Saturday, September 25, 2010

Analysis - why Breath of Death VII was a success and Aphelion was not

After reading the very useful post-mortem posted by Zeboyd recently, I have decided to do my own analysis as to why I believe BoD VII sold over 30,000 copies and is still regularly selling over 50 copies a day versus Aphelion which has topped off at approximately 3 - 4,000 copies.

To put this in perspective one must first look at not just sales but the time to reward ratio as well. BoD was made in about 3 months. It was sold for $1. Lets say for convenience sake that it will continue to sell approximately 50 copies a day for the next 6-7 months. I'm using this fairly optimistic estimate because I believe that once they release their next game, sales for the original will spike for a short time. For all intensive purposes that is another 10,000 copies, and will bring the total to 40k. That is approximately 13.3k copies per month spent working on the game multiplied by a factor of 1 = 13.3k.

I'll be optimistic and use a 5:1 ratings to sales ratio for Aphelion and say that it sold 3.5k copies. Over the next 9 or so months I think it will sell about 2-3 copies per day and top off at about 4k copies. It took about 1.5 years to develop and certainly was a more ambitious project than BoD. That's about 220 copies per month spent working on the project, but since it was sold for $3 its factor is 660.

The ratio between the two games favors BoD by a factor of 20:1, a huge margin. Why is this? Aphelion was a very ambitious project and is a nicely put together RPG, yet it falls far short.

1) Price point - This I think is a misconception. Although the trial to sales ratio's are generally lower on the $3 games, they are not an overwhelming amount lower than the 1:3 ratio required to make up the difference. The main benefit of pricing at $1 is that you will sell to 3 times the amount of people and still make a comparable amount of money. However, I believe that if a game is just that good, it will sell more than enough to have been the right move financially. Beat Hazard, RC-Airsim and Kodu game lab come to mind. All fantastic games, all high conversion rates, all big movers. I'll say price point was a slight advantage for Zeboyd.

2) Box art - This is where I think BoD blew away Aphelion. The box art for BoD is just perfect upsell for an indie game. It has a title that makes you scratch your head but also identify with an RPG. If that isn't enough it essentailly tells you "look this is an old school funny RPG so buy it". Perfect! The box art is also reminiscent of an 8 bit type of cover, something of a hybrid beginning the NES and Sega Master system box art. I'll go ahead and say this is an overwhelming advantage for Zeboyd.

3) Marketing - Another strong point for Zeboyd, because they didn't shamelessly plug the game but instead used their love of games and influence in big forums such as Penny Arcade to casually mention that they were coming out with a game, and the game is influenced by a love of old RPGs. They got the right reviews at the right times and maintain a nice website that updates their status, reviews other indie games, talks about the trials and tribulations of making a game and just feels human. I really didn't know much at all about Aphelion and finding information about the game was available but fairly sparse, although Zeboyd did review it. Zeboyd also is very active in the xna forums, where lunatic studios made more of an appearance when they needed a review. Large advantage Zeboyd.

4) Ambition - BoD is not really all that ambitious. Don't get me wrong, that game was probably more ambitious than 99% of xna games, but it was fairly straight forward in terms of RPGs. A text based combat system lacking animations, no sub interior maps for inns and shops etc, nothing really event driven outside of dialog, the story was fairly simple. However, what they did they did to perfection and the message of the game was completely clear. Also, I believe that less is more. The clearly defined purpose of an old school retro parody RPG resonated very well in the game. I got what I expected and that's just fine. Aphelion did not grab me during the trial period. Ok, we're on a ship and the shit is about to go down so we have to get the hell out of dodge. I've been there a 100 times and Phantasy Star has done it better every time. Also, Aphelion was just too damn ambitious. It looks pretty good, and plays fairly well, but it just feels a little off overall. The characters feel like they are sitting on a completely different level than the backgrounds, the combat animations don't have enough frames and the menu systems kind of replicate Mass Effect, but I don't know if they were aware that the menus were one of the biggest flaws of the first Mass Effect. Zeboyd made an 8 bit game that looked better than any 8 bit RPG ever and had a more robust combat system than say an early Dragon Warrior game. So although not as ambitious BoD was made in about 1/6th the time and was an exemplification of that era. Aphelion just looked like a mediocre hodgepodge of the 32-128 bit era. Big advantage BoD.

4) Story/Humor - To be frank, BoD did not have much of a story, nothing memorable at least, but what it did have was laughs, and it had them early and often, a big upsell during the trial period. Humor is a decidedly mixed bag in an RPG, but I think they were effective at selling it for the most part. It's clear that these guys have played their games and other gamers can identify with people like them. Aphelion really wasn't funny at all, not that it intended to be and the story was pretty standard fare. I don't think it sucked at all, but I wasn't enthralled by it. I'll say that humor won't always work, and that any RPG is going to benefit the most from a strong story and engaging characters, but this is still a fairly large advantage for Zeboyd.

5) Gameplay - BoD is fast paced, pick up and play, and generally just an RPG on crack. It worked. I felt the combat was somewhat unbalanced, but they acknowledge this on their website and it's nowhere near terrible. It's hard to balance all those numbers, believe me we're finding out the hard way. The leveling system was quite good as well. Aphelion was just a little too complex for the average xna guy.

6) Music - Good music in BoD but fairly good music for Aphelion too, this is probably a wash.

Ok, that's a wall of text but I feel this is worthy of analysis since they're the only two true RPG's on the market and that just frankly sucks. I hope that others come out with some in the next year or so. My guess is that they'll be 5 by the time we release, with CSTW being the 3rd. Light's End is almost an RPG, and is pretty cool for what they were trying to do, but nowhere near conventional. Everything else in that category really just isn't anything beyond a prototype or something that marks itself in the wrong genre. After this analysis it seems pretty clear to me why BoD did so well. If I didn't mention it already, the title for BoD makes you think RPG and the title Aphelion makes you think nothing really. You're better off just putting the letters RPG on the box art and shipping it out at this point.

To the future of RPG's. By the way, our overworld tileset is done and I'm furiously making the final version of the world map. I'll put some screen shots up shortly. Maybe even some monsters to go along with it.

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