Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Update On Donations For Child's Play, Arcen Financials, Light of the Spire, Alden Ridge News

It's that time again!  As of October 31st, 2010, we have so far raised and donated $1,640.80 for the Child's Play charity via sales of our Children of Neinzul micro-expansion for AI War -- and that's just with preorders! Bear in mind that the money that was generated in October via distributors like Steam and Impulse won't reach us until the end of November, and we can already tell that our total donated is going to massively increase at that time.

We look to be well on our way to hitting our goal of $14,000.00 for the year at this rate (just with what's already been generated, but not yet made it to us, we look to be around 2/3 of the way there!). We'll post monthly updates on how we're doing towards our goal, so check back!

More About AI War: Children of Neinzul and Child's Play
When you purchase AI War: Children Of Neinzul, you're not only getting an exciting new expansion, you're also supporting an important cause. Arcen Games has partnered with the Child's Play charity, pledging 100% of the profits from sale of Children of Neinzul (excepting any taxes and distributor fees) to helping sick kids in need.

The staff at Arcen has long admired the work done by Child's Play, and we're very excited to finally be able to contribute in a substantial manner. Our goal is to raise $14,000.00 USD for Child's Play in 2010, but even after 2010 all of the proceeds from this micro-expansion will continue to be donated to the charity.

At the moment, this micro-expansion is available directly through the Arcen Online Store ($3.99 USD), as well as through Steam, Impulse, and GamersGate.

A Quick Note On Our Finances
It's true that there was recently a lot of press about our financial difficulties, and it's also true that while the release of 4.0 has been a solid step in the right direction for us, that doesn't solve everything.  We've had loads of people telling us we should "put an end to that charity thing" and look after our own finances first.  If we go out of business we won't be able to help the charity any longer, whereas if we get stronger and bigger we later can do more for charity.  Our answer is, simply: no.

On the surface that seems like solid advice, but we're not keen to start going back on our word just when things get rough.  The charity micro-expansion has been a boost to us in terms of visibility and press, so it's not like it's completely selfless at this stage, if that makes those worried about this feel any better.  But even if that wasn't true, we wouldn't want to cut this off, as we deliver on what we promise and we're not about to start taking money promised to sick kids just to help ourselves.  I'd rather go out of business.

And To Address A Couple of Misconceptions About Our Finances
First of all, some folks seem to think that our financial troubles were because of the Child's Play expansion.  Others think that it's because AI War was a failure.  Neither of these are true.

The whole point of the Child's Play expansion was that it took maybe a man-month to create, and then the result of that generates a lot of money for charity.  So far so good, and a man-month of time, while nontrivial, also isn't the cause of our problems.  And having that month back, or having the revenue from Child's Play for ourselves, while it certainly wouldn't be unhelpful, also wouldn't solve our problems.  The gap between prosperity and financial ruin is not nearly so narrow as this.

Regarding AI War itself, some folks feel like it was a failure and thus recommend ways for us to change it or whatever based on that belief.  I assume those same folks haven't seen the financial numbers that were at PC Gamer: fact is, AI War is one of the most successful indie games of the last year.  It's not Minecraft, but it's still in the top 1% financially for the indie scene.  I wish AI War was better-known, of course, and the version 4.0 has gone a long way to make it more accessible, but at the same time AI War is not really related to our troubles, either.

So What Were The Problems?
Only a few people have really understood what the problems were that led to our financial issues.  I think my posts were a bit over-long on the subject.  They boil down to four things: 1) trying to do too much; 2) jumping into an unfamiliar, overcrowded genre; 3) the worst slump in indie game sales in a decade, apparently; 4) my own poor marketing for Tidalis.

In other words, we spent a lot of money to make Tidalis, and had a much larger staff than in the past (a whole five people).  Assuming that Tidalis did remotely close to AI War, this would have been fine.  The problem was, we released it right during a huge slump for the industry in general, and the PC indie scene in particular.  Bad timing for us.  I keep up with a number of indies, and a lot of them that have been in the business for a long time talk about it being the worst few months for sales that they've seen in literally a decade.  It's not just us that's hurting.

But, our big mistake was having quite so much riding on Tidalis.  We tried to do too much, we packed so much awesome into it that it took us a lot more time and manpower than we'd initially expected (and the porting between engines in the middle, while necessary, also didn't help).  Given the largely glowing reviews that touch on only a fraction of the content in Tidalis, it's clear we could have put in 1/4 of the content or even less, and it still would have been very well received.  For the casual genre, it's clear we went overboard to the point that it's actually overwhelming some of the casual audience with how much is in there.

Not that I wish we had done less on Tidalis, but perhaps for launch we should have done less, and then built upwards from there if the game caught on.  If it didn't catch on, the loss would have been smaller.  That's what we've done with AI War (and, heck, that's what's going on with Minecraft), and it's worked very well for us.  This build-a-big-thing-and-then-pray strategy was a really bad idea (and my messing up the marketing didn't help).

Lessons Learned / Plan of Action
1. We're still working to promote Tidalis, and we think that it can be successful over time.  That hasn't changed.

2. We're working on a new for-pay full expansion to AI War, called Light of the Spire, to be released in the first week of December.  It's using a lot of the groundwork that we put in for 4.0, which is why we're able to do a full expansion in such a short period of time; we've been thinking on this for a while, and getting things ready.  Clearly there's still a big appetite for AI War stuff, and we've got some seriously cool ideas for this one, too.

3. Alden Ridge Arcade is dead, and we're going to reinvent Alden Ridge itself from what it was going to be.  No more hand-crafted story or levels -- instead, we'll be going procedural, which is something that we're very good at from AI War.  We're also going to be releasing an public alpha of Alden Ridge in the first quarter of next year, which we're pretty sure the finances will let us do, and then if that takes off we'll build that game upwards from there.  If it really takes off, which we suspect it might (that's a seriously cool game, and a lot of people are waiting for it), then we'll probably develop it over a span of years, with lots of free updates as well as paid expansions, essentially like we've been doing for AI War.

4. Cayenne and A Valley Without Wind are also off the table for now, as both of them are huge projects with a lot of hand-crafted content.  It's just not a good idea for us at this time, and we just don't know how to go about that sort of thing in a successful manner yet, it seems.  We'd need an enormous cash buffer before I'd be comfortable taking on a project like either of those.  All that said, we're instead planning to wrap a lot of the gameplay ideas from both of those into Alden Ridge, possibly as expansions to that core game, possibly as just part of other core experience over time.  There's a ton we'll be able to do with the Alden Ridge engine, if people are interested, like what we've done with AI War.  And if people aren't... we'll do something else.

5. We're also going to be working with a smaller team for a while.  Right now, it's just Pablo (music), Keith (programming/design), and myself (programming and design, as well as everything else, including art).  Phil is currently working on other projects, and Lars has a demanding day job anyway, so fortunately that works out, but we do hope to be able to work with them (and get me off of art) in the future.  Though, if AI War 4.0 is any indication, people have been really happy with the art I've been doing, as the 4.0 changes were all me.

In short, we aren't out of the woods yet, but this past week has been hugely positive for us and things are definitely moving in the right direction at long last.  And we've managed to do that while still supporting charity in a major way, which is the best part of all.


  1. Very sad to hear that Tidalis didn't sell well - I bought it when it first came up for sale pre-release, and mentioned its greatness everywhere I could! Managed to get a few people to buy it, but that's all. As you say, not many people were willing to risk time/money in indie games at that time.

    However, on the plus side: excited to hear of a new AI War expansion, as I just cannot get enough AI War!

  2. I'm excited about the AI War expansion. When will we be hearing more details?

  3. Details coming soon on LotS, check the next post for a bit of info on that, though. We're being a little more secretive with this one for a few reasons, which is counter to how we normally do things (and plan to do things in the future), but needed in this one specific case for reasons I outline there. We're very excited, though, and you won't have to wait long. :)

  4. I limit myself to exactly 3 game purchases a year, for various reasons. Except for one very disappointing RTS from a company who's name I think starts with the letter "B", I've only bought indie games for the past few years. Most modern games by big name companies tend to be nothing but the same four games with new engines and bugs, errr, features.

    In sticking with independent game companies, never once have I bought one that doesn't entertain me and blow my mind in one way or another, and AI War is no exception to this rule. I'll be breaking my own rule though for LotS, because that means there will be a better chance to see whatever succeeds AI War. Besides, we all want to eventually see just what the AI has been up to while it was more or less leaving us alone, and that won't happen if something happens to Arcen Games.

    I would love to see AI War development focus on multiplayer for a bit... Just imagine a button that says "Browse for Games" :D

  5. Thanks so much for the kind words and the support, Mike. :) Really glad you're enjoying the game so well, it's really rewarding for us that so many people connect with it so strongly. And we do have plans for a server browser of sorts in the coming months, but there's a lot of reasons that I think it would be disappointing in practice. I detailed those in a comment on this topic, if you're curious:

  6. Awesomeness +1!
    You need SOMEONE to tell you AI War is great! Can't wait for the expansion, will definitely buy it. Good luck!

  7. Who'da thunk.. A games company with ethical values and a good game.. I think between you and valve you have the market on those two combined..

    I wish you the best of luck, stay independent, stay creative and hopefully get rich doing it..


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