Official development blog

Cogmind, 1 Year of Alphas

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Cogmind Alpha Access is one year old! (One could optionally end this sentence with “!?!?”)

“Year 1″ since release in May 2015 overlaps with some previous postmortems I’ve done, so rather than rehash that content here I’ll just be linking to it where appropriate. That said, there is plenty of fresh data to share, too :)

The Year 2 of the Cogmind recap is a pretty good general summary of 2015, something I’ll do again at the end of this year. Since then a lot of the work has gone towards overhauling a few mechanics to improve gameplay, and adding more and more content to complete the full world as planned. So, yeah, eight major releases later Cogmind development is still rolling along.

Today though I’d like to focus more on sales and other aspects specific to the alpha which haven’t been covered as much before.

Also, this week I’ll be updating the Cogmind website‘s text and all screenshots. Here are some of the scenes I’ve been working with for the new site:

cogmind_destruction_composite

Composite gif featuring gratuitous ASCII destruction.

cogmind_explosion_reactor_array

Still of that reactor array exploding. (Click here for separate full-view image.)

On to the data…

Players

As of today Cogmind has 2,119 players. Or maybe that’s “players,” because in reality the majority would be better classified as supporters at the moment, i.e. those who joined the alpha program to help the project see 1.0, and maybe try it out every so often before then, or just wait.

There are also an additional 738 people on a special one-time mailing list accessible at the top-right of the buy page, to be notified when Cogmind reaches its intended lower base price (for those who can’t afford to chip in now, or who simply want a lower price for whatever reason). Of course, a number of those people may have signed up earlier and eventually bought anyway, and another portion will never see an email because it’ll end up in their spam box :P

In terms of active players, based on the uploaded game stats there are usually about 20 runs played per day, though that number has fallen in recent months as sales have started to decline somewhat, something you’ll see further down. However, the caveat there is that I don’t actually know everyone who’s playing, only those who opt in to data uploading via the options menu (I do know that not everyone opts in). The active player count is naturally above average in the week after a new release.

Many thanks to the core group of players who have been a continuous help when it comes to providing feedback on each release--zxc, Happylisk, Decker, Sherlockkat, Shobalk, and more have stuck with it for a long time and have helped improve the game for everyone. Even others who simply talk about their experiences give me a lot to go on when I consider balance and potential features, revealing any disparities between the intended vs. perceived vs. actual effects of any changes.

Revenue

I’m not broke yet!

If you’d like detailed coverage of the first month of sales and other data and issues surrounding launch, you can read my in-depth postmortem here. Crazy and exciting times, that first month :D

But that was only a month, and there have been eleven more since then :P

On the funding side those eleven months have been noticeably less exciting, though there were a few unexpected sales spikes in the first few months after launch. Unexpected because I haven’t been doing any advertising, but I did write that first postmortem which apparently got some traction, and Cogmind has also occasionally been picked up by news and review sites.

cogmind_revenue_year_1

Cogmind Year 1 gross revenue, annotated.

Each new alpha release naturally tends to give a slight boost to sales simply because news gets posted around, so there’s the obvious incentive to get new releases out there, but at the same time I want each one to be truly significant, so it’s a balancing act to work on a major version as long as possible before it really needs to be released.

Still, the ongoing sales numbers are so small compared to the initial release (lots of people were waiting for that…) that the alpha release effect isn’t so apparent above. Looking at a monthly revenue chart will explain a little more about the long-term cycle

cogmind_revenue_year_1_by_month

Cogmind Year 1 gross revenue by month.

The first 3-4 months were all about the initial wave of attention based largely on pent up interest, so they don’t really count. Then revenue started settling into a long, slow trend downward. I believe in the bigger picture November was a pre-holiday slump, since I don’t have any Cogmind-specific details to explain why that was the lowest month. I can say that sales and releases of other games don’t seem to have any real impact on Cogmind sales, likely because Cogmind’s numbers are so small to begin with (really, a couple sales per day makes that day for me :D), plus it’s a unique game.

February I can explain, though. That was a release leap month, when I was working on a big alpha update laying the foundation for the development of a whole new and very different part of the world, so it took extra long and there were the usual news updates but no releases during that period. The effect was also likely amplified by a post-holiday slump, especially after a fairly successful December and January.

Ever since February I’ve started expecting that revenue could truly flatline at any time, but that has yet to play out (whew!). This May is turning out to be another February-like month, though, so it’s increasingly important that I start looking forward. More on that later.

For fun, here’s the revenue by country for the corresponding period.

cogmind_revenue_year_1_by_country

Cogmind Year 1 gross revenue by country.

Nothing surprising there, given that Cogmind is only available in English. There are dozens more countries on the list below that, among them my own--Taiwan, where currently there are only two supporters (no, I don’t know them!).

So in short, Cogmind has grossed US$ 62k in its first year. That sounds like a lot, but “first year” means first year on sale--development has been ongoing as my primary job for nearly three years now, averaging out to a little over $20k per year, or barely enough to get by. (Right now assuming minimum wage I’m still short $10k.)

Am I happy about it? Hell yeah! While I wouldn’t call commercial traditional roguelike development sustainable just yet, I’m confident that I’ll actually start turning a profit (to fund the next game!) with increased exposure and the inevitable 1.0. And for now at least it’s been enough to continue on without too much worry, instead of rushing to 1.0, which means a better/more game for you :D

Investment

Thanks to everyone for your support so far! If I wasn’t on this full time we wouldn’t have seen anywhere near the current progress. Here is a composite changelog from the past year, Alphas 1 through 8, and this is where the time has been invested:

cogmind_time_input_by_category_through_april_2016

Cogmind development time, July 2013 -- April 2016 (excludes 2012 7DRL work).

The total time investment comes to 5,218 hours.

Cogmind is a code-heavy game, since the vast majority of visual assets are scripted rather than drawn manually--that same graph for other games would look quite different. Not surprisingly two-fifths of development is spent writing code.

As is common with most (successful) indie games, community efforts play a large role in that success. At least a third of my time is spent writing blog posts, posting development updates, and (more recently this past year) on the forums interacting with players.

Sure it would be nice if more of that effort could instead be funneled directly into the game itself, but honestly a portion of that community interaction helps get the word out about the game (thereby enabling everything else because that’s where revenue comes from :P) while also having a number of indirect benefits for the game itself. Interacting with others, or even just writing for a reflective audience of me, has helped shape the game over the years. This approach is the foundation of well-rounded healthy development, something enjoyed by few AAA studios, where everything takes a back seat to marketing and revenue concerns. (The #1 goal there is to maximize profit, after all. If my goal with Cogmind was to maximize profit at minimal risk rather than make a dream game, it would be on Steam and at “1.0″ already.)

In the graph you can also see the Content category is starting to rear its head there, an increasingly important part of late-alpha development as most of the mechanics and systems are in place, but the world has plenty more locations to fill in.

The Future

Where do we go from here? Well, as usual there’s the development roadmap outlined over on the FAQ which is updated with every release.

cogmind_roadmap_160427

Cogmind roadmap as of April 27, 2016.

As indicated it’s really just a general outline, and there are quite a few other features (and even new locations) I want to edge in there if I can afford to.

In the near term, another release will be out within the next few weeks, then there will be a slight lull for part of the summer as I take a trip to visit family (it’s been years) and hopefully recover from my recent injuries without issue. Then it’s back home to work on late-game stuff and releases will continue throughout the rest of the year.

The biggest elephant in the dungeon is obviously Steam--Cogmind needs to be there eventually, most importantly as a way to reach new players. It’s unfortunately not anywhere near as simple as I’d like it to be (my current arrangement is super simple by comparison). Due to my situation, I have no choice but to remotely set up a company in the U.S. (as a foreigner) to sell Cogmind via Steam. Yeah, not fun. (WTF I JUST WANNA MAKE GAMES /minirant.) That’s only one factor among many, though.

Increasing exposure and expanding the player base requires a huge investment of time that would further drag on development, but it might become necessary before long depending on how many new players the next couple months bring. Tough to balance!

Cogmind is far enough along (and close enough to completion) that it’s about time to see what if any effect a slightly lower price will have on take up. So to celebrate the one-year anniversary of Cogmind Alpha Access, starting this week I’ll be offering a new limited-quantity tier at $25. Although one could say it’s 17% off the $30 price, it’s not technically a “sale” because the new tier doesn’t come with any perks, so it has somewhat lower intrinsic value as well. I’m extremely curious what kind of impact this will have on sales. As usual, I’ll be sharing the results at some point.

But for now, because they took forever to create and I want my money’s worth, here are a few of the updated website images to come :D

cogmind_terrain_scanner

Activating a terrain scanner.

cogmind_transmission_jammer

Activating a transmission jammer.

cogmind_composite_map_factory

Dev shot of a fully-revealed factory map generated using the latest algorithm (lots of important changes from a year ago).

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8 Comments

  1. Marco
    Posted May 18, 2016 at 1:55 am | Permalink

    Hey Josh,

    your blog is at least as good as your game(s) which you develop ;). Seriously, great stuff to read and learn from you !

    BTW: Why are you forced to create a US company for going to Steam…does Steam not support Tawain with respect to publishing games ?

    • Kyzrati
      Posted May 18, 2016 at 10:38 am | Permalink

      Thanks, I do my best to provide high-value articles :D

      Taiwan has no tax treaty with the US, so I’m not able to use Steam’s automated system to reduce the withholding tax (which will automatically be set to the maximum 30%, with no recourse to recover it). The only way to make up for that is to sell as a local company, which coincidentally also enables me to properly deduct Steam’s additional 30% cut.

      The benefit of doing so will be highly dependent on how well Cogmind does on Steam, and I probably wouldn’t care as much if this were just a smaller hobby game, but I’m relying on every penny here, so I need every advantage I can get. So technically I could sell without a US company, but I’d make even less :/

      When it comes down to the final math, even with a company I’ll need to sell more than twice as many copies on Steam to make the same amount off each that I can now (percentagewise, regardless of price). This is unfortunate from a development perspective, and another good reason to postpone Steam if possible--getting more sales in before going there means more dev funding :P

      Obviously Steam’s inevitably greater volume has its advantages, and can easily reach astronomical numbers, but my intermediate goal is not to maximize sales with lower pricing, which will somewhat mitigate that advantage. In the very long term it will certainly make a difference. How much so remains to be seen :)

  2. BM
    Posted May 19, 2016 at 9:03 am | Permalink

    Have you thought about talking to one of the “indie publisher” type groups that have popped up in recent years instead of trying to set up your own company in another country? I’m thinking of the type of arrangement that the Stardew Valley guy has with Chucklefish, which by all accounts worked out well for both of them. I understand that this type of game is niche by nature, but I still think that there must be some organization out there that can give you what you need without eating into your livelihood and freedom. Just putting it out there as an option. Otherwise I’m just looking forward to the game being out!

    • Kyzrati
      Posted May 19, 2016 at 9:14 am | Permalink

      Yeah I’ve considered the option, looking at Chucklefish in particular, actually :). But only briefly, because I don’t like the idea of anyone else handling PR. However, I hadn’t really thought of it from the perspective of not having to set up a business in the US. I was only thinking of it in terms of PR/marketing, which I prefer to do myself in most cases. Ignoring the PR part, I wonder how cost-effective it would be.

      My current plan was to find a lawyer/business that can specifically just help me set up a company for this situation (and handle/help with taxes), though I haven’t yet looked into the cost on that end. That and setting up my own company would be a better long-term solution. Still, thanks for the suggestion--definitely some more to think about here!

  3. Isaac Ross
    Posted May 19, 2016 at 11:05 pm | Permalink

    I’ll have to admit I feel bad that I opted for a lower tier, but even 25 usd upped to 35aud. I’ve been keeping an eye on cogmind since when it was still sidelined to x@com. I’ve wanted to buy it for a long while, and I’m using this as an excuse. :P
    It will be interesting to see how a lower price hits the sales. I love these statistical breakdowns you do.

    • Kyzrati
      Posted May 19, 2016 at 11:49 pm | Permalink

      Nah it’s cool! None of the tiers are technically low price (just some lower than others =p), and everyone has their own means to consider. Many thanks :D

      I’ll be happy to give a breakdown of the different tiers at some point. So far it’s just doing okay, but it’s only been half a day, and most of that was nighttime where most of the players are (US). Still, I don’t imagine it making a huge difference just by dropping from 30 to 25. At most it might be more likely to attract a few extras among the new people initially unfamiliar with the game who found it via one of the channels through which the info went out today.

  4. Seafrank
    Posted May 21, 2016 at 10:19 am | Permalink

    Thanks for the blog post. I recently bought this game after watching a few episodes of rogueliker playing this on YouTube. It’s really quite amazing for a solo project and I am enjoying it. I especially like these transparent blog posts, makes me even me happier to help support the game and its development. Best of luck!

    • Kyzrati
      Posted May 21, 2016 at 10:48 am | Permalink

      Thanks, Seafrank! I’ve been watching Rogueliker get into it lately, too--hoping he gets as good at it as he is at some other roguelikes :)

      Expect more such blog posts in the future! (Not sure what’s coming up next, though--really need to get Alpha 9 finished first, and there’s a lot left to do.)

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