Amnesia Developers Discuss Sales, Piracy, and Future of Frictional Games

Frictional Games' first-person survival horror title, Amnesia: The Dark Descent, has been scaring the crap out of gamers for just over a month now. Following an initial week-one report, in which the developers discussed the lack of parity between review scores and early sales, the team has posted a one-month follow-up entry about Amnesia's sales, reception, piracy issues, and what it all means for the future of Frictional Games.

Despite initial worries that Amnesia was underperforming from a sales perspective, the game had already sold 36,000 copies as of October 8. The figure, which includes pre-orders but not the boxed versions sold in Russia, surpasses the 24,000 units sales the team projected as the requisite number for the project to be considered a success. In practical terms, the news should make fans happy. "Frictional Games will live to create another game!"

Frictional reports that just shy of 42% (15,000 units) of Amnesia's sales were thanks to pre-orders (offered at a 20% discount), a successful strategy the team intends to employ for future titles. About 5,000 units were sold directly through the Frictional Games website, which is the only place to obtain Amnesia in Linux flavor. Frictional estimates that about 5% of total sales were for the Linux version, and 8% were for the Mac version.

Interestingly, the developers didn't notice much in the way of a correlation between the positive review scores Amnesia has received and any direct spikes in unit sales. The notable exceptions were the release of reviews on Zero Punctuation and GameSpot. Sales quadrupled from roughly 150 per day to about 600 per day around the time those outlets published their review coverage. Despite any other tangible bumps due to reviews, Frictional doesn't discount their overall value: "What this means is that reviews convince players that already know about the game to purchase it, instead of acting as a PR catalyst."

On a troubling (and sadly unsurprising) note, Amnesia's sales haven't been unfettered by filthy pirates. The team notes that when searching for Amnesia coverage online, nearly half the results point to pirated versions of the game. Frictional points out that Notch's Minecraft has outsold Amnesia tenfold, but has only twice the number of illegal torrent distributors. The team is quick to point out that Minecraft is "a vastly different game compared to Amnesia," but that aside, feels there are lessons to be learned by comparing the exposure and success of both titles.

I would say that Minecraft is more well known, but Amnesia is not far behind. Google gives us two times the hits compared to them and a popular pirate site gives Minecraft double the distributors compared to us. We have gotten more reviews from popular outlets, Minecraft has gotten more viral-like PR. As I said, I think Minecraft has the upper hand here, but not by that much. Still, Minecraft has a over ten times the sales compared to Amnesia, which is a huge difference.

Frictional Games concludes that there are a couple of main reasons that Amnesia's sales haven't come close to Minecraft's, despite great exposure. As a single-player, puzzle-based experience, Amnesia doesn't have much in the way replay value once it's been completed (despite its multiple endings). Amnesia also lacks any real copy-protection measures. It also doesn't share Minecraft's benefit of being server-based, or of receiving regular content updates. The observations come as more of a realization that certain game-types are inherently more difficult to monetize, if they have a more finite lifespan.

Realizing this doesn't sound like it will have undue influence on Frictional's upcoming projects. "A developer should not design a game based on how it can be protected and doing so can only lead to bad things for our games," Frictional states. "What we want to continue doing is to create single player games that try to evolve the way in which videogames tell stories and evoke emotions." Increasing exposure through other means, such as bringing titles to more platforms, is something the team is strongly considering.

As for news on Frictional Games' next project, the future is looking bright, despite any real specifics:

We also feel that we finally can leave Amnesia behind us and start focusing on our next project instead. As this will be our first project where we know from the start that we can finance it ourselves, it will be very interesting to see what can be done. In all our previous games, we have mostly rushed through the production.

This is will be the first time we can take our time and make sure that all is the way we want it to.

From The Chatty
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    October 25, 2010 4:09 PM

    Happy to hear the news... I haven't bought it yet though, because I never complete scary games, even though they sound really cool in theory and I like scary films.

    I think the difference between horror films and games is like the difference between rock climbing and bungy jumping. If you're afraid of heights, you can still bungy jump because once you start you're in for the whole ride and you can lose yourself in the thrill. But that doesn't mean you can climb well (play scary games) which requires your own abilties to push through the fear to carry on and finish.

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      October 25, 2010 4:17 PM

      That is an amazing comparison. I also have yet to pick up a copy, I am waiting and hoping to see a sale for Halloween. I enjoyed the demo but something felt wrong to me, so if it drops down I'll buy it in a heartbeat. Also, does anyone else think its cool when a developer or publisher comes out and talks about sales and what hurt or helped them?

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        October 25, 2010 5:07 PM

        Impulse has it 50% off as part of their Halloween sale, if you feel inclined to get it from them.

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      October 25, 2010 5:14 PM

      I recommend it. It's scary, but in a great way. The demo also has the scariest part of the game I've seen so far.

      You'll know it when you get there. It's incredible in that it's so far removed from what you normally see in a horror game. It's like living someone's nightmare. It's terrifying and so well done.

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      October 25, 2010 5:20 PM

      This is a cool analogy. Pretty sound.

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      October 25, 2010 9:58 PM

      This is a very, very, scary post. It's an analogy. On the internet. And it's not terrible or moronic.

      On topic, I think the game probably suffers from a couple interrelated problems from a PR perspective. One, frankly, it's just too scary for some people. I know I won't buy it because of that. Two, it just doesn't seem satisfying to me to be chased by monsters without recourse to self-defense. Most games are about empowering the player, so the game design choice here is at variance with the presumed point of the medium.

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