Hi, I'm Henry. In 2012 I quit my job as a programmer at BioWare to spend a year making my own indie games. This blog is about what happened next...

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Spaceteam Retrospective

I recently posted a link to my Numbers page, which details Spaceteam downloads and sales over the last year. This led to a Twitter discussion about business models, whether I should have charged money for the game, and general lamenting that these numbers were “bad news”.

I want to share some more thoughts on this.

First, some facts:

  • Spaceteam is free. There are six one-time In-App Purchases, each costing a dollar, that enhance the game but are in no way required to play. I present them as a “tip jar”.
  • Spaceteam has been out for 1 year on iOS and 4 months on Android.
  • I have never paid for any advertising. It has mostly spread through social networks and word-of-mouth.

Now some more details and clarifications:

1. It actually made more money than just the In-App Purchase revenue

The Numbers page shows that I’ve made ~$12,000 so far from people buying Upgrades in the game. But the game has also generated:

  • Prize money (5,000 Euros, or roughly $6,700)
  • Commission for a customized version, which took a couple of weeks of work ($3,250)
  • All-Access Passes to various conferences and one flight (worth several thousand dollars combined)

So if you’re counting total monetary value it made more than $25,000. This still isn’t quite enough for me to live on, but it’s getting close. However…

2. Making money was not my priority

My goals for Spaceteam from the beginning were to:

  • Learn iOS programming and the how the App Store worked
  • Finish a small project so I could make better estimates
  • Get my name out there

I had always intended to release this first “small” project for free. The original plan was to then charge money for my next game (this plan has now changed, but Spaceteam’s purpose remains the same).

Worrying about how to “monetize” effectively might have compromised the game design and almost certainly would have hindered the last goal (getting my name out) because there would have been much more resistance to sharing and spreading the game.

If I had prioritized making money, then I would not have made a game like Spaceteam.

3. It certainly wasn’t a failure

I’m pretty confident that I achieved all the goals above, but that’s not the only way I measure success. Here are some other stories and opportunities that Spaceteam has generated:

  • Three big festival awards, and several awards from other publications (Editor’s Choice and so on)
  • Articles on many major news sites: GameSpot, Kotaku, Giant Bomb, EuroGamer, PocketGamer, TouchArcade, MacWorld, Kill Screen, The Verge, PA Report, Destructoid, Game Informer, Polygon, PC Magazine, Co.Design, TechCrunch, Financial Post
  • Upcoming feature in a museum exhibition (Indie Essentials at MoMI in New York)
  • Invitations to present the game and speak at eight conferences across North America
  • An exciting offer to buy the rights to Spaceteam entirely (it didn’t work out, but was very interesting and I learned some valuable lessons)
  • A private customized version for a well-known game company (with custom graphics, corporate jargon and in-jokes)
  • Another customized version for New Tech Network, a non-profit organization that works with schools
  • Many stories of teachers using it with their students to help with communication, teamwork, and language-learning
  • Companies using it with interview candidates to loosen them up and test team-fit
  • Medical school using it to help train students to work in high-stress environments
  • Online dating coach using it as an ice-breaker at events and to get great candid profile photos
  • Family therapist using it as a therapeutic tool in his sessions
  • Actors using it to warm up before a show
  • Volunteers offering to translate the game into Spanish, Italian, German, French, Russian, Polish, and Japanese (some of these are coming soon!)
  • A Penny Arcade comic
  • Official Spaceteam competitions organized by PAX
  • Used as the secret final round of the Omegathon at PAX East where it was played on stage competitively in front of thousands of people
  • A music video
  • Fanfiction
  • A physical game with real controls inspired by Spaceteam
  • A custom-built Spaceteam arcade cabinet
  • Fan-created unofficial variants: Silent Spaceteam (you can only make noises), and a version where you just load into the Waiting Room, vote on who has the best costume, and repeat :)
  • 800,000+ downloads, some of which I can now tell directly about my future projects through updates to the game
  • 6,000+ five-star ratings in the app stores, several from people who claim to have never reviewed a game before but felt compelled to for Spaceteam
  • Lots of love at festivals: high-fives, hugs, free drinks and dinners, requests for photos and signatures
  • Many personal messages from people who play with their partners, parents, children, grandparents, grandchildren, and non-gamers

Sure, all these things might have happened if it had cost $1 so perhaps it could have made more money. But if you look at everything on that list and are still unhappy with how Spaceteam has performed then maybe your priorities are different than mine.

Which is fine. We all need to make money. I certainly believe that artists should be paid for their work. But I think there are a lot of problems with the current business models and I want to try something new…

4. I want to keep making free games

There are several reasons I don’t want to charge money for Spaceteam _or_ future games, and I’ll go into those reasons in another blog post. But if my games are free then I need to get paid in some other way.

So… I’ve decided that my next step is to run a crowdfunding campaign to unite the community of Spaceteam fans that are already out there (hopefully attracting new ones in the process) and give them another way to help. Some of them might even pay more than the typical mobile-game price tag of $1.

This feels more honest and sustainable to me and the pay-what-you-can model seems fair for everyone else. I’ll be talking a lot more about the campaign in the coming weeks.

I really believe that Spaceteam’s success is measured in many different ways, is growing and ongoing, and will lead to more success in the future.