonder they're sold more often.
     
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  19. Dezue

    Dezue Love Ninja! Veteran

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    That's exactly what we try to do, couldn't have said it better :)
    Build up experience with more compact games in order to level up enough to tackle grander games.
    It works out really great so far, too. I'm glad we realized this early enough in our dev life :D
     
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  20. Indinera

    Indinera Indie Dev Veteran

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    Actually you might want to just keep track of the period of time (eg months), which is a much easier thing to do, and is still reliable enough to evaluate profitability.

    You might be shocked as well to hear that it's perfectly doable to make a solid RM game in 3 months.
    That said match-3 games can probably generate a lot of money (Big Fish Games members are fanatics of that genre), just keep in mind they generally cost more to make as well.

    So do I! By a landslide!
     
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