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Bedouin

A Financial Peek into a Public Beta Game

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First off, I just want to say... if you're looking for a get rich quick scheme, the pet site industry is probably not the best place to look. Over the years, I've heard of owners who have to pitch in their own money, who only break even each month and pray that they can pay their hosting bill, and the rare owner who can live off their game's income. I'm definitely not saying it's impossible to get rich and with a great idea, you probably could. But it's not an easy way to make money.

Here's a bit of background on the journey of Eqcetera. I bought Eqcetera from a friend back in 2012 and released it to the public after updating the art and layout and adding a couple features. Back then, I was still in school full-time and almost graduating. Although I kept ownership of the game from December 2012 to about August 2013, the stress was too much for me, and I ended up selling the game to the then current admins. Fast forward to December 2015 and those same admins gave me back the game. Note that the reputation of the staff had gone down severely because of unkept promises. They had promised a second version since around the first part of 2013 but never fulfilled on it, leaving that promise to me. It took from the first part of 2016 to July 20, 2019 to release a completely new version. And here we are!

Eqcetera has been open almost 6 months. I did one test run of some ads but no further marketing. We've been growing steadily and are working on increasing new player retention before putting a bigger budget into marketing. There are 2-4 development updates per month which means we're also making progress on new features.

I just released a quarterly report for Eqcetera.com to its players, and I thought it'd be cool to share it with all the aspiring game owners out there. 

Month

Revenue

Expenses

Profit

October 2019

$1,413.60

$2,936.61

-$1,523.01

November 2019

$1,362.38

$3,153.18

-$1,790.80

December 2019

$1,840.66

$3,058.55

-$1,217.89

Detailed report: Google sheet

Not many games are very open with their revenue and expenses. The revenue is not very much, but I thought the expenses would be of more interest to you guys. You can see from an open game what is taking up money. Please note that I do all the programming for the game and I've set my personal rate at $50/hr. Other programmers might have different rates or you might release features slower or faster. Every game is different. 

As you can see, I'm a big data nerd with many spreadsheets besides the one linked here. I can tell you what each player spends on average, email open rates, player retention, etc. I've also started to get more involved in the marketing side with automated emails, e-commerce reports, etc. If you're a game owner and have any questions about any of this stuff, I'd be happy to help! I want us all to succeed in this market. ❤️

Hopefully this helps you guys who are building games and planning your launches! 

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Eqcetera has been open almost 6 months. 

Most businesses aren't profitable in their first year. Even ones that turn into Unicorns. 

You're correct in that the hope for an owner should be that their revenue at least keeps the lights on. There should be either enough income coming in on cash in the bank to weather things until momentum picks up. 

That you have a game and are generating any revenue at all is a huge accomplishment. Many do not get even that far. You're also making a respectable amount a month for presumably not doing this as your full time job. 

Being into data will likely help when it comes to what's ahead. 

One thing we found worked surprisingly well at my Day-Job is A/B Testing to get our leads to do the types of things we want them to do. We did all types of testing, from subjects/times/frequencies of emails to what people see when they get to the site. You can test out some things and see what might drive some more revenue, yes? 

 

 

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10 hours ago, Mobotropolis said:

You're also making a respectable amount a month for presumably not doing this as your full time job. 

This is exactly the point I'm trying to make though for those wanting to create a game. Based on the time I spend and the money I get personally in my bank account (not revenue), I'm not making enough. If I were hiring an outside programmer, I would personally be making nothing at all and have a lot less progress on the game.

Sometimes I wonder if doing this is worth my time at all. It's difficult to do something long-term with little to no benefit. The only thing that keeps me going is 1) I actually do love game development and hope to continue it as a hobby if nothing else, 2) hope that one day I will get paid for the time I spend, and 3) players expect me to deliver. 

I personally think this is why a lot of pet sites and sims close down in the long run. Either that or stress on top of their own life/job/family.

10 hours ago, Mobotropolis said:

You can test out some things and see what might drive some more revenue, yes?

I definitely plan to do this for emails! I'm not sure how it would work out on the site. While most websites have traffic anonymously hitting it, for a game with an active community, players talk. A lot. If they see some different from other players, I'm worried they will say something. It might be worth trying as a test run though. 

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Sometimes I wonder if doing this is worth my time at all.

What's your goal? Your endgame? 

Are you working on your game on nights and weekends hoping to make a little extra money on the side of your day-job? 

Are you giving it your all in hopes you'll one day be able to quit your day-job and devote all of your time to your game? 

Are you taking up a side project in the hopes of developing or improving your skills so you can get a better job? 

... or is this a hobby and you're not really in it to win it? 

The answer is different and personal for the Game Owner. We can't answer this for you or anyone else besides ourselves. 

Once you set your goal you can begin making steps towards achieving it -- hopefully without the expectation that you'll be making 2-3k+ out of the gate because even successful games don't always come out of the gate that way. 

Creating realistic expectations about what you will accomplish as a Game/Business Owner is a must. 

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I personally think this is why a lot of pet sites and sims close down in the long run.

The lifespan of the average website is about two and a half years. 

There are many reasons for it. 

  • As you say, time and interests may go elsewhere
  • Technology may march on and leave you behind
  • People may get bored and see what else there is to do 

If you're running your game as a hobby, any one of those things coming up might be fine since you can decide to move on and try something else. 

If you're running your game as a business, however, you'll have to come up with a contingency to counteract the effects of burnout, invest Time/Money into renovating or be prepared to bring something new to the table to bring people back into it. The most successful business out there today have a Plan B in place and in case of any one of those scenarios. 

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for a game with an active community, players talk. A lot.

Word of Mouth is the best kind of advertisement since it's free. 

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I'm worried they will say something.

You could (and probably, as a Game Owner, should) be open with your players about your Testing to clear up confusion and encourage their feedback based on what it may involve. 

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It might be worth trying as a test run though.

If you're completely new to the idea of testing for improvement I'd recommend the book The Innovator's Hypothesis

Sometimes a simple, barely noticeable, thing can make a huge different. 

For example at my day-job we found that Open and Click Rates for emails increased when we sent them in the early afternoon as opposed to the morning, for some reason. 

We also found differences in our subject line and how frequently we sent emails affected opens/clicks. 

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I'm not new to game development nor marketing considering I've been developing games for 11 years and was a marketing director in my last job. I also have a masters in business administration and am running my game like a business. However, thank you for the insight.

I did not make this post to analyze my own motivations. I have them. I've been building this game, like I said, for about 4 years now and have been a part of the community as an owner or player for 9 years. I made this post to show people who are building games that there are expenses involved. It's not all rainbows and roses and all the revenue doesn't go into your pocket. You could end up working for little to no compensation for years. It could be a bigger commitment than what people think.

There aren't any public financial records to this detail that any game owner has yet provided so I wanted to be the first as a way of opening up to the community. :) 

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I did not make this post to analyze my own motivations.

Nor am I questioning them. 

Those are questions that anyone who might be interested in making a game have to think about. 

There will be, inevitably, times when people question why they are doing something. 

When that time comes they must come to terms with facts and perhaps adjust for reality. 

... get the feeling I know where this is going and will just check out now, however.  

Thanks for sharing. 

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This is extremely helpful and a good insight into the beginning costs of a site. Particularly for those of us who don't program. Thank you for sharing this! Hopefully it helps others now and down the road who may be thinking of starting up but are unsure how much money to anticipate. It is a good jumping point to see. :)

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Wow, thank you and massive kudos to you Bedouin! Your post has been incredibly insightful for me, considering I am completely new to developing this kind of game and I had no idea what the financial aspect of it would look like. I searched everywhere for advice or examples of what other game's revenues/expenses were.

I saw that you spent a good chunk of money on marketing, would you mind sharing your thoughts on that? As in how you marketed your game and what ended up being the most successful strategy? 

As for revenue, I read you had a subscription service, is that your primary source of revenue? Or do you have other systems like in-game purchases? 

Again, thank you so much for sharing. This is so helpful to me and I'm sure the rest of us. 

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Thank you, @JimJim! I'm glad it's helpful for you.

Although I haven't dove too far down the marketing rabbit hole yet in terms of ad campaigns (I think there are only a couple test ones included in those numbers), I've been trying out different email softwares to see what works. Some of this went towards ActiveCampaign which I have since abandoned. I was interested to see if a marketing software that regular businesses used would also work for a game. In this case, it wasn't successful and ended up being more of a headache than it helped. This was the "cheapest" customer relationship management software I found for the number of contacts I had so switching to another one is not an option at this time. I will most likely build a customer relationship system for the game myself when I get time to dedicate to it (eg. scheduling emails, viewing total donated in the lifetime of the customer, building in other custom statistics in reports, etc) but it's not a priority right now.

Probably not what you wanted to hear, but it was a great learning experience! I'll be devoting more of a budget for ad spend once I get a couple things figured out for new players so that I can increase new player retention from "outside" ads. These new players need a lot more handholding than what I had previously planned so I want the experience to be perfect before spending more money. The platform I plan to use for that is Instagram since I've seen success with it in the past. However, I think I'll also add Google Ads into the mix later this year based on @Vix's success that she's currently having with Celestial Equine. 

The subscription service is still fairly new. Players can upgrade for $3.99/mo which is automatically taken from their Paypal every month instead of paying for an extended period of time with credits. We've had some success with this, but it's a small portion of income. Currently, it pays for hosting each month and our social media manager's pay. My hope is that it'll one day pay for at least one horse breed base per month but that's still quite a ways off.

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Thank you for answering my questions, and so quickly! This has helped me a lot, I will def be looking into google ads as that is something we haven’t explored yet. I am so intrigued by the subscription idea, that may provide another option for our premium currency. Excellent info Bedouin 

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As someone who's just broken into the industry this month and purchased my own game, this is fascinating to me :) 

Good luck with it, and hope business really picks up for you, I played eqcetera for a while in the past and really enjoyed parts of it, so would love to see it do well :)

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