What defines success for a gaming company? Sales are usually the main indicator. But developers look at much more. Frictional Games, the developer behind SOMA and Amnesia, published an in-depth blog post detailing the past six months. I’m going to touch on a few things, but be sure to check out the entire post. It’s a great glimpse into the mindset of a developer, especially smaller ones, following the launch of a game.
Sales for SOMA are “pretty good” according to the developer. Since launch, the title has sold just over 250,000 units across all platforms. And Frictional Games are 20k – 30k more sales away from getting into the green with SOMA. Based on daily sales (125 per day) and the usual spikes from Steam sales, the developer believes it will reach profit territory before the year is over.
Sales are decent, but even Frictional Games admits they are not “earth shattering.” The developer writes, “for instance, Firewatch (which has quite a few elements in common with SOMA) sold over 500k in just a month, so there’s obviously room for SOMA to sell a lot more.” Still, Frictional Games is proud of what they accomplished (and they should be) and “this makes us a lot less worried about making another game of similar scope.”
Why didn’t SOMA see the kind of success Firewatch saw? The developer believes one main reason is the game straddles two genres – sci-fi and horror. Sci-fi fans might not like the horror aspects of SOMA and vice-versa.
I think one of the main reasons is much more simple. Price. SOMA costs $29.99. Firewatch costs $19.99. Plus, SOMA released right before the holiday surge of AAA games began. I don’t doubt many potential SOMA buyers held off to pick up bigger titles releasing just one month later.
Price is one of the biggest challenges for any small developer to tackle. Do you go more expensive (for an indie game) or do you go cheaper? That’s a tough decision, and I don’t envy them. Frictional Games’ decision to go to $29.99 worked out for them. They could have gone with $19.99, but they would have needed to sell a lot more copies. Would $10 cheaper have swayed you? It’ll be interesting to see if they change up prices moving forward.
Where did all the modders go?
Sales were good, but SOMA’s modding community never took off. “User created custom stories was (and still is) a big part of the Amnesia. So far almost 450 Amnesia finished mods have been released. This is despite the game’s mod support being far from good,” the developer writes.
Even with better mod support, SOMA’s modding community is much smaller. Just five custom stories have been released.
What’s going on? Frictional Games believes it’s a combination of several things. First, SOMA just isn’t as popular as Amnesia. Plus, Amnesia released at a time when there weren’t many horror games on the market and during the huge growth of YouTube and Twitch. And finally, mod development on SOMA is a bit more involved than in Amnesia.
But Frictional Games isn’t giving up. “We’re discussing what we could do to give people more incentive to create and finish more mods,” they write.
The future for Frictional Games
Remember how Frictional Games said they believe SOMA straddles two genres? Their next games will be clearly defined in their respective genres. A horror game will be a horror game. And a sci-fi game will be a sci-fi game.
Now, Frictional Games will work on two games at once. No details were given, but since SOMA shows they are great at tackling sci-fi and horror at once – it wouldn’t surprise me to see them stay inside these two genres.
Developing two games at the same time also gives them room to “be more experimental as we don’t have to rely as much on each new game being a big money generator,” the developer writes.
Check out the full post for more about Frictional Games’ thoughts on SOMA six months after launch. They dive deeper into modding and the reactions caused by SOMA’s story.