Shovel Knight Devs Went Five Months Without Pay; Game Sells 180,000 Copies

Yacht Club Games discusses the difficulties it faced in developing one of the year's most acclaimed games.

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Shovel Knight was released in late June to a great deal of acclaim (it was our Game of the Month), vindicating those who pledged a total of $311,000 to its Kickstarter last year. Developer Yacht Club Games has now shared a detailed account of the budget involved with creating the NES-inspired game, revealing its staff went five months without pay in order to complete what it describes as a "passion project."

In a post on its website, Yacht Club outlined the challenges it faced in creating Shovel Knight. Despite far exceeding its Kickstarter goal of $75,000, the traditional method for estimating a budget ($10,000 per month per employee, which accounts for salary plus expenses like rent and electricity) suggested it would not be enough. The studio took steps to lower the expected cost of the game, such as getting Jake Kaufman (composer of the excellent soundtrack) to wait to be paid until the game was out and deciding to release Kickstarter stretch goals as free, post-release DLC.

"We ended up operating for five months without money or payments to the team here."

Yacht Club also cut the per-person budget in half, which meant each of its employees would take home about $30,000 per year before taxes. (That's well below the average for game developers.) The studio says everyone knew they would have to work long hours in order to make the game happen, but they moved ahead because they "believed in [the game]! It was a passion project!" The post continues, "The world needed Shovel Knight, we needed to develop it, and we didn't care if we had to sacrifice ourselves to do it. We also wanted to control every part of the game, from marketing to development, and were not willing to relinquish any authority on the matter."

When the money ran out in March, the team didn't stop working; it cut spending down to the absolute essentials (like electricity and Internet), which meant it "ended up operating for five months without money or payments to the team here."

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The developer claims that, through it all, the staff "knew that Shovel Knight would be a success." Sure enough, that has proven to be the case, as the game sold roughly 75,000 copies in its first week alone, exceeding Yacht Club's expectations. And in the game's first month, about 180,000 copies were sold; you can see the platform breakdown in the chart above. That obviously pales in comparison to the sales figures achieved by the industry's AAA games, which routinely sells millions. But for an independently developed game created by six people, it's an impressive achievement, and Yacht Club says it's "extremely happy with the sales."

Yacht Club plans to continue offering insight into the game's sales performance, as well as in-game stats like the total amount of gold collected, through its website. More details will be revealed tomorrow, August 7.

Are you one of the 180,000-plus who have already bought Shovel Knight? Let us know what you think of the game in the comments below.

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