Indie Dev Spent $140,000 To Make New Game, Has Made $0 So Far

"So far, I have made $0 from the game," creator of Where The Water Tastes Like Wine says.

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Now Playing: Where The Water Tastes Like Wine - Music Trailer

Gone Home developer Johnnemann Nordhagen released his newest game, the American folklore title Where The Water Tastes Like Wine, in February. Ahead of launch, the signs looked positive that it would find an audience--it was covered in the press, people were talking about it, and it got a jolt of hype thanks to Sting's involvement. Unfortunately for Nordhagen, the game was not the success he would have wanted from a commercial perspective. In a frank and sobering postmortem on Medium, Nordhagen discussed Where The Water Taste Like Wine's success and shortcomings, and one of the most noteworthy bits is that he has made $0 from the game so far.

That doesn't mean the game has sold zero copies, but instead that Nordhagen hasn't seen any money after paying all of his contractors and collaborations. He reportedly spent around $140,000 out of his own pocket to pay his collaborators.

"So far, I have made $0 from the game," he wrote. "That may look like a high number, but consider that it took four years to make — that works out to approximately $0/year. Compared to the $120,000+/year salary of a 15-year veteran in a AAA studio, it begins to look a lot smaller! And then if I go into the hourly breakdown… I don't have an actual count of hours spent making the game, but there was a lot of crunch that went into it, so I am guesstimating I made about $0/hour. That's not a lot!"

"And then once you factor in the ~$140,000 I spent paying my contractors and collaborators for the game, you begin to see that maybe it wasn’t, financially speaking, worth it. I guess I will have to wait a bit longer to buy that Juicero."

No Caption Provided

In all seriousness, Nordhagen said Where The Water Tastes Like Wine's commercial prospects have been "dismal" and "terrifying."

"At the end of the day it's astounding that a game that got this much attention from the press, that won awards, that had an all-star cast of writers and performers, that had a bizarre celebrity guest appearance(!) failed this hard. It scares me," he wrote.

Nordhagen said he will be OK financially for the time being. He mentioned that he doesn't own a home and only has his own bills to pay. Additionally, he moved out of San Francisco, which is one of the most expensive places to live in the USA. He still has money in the bank, and he sounds optimistic about the future, saying his skills should help him pay the bills by other means. Despite the game being a commercial failure, Nordhagen said he was happy to have had the opportunity to work with--and of course pay--all the voice actors and writers.

Nordhagen is a video game industry veteran, having worked as an Online QA Analyst and Software Engineer at Sony before joining 2K Marin as a programmer for BioShock 2. He co-founded Gone Home studio Fullbright before going on to establish Dim Bulb Games.

Looking ahead, Nordhagen said he wants to try to continue to make indie games, but he's not banking on being able to make much money from this. What happened to Where The Water Tastes Like Wine might signal tough times ahead for the indie game market.

"WTWTLW could have been a non-commercial game, but it would have had to be very different," Nordhagen said. "It would be far less polished, it wouldn’t have had the collaborators that it did, I could not have paid people who couldn’t afford to work for revenue share or for the love of the game (thus, I fear, cutting out some of the most valuable voices that this game was a platform for). I could have developed it as a side project, but it took me 4 years as is. Basically, I'm not sure that games like this one can continue to be made in the current market."

That all being said, Nordhagen said he believes experimental games can still be successful, though the lack of a guaranteed return on investment may scare some away. "I have faith that some projects of small indie studios will continue to be successful --if they can take the risk," he said. "I wish it were easier."

As for why things didn't go so well with Where The Water Tastes Like Wine, Nordhagen said the game was "too big" and too ambitious for a single person to make. Gone Home took a year and 9 months to make, while Where The Water Tastes Like Wine took four years. Nordhagen also said the game's controls on PC were fined-tuned for gamepad instead of mouse and keyboard, while both of its principal artists left the project "just as we were figuring out what the game was." Nordhagen also admitted that he "didn't originally have the knowledge I needed to tackle many of the issues I encountered during development." What's more, he admitted that the game could have benefited from more playtesting.

Nordhagen stressed that while sales could have been better, he doesn't see the game as a flop or a failure across the board. He is proud of the game's striking art style, its beautiful and distinctive music, and the support he received from publisher Good Shepherd. He added that he was happy to work with unionized voice actors and was proud of the writing team he assembled to craft the game's various stories.

Also in the post, Nordhagen said he hasn't given up on attracting new players. In fact, he teased that he has "a lot of work planned" to bring in new players. For existing players, a new patch is coming this week with new features to help people learn how to play and what makes the game unique. Additionally, a patch will help make the late-game experience "more rewarding." And in May, more content, including new vignettes, will be released.

Go to Medium to read Nordhagen's full blog post--it is fascinating.


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Avatar image for xblade724
xblade724

As a fellow indie dev, I can definitely say that the money does not go directly in your pocket. Steam spy doesn't include refunds (often for meta reasons), chargebacks (douchebags), platform % cut, and publisher cut (if publisher).

Looking up at the top of Google for public information, it seems that the average publisher cut is 30%, and platform (steam, itch.io, etc) industry average is 30%. Steamspy is less reliable these days, but let's take a glance: $20 at 0 to 20k owners. With 7k followers, let's say 5k players: Pretty conservative. 5 * 20 = $100k. -8% refunds/chargebacks = $92k. Taxes/VAT, say conservatively 8% = $84.6k. Minus Platform fee 30% = $59.2k. Minus publisher fee = $41k. Income tax is minimum 15.3% = $35k is what his TEAM Gets GROSS income.

Now deduction for a couple years of expenses. Dev payouts. Art assets. Legal fees (trademarks, etc). Reinvestments back into the game to cover negative feedback.

Suddenly that's less than mcdonalds wages that goes towards rent.

I can see it.

Avatar image for cheater87
cheater87

Pretty sure he has a few sales, due to how many times I saw this posted!

Avatar image for deviltaz35
DEVILTAZ35

And? Why should we care? Gone Home was shovelware that was treated as the next coming of Christ to begin with.

Avatar image for tOrchie
tOrchie

This is a classic case of fool me once, shame on you, fool me twice, shame on me. The media blitz for Gone Home tricked a lot of people into overpaying for it. We're not buying this time, no matter how many articles come out about it

Avatar image for kallenx
KallenX

If guy wants to make money off it:

-Listen to criticism and FIX technical issues.
-Release for Vita or Switch and put out the game physical on Limited run WITH vinyl Soundtrack.
-Sell for $15 and do a collectors edition with decent artwork he's paid others to do.
-Be innovative and find ways to present it as an experience, not a 'game' enough visual novels sell for Vita
on that note
-Release localized for bigger markets like Japan who might be all over this (they L O V E America for some reason)

This guy is an idiot if he's going to blame others rather than take steps to make money back. LOTS of ways.. Also could revamp the game into an animated short film that could easily be monetized online.

Sorry, but i feel no pity for him. Does this guy even business?

Avatar image for Calikidd86
Calikidd86

Seems like there are a multitude of reasons this didn't take off, ranging from people not hearing of it, to people actively not liking the developers of the game. Personally, I could never get an idea of what the game was about from the trailer. I didn't think it would do this bad though...

Avatar image for kallenx
KallenX

@Calikidd86 same, never heard of it AT ALL. I actually like EXPERIENCES of artistic visual/musical expression. As per my post above, i'd probably buy the OST on vinyl just from what i heard on the trailer. Considering no one knows about this, selling at a high price point makes little sense. He could have sold it at an escalating price scale to move units on a limited time. $5 for the first 500 units, $10 for the next 5000 $15 for the next 50000.

Avatar image for JimInPT
JimInPT

He grabbed his ankles for "unionized voice actors". Unions kill everything they touch.

Hope the lesson was learned for the next time: productivity and cost-controls matter.

Avatar image for ChrisAnetkaC
ChrisAnetkaC

This is typical! Another case of ungrateful uncouth barbarians who'd rather splurge on some simplistic brawlfest like "God of War" than celebrate with their wallets the greatest triumph put together by the finest artistic council that ever graced this planet. Just look at that picture of wolf holding cards in its human hands and tell me: would you stare at that for 20 hours without blowing vomit in a plastic bag? I thought so. We're not worthy. Can someone start a GoFundMe page before ART croaks for crying out loud?

Avatar image for epobirs
epobirs

The word 'game' keeps appearing in the article but the examples offered of the actual product do not suggest anything I'd call a game. 'Interactive fiction' seems a more apt description. Making it very akin to the flood of CD-ROM product in the 90s that lost money hand over fist. The technology has improved quite a bit but it still comes down to the feeling one has paid far too much to watch a sort of movie.

If this were $5 and didn't try to sell itself as a game rather than an experience, it might have done far more business. Not enough to make a profit short term, as is required of most games, but not in so deep of a hole, breaking even eventually and perhaps a minuscule profit. Producing a single unique object can be highly lucrative if you find just one wealthy patron. For a mass market work like this, the price needs to be accessible.

Avatar image for Daveof89
Daveof89

Maybe because gone home was a giant turd? I mean, seriously... calling it a game was an insult to all games.

Avatar image for lordgoregore
lordgoregore

LMDO Indie games do SUCK !

Avatar image for CyberEarth
CyberEarth

He failed to make money because he spent too much in development. He paid artists, he paid actors, he paid writers. He paid a publisher to publish it, and has to pay platforms like Steam to host the sales. He's also selling this for $20, and probably would have more sales had it been priced at $10.

If this were a true indie game (developed by himself), he would have made money. It might not have the voice actors or the music. The game is basically a visual novel with added walking. It's not really innovative.

Additionally, Johnnemann is rather pretentious.

Quote from Johnnemann: "MotherF*cker, you won't buy my game because its content and creation are the antithesis of everything you stand for. In fact, I forbid you from buying it." Source: https://twitter.com/mombot/status/984007504765112321

When you're talking to potential customers like that, it's no wonder people don't want to buy your shovelware. I don't care if you spent $140,000 making it.

Avatar image for Almeida0
Almeida0

@CyberEarth: "He paid a publisher to publish it"

lmao, publishers once *financed* devs, now he was so stupid to pay them? Yeah, such a surprise the costs were so high, lol.

And the tweet, oh my. Guess no need to look up the game anymore.

Avatar image for brokedownsystem
brokedownsystem

I remember reading a description of this game and thinking, "hey, this sounds really interesting." But watching the video that's actually auto-playing up top, I'm thinking "WTF is this?"

It's not a trailer that communicates well what the gameplay mechanics are going to be and errs on the side of being obscure for the sake of being edgy and obscure. If you want people to buy your game, it has to look FUN or it will instantly be dead on arrival.

Avatar image for bignick217
bignick217

Never even heard of this game before today.

Avatar image for jski
jski

Good game, or not, in fairness the appeal for this was always going to be fairly limited. It didn't really matter who covered it, or how many awards it won, there isn't much of a market for it in terms of mass audiences. If he made this thinking it was going to sell enough to be very profitable, then he's very naive. It's a shame it performed that poorly, but I'd be curious what kind of numbers he expected for a game with such a specific narrative focus.

Avatar image for ObligatoryFate
ObligatoryFate

I want it on Switch, with a physical release.

Avatar image for James_xeno
James_xeno

Quick look at the creds... and oh boy.. Some of the names of the people brought in to write for this:

Leigh Alexander (yeah, THAT leigh alexander.. guess she never was able to find people to actually make games for... with gamers being "over" and all)

Cara Ellison

Emily Short

Johnnemann Nordhagen (of the Fullbright Company and the guy from the article ^)

Austin Walker (of Waypoint)

Anne Toole

Gita Jackson

Jordan Minor (Go read his Xenoblade Chronicles 2 review if you want an idea)

Claris Cyarron

Demian Diné Yazhi' (-_-)

Jolie Menzel

And there are a few others.

Just wow.. Look up some of these names and you'll get a pretty good idea about the nature of the group put together to write this and about the "game" itself most likely.

Not to mention that most of the people he 'hired' to write are literally from kotaku and polygon!

Avatar image for JimInPT
JimInPT

@James_xeno: I've never heard of any of those people or their background and reputations. Not all of us are steeped in this stuff; other things are going on in life.

Can you summarize the point you're trying to make in addition to rattling off a list of names?

Avatar image for James_xeno
James_xeno

@JimInPT:

Not without the comment being deleted most likely (as i'm not going to pull punches or sugar coat).. So i'll just post a few links about the first name on the list.. should be pretty easy to understand after that..

http://thisisvideogames.com/gamergatewiki/index.php/Leigh_Alexander#Notable_Works

http://awesome-games.wikia.com/wiki/Leigh_Alexander's_Downfall

and a few that.. well..

https://lolcow.wiki/wiki/GamerGate#Genesis_of_the_Hashtag_and_The_Opening_Salvo

Encyclopedia Dramatica has a pretty lol page about her but that's more for a laugh. (facts and jokes mixed together.) No way i'm linking to there though.. lol

Avatar image for punksterdaddy
punksterdaddy

@James_xeno: That is the BEST reason not to buy the game.

Avatar image for James_xeno
James_xeno

@punksterdaddy:

Very much agreed!

Avatar image for deactivated-5c119f32a6f78

No one wants your boring, pretentious walking simulators. And no amount of shilling from game journos is going to change that

Avatar image for kaminobenimizu
KamiNoBeniMizu

1:I've NEVER heard of this game until today, so it wasn't hyped, unless it was hyped on indie focused sites.

2:What the heck did I watch? What genre is that? I just saw a skeleton-like figure walk and then they show cutscenes. No wonder it made him $0.

People don't know what this is at all! Instead of creating a game, he should have made a short film. The animation and music seems nice, but the game is... what the heck is this? Doesn't seem adventure, no puzzles either... is this some sort of NPC social game? Animal Crossing?

Avatar image for lucidzsc
LucidzSC

I spent well over $100,000 on my indie game, but no gamespot story about me :( I guess even in failure the name recognition moves copy, and I'm just a nobody.

"that" is the way the indie scene works. Even in failure, there are varied levels of failure. I made $500 total on my game BEFORE anyone paid out, so to heck with "i made 0" I made $-124500..

Avatar image for naud
Naud

@lucidzsc: And then there's Flappy Bird that took like a day to make (I assume) that made its creator rich. It's really unfair that some stupid addictive games with barely any content get more playtime per person than the full development time while other games take tens of thousands to tens of millions of hours to develop a 10 hour story and also these stupid games earn more money sometimes. I don't even make indie games (although I made a few small bad games when I was young), but even I'm annoyed by this. I can't imagine how it feels to have built a cool game from scratch which costed a lot of money and getting nothing for it. :(

Avatar image for punksterdaddy
punksterdaddy

@lucidzsc: What is your game, I'll buy it?

Avatar image for dashaka
DaShaka

@lucidzsc: what game?

Avatar image for mike468
mike468

Never even heard of this game before.

Cut scenes and artstyle look interesting, but the actual game looks horrible.

And what's with trying coin the term "walking simulator"? Trying to make up game genres that don't exist. Let's call the game what it is, a game with no mechancis at all. You walk around the map, talk to some NPC's and get some dialogue, music and maybe a cutscene. Am I missing something?!

And the game developer is shocked it bombed.

Guess that what happens when the industry lives in a fish bowl. Rather than listening to thier peers, maybe they should start listening to the gamers. People have been getting fed up with games that ship barebone and then add in and build on the game after launch. It's not just indie games, but AAA games too: destiny, no man sky, sea of thieves, etc.

Avatar image for gamergatestyle
gamergatestyle

@mike468: "walking sim" is a derogatory term to both describe the actions (or lack thereof) that you partake in, and also point out that it simulates something so banal and pointless that it should be avoided. There's a reason walking sim devs scrub the tag off their Steam store pages like it's carrying the bubonic plague. If they were proud of their lack of gameplay and reliance on voice over exposition they wouldn't have a problem with it.

Avatar image for rafaelleon2107
RafaelLeon2107

I feel sorry for the guy, but this proves that having a stellar cast doesn’t automatically sell a game anymore. The best indies from the last couple of years have creative and engaging gameplay in addition to the art and storyline.

Avatar image for whiteagle18
whiteagle18

The game looked intriguing at first, especially since I quiet enjoy walking simulators. What ultimately turned me off was the marketing for the game. Instead of talking about the game play mechanics and story, they focused on diversity of writers and perspectives.

Avatar image for gamergatestyle
gamergatestyle

@whiteagle18: That's every walking sim though?

Avatar image for cetaepsilon
cetaepsilon

I see Gone Home in the same way I see The Last Jedi and all the polls predicting Hillary's win.

Avatar image for johnnykchop
JohnnyKChop

@cetaepsilon: Yawn.

Avatar image for fan360
fan360

So I guess last pennies were spent to buy this article on Gamespot?

It is well known that 70% "game" budget is used on Ads.

Atari ET is 90%

Avatar image for gamergatestyle
gamergatestyle

@fan360: Why spend money on ads when you can just call up your bosom buddies and have them write multiple fluff pieces for you across the most popular game websites for free?

Avatar image for lucidzsc
LucidzSC

@gamergatestyle: no joke. as i said above - i had worse losses than this and no one cared to cover it, so this is just more inner circle nonsense.

Avatar image for mpl911
mpl911

Like the vast majority of people on this forum I've never once heard of this game. While I'm all in favour of devs trying new ideas and risking new IP's, having checked some gameplay of this game on YouTube, I must say it looks really dull, in a Telltale Games king of way; walk somewhere across a huge map (as a huge traveller), hit "search", talk to someone (while some pretty cool folk-y music plays, granted), walk some where else, repeat, repeat...

Is that it really? Nothing else? No other game mechanics?? So, more of a graphic novel then, like all those Telltale titles...

If that's all there is to it, I'm afraid to say, the fact that the dev's aren't making any money on this really isn't a big surprise...

Avatar image for craigtl
CraigTL

@mpl911: I'm with you, I dont remember hearing about it. I dont remember seeing a review and the only time I consider playing a game like this is if it involves a story I am already interested in like The Walking Dead or Batman and I already grew tired of games like that.

Avatar image for James_xeno
James_xeno

"At the end of the day it's astounding that a game that got this much attention from the press, that won awards, that had an all-star cast of writers and performers, that had a bizarre celebrity guest appearance(!) failed this hard. It scares me,"

--------------------

I'm quite confident that this is in no way a reflection on putting stock into the views and expectations from those of exceeding pompousness, about something for which is of their own personal pet projects/subjects/biases, born out of arrogant elitist sociopathy.... Surely that can't be the case... *rollseyes*

i.e. bad idea trusting in what a bunch of ideologues and elitists think should be, who are hell bent on making sure theirs is the only valid opinion allowed on what should be of worth a/o wanted by all... Shoved right down everyone's throat!

Avatar image for punksterdaddy
punksterdaddy

@James_xeno: Amen.

Avatar image for giedrius1001
giedrius1001

So I guess last pennies were spent to buy this article on Gamespot? Poor fella chose the wrong site to promote his game :) The audience of this site not really much into art or any kind of educational content or has any taste to music or any kind of indie games. if you would concentrate on ripping off COD game you would definitely be making money :)

Avatar image for gamergatestyle
gamergatestyle

@giedrius1001: I love art. I just don't watch movies to read. If you're going to sacrifice the whole defining point of a medium you had better be a savant at every other aspect of your art. Everyone has taste, it's just different from yours. P.S. your COD strawman is getting stale. Once you get 10 years past the use by date it's time to find a new rhetorical crutch.

Avatar image for craigtl
CraigTL

@giedrius1001: Man, I don't know what happened to gamespot. I used to come on here and have fun and awesome conversations with people about the games we love and look forward to. Now, its nothing but people finding a reason to complain about anything, trolling about what console is better, and putting people down because they have a different opinion from their own. WHAT HAPPENED TO GAMERS...... where do I go to get that old feeling back?

Avatar image for giedrius1001
giedrius1001

@craigtl: Gamers just got dump. New generation of kids without education waging troll wars feeling pleasure of putting someone down, even if they are just peasants in real life. Educated gamers will never go into fights as you said and will only go to specific forums to discuss games they like with people who has same feelings. Unfortunately not many left like that. I was watching yesterday video of Far Cry 5 details vs Far Cry 2. And you can see most games getting dumbdown too. So industry adapts to players by their intellectual levels, just give them something to shoot make it basic and everybody's happy. No need to read, care about story or dialogs or any detail related with gameplay, just shoot moving object like an idiot. Sad gaming world we leaving in ... :(

Avatar image for gamergatestyle
gamergatestyle

@giedrius1001: "Educated gamers will never go into fights as you said and will only go to specific forums to discuss games they like with people who has same feelings."

That's the definition of an echo chamber. Educated people do not like echo chambers, they shun them.