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  • Postmortem: Project Lake Ridden

    [10.25.18]
    - Sara Casen

  • Summary

    We'll take this opportunity to talk a little bit about the fact that Lake Ridden, despite stellar user reviews and intensive marketing since day one, still hasn't sold the anticipated number of copies we had hoped. The general advice seems to be careful before you judge a game on Steam that hasn't been out for at least 12 months, but we're very interested in why the game hasn't found a bigger audience in four months.


    Along
     the way of Lake Ridden's development, we got to meet the Swedish King, got accepted into the business incubator Minc and received nominations for both the game and the studio.

    Much of the following will be speculation and theories, there is no way for us to actually test these hypotheses. We have always believed in being as open as we can about our development, to add to the body of knowledge out there. While we're unable to specify exactly how many copies we have sold, we can state that it's less than 3 000 after launching on Steam, GOG, and Humble four months ago. When making our sales projections we looked at games such as Ether One, Firewatch, Kholat, and similar much less known puzzle games. Don't get us wrong, we did not expect to sell as much as Firewatch which has a publisher and was made by a team seven time the size of ours ;)

    Keep in mind that we worked with marketing and visibility since day #1. Our marketing efforts include (as previously touched upon):

    • One of our developers having almost 400 000 followers on Twitter and tweeting about the development continuously.
    • Placing Steam front page in UK, USA, Nordics, Germany etc for five days upon release.
    • Contracting two great PR firms at release that secured big coverage among dozens of middle and minor sized press outlets.
    • Having Twitch celebrities like Forzen and Lirik stream 1 hour each from the game to almost 50 000 viewers.
    • Working with influences at Yogscast to make a really great sponsored video.
    • Exhibiting on four big trade shows, having lines of people waiting to play.
    • Getting over 2 500 key requests on Keymailer, handing out 1 200 keys to verified streamers in the end.
    • Giving over 40-50 interviews for gaming sites during development.
    • Four trailers released; story trailer, gameplay trailer, release date trailer, and launch trailer.
    • Landing big coverage during development on sites like Polygon, Red Bull Gaming, IGN etc.
    • Showing the game off-site at GDC San Fran two times around, for journalists from sites like RPS and PC Gamer.
    • Blogging about the development for 2 years, having posts that went viral about game development.
    • Having tweets that regulatory got 50-100 likes, one that got 200 000 views and 500 likes.
    • Working with Wishlist on Steam for 9 months, always having a call to action ("Wishlist Lake Ridden") on all our activities.
    • Building an email list for more than 2 years.
    • Working with Steam Curators to promote the game to groups with 5 000 - 10 000 members.
    • Personally handing out 2 000 token cards to real life players that praised the game on conferences.


    We
     handed out 1000 Lake Ridden cards on EGX Birmingham and another 1000 on EGX London where we exhibited the game for general press and gamers!

    Theories On Sales Impact

    Here's a brief overview of a much deeper internal analysis on what could have impacted the sales numbers. Please keep in mind these are pure speculations, some more likely than others.

    Release in May? We released Lake Ridden May the 10th, with a 10% release discount. We had made sure that no other similar game we knew of would release the same week. The May of 2018 proved to be one of the hottest Mays on record here in Europe, and people don't tend to spend time playing games inside when it's super hot. We talked to a lot of fellow indies and they all said that May 2018 had been a really bad month in sales for many of them.

    May is also a month when people usually have a lot to do at work or school, before vacations set in. May is also close to the yearly expected Steam Summer Sale. This could have lead to a lot of potential players holding on to their wallets waiting for the upcoming Summer Sale (21st of June - 5th of July, dates not official during our launch). We submitted Lake Ridden to the Summer Sale on a 30% discount, but it did not really raise the numbers of copies moved.


    Selling
     a game set in a cozy autumn forest during one of the hottest Mays in history is a challenge.

    The Price? Lake Ridden is offered at 19,99€. This is a price point we pitched again and again on the real-life players who played our game at big shows. They all said they felt it was a fair price for a game of this quality. This price point puts us in the same category as The Vanishing of Ethan Carter, Firewatch and Edith Finch. Only three of our 50 Steam reviews have something negative to say about the price.

    Unattractive Steam Page? We crafted our Steam page based on pages from popular puzzle games like Vanishing of Ethan Carter and Bastion. We tested the content and layout on real-life players and got very positive reactions.

    Competition? Maybe Lake Ridden does not stand out enough in 2018? If a player googles "Best Puzzle Games" they will get recommendations for games that have been out way longer than Lake Ridden has. This means that we indirectly compete with classics such as Myst, Witness, Amnesia, and others. And a customer might decide to go for a trusted and praised classic rather than a fairly new indie game even if Lake Ridden has a 90% Positive.


    We
     continuously tested the game on both people coming into the office and roughly 900 players on events for two years. The feedback was then distilled down to actionable changes for the team to work with.

    Reaching Target Audience? Puzzle fans are extremely hard to target in marketing. Some of our biggest fans actually messaged us to tell us that they actively unfollowed us the last months leading up to release to avoid getting spoiled on the story. We always did our best not to spoil the story or the solution to Lake Ridden's puzzles in all our marketing material. Puzzle games usually spread by word of mouth, so chances are that sales will pick up now when people are back to work and school, meeting their friends again.

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