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The Rogue to Success

Dinofarm's Keith Burgun on roguelikes, licences and the future of the industry

Dinofarm's decision to take an obscure genre and turn out a high-quality, high-price-point iOS title seems to fly in the face of the current swing towards cheap, franchise licence material. However, that decision seemed to pay off when the reviews started rolling in - journalists and critics praised the game for its flawless presentation, generous levels of content and deep mechanics. But how did that convert to sales?

We spoke to Dinofarm's Keith Burgun, lead designer on 100 Rogues, to find out if he'd do it the same way again, and where he sees the market moving in the future.

GamesIndustry.biz100 Rogues had a great critical reception - how has that translated into sales?
Keith Burgun

Well, as you said, the critical reception has been really good, every time it's been reviewed it's been really good. Sales have been really rough. Every time we have an update or a sale price, the sales will shoot up for a while, then, after a matter of days, just three or four days usually, the sales will go back down to a very small amount per day.

So it's really tough. It almost seems like we have to have a constant media campaign, every day to make it bring in serious money.

GamesIndustry.bizIs that something that you feel is a result of the way that the App Store is laid out? A lot of people at GDC were saying that the current set-up isn't conducive to a competitive market, in that - if you're not in that top ten or twenty on the first pages, it's incredibly hard to make money.
Keith Burgun

Absolutely. Since the beginning the top-heaviness of the App Store has been a huge factor in there. You know, there's other factors too.

First of all, when we started out, our game was $4.99, which was very expensive for the App Store. Also, it's a little bit less casual than most App Store games. We were trying to make a game which could exist on any platform, really. I think 100 Rogues could be a PC game, it could be a DS game or a console game. We were trying to make it work well on the device, but we weren't really trying to make an App Store app. We were just trying to make a game that we would really love.

So that's another factor, as well. But yeah, that top-heaviness is really rough. At the end of the day it comes down to how much we invested in that game. If it was a much smaller project, like most apps are, what we'd be making would be closer to financially rewarding.

GamesIndustry.bizIs it Apple's responsibility to change that model if it wants to encourage higher quality games? Would you agree that the current storefront encourages cheap, throwaway development?
Keith Burgun

Absolutely - I think that it's frightening when I look at the App Store and look through all the apps. It seems to me that there must be some studios that put out an app almost every day, you know? Just changing a few things. I think that they're rewarded for that. It's probably the most effective thing to do, so yeah I do agree, absolutely.

I think that it's frightening when I look at the App Store and look through all the apps. It seems to me that there must be some studios that put out an app almost every day, you know?

GamesIndustry.biz100 Rogues was in development for quite a long time, around two years. If you were to make another iOS title, would you invest so much in it again or would you be tempted to knock something out more quickly?
Keith Burgun

Well, it would be something in between. It wouldn't be something I would do in a month, but it wouldn't be something I would do over two years either. It would be something which took us about...Something like a three month game I guess. Somewhere in between.

I'm trying to establish our company, Dinofarm Games, and I'm trying to show that we're a company that loves games and really wants people to think "these guys really care about games, they love games, they know games." So that would be important for me, but yeah, the scale would defintiely be smaller.

GamesIndustry.bizI wanted to ask what sort of percentage of income was coming from initial purchases of the game compared to the in-game purchase of the new character class. I know originally you'd hoped to release those classes for free, what changed your mind about that? Was it worthwhile?
Keith Burgun

It's hard to say, really. The attach rate has been pretty good. We've definitely been playing around with different ideas for the different classes - we actually have another idea right now which we're kicking around about some monster classes. One of which we will be giving away for free.

We had something like six months of free updates, one of which increased the size of the content in the game by something like 30 per cent. We had so many free updates before the Skellyman Scoundrel was released. By then we really just wanted to try something different, which was why we decided to see how it worked as an in-app purchase.

So it's done okay, but we thought it was going to be a much bigger deal, sales-wise. We thought it was going to be... It did okay at first, it seemed that everyone who wanted it, got it. Then, pretty much it seemed that we just had to keep hammering away, media-wise to make sure we were getting any significant sales, for the character or for the app itself.

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Dan Pearson