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100,000 Copies Sold and What That Means

So. I know the Recettear postmortem is way late, but I am going to get to that soon. Right now, we have something else to talk about.

With the happy new year comes the bombshell we’ve been sitting on for a little while now: Recettear has sold 100,000+ copies. (In fact, we crossed that line during December.) This is a fairly monumental number, and there aren’t many games in general that can claim to have broken that kind of sales figure, never mind independently-developed-and-published titles. It’s the kind of figure that, on some level, I thought we could never conceivably reach, under any circumstances, ever. Not as a brand-new startup with no advertising budget. But here we are: six-figure sales on Carpe Fulgur’s very first game. Success comparable to releases from established publishers.

We do need to talk about what exactly this means for Carpe Fulgur going into the future, however, as in some ways that may be a deceptive number.

What A Hundred Thousand Copies Sold DOESN’T Mean:

- We don’t have money coming out our ears. In the face of as many sales of one game as the entire catalogs of some companies this assertion may seem faintly ridiculous. The trick being, of course, that it wasn’t a hundred thousand sales at full price. The majority of the game’s sales so far have been at a sale price, meaning we haven’t made as much money as we might have otherwise.

The larger problem comes from the fact that a large portion of units were made at a steep sale price; we pushed a heck of a lot of units via the Indie Story Pack on Steam. The problem is, we made very little money per-unit on that sale, since the pack was sold at less than Recettear’s sale price to begin with, and then, being a pack, we naturally only saw a portion of the price. We still made more money than we did during October, it’s worth pointing that out… but we didn’t make the money we could have, and as the head business dude around here, that nags at me. Especially since we have a lot of data – and I do mean a lot of data – suggesting that people were buying the pack pretty much solely for the promise of “Recettear for $5″.  Had we sold the game for $5 first and then bundled it into a pack, we’d have earned quite a bit more than we did. So lesson learned on that front.

(And it’s worth pointing out that, ultimately, I’m the one who said we should go ahead with the pack, so any “blame” for us not making enough money falls squarely on my scrawny little head.)

Another thing to keep in mind is this: for every unit sold of Recettear, Carpe Fulgur doesn’t end up seeing a whole lot of the actual retail price. (And just to be perfectly clear, our distribution partners get a perfectly fair “cut” and aren’t squeezing us at all;  it’s EasyGameStation who, quite deservedly, get the lion’s share of each sale.) We still get enough to operate off of from such a cut – during the “slow period” of October and the non-pack-deal days of November, we earned enough each month to just about cover everyone’s salary, so we were essentially breaking even. But it means that even with huge sales numbers, we don’t see a particularly large amount of that money.

Now, everyone involved has realized that this situation is somewhat less than ideal for various reasons, and for future EGS titles (and any future titles we bring over from other developers) will see CF getting a somewhat bigger slice of the pie. When it comes to sales of Recettear, however, we’ll always see a fairly small portion of the overall purchase. (It’s worth noting that I’m perfectly fine with this; it was a way of proving we were really serious about this, and it still allows the members of CF to live very comfortably.)

Recettear’s still made us a lot more money than I’d dared to hope it would; due to how we timed our discounting and how much certain deals were discounted, however, we don’t really have the insane money hat one might associate with “one hundred thousand sales” and it means we can’t just throw around money on stuff willy-nilly. We’re still quite well off, though; keep reading!

What A Hundred Thousand Copies Sold MIGHT Mean:

- Will it mean Recettear gets an English voice option? Maybe. This one is actually a bit annoying because, due to how the chips have come down, we are literally right on the line money-wise I’d set for us months ago between being comfortable with doing an English voice set for the game and not. The big trick is that we need to be able to throw at least $10,000-15,000 to really do it with the quality I’d want any English voicework to be. This is very much a “we either do it really well or we don’t do it at all” deal; I’ve seen enough feedback about janky English VO over the years to know that it can really ding a publisher’s reputation, so I’m determined to do English VO right if we do it at all. And that, dear readers, means that we need to be able to throw around $15,000 (or more, even) and not have it really affect the future of the company at all… and if I’m being remotely honest with myself, we aren’t there yet.

Now, an upshot to an English voice patch (which would probably include some miscellaneous improvements and whatnot to the game) would be that we could probably do one last promotion for the game with our various distributors and whatnot, which would likely drum up a bit more money… although at this point I’m very worried about us reaching our market cap. (That’s probably a blog post all its own, however.)

And just to head off the inevitable question: if we do English voice, it would complement the Japanese VO already in the game, it would not replace the existing VO. There’s basically no reason we can’t do dual-voice on the PC, so if we move forward with this, we’d do it right.

- Will it mean Carpe Fulgur begins to move to console development on top of their PC stuff? Also maybe. This is really going to depend on the results of my upcoming trip to GDC 2011 (regardless of what happens with Recettear re: the IGF) and what kind of prices get quoted at me when it comes to acquiring a dev kit or two. I won’t lie: for all the problems we had with Recettear on the PC (and yeah, that is a blog post all its own) I am not particularly sanguine about getting involved with the politics that come with publishing a game on a console. (And non-downloadable publishing is still a problem for us, especially DS publishing and the costs involved with the carts.)

It doesn’t help that this is a bit of an odd time to be a new publisher; the 3DS is coming, the PSP2 is also all but confirmed, and it’s an open question as to whether or not we should even pursue “old” DS/PSP games and how many people would buy them. (OTOH, there’s a level on which I do not mind this “digital only” route Sony is taking with the Go and supposedly with the PSP2 as well…)

Another trick, of course, is that this could be exclusive to the voice thing; since it’s all coming out of the same wallet, if we spend money on dev kits we won’t have that money to spend on the English voicework. So we may well have to make a choice here, and since a console devkit could let us expand our operations, it would likely get priority. It all really depends on what the kits would cost us, however.*

Really, a lot of solid answers to this question will only come once I get to GDC, pin down some Sony/Microsoft/Nintendo guys with nailguns, and have nice long chats with them about various things. Including why I’m holding a nailgun, come to think of it.

*As a note here; some people might suggest “well, just take out a business loan if you need to get extra money for voicework or dev kits”. A wise woman once gave me the following advice, however: “No capes, and no debts!” Mortgaging Carpe Fulgur’s future is pretty much the exact last thing I want to do, especially in the modern banking climate. I’ve already witnessed too many companies eaten or nearly eaten by creditors, and I’ve put too much heart and soul into CF to put it in that risk. The plan is to keep us as debt-free for as long as humanly possible… and if given a choice between “go into debt” or “fold the company”, we may well choose the latter. If we end up not dealing with the modern financial sector at all, we’ll be in good shape, I think.

And now for the fun bit:

What A Hundred Thousand Copies DOES Mean:

- It means Carpe Fulgur is very secure moving into the coming year. Even if sales of Recettear were to come to a literal dead stop today, and we released nothing in the coming year, we’d still have enough money on hand to pay everyone their salaries, even after tax, with some left over. In September, we were in a good place but still in a “we have to release another game within a year or we’re smoked” position. Now we could take the entire year to work on something, if need be, and not worry. If we release another game or two and they do even a quarter as well as Recettear has, we’ll be set well into 2012 and we can begin to think seriously about expanding the scope of CF’s operations.

- It means the CF crew can get out and about a bit. I’ve already mentioned the fact that I’ll be attending the 2011 Game Developer’s Conference regardless of what happens to Recettear in the IGF. That’s just the start; Robin attended Comiket 79 this past week to meet up with a lot of developers in Japan and we already have plans for him to attend Comiket 80, as well. Beyond that I’d like for us to make an additional con appearance or two; I’d really like to be at PAX Prime 2011, for example. We’ll be doing what we can to make this happen.

- It means a developer who deserves it earned a lot of money. I won’t throw around exact figures without permission, naturally… but since EGS gets the lion’s share of each Recettear sale, it means you guys made EGS more money than they’ve ever seen before. And I, for one, think they earned every cent of it. One of CF’s missions is to help indie devs in non-English speaking countries get the love they deserve overseas, and in this case I think we can say mission accomplished on this one.

- It means CF can bring you excellent titles in 2011. Above all else, 100,000 copies of Recettear sold proves that the market for imported indie games (not to mention Japanese-style RPGs on the PC) isn’t just there, it’s famished for content, and that Carpe Fulgur knows how to serve that market (occasional bundle-deal-related silliness aside, of course). We’ve already gotten comments from developers in Japan to the effect of “we’ve heard of you and we’d like to work with you”; now we’re an even bigger known quantity. One hundred thousand copies mean that Carpe Fulgur’s future looks bright, and that means that everyone can look forward to a number of great titles in 2011 and beyond.

Like, for example, our worldwide release of Chantelise.

Happy New Year, everyone. Here’s to a very good 2011.

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Posted in Business, Carpe Fulgur.

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