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The complete sales history of Curious Expedition

Maschinen-Mensch co-founder Riad Djemili on a five year journey -- via China -- to stability and success in indie development

This article is an edited version of an original blog post on Codecks.io -- you can find the original here.

The first commercial version of Curious Expedition was released at the end of 2014. I want to give you a complete overview of all the sales numbers of these first six years: how many units we sold, when we sold them, in which territories, on which platforms. I will also tell how it felt to tank with our game and how we were able to eventually turn it into a bigger success than we ever imagined.

In case you never heard about it, Curious Expedition is a roguelike game in which you explore uncharted lands, fight dangerous beasts and encounter unknown tribes, all while trying to not go insane or be forsaken by your own trek members. It is the first game by Maschinen-Mensch, and it was released on all major PC storefronts over time: Steam, GOG, Humble Store and itch.io.

We recently released console versions for Xbox, PS and Nintendo Switch, but that happened after the initial five years and will not be covered here.

The big picture

I'll give you the grand yearly numbers right away. For NDA reasons I can't go into specific details about how much we sold on each distribution platform, but I'll instead lump all our digital sales together. All of the units are gross value, which means before tax, distribution rev share and chargebacks (usually around 5-15%).

As you can see, Curious Expedition was most successful two full years after the first version. If you're interested in how we managed to do that just keep reading the detailed history below.

Beginnings

Johannes [Kristmann, co-founder] and I met at Berlin AAA developer Yager where we both worked on Spec Ops: The Line. We decided to start working on a hobby project around 2012, with the grand dream of potentially going indie with it.

During this hobbyist phase we struggled quite a bit with the game. Our interest in the premise never waned, but we went through dozens of game mechanics without really being able to nail down the core loop concept. During that time we met multiple times with the intention of quitting the game, only to give it two more months over and over again. We made a leap of faith when we decided to quit our AAA jobs in the beginning of 2014.

The birth of our company Maschinen-Mensch was eased by a €50,000 grant from Medienboard Berlin-Brandenburg. Thankfully we also had a bit of personal savings that helped us survive the initial months, since the grant only covered 50% of the project costs.

At the end of 2014 we pushed ourselves to finally release the painfully barebone initial alpha of the game. Complete sections of the game were still missing, but we had no choice: our money was running out at this point.

Johannes Kristmann and Riad Djemili, co-founders of Maschinen-Mensch

Johannes Kristmann and Riad Djemili, co-founders of Maschinen-Mensch

Year One: Alpha Editions

We released the first buyable version of Curious Expedition on our own homepage, where we sold it via the Humble Widget. We took inspiration from Kickstarter projects that were created in 2014, which showed that players appreciated different pricing and feature options for purchasing games. Here's an overview of the editions we started with:

Alpha Access -- $12

  • Play the development version of the game until it's released
  • Automatically own the finished game
  • Receive a free Steam key if we release on Steam
  • Receive a downloadable DRM-free version of the game as soon as it's ready

Fan Edition -- $25

  • All benefits from the Alpha Access version
  • Receive the soundtrack as soon as it is ready
  • Receive a digital artbook as soon as it is ready
  • Be mentioned in the credits of the game

Explorer Edition -- $75

  • All benefits from the Fan Edition
  • A handmade pixel art version of your face
  • Play as an explorer in the game with the ability to name yourself and define your profession

Treasure Edition -- $125

  • All benefits from the Explorer Edition
  • Design a unique treasure item with us
  • Special mention in the credits of the game

Unit Creator -- $300

  • All benefits from the Explorer Edition
  • Design a unique unit type with us
  • Special mention in the credits of the game

Region Creator -- $750

  • All benefits from the Explorer Edition
  • Design three unique hexfield types with us
  • Based on your ideas we'll create a unique and named region, which will appear in the game for all players
  • Special mention in the credits of the game

Our release date was November 18, 2014, and we sold in total... 61 copies, for total revenue of $1,203. Not exactly dream numbers when you just quit your AAA job and spent all your savings on creating a game, which has to work out to be able to remain an indie developer. Here's a breakdown of the unit types sold on that first day:

There was no point in giving up now, so on Monday we got back into the office -- which was my living room -- and started working on our next big alpha update. I turned my old iPad into a live sales metrics board showing the current sales in the style of an airport destinations board, and we hooked up to a hefty cash register sound whenever somebody bought a copy of our game.

I remember with joy the small moments of celebration when the sound would come up. I also remember those stretches of hours when there was no sound being played, and we checked to see if the metrics were broken before realizing once again that this was just the state of affairs.

In 2014 we sold 793 units for $10,965 revenue, with an average price point of $13.83.

Year Two: Early Access

Despite the slow start we weren't done, and we set our hopes on digital storefronts. We had tried to bring people to our small website, but since the players didn't come to the game, it was time to bring the game to the players.

To build up visibility, we started recording videos for the numerous alpha updates that we did. For each one, we announced the release date weeks in advance and approached it like a mini-release, with marketing materials, a strong theme, and at least one highly visible “hero feature."

Before going to stores, we decided to try our luck on drawing more people to our website one last time with a free weekend. We expected fewer sales during the free weekend with an uptick afterwards from players who wanted more. To our surprise we had the highest sales during the time when the game was free. Afterwards the sales normalized pretty quickly again.

On May 19 we entered Early Access on Steam -- our first digital storefront -- and this is when Curious Expedition finally changed trajectory to become a success. We sold the extra editions through our own homepage but the vast majority of sales now happened on the digital storefronts. We increased our price from $12 to $15, and we felt this was fair since we had spent months adding additional content to the game. The following chart shows the average price point per year.

We also decided to be as timid as possible regarding sales. Until we reached the 1.0 phase we decided to not do any sales that went beyond 20%. You can see a timeline of our general sale price reductions here.

In 2015, we sold 21,266 units for revenue of $302,534, with an average price point of $14.23.

Year Three: Gold Release

In 2016, we released the 1.0 version of Curious Expedition after a year on Early Access. We also landed in more online stores, with a presence in the HumbleStore and being selected by GOG for its Games in Production program.

We read that you only get one big push in your game's lifetime... Luckily for us this turned out to not be the case

We read that you only get one big push in your game's lifetime: either your Kickstarter campaign or your Early Access release or your full release. Luckily for us this turned out to not be the case. Not only did the game keep selling in 2016, the release of the 1.0 version surpassed our sales records. After the gold release we started applying more sales and going beyond 20%, but we were still extremely conservative for a game released two years earlier.

In 2016, we sold 25,055 units for revenue of $324,242, with an average price point of $12.94.

Year Four: China

In 2017, we received an email from a Chinese translation community called Project Gutenberg -- not related to the famous Project Gutenberg creating free ebooks. It offered to translate our game for free into Traditional and Simplified Chinese, a massive undertaking considering that our game featured over 80,000 words.

It sounded too good to be true, and to be honest we didn't expect that this would ever lead to something. Little did we know that Craft and his team would knock it out of the park.

Little did we know how much of an impact the Chinese sales would have on our game

While they were busy translating the game, I added Chinese language support to our custom engine. This was tricky, as I had no prior experience with their character system, but not only did Gutenberg translate the game, I was shocked when they even sent me full code snippets fixing particular bugs in my code without having access to our code base.

They had reverse compiled my game engine and sent me around 50 lines of updated code in the localization part. And it didn't stop there: they even reworked our pixel art with Chinese characters in exactly the same art style as the rest of the game.

Little did we know how much of an impact the Chinese sales would have on our game. It has become our top market at this point. Here's a chart showing the distribution between our two biggest sales regions over time:

Steam allows for custom pricing per currency and region. By default, this is not done by converting the lead currency one-to-one to other currencies, but also takes into account regional customs regarding game pricing. The Chinese edition actually sells for ¥48, which corresponds to around $6,90, instead of the regular $15. The same logic also applies to a lot of other currencies and markets, and while it drives down the average price point quite a bit, it is easily made up for by the amount of new players.

Did we get rich by creating a game? Not at all

In 2017 we also participated in a Humble Bundle for games with a very positive rating on Steam (8.0 or more). The bundle sold 91,604 units and made $570,359 in revenue. The other games in the bundle were Super Mega Baseball: Extra Innings, The Deadly Tower of Monsters SE, They Bleed Pixels, Crashlands, UnderRail and Stephen's Sausage Roll.

Curious Expedition and Stephen's Sausage Roll were on the higher tier, only unlocking if players spent more than $10 on the bundle. I can't go into further details about the exact numbers, but we're happy to have participated and didn't notice this having any negative effect on our other sales channels. Since the Humble Bundle is such an outlier in regards of unit count and average price point I'm not including its effect in any of the other sales statistics in this blog post.

In 2017, we sold 49,409 units for $416,865 in revenue, with an average price point of $8.44.

Year Five: Platforms

In 2018, I played a massive multiplayer io version of Minesweeper and found it surprisingly addictive. I spent several hours mindlessly extending the shared world and zooming in and out of the massive game map. I thought if this simple, narrative-free game was already this interesting, what would a massive online version of Curious Expedition look like?

Towards the second half of 2018 we decided to find out, and implemented a huge async multiplayer version of Curious Expedition using our existing web technology. The small prototype idea grew into a big internal project that consumed us for several months, but unfortunately, CE.io didn't really take off as a standalone version.

This article is our way of adding back to that pool of knowledge and thanking all the devs who were willing to share their data

We soon realized that betting more on the game would require considerably more resources -- something we didn't have as we were working towards Curious Expedition 2. We decided to merge this huge new game mode back into the base version of Curious Expedition. This way it acted as a farewell gift to the first game's players.

We were lucky to find a publisher, Thunderful, and at the end of 2018 as we spent a lot of time filling up the new team and getting everything ready to start production on Curious Expedition 2 in the next year. We ported the whole game to Unity at the end of 2018 so that our partners could focus on porting the Unity version to individual consoles, while we used it as a foundation for our work on Curious Expedition 2.

In 2018, we sold 37,395 units for $271,858 in revenue, with an average price point of $7.27.

Year Six: The Sequel

Besides working on the big free multiplayer update, we didn't work much on Curious Expedition in 2019. Most of the team worked on Curious Expedition 2, which we released on Early Access.

In 2019 we sold 39,189 units in total for a revenue of $263,270 with an average price point of $6.72.

Conclusion

From 2014 to 2019 we sold 173,107 units for revenue of $1,589,734, with an average price point of $9.18. These numbers do not include the units we sold via the Humble Bundle. Including those, Curious Expedition had been purchased by over 200,000 players in total by the end of 2019.

Did we get rich by creating a game? Not at all, if you add up all the store rev shares, tax and production costs, and the fact that we're putting in all of the profit to allow us to build a company that is able to do more cool stuff in the future. But that is more than we can ask for, and we thank all the players that supported us over the years.

Whether you're an indie dev yourself, contemplating entering the market, or an interested player, I hope you found this article useful. I remember how I searched for concrete financial numbers while getting started, and this article is our way of adding back to that pool of knowledge and thanking all the devs who were willing to share their data. I hope you find this information as interesting and inspiring as I did when starting out.

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Latest comments (1)

Laura Millar Artist and Director, High Tea Frog LtdA month ago
Love articles like these, really useful and inspiring. Thank you for sharing your figures with us!
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