Spiderweb, the business

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AuthorTopic: Spiderweb, the business
Lack of Vision
Member # 2717
Profile #0
Dear fellow Spiderwebbers:

I caught myself wondering about the general state of Spiderweb's business. What prompted this thinking was a forum post in which Jeff said Avernum 4 is the game that saved his company, and that Blades of Avernum didn't sell very well. I guess it is logical to infer that Geneforge 3 didn't sell well either, since that game came between BoA and A4, and the company needed saving. I think I also remember reading something about Nethergate not being a big seller either.

So, I'm wondering, what would a list of Jeff's games, organized by total sales, look like? Which games to do you think sold well and why? Obviously, this is all highly speculative, but I am curious. Even more so when I looked at some of Jeff's old interviews (to see if he ever mentioned sales numbers), from the E2 and E3 era, and was struck by just how optimistic and excited he was about his games and his designs. Contrast that level of energy and enthusiasm for his products compared to his more recent, more cynical, writings.

All this may be useless speculation, but I've been playing Spiderweb games for nearly a decade, and I've grown to care about the company and its continued existence.

[ Thursday, April 26, 2007 04:23: Message edited by: Zorro ]

Pan Lever: Seventeen apple roving mirror moiety. Of turned quorum jaggedly the. Blue?
Posts: 186 | Registered: Thursday, February 27 2003 08:00
Raven v. Writing Desk
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From what I remember of Jeff's posts, G3 sold adequately, but adequate wasn't good enough after BoA's poor showing. Nethergate was compared to BoA in terms of sales.

I have to imagine that today's Spiderweb games cost a lot more to put together than the Exile games did. Exile 1, at least, was put together mainly by one person not working full time on it. Now there are three people, at least one of whom presumably gets an actual paycheck, and the other two have children. Jeff has referred to graphics as increasingly expensive, too, both in terms of money and in terms of time.

The coding is more extensive and therefore probably takes longer. Scenario design must take a LOT longer. Towns don't just have tiles, they now have walls and objects and elevation and piles of unsellable trowels that all get individually placed. Dialogue and special encounters require actual scripting instead of just reading STR and DLOG resources.

In other words, I think it's a good bet that Geneforge 3 sold more copies than Exile 2, though it pains me to suggest it. But Geneforge 3 had to cover many more costs than Exile 2 did, in order to be adequate.

A rhetorical question: How many $25 registrations per year would you be comfortable with if you had to pay for graphics, an employee, a mortgage, and an entire family's needs, in addition to paying taxes and whatever else hasn't been mentioned?

Also, the cynical writings have been around for a long time. There's a Nethergate AOL chat on the main site where Jeff explains that he stopped enjoying game development when it became his job. He liked researching Nethergate, but hated actually writing the game. That's from eight or nine years ago...

Slarty vs. DeskDesk vs. SlartyTimeline of ErmarianG4 Strategy Central
Posts: 3560 | Registered: Wednesday, November 7 2001 08:00
Off With Their Heads
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E3 apparently sold really, really well. A4 apparently sold pretty darn well. My impression is that GF4 did pretty well, too, but I don't know this.

Nethergate and BoA didn't sell very well at all.

Other than that, I don't really know.

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Kelandon's Pink and Pretty Page!!: the authorized location for all things by me
The Archive of all released BoE scenarios ever
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It's sad to me that BoA didn't do well. It's likely my favorite game, just for the sheer longevity of the system, It doesn't get much cheaper entertainment than that. I never had the opportinuty to play it originally but now in testing Nethergate I'm really digging it because of the setting. I have a history degree (and tend to like history) so I find the fantasy/reality mesh quite enjoyable. It might take its place as my favorite Spiderweb Game.

[ Thursday, April 26, 2007 06:29: Message edited by: macdude22 ]
Posts: 145 | Registered: Sunday, February 18 2007 08:00
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I have it. I can't say that I use it at all. But I did buy it. I think the learning curve for building scenarios is much steeper for it than for BoE...

[ Thursday, April 26, 2007 06:29: Message edited by: Lt. Sullust ]

Lt. Sullust
Cogito Ergo Sum
Posts: 2462 | Registered: Wednesday, October 3 2001 07:00
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Making a scenario in BoA... never could figure out how to do that one. I'm better off trying to learn how to program in freakin' Java than making a BoA scenario.

"I don't understand a word you just said. Try speaking American. It's the only language I understand."
Posts: 1918 | Registered: Sunday, October 13 2002 07:00
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Exile 3 is how I found out about Vogel's games in the first place. It was also my first buy. Came at just the right time (When all the oldschool RPG's had gone to hell).

After that I got 1 and 2. Didn't bother with the Avernums because they were the Exiles rehashed. Didn't bother with Nethergate (Probably a bad idea, since I love Teudogar and the Alliance with Rome). I bought Avernum 4, and now that I have squeezed the problems out of Geneforge demo, I have ordered the trilogy. GF4 if the trilogy whets my appetite enough.

Will probably get Nethergate 1.5 when it is ready too. As long as the demo is good.

What is the biggest seller so far?
Posts: 20 | Registered: Wednesday, April 18 2007 07:00
Too Sexy for my Title
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Alright. Either I have completely lost my mind, this is the stranges deja vu ever, or UBB is acting up again.

Was this topic and most of its reply just written today? Because I could swear on everything I own that I've read this topic before. I can remember reading exactly everything Zorro, Slarty, and Kel said at least a month ago.

Edit: And remember that this is my sanity you're all playing with. So don't even think about lying and claiming this topic wasn't here before. And yes I'm looking at you, Imban.

[ Thursday, April 26, 2007 10:31: Message edited by: M. ]
Posts: 1035 | Registered: Friday, April 1 2005 08:00
Skip to My Lou
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Don't worry, that's just a glitch in your implants. Just wait for them to self update and you will have read the thread last Friday.

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Posts: 1629 | Registered: Wednesday, October 3 2001 07:00
Law Bringer
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Judging from Jeff's interviews right around the release of Nethergate, I think E1-E3 probably had progressively stronger sales and Nethergate was the first sign that things could go horribly wrong. I'd guess that A1-A3 sales were comparable to their Exile counterparts, again with A3 selling better than the others, and we know that A4 was a blockbuster. G1 must have done well enough to justify the rest of a series that really looks like it takes more work than Avernum.

—Alorael, who is very curious about the sales of BoE. It's friendlier and larger in scenario output than BoA, but did it sell?
Posts: 14579 | Registered: Saturday, December 1 2001 08:00
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In case there's a desire for actual data, GameFAQs records the number of hits walkthroughs receive per day, week, month, year, and overall. It provides a bit of an estimate of the interest in a game. I've not written FAQs for every game, but have do have data for A2, A4, Nethergate, and all the Geneforges.

Here's the data, in terms of hits per day, week, month, year, and overall, and the year I wrote them, as well as a rough estimate of the hits per year.

Game Day Week Month Year All Done Hits/yr
Avernum 2 5 38 147 688 7381 02 ~1200
Avernum 4 47 193 936 4142 20582 06 ~20000
Nethergate 1 10 50 186 1975 02 ~300
Geneforge 25 85 502 2030 15036 02 ~3000
Geneforge 2 9 53 324 1425 14698 04 ~5000
Geneforge 3 26 95 497 2875 20446 05 ~10000
Geneforge 4 29 194 1432 5405 5405 07 ~20000
Sacred 95 435 2695 10176 55069 05 ~35000
I included Sacred, a commercial game for which I wrote a game guide, so as to compare how a diablo-clone compares to Spiderweb software.

If these are any indication, then there is definitely a trend towards later games selling better than early games, and Nethergate probably was the poorest selling of these games.

A few cats short of a kitten pot pie...

Radioactive cats have 18 half-lives.
Check out a great source for information on Avernum 2, Nethergate, and Subterra: Zeviz's page.
Finally, there's my Geneforge FAQ, Geneforge 2 FAQ, and
Geneforge 3 FAQ.
Posts: 2831 | Registered: Tuesday, September 18 2001 07:00
Raven v. Writing Desk
Member # 261
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Your conclusions sound like they make sense, but I'd caution leaning on that data too much anyway. Your Nethergate FAQ was completed in early 2002, which was a few years after Nethergate's release -- so the FAQ missed the prime time for hits.

However, the fact that Avernum 4 seems not to have dropped off in pace very much at all after almost a year and a half, now that says something.

Slarty vs. DeskDesk vs. SlartyTimeline of ErmarianG4 Strategy Central
Posts: 3560 | Registered: Wednesday, November 7 2001 08:00
Nuke and Pave
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Thanks for the table.

Avernum 2 numbers are actually much higher than your table would indicate, because that FAQ had been mirrored on my webpage in a more accessable format. According to Geocities, there have been 9191 hits on the main walkthrough page. The number of hits on the intro page is about 1/3 lower (either due to people going directly to ch4.html bypassing the intro, or due to some other weirdness), but even that number would be about 6,000, if Geocities hadn't lost old data.

So total number of hits for your Avernum 2 FAQ should be closer to 13-16,000.

The Nethergate page has 1380 hits for main walkthrough and 1284 for the intro, so total numbers for Nethergate would be about 3350, which is still far less than any other game.

Be careful with a word, as you would with a sword,
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However well placed word, unlike a well placed sword,
Can also have the power to heal.
Posts: 2649 | Registered: Wednesday, October 3 2001 07:00
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You know, people could help Jeff by creating scripts to work with via the internet (of course).

Other than that, I can't really think of anything else (though a new series would get much attention).

I can transform into almost anything, though not sanity.
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But said people might demand monetary compensation for their services. And Jeff probably isn't inclined to tell you his monetary situation.

May the fires of Undeath burn in your soul, and consume it.
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Board Administrator
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Don't lose sleep worrying about us. Both Avernum 4 and Geneforge 4: Rebellion are performing very strongly.

Blades of Avernum and Geneforge 3 were shaky, though the latter still does all right.

I think the biggest surprise for me was the relatively poor performance of Geneforge 3. There is some really cool design in that game, but it was apparently either too late in the game or not as cool as I thought it was. After that, I made a concerted effort to add improvements for Geneforge 4. Apparently, it worked.

But, again, we're fine.

- Jeff Vogel

Official Board Admin
Posts: 960 | Registered: Tuesday, September 18 2001 07:00
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I seem to recall that Jeff mentioned in one of his articles that the Geneforge series sold reasonably well, but not nearly as well as the Avernum series. That was before G4, though.

[ Thursday, April 26, 2007 15:49: Message edited by: Thuryl ]

The Empire Always Loses: This Time For Sure!
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I think the biggest surprise for me was the relatively poor performance of Geneforge 3
Doesn't surprise me after reading all the negativity about it. I haven't played it yet, so cannot speak for it, but word of mouth has played a big part in some of these games sales. GF3 seems to cop a lot of stick in this department.

BoA is usually touted as 'Too difficult' to make scenarios for in comparison to BoE and other game toolsets on the market.
Posts: 20 | Registered: Wednesday, April 18 2007 07:00
Law Bringer
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BoA is "more difficult" than BoE to design for in the way that a VCR is more complicated than a pair of rocks.

True, there are more settings to learn, but on the other hand, you don't spend most of your time improvising and conceiving of ugly workarounds. :)

[ Friday, April 27, 2007 05:12: Message edited by: Dr. Johann Georg Faust ]

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Raven v. Writing Desk
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VCR's are pretty much plug and play, which strikes me as an extremely poor analogy for BoA scenario creation.

I suspect there's a good analogy here involving vi, emacs, and pico, but I'm not going to make it...

Slarty vs. DeskDesk vs. SlartyTimeline of ErmarianG4 Strategy Central
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Lack of Vision
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Interesting thoughts everyone!

I find it very interesting that both A4 and G4 are strong sellers. Particularly since they only resemble each other at a very superficial level (literally the graphical look). And while I do the like the style of graphics of both A4 and G4, I seriously doubt that there's tons of demand out there for games with graphics ten years behind the state of the art.

I think A4 is Jeff's easist game to just pick up and play. Nothing is terribly complicated and everything works the way you'd expect. It achieves a kind of intuitve user interface nirvana more software should strive to achieve. In other words, the learning curve is so shallow, even players not used to RPGs can probably pick it up and enjoy it. Thus, the potential demand for A4 may well be larger than for any other Spiderweb game.

G4 may be Jeff's best true RPG ever. I mean that in the sense that the goals of the game itself literally respond to your playing style and your goals. Most games in the RPG genre follow a very linear path, in which you're told what your goals are. In G4, your goals are completely your own - other characters try to influence or coherece your character into serving their ends, but the decision is totally yours. This is a game that probably garners a higher registration rate among more mature players in the RPG genre. Further, I think the game starts out with enough of a bang (I mean, you're doing cool things right from the beginning!) that players who are less enthusiatic about learning a new system, are more willing to give it a try.

I think BoA suffers from a less intuitive interface and older look, which isn't necessarily the kiss of death, but it probably does mean fewer paying customers. In addition, it is sold on the premise that players are given the tools to make their own scenarios. Cool, except BoA is like giving power tools to someone who has never seen a hammer. Yes, they may eventually figure out how to make something, maybe even something great, but the learning curve is steep indeed!

I don't know why G3 wasn't a good seller, but my suspicion is that less than enthusiastic reviews, along with a game that takes a while to get going and a world very different from standard RPG fare, hurt sales.

So..... My ranking of the games by sales looks sort of like this:

Super tier - GC

Top tier - A4, G4, E3, GC

Second tier - E2, A3, A2, A1, G2, G1, BoE, GC

Third tier - E1, NG, BoA, G3, GC

Pan Lever: Seventeen apple roving mirror moiety. Of turned quorum jaggedly the. Blue?
Posts: 186 | Registered: Thursday, February 27 2003 08:00
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The UI in Avernum 4 is definately a plus, It would be nice if it allowed for Keyboard shortcuts as well, but it is very easy to learn.

If Jeff can bring in more gameplay options, combat options, etc and also work on different ways to complete goals and roleplay, that will really make my day.

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Originally written by Ladonna:

I might have said that was a joke, but the sad fact is there are some sad deluded souls who still play Galactic Core.

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Geneforge 4 stuff. Also, everything I know about Avernum | Avernum 2 | Avernum 3 | Avernum 4
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I rather liked A4, the interface was different from the A1 - A3, and overall was better. Also, the part where there was no indoor/outdoor map thing, was surprisingly nice. It made things more interesting.

"I don't understand a word you just said. Try speaking American. It's the only language I understand."
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Law Bringer
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Originally written by Micawber:

Originally written by Ladonna:

I might have said that was a joke, but the sad fact is there are some sad deluded souls who still play Galactic Core.

Like Zorro!

—Alorael, who is pretty sure you don't need to compound a joke with another joke. Besides, Zorro admits that GC was the worst seller. The fact that it's also the best doesn't change that.
Posts: 14579 | Registered: Saturday, December 1 2001 08:00