Oh boy oh boy oh boy.
How can a good thing be a bad thing? And how can a bad thing be a good thing ?
Those are two questions that have been stressing me for the last few days, and if you read my last entry, you already know that I wasn’t exactly in a state of zen to begin with. So what happened this time?
Well, let me start with the easy part, and to be fair, also the part that occupied me the least because it turned out to be a good thing.
The Divinity Anthology boxes are finally shipping from the manufacturer to our distribution partners, and for some reason, one of these distributors went numb over the last couple of days, so numb in fact that he’s not picking up his boxes.
That’s annoying because we put money in that stock and we expected it to be sold. Having it lie around the warehouse doesn’t really help us and actually even costs us money. Money is important to us, because it’s how we fund our development. So, that’s not a good thing.
However, it did solve another problem, and that made it become a good thing.
The Anthology was selling out much faster than we expected on the Larian Vault, and chances were that we’d have had to close sales this weekend already because we’d run out of boxes. So –we took the stock from the numb distributor, and shipped it to our office so we could sell them via the Larian Vault, and voila, bad thing became good thing. (Actually, I’m not sure if the team is going to consider this to be such a good thing, because now they can expect to have to sign even more boxes, adding to the expected cramp in the arms, but then again, since it is those boxes that are allowing them to continue developing, they shouldn’t really complain in the first place)
That’s the easy part. Now the harder part – how did a good thing become a bad thing ?
Well, as it turns out, our Pay What You Want (PWYW) campaign on Good Old Games isn’t exactly working out the way we planned it. As a matter of fact, it’s doing exactly the opposite of what we expected, making us look like fools because the clever models we used to predict what players were going to do turned out to be complete rubbish (Go figure 😉 )
So how did that happen?
When the PWYW was conceived, we thought that we’d have a lot of sales at the absolute minimum, which basically is 1 cent, and this assumption was actually never challenged. The idea of the PWYW campaign was to on the one hand celebrate 10 years of Divinity and offer Divinity virtually for free (1 cent really is low), thus increasing the installed base of Divinity fans, but on the other hand also to put the Developer’s Cut in the spotlight.
The Developer’s Cut (and Beyond Divinity) were made part of the campaign as a kind of bonus and to not completely ruin ourselves, we introduced the rule that to access the Developer’s Cut, you needed to be in the top 10% of customers. Whether or not that was a sound strategy is a different matter and open for debate, but that was the idea.
What happened however is that for some reason, people started looking at this like some sort of Kickstarter (this was the very first time something like this was done on GOG), and in the very first hours of the campaign, we saw the average pricing go to heights we never expected. Somebody even paid a 1000US$ for one of the games!!! (Thanks again Alquist for ruining our plans btw 😉 )
A consequence of that was that by the time the press took note, the average price for the three games offered had risen above the actual price of the games on other channels, which definitely wasn’t the intention. And so when the articles talking about the campaign appeared (e.g. this one on Joystiq), the pricing quoted for Developer’s Cut had risen to 21US$, much higher than we expected.
Hurah from a financial point, you’d think, but no – because that didn’t fit the model we’d been working with, it caused quite a few tricky issues, and tbh, we’ve really been struggling with finding ways to solve it.
Because the price increased so much, we didn’t attract the crowd looking for a bargain. That in itself wouldn’t have been so much of an issue except that we ‘d announced more or less what our expectations were by proposing a number of goodies that would unlock whenever certain targets were met, e.g. at 15K of supporters, a video of a dragon going to work would unlock, at 30K we’d unlock a tech demo of LMK, my very first (well actually second) RPG etc… And at a very high number (150K) of supporters we’d unlock the announcement of a game we’d only recently decided on. (So fresh is that decision that we don’t even have a name for it yet 😉 )
But, because the pricing was higher than expected, the number of players actually buying the games also decreased (these things are quite price sensitive), and as result all the models went to hell, resulting in the expected amount of videos unlocking being much lower than we thought. And believe me – we didn’t make those videos so they wouldn’t be seen 😉 They were meant as a reward for buying our stuff, as a big thank you to our players and also a bit as promotion for our new stuff.
So what to do?
Obviously we started looking real hard for ways to lower the targets at which the videos and tech demos would unlock, without creating the perception that that our PWYW campaign wasn’t working out very well or even worse, that nobody visits GOG 😉
Because in reality, it is doing well – it’s just doing the opposite thing of what we expected. From a revenue point of view, we’re seeing the best results we’ve ever seen on GOG in such a short time span for our games. But that wasn’t the initial idea 😉
So in the end we realized that there wasn’t a way of fixing this without admitting that we just predicted everything wrongly. And if we’d want to still offer those videos (and tech demo of LMK) as a reward for people keeping on participating in the PWYW campaign, then we’d have to lower the different tiers.
Which more or less is what we’re doing this evening. We’re going to lower the tiers to numbers that we think fit the current trend more or less, except for the last one, which we’re putting high on purpose. Well actually, I’m putting it high, because all the others in the team wanted to put it lower. But I decided to be stubborn 😉
What does this mean ? Well, it means that LMK, the game that started my RPG career (for real) is finally going to get an audience, after 15 years in the freezer. How cool is that ? Ok, it’s perhaps just a tech demo, but it was pretty advanced for its time. Remember, this is what this game looked like in 1998, at a time Diablo 2 wasn’t even out! It should unlock somewhere by tonight if my calculations are correct, once the tier lowering has been executed, and I’m really curious what the reactions are going to be.
Tbh, I’m also very curious to hear your opinions on our handling of this – do you think we made the right decision ? Or do you we think we should’ve stuck to the original numbers and pretend our nose was bleeding ? Or do you think we should’ve cheated and artificially boosted the numbers (+1 for evilness) ? Or was there an incredibly clever idea that could’ve fixed our problem more elegantly, but that we didn’t think of?
Let me know.