We usually hear stories of success, but cases where indie games don’t live up to their devs’ expectations are unfortunately much more common. The Wreck co-creator Florent Maurin has opened up about the game’s commercial failure, also reflecting on the point of making indie games in today’s market.
Florent Maurin, the founder of French indie studio The Pixel Hunt, posted his story on Reddit last week (spotted by Game Developer). The question in the title asks, “Why the hell do we even bother making indie games?”
But before jumping into Maurin’s thoughts on the matter, let’s look at some of the numbers he shared about the launch of The Wreck:
- 20,000 wishlists on Steam pre-launch;
- 1,000 units sold on Steam so far;
- “Roughly as many” copies sold across PS4, PS5, Nintendo Switch, Xbox One, and Xbox Series X|S;
- Sales have now settled on a couple units a day.
Although Maurin says “The Wreck isn’t a wreck”, the results are by no means impressive. The game received generally positive reviews from mainstream media, including the Bestest Best badge from Rock, Paper, Shotgun, but this didn’t help The Pixel Hunt reach enough players at launch.
So something probably went wrong with the marketing, leading to poor discoverability and visibility for The Wreck.
Who are The Pixel Hunt?
Former journalist Florent Maurin founded The Pixel Hunt in 2009. Based in Paris, the studio is focused on making what it calls “reality-inspired games.”
So far, the team has released three titles:
- Bury me, my Love — an interactive fiction game telling the story of a young Syrian woman who tries to flee from her war-torn country. It sold over 100,000 units and received several Game Awards and BAFTA nominations;
- Inua, a story in Ice and Time — a story-driven puzzle game inspired by the Franklin expedition. It won Apple’s Cultural Impact award, as well as the Best Scenario award from Google Play;
- The Wreck — an interactive fiction / visual novel about relieving the events of one day in the life of a failed screenwriter. It was inspired by a car crash that Maurin and his daughter got in a few years ago.
Here is what Maurin thinks about the results of The Wreck:
- The Pixel Hunt knew that it would be hard to market and sell a game like this given its genre (visual novel) and theme (dysfunctional love relationships, sick relatives, etc.);
- After seeing good reviews, the team started believing that The Wreck could sell great, but it didn’t happen;
- “The market is pretty rough these days, and I know for a fact that we’re not the only ones in such a situation — some friends even reported absolute horror stories.”
Of course, it is sad to see the game you put so much effort and love into can’t reach enough players. According to Maurin, there is “so much fight for attention” in the games market today that being noticed is “super, super complicated.”
Although the point about the market’s oversaturation is true, The Pixel Hunt could put more work into promoting The Wreck through streamers and YouTube creators rather than relying on the press. Critical acclaim is good, but mainstream media coverage doesn’t do much for indie games. As marketing expert Chris Zukowski pointed out in his latest blog post on the matter, “media attention and marketing doesn’t magically convert people to pick up your game,” especially when it targets the wrong audience.
Of course, The Wreck had no chance to sell as great as some complex builder or an indie title in the genre that Steam players especially love. But attracting the right audience through other channels could increase the number of wishlists, as well as the game’s visibility and discoverability.
“I’m sad, and at some point, in the days following our launch, I was also pretty depressed,” Maurin said. “There was this question that kept coming back to my mind: ‘Why the hell do we even bother making indie games?'”
Fortunately, Maurin managed to find at least five answers to it. He noted that he still wants to explore new genres and gameplay styles that are still left to discover. Another reason for The Pixel Hunt founder to keep making games is because “they are a way for me to open up about topics I think are important” and to connect with people through this medium.
“I make indie games because they are powerful,” Maurin wrote, recalling a touching email he received from a woman after the launch of The Wreck, which helped her “re-read the things that had happened to her in a completely different light.”
Maurin concluded by saying that he will keep developing indie games despite The Wreck’s not-so-successful launch: “Making games is freaking hard, you’re heroes and you deserve to feel good about yourselves and your work. So my advice would be to keep a list of the reasons YOU have that feel more personal and true, and get back to them when things go south and you feel like all those efforts we put in this passion of ours might not be worth it.”
More personal thoughts on indie game development can be found in Maurin’s full post.