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Mike Bithell's Subsurface Circular sees just 2% refund rate

Designer reveals that his newest game has already made back production costs

Thomas Was Alone and Volume creator Mike Bithell took the stage at DICE Europe today and shared some interesting stats related to the launch of his newest title, Subsurface Circular, a text-based adventure that centers around the mystery of disappearances in a city's robot working-class. Although the talk was not livestreamed, Bithell used Twitter to highlight that Subsurface Circular enjoyed a low refund rate of just 2% at launch.

Moreover, it seems that the game is already well on its way to profitability just a few weeks in. "We've made back production costs in three weeks, have a stable 97% Steam review score, and are going to continue to explore short games," Bithell said.

Indeed, short yet deep experiences that don't hurt the wallet or purse much could be a market to explore for more indies. The game sells for just under $6 on Steam, and in addition to the very positive user reviews, it enjoys numerous accolades from critics. "Subsurface Circular extracts maximum entertainment from limited resources through the admirable trick of great writing, excellent pacing, sparkling dialogue and bang-on story beats," Polygon said in its 9-out-of-10 review.

Bithell noted that his success could be an exception, rather than the rule. "We are an established outlier, with a lucky project, bear this in mind when applying our outcomes to your work," he added on Twitter. That being said, the $5.99 price tag may have been a factor, coming in under the average of $9 per title on Steam.

As Raconteur Games' Nicholas Laborde explained to us recently, "Business is two words: perceived value. Price is a function of that perceived value, and that perception varies on a case-by-case basis. You will reach more players at a lower price - that's basic economics - but the trade-off is a much higher likelihood of refunds, a negative initial perception due to low price, and more."

Bithell appears to have struck the right balance with Subsurface Circular.

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James Brightman


James Brightman has been covering the games industry since 2003 and has been an avid gamer since the days of Atari and Intellivision. He was previously EIC and co-founder of IndustryGamers and spent several years leading GameDaily Biz at AOL prior to that.