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Dustforce developer “surprised by how critical promotions were for revenue”


A year on from the release of their first game, Dustforce developer Hitbox have posted an article that delves deep into the financials of making an indie game and how essential promotions like Steam’s midweek sales and the Humble Bundle were to their company’s solvency.

Back in 2010 an early prototype of Hitbox’s platformer Dustforce took the grand prize at IndiePub Games’ Third Independent Game Developers’ Competition, securing $100,000 to develop a full-fledged game for release.

The team worked out that “on average, it would cost us around $20k per person per year to live frugally”. With one of their team living off savings, the four-person team could last a year and half off the prize money.

With their budget set, they next established how much the game needed to make to pay for development and set them up to fund the time spent making their next game “With a rough estimate of three years for our next project, plus a bit of a buffer, we were looking at around $300-400k USD as our final goal.”

It took just nine days for Dustforce to make back the $100,000 invested into its development but at this point the game’s sales had “tapered off into a trickle of a dozen or two sales a day”. No small amount but not enough to hit their target within a year.

Sales saw a huge boost, though, when the game appeared in a three day promotion on Steam, a mid-week sale. Steam “sold 17,462 copies of the game, more than the amount we sold during the first 3 days of the January launch.” Hitbox hoped that as more people bought the game and word of mouth spread they would see their average daily sales rise. However, “it seemed to taper off back to their original rate within just a few days”.

The sale that kicked the trend was the Humble Bundle “we made roughly $153,915, and unlike the last promotion, we did notice an increase in Steam sales afterwards […] the amount of daily sales jumped up from under a dozen to around 50 or 60 copies per day.”

After a year of sales Hitbox report that, after tax and commissions, “we are left with around $295k.”

It’s a rare thing for a studio to reveal its sales figures and even rarer for it to provide such a detailed breakdown of sales. Hopefully it will be of use to other developers.

The article makes for a fascinating read. Do go have a glance.