Writing the best application for a Frictional Games job

So, you have decided to apply for a job here at Frictional Games? Great, we would love to hear from you!

…But before you hit that “send” button, you want to make sure that you are showing yourself and your talent in the best light possible. We have already written a blog post on how the recruitment process works, so you can mentally prepare for that.

In this blog we will help you construct a good application, consisting of a CV, a cover letter and the portfolio, and even get down the nitty-gritty of the email. While we hope you apply for our positions, you are obviously welcome to use the tips when applying for other jobs too.

Just remember the most important thing: Always customise your application for the position you’re applying to.

A job application is like a love letter. You have to show interest in the recipient, and tell them why the two of you could be a good match specifically. You can write a letter about how great you are and send the same version to different recipients, but be warned – that’s pretty transparent, and will not likely land you a (business) relationship, no matter how good you are.

In this economic situation it might be tempting to say fuck it and cast a net as wide as possible (yes, we have moved on to fishing metaphors now). But the best fish will slip through the loose holes of a haphazardly set net. Instead, try finding one good spot and throwing in a hook with a juicy bait – the juicy bait being your best application. If you are good enough, a fish will definitely bite, and a love letter recipient will definitely swoon.

Frictional is a small company with little turnover. We’re not looking to burn through talent, but to find the right applicants who will stay with us for a long time. That’s why we want the applicants to be interested in and motivated to work with us specifically.

Do you love us? We love you too! Now let’s go write that application!

1. Read the job posting

This might sound obvious, but start by reading the job posting. Then read it again.

If you’re exactly what the posting is looking for, then great. You can use your previous work as examples of why you’re a good match. Are you a generalist? Pick your strong points that you would use in this job.

Feel like you don’t quite fit the criteria? Do not despair. Especially women tend to not apply for jobs they don’t feel 100% qualified for. Think about your best qualities. Think about the hobby projects that you’ve done. Those count too.

(But be realistic about it. If your skillset is wildly different from what the job would be, you might want to wait for another opening. Otherwise you are mostly wasting your own time.)

Now compare your skills to the job’s requirements and get ready to use those points in the next steps.

2. CV

The CV is all about you, dearest. It’s your dating profile where you can show your best angles, or that really big fish you caught once.

When the perfect job comes along, you don’t want to spend hours digging out when exactly you interned at that one place. Keep a meta-CV of all your experience, skills and achievements. This can be a document, or it can be a website or LinkedIn page you can link in the CV. An accessible online CV especially good if you have gaps in your relevant experience because you were helping out at your cousin’s ice cream business or similar.

Remember the previous step where we looked at the job requirements? You can now cherrypick the most relevant points from your meta-CV and put them in your tailored CV. Quality over quantity and all that. Start from the most recent relevant one.

A good CV is 1–2 pages long. If you only picked the most relevant experience, you should be able to keep it tight. But do write in detail about the relevant experience. If you only gloss over your experience in big strokes, the employer will not be able to tell what you have actually done and achieved. Share specific tasks and examples, list your best achievements.

If you have skills outside your field, such as multiple languages or software, you can list those too. Just keep them tight. But, despite being your so-called dating profile, listing hobbies might not be very relevant. But if you’ve done game jams or similar, go ahead! They are relevant and they count.

Do:

  • Keep a meta-CV.
  • Always customise your CV based on the position.
  • Start with the latest relevant experience.
  • Write in detail about your relevant experience.

Don’t:

  • Send the same CV to every position.
  • List every job you’ve ever held.
  • Start your CV with the first job you ever had.
  • Start with education instead of work experience (unless you’re a recent graduate).

3. Cover Letter

If the CV was your dating profile, the cover letter is your love letter. And a love letter cannot just be a glorified dating profile.

Picking relevant experience for the CV already shows that you put thought into your application. But the cover letter gives you an opportunity to show that you truly care about the company, their games and the position – or at least have knowledge about them. It’s incredibly easy to spot if someone sends the same cover letter to everyone, because they only talk about themselves. You can reuse lines you’ve written for similar positions, but make sure to keep them relevant.

The cover letter is also a great opportunity to talk more about why the skills you have acquired would translate well into the position advertised – especially if your experience is moreso from hobby projects. Convince the company why you would be a good match for them.

It’s easy to get lost in profound expressions of love, but a good cover letter is half a page to 1 page long. Being concise is also a skill.

If the job posting mentions expected salary, this is a good place to mention it.

Do:

  • Talk about why you want to work with this company specifically.
  • Talk about your skills in relation to the job’s requirements.
  • Tell the company why they should hire you. Be bold.

Don’t:

  • Send the same cover letter to every company. It’s easy to spot.
  • Only change the name of the company in the letter. Generic wording is also easy to spot.
  • Only talk about yourself with no relevance to the company or the position.

4. Portfolio

For better or worse, looks are important. In this case your dating profile pictures are your portfolio. The portfolio is a way to back up the claim that you’re as good as you say you are, for both artists, programmers and other folks.

While a good portfolio looks different depending on whether you’re an artist, a designer or perhaps a communications person, there are still good general practices when it comes to putting one together. In this segment we will use artists as an example, but you can use your imagination to apply the tips to other fields.

Just like with a CV, keep a master portfolio. For artists it can be sites like Artstation or Behance, or perhaps your own site. Pick the pieces you are most proud of, but are varied enough to show off your versatility.

From the master portfolio, you should again pick the pieces most relevant to the position and create a tailored portfolio. If the company is looking for a props and environment artist, those are the things you should be concentrating on. Also look at the stuff the company has previously done. Have they only done high-poly? Their next product will probably not be low-poly.

There is no rule to how long the portfolio should be. The key is making it easy for the recruitment team to immediately see if you are a good or potential match. For an open position you can choose some pieces relevant to the position and put them in a PDF, or link them from the master portfolio. For an open job query, pick a few pieces that are most in line with what the company is doing.

It is also a good practice to mention what you actually did for your works. Here at Frictional we wear all of the hats. The artists do everything from whiteboxing to textures. We need to know if you know how to do those and didn’t just make others’ textures and assets look good.

Do:

  • Keep a master portfolio of all your work.
  • Send a portfolio or links to a few relevant pieces.
  • Mention what you worked on for the pieces.

Don’t:

  • Send the same top picks to every company and every position.
  • Send all the portfolio pieces as separate files (links are ok).

5. Email

Chances are, there are also other jobs you have or will apply for. It’s good practice to have a professional email account for official business. Something with a neutral email handle and your real name as the sender. It makes it easier to find your application later. Having a signature with your contact information and links to your master CV and portfolio is also handy.

Some email platforms will show your profile picture, so make sure you at least know what it is. You might want to think twice before using a topless beach pic or a dank meme. The recruiter will probably have a chuckle, but might not be left with the best impression.

Make sure you include some sort of cover text in the email. It can be pretty generic, informing of your interest in the position and the attachments you have provided. This is also a good place to mention your master CV and master portfolio. Even better if you get a short elevator pitch in.

Do:

  • Use your real name in the email.
  • Have a signature with contact info and links.
  • Write a short cover text, like an elevator pitch for your application.

Don’t:

  • Have a shirtless profile picture. No, seriously.

6. Personal Information

Getting a feel of a person is important, but not all information you provide will help us with that. There are some things the employer is not even allowed to ask (family relations, religion…), and being upfront about them puts the potential employer in an uncomfortable position. Emphasis on the potential part. If you get hired, we will ask you for the details we need.

What a potential employer DOES need to know:

  • Real name
  • Email address
  • Country of residence
  • Links to your master portfolio and CV
  • Phone number (we don’t need it but most companies do)

What a potential employer DOES NOT need to know:

  • ID number
  • Birthday
  • Home address
  • Marital status and/or children
  • Ethnicity or nationality, gender, religion. disabilities or similar

7. Think of the recruiter

The recruitment team might get hundreds of applications every day. Sometimes the recruitment team is just one human being, who also does other things.

Just like with life in general, the key word is empathy. So send the kind of application that you would like to receive.

Make sure the application easy to go through, and that the attachments are easily accessible and in proper file formats. Be sure the relevant links are easy to find, and that they work. If you want to make a recruiter happy, include your own name in the attachment names (so it doesn’t become CV(69).pdf on the recruiter’s computer).

Do:

  • Save your CV, cover letter and any other files in PDF format
  • Make everything easy to find

Don’t:

  • Save your text files as doc/x, rtf or txt, or especially png or jpg.
  • Send your portfolio pieces as multiple separate files.

8. Afterword

There is no sure-fire way to make the perfect application. But the more tailored your application is, the better your chances are.

And lastly: even in an application, feel free to let your personality show. If the company doesn’t like your genuine application, you wouldn’t be happy working with them anyway. If they do… they will remember you.

Good luck!

SOMA – Two Years Later

It’s over two years since we released SOMA, so it’s time for another update on how things have been going.

First of all, let’s talk about sales. As I’ve said many times before, sales are not straightforward to count, and the number you come up with is reliant on many different factors. For instance, SOMA was part of the Humble Monthly Bundle, which meant that everybody subscribing to that service was able to download a copy of SOMA. These are not really “sales”, so should we count them? It’s also worth noting that pricing differs a lot between different sales. A single unit sold at full price means more than one sold when the game is 75% off. I think it’s important to think about these things, and remember you can’t directly compare the sales of two games.

With all that said, what I’m going to do here is to basically take every single download of the game as a sale. Doing so gives us a total of 650 000 units, a 200 000 units increase since the the same time last year. This is a very good result.

It’s interesting to compare how sales have changed across the two years for SOMA. The normal day-to-day income, when there are no discounts or anything, is 33% of what it was the same time last year. However, when the game is at a discount (such as a Steam summer sale), the generated income is about 75% of what similar events generated last year. This means that discount events are extra important this year.

Taken as a whole, the sales that we make from all our games will cover all our expenses every month, and even make us a profit. This is quite amazing. Given that we currently have about 16 people working with us full time, we have a pretty high burn rate, and to still be able to support all that on your ongoing sales is great.

This means that we still have a good buffer from our launch sales. While it will by no means last forever, it gives us peace of mind and lets us take the time we need. While we’ll continue to generate income next year too, I’m not so sure it’ll be enough to cover all our costs. This is when that initial buffer comes in handy, and will let us continue working on our projects without any monetary worries. To put things in perspective, it is worth noting that most companies start using up their buffer just a few months after release, so we are in no ways in a dire situation right now – quite the opposite!

However, this also makes it very clear that we need to be able to release games at a more regular rate. We were lucky that SOMA was a hit, and that the money is easily able to sustain us for the time we need to complete our next project. Had SOMA been a flop, the situation would have been a lot worse now. That’s why we are focusing on becoming a two project studio, and the goal is to be able to release a game every two years. Had we managed to set that up prior to SOMA, we would be in the process of releasing a game right now. Needless to say, it would makes us a lot more financially stable, and able to handle a less successful release. In turn this should allow us to take greater risks, which I think is a key element in being able to create great games.

This leads me to another thing that’s been on my mind. A few months back someone asked me: “How do you get people to buy your game?”. This is a fairly basic question, but it really made me think. When it comes to sales made during launch, the answer feels quite self-evident. We generate a lot of buzz, there are reviews, let’s plays and so on. There are a number of fairly obvious ways that people learn about our game.

But what about the customers that buy our game two years after release – why do they do it? That’s a much harder question. I think most of this is via word-of-mouth recommendation. When the right circumstances arise (e.g.: “I feel like playing a game tonight”) and when external influence (e.g.: “your friends said they liked our game”) is strong enough, that’s when a sale happens. I know that Steam and other stores have some forms of discovery tools, but I don’t think they play a major factor. What really matters is not a single source, but the slow build-up of good will around a game – eventually this will make a player consider buying it. Discovery tools, such as “you might also like”-adverts, surely help, but they are just part of a much larger process [1].

Because of this, and considering the sheer number of games that are currently being released, I think the best strategy is to focus on unique experiences. You want to create the type of experience that is not only hard to get elsewhere, but also leaves a mark on those who play it. This is now a core philosophy here at Frictional. I guess we sort of always had it unconsciously, but we have now made it official. Our goal is to create games that are more than forgettable escapism. We want people to come out of their experiences feeling changed. A lofty goal? You bet. While it’ll be impossible to make sure every single player has this type of experience, it feels like the perfect thing to strive for.

Now I will round of this post with a brief discussion on the status of our current projects.

The first project is in full production, and about 80% of the team is currently working on it. The focus for most of this year has been on creating the first few maps of the game to create a solid vertical slice based on our experiments last year. However, we recently came up with some new avenues that we wanted to explore. The stuff that has come out of this recent detour is feeling really great and I am certain it’ll make the game feel very special. All of this came out of what I just discussed: our focus on making games that leaves a mark on the player. I’m not sure we would have gone down this route if we hadn’t explicitly stated that goal, which makes me confident it’s a really good way of thinking. I’m afraid I can’t go into any details on this, other than to say that the project will be horrific in nature. There will be no release this year, but we hope to announce something during the first six months of next year.

As for the other project, that’s also going well. We’ve been a bit delayed due to new tech taking longer than anticipated to develop [2]. The upside of that has been that the game has had  more time in pre-production than any of our previous games. This has been incredibly valuable, as the things we aim to tackle in this game are quite difficult, and allowing it all to brew for a bit has meant many of the basic aspects are clearer for us. This game will be less about direct, visceral horror, and more about the player gaining an understanding of different concepts. This can, as we know from working on SOMA, be quite tricky to get right and requires a slightly different approach than when working on a more direct horror game. Release for this game is quite far off though, so don’t expect to hear any concrete details in the near future.

That’s it for this update. I’m incredibly excited about the things that we have planned, and I’m very eager to give you all more updates. I also want to thank everybody for the support over the years, and rest assured that while we might not reply to every single mail, tweet, etc. that you send us, we make sure to read every single one!

Notes:

1) For games that are heavily based around online communities, such as a Rocket League, I think things work slightly differently. There is still a word-of-mouth zeitgeist going on, but a lot of it comes from your game become a habit for your players, something that they participate in on a daily basis. This forms a feedback loop that helps drives new buyers, which I think is quite different from how our games work.

2) We are currently working on the fourth iteration of our HPL engine for this game, and due to some of the things we need to be able to do for the game, we’ve been required to make some major adjustments. These things take time, but luckily we have most of it done now.

SOMA – One Year Later

It is now one year since we released SOMA which means it is time for an update on the current state of things.

As always let’s start with the thing that is of most interest to people: How much has the game sold? This is always a bit of a tricky figure to nail down as it depends a bit on how you want to count. For instance, we were part of the Humble Monthly Bundle this September which caused a lot of people to get the game, but none of these were “direct sales”. Instead, we got one big payment for taking part in the deal. For the sake of simplicity, I will simply lump all of these figures together as a whole, which brings us to a total of a bit over 450 000. Or to phrase it differently: almost half a million units sold!

This is quite good, in fact it is so good that we have now broken even and then some! I think it is worth to stress just how great this is. We spent over five years making our, by far, most ambitious game ever. We also spent quite a lot of money on various outsourcing such as voice acting, 3d models and animations. For instance, to make sure we got it right, we actually recorded a lot of the game’s dialog three times. In the past we have just recorded voices at the end of the project and hoped for the best. With SOMA we knew that nailing the voice acting would be crucial, and spent money accordingly. In the end, it meant that around half of our voice recordings were never used. The same thing was true for things like models and animations. We ordered a ton of these and as design changed many of them didn’t make it into the final game. On top of that we also spent a lot on making live action clips for PR purposes. Taken together with salaries and all other kinds of expenses, SOMA cost quite a bit to make – well over 10 times what Amnesia: The Dark Descent cost us.

It is important to understand that SOMA was far from a safe bet. While we had the luxury of having already made a successful horror game, SOMA was not an easy sell. The game relies heavily on getting certain themes across to the player, and communicating this proved to be a hard task indeed. When showcasing Amnesia we could just show how you blocked a door with some rubble and hid in a closet and the game’s core experience was neatly summarized. But with SOMA things were way harder. First of all, weaponless horror games are no longer anything special and by no means a stand-out feature. In fact, the “chased by monsters”-gameplay was not even a core part of the SOMA-experience. The whole idea with the game was to give the player a first person perspective on a variety of disturbing philosophical musings. To make matters worse any concrete gameplay example of this would be riddled with spoilers, so all discussion had to be made in an obscure “you’ll understand when you play it”-fashion.

We were also constantly worried about a backlash based on faulty expectations. Early on we realized that SOMA was never gonna be the scare-fest that Amnesia: TDD was. But because we felt other aspects of what made the game special were so fuzzy, making “from the creators of Amnesia” a big part of the PR campaign felt crucial. The problem with this was of course that this might set up expectations for SOMA being a direct follow-up from Amnesia – with everything that that would imply. We tried to tone it down and make it clear what sort of game SOMA was, but there was still a noticeable negative effect. For instance, many reviews start by saying “Well, it’s not as scary as Amnesia” or similar.

Despite a bloated budget and tough sell, here we are a year later having earned back every single dime spent. And not only that; we earned well past the break-even point! The project was a big success and we are able to keep doing games with scope and quality comparable to SOMA. In fact, our goal is to aim higher still.

It is also interesting to compare SOMA to Amnesia. As can be read here Amnesia: TDD sold about 390 000 units a year after release, but worth noting that that was for PC only. SOMA’s 450 000 units come from PC and PS4 combined. However, many of the Amnesia units were sold during 75% off sales, a discount rate we have not really had with SOMA yet. On top of this, SOMA also costs 30 dollars compared to Amnesia TDD’s 20 dollars. So even just counting the PC sales the total income is higher for SOMA the first year compared to those of Amnesia. And when you add the PS4 sales on top of that, it is clear that, in actual earnings, SOMA has far outsold what Amnesia: TDD did during the same period.

Another thing worth bringing up are the user reactions. Our current MetaCritic score is at 84 and will probably stay like that. While this is a really nice score, what has really blown us away is the user reviews. You hear a lot of people complaining about the Steam reviews and how they get sad when they read them. But for us it is the other way around. Whenever I feel a bit down, I actually go and read some steam reviews and instantly feel better. I mean, even user reviews that have given the game a thumbs down contain stuff like this:

“Amazing game, […] This game literally changed how i view games. it had an amazing story, the atmosphere was spot on, there wasn’t a moment where i thought i was safe and the pacing of the game was magnificent.”

And it is really hard to not feel good when even the refund notes contain nuggets like this:

“I love horror. Soma is distressing. There is a scene where I have to hurt an innocent robot to progress and I don’t know why. It made me cry.”

Currently our Steam reviews have 98% positive calculated short term and 95% counting the total. This makes SOMA the most well-liked game we have ever made. And when people say they didn’t like it, it is almost always because of the monster encounters – a non-core part of the experience. When it came to the narrative bits very few people disliked it, which is a wonderful surprise to me as this was by far the most uncertain element. My fear was always that a lot of people would think there were not enough horror and monsters, and the opposite turned out to be true.

While talking about user reactions it is worthwhile mentioning all the great discourse around the game. For instance, the SOMA subreddit is still fairly active, and new, interesting subjects pop up all the time, like this discussion on the future of the Ark. These youtube videos that deep dives into the story are also great, and it is fantastic to see people giving so much thought on our work. There is a load of other user content like this and it’s honestly quite overwhelming.

Finally, I want to briefly go over where Frictional is currently at. As I said last time, our goal now is to be a two-project studio and so far it is going really well. One project, which most of the team is working on, is going to start production at end of the year and the other project is mid-way through the R&D stage. Unfortunately I cannot divulge any specific information on these two, and it will be a little while before there will be a proper announcement. However, we do have some smaller, cool stuff in store, one of each we will announced later this year. If all goes well, we should also have another thing for early next year.

So exciting things happen both in the short and long term, and I am really excited for the future of the company.

How We Hire At Frictional Games

Some links in this article have expired and have been removed.

Now that we’re in the process of hiring a new gameplay designer / programmer, it feels like a good time to talk about the hiring process here at Frictional Games. We’re a small company, so don’t hire tons of people, but we’ve still taken on quite a few over the years and have constantly evolved our strategies for doing so. Hopefully this article will be of help both to people who intend to hire others, and for those who want to apply for a job (with us or with anyone else).

First of all, you’ve got to figure out what to write in the work ad. Usually ads tend to be very specific with requirements such as “At least 3 years of work experience as junior programmer”. They also tend to inflate the skills needed in a certain area, e.g. “World-class skills in linear algebra”. Normally these are meant to set a high bar for the applicants; the assumption is that very few people will meet the demands, but that people will apply anyway. We tend to be a bit softer in our approach, and be a bit vaguer in the skills we want. So, for instance, instead of saying “good knowledge of 3D maths,” we just set a requirement saying “has worked on a 3D game”.

The idea is to make sure that people who might be unsure of their skills still send in an application. The same goes for any requirement about years of experience. While, of course, it’s great if someone has worked on commercial games for years, we don’t want miss out on people who have been working on hobby projects for years. In fact, because of how we work at Frictional, having worked on hobby projects can sometimes be more important than working for a commercial company. I’m particularly emphatic about this as I myself had zero proper work experience when starting out on our first game – Penumbra Overture. I’ve also collaborated with lots of other extremely talented people over the years who’ve never held a proper job. So take that as advice: work experience is far from everything, and make sure you apply even if you’re not sure that you match the criteria!

When the ad text is done, it’s time to find places to post it. Over the years we have found that, by far, the best place for this is our own Twitter and Facebook pages. Posting on Gamasutra tends to lead to a lot of applicants, but over 90% of them are from outside of Europe, and we can’t employ those. Pretty much all the other sites we’ve tried haven’t been worth our time or money. The one exception is Polycount, which is a great – and free – place to look for artists. In fact, all of the modellers we’ve hired over the past five years or so have seen our ad on Polycount.

Once the ad is out, it’s time to wait for the applications to pour in. Usually we get 100 – 200 of these over a period of a month or two. This is when we begin phase one of the elimination process, which is just to remove anyone that’s obviously not right for the job. This includes people who live outside of Europe (and have no plans to move here), people have the entirely wrong skillset (e.g. programmer applying for an art job) and people who simply can’t write a coherent sentence. About 70% of the applications are rejected at this point.

With phase one over we move on to phase two. Now we discuss all the applicants and consider whether they could be a good fit or not. This usually means that we send people further questions in order to clarify their situation. For instance, sometimes it might be clear that someone might not have access to highspeed broadband, or only wants a part-time job, and so forth. Sometimes these kind of issues are negotiable, and in other cases it forces us to reject them. If needed we also ask further questions to probe their knowledge a bit. This is never of the “solve this puzzle”-variety, but just going a bit deeper into their previous work. Normally fewer than half the remaining applicants move past this stage.

Now we’re on to phase 3, which is the most important step of them all: the work test. This is a pretty big test, usually demanding 40-80 hours of work, in which people are given a package with our tools and some of our assets. Depending on how busy the applicant is, we’re pretty lenient on how long the test will take and how they’ll split up their time – it could be over a few weeks, for example.

An important part of the work test is that everybody doing it always gets paid. We feel it’s bad form to ask someone to spend a week or more of their time on something without getting anything back. I’m especially proud of one guy who applied for a job, got rejected, but then used the work test money to start his own indie studio. That made it even clearer to me that paying people for doing work tests is the right thing to do.

In this test they need to create something based upon a few vague directions. There are a lot of things that we get out of this. One thing is to see their general work ethics. All the people doing the test need to log their time – we can see how conscientiously they do this, how much time they spend on each task and so on. (And if they lie about the time-keeping, this is very easy to spot.) It also gives us a good sense of how creative the person is, how good they are at using unfamiliar tools and so on. Normally everyone in Frictional will have a chance to review the work tests if they want to, so we have plenty of feedback and a good consensus on the candidates that stand out. Again, fewer than half of the applicants move on from this phase.

If we consider that a work test has been passed, it’s time for the final phase: an interview. We used to do these interviews before the work test, but found that we usually didn’t get much information from them – but once a work test is done, we have something to discuss and a basis to ask questions. I also wouldn’t want a “bad hair day” to be a reason for us to reject someone. I want people to show what they can by doing good work, not by being good at selling themselves. It’s also worth noting that we never ask any hard question of the “explain Quicksort in 30 seconds or less”-kind, as we’re unsure how much that really says about someone. I know I would have trouble doing simple multiplication  if I was nervous during the interview. So, instead, this phase is about getting to know the person and when we ask questions it’s more about learning how this person thinks, and about getting a sense of how they might gel with the rest of the team.

It’s now time to decide who we want to offer a job to. There’s usually lots of deliberation at this point and it’s never an easy choice. Finally we send our chosen person a mail saying they got the job, and check to see that they’re happy to accept it. At this point there might be some salary discussions, but we try to settle the basics up front so we know hiring a person is within our budget.

When the person eventually starts, we try to ease them in. In the past I’ve made the mistake of giving people too much too soon, and this often makes it all work very badly. It’s important that people feel at home when starting to work; if any issues arise early they are often hard to fix. Because of this, we make sure that the new employee has a lot of basic learning to do. The idea is that both parties decide when it’s time to move on to actual work. We set up a number of features they must test and get used to and the newly employed can then work on those until they feel confident in their skills.

When that grace period is over, they’re a proper part of Frictional! Mostly, at least. We give people 1 – 3 months of trial period in order to make sure they like the job and that they’re a proper fit for the company. Usually it only takes a week or so to see if all is okay, but it’s good to have plenty of time to make sure.

And that sums up how we hire at people at Frictional Games!

If you think it all sounds exciting, please consider applying for the gameplay programmer / designer position that we currently have open.

SOMA – 6 Months Later

It is now a bit over 6 months since SOMA was released, so it feels like it’s time for an update on how everything has gone so far.

Sales

The total number of sales, across all platforms, is currently at a bit over 250 000 units. This is pretty good; it’ll only take 20k – 30k more until we’ve earned back our entire investment in the project. Given that the daily sales are still solid (about 125 units a day) and we have regular boosts from various sale events, this is bound to happen well before this year is over.

While this is a good result for us, it’s by no means earth shattering. For instance, Firewatch (which has quite a few elements in common with SOMA) sold over 500k in just a month, so there’s obviously room for SOMA to sell a lot more. It might seem weird, but this is actually very encouraging for us. SOMA was a really ambitious project which took 5 years to develop, used a load of external help and had a big chunk of money spent on a live action series and so forth, making it a very costly affair. Yet SOMA is well on the way to becoming profitable after just 6 months, despite not being a runaway success. This makes us a lot less worried about making another game of similar scope.

Still, it’s interesting to ponder what kept the game from selling even more. One stand-out thing that we’ve identified is that the game falls between two genres: horror and sci-fi. What this means is that the game might feel a bit too sci-fi for someone looking for a pure horror experience and vice-versa. While we think the mix works very well for the game, it seems quite possible that this has put off potential buyers. I’ll discuss this in more depth later on.

Modding

User created custom stories was (and still is) a big part of the Amnesia community. So far almost 450 Amnesia finished mods have been released. This is despite the game’s mod support being far from good. So with SOMA we wanted to make sure we allowed even better mod support, so we would hopefully get as many mods made as we did for Amnesia.

Unfortunately the modding community around SOMA hasn’t really taken off. So far only 5 custom stories (2 on moddb and 3 on steam workshop) have been released, and while it’s amazing that people spend time making mods for SOMA at all, we expected that there would’ve been a few more. Just about everything in the game is controlled via script and modding allows you to replace any file, making it much more powerful than in Amnesia. Because of this, we’d hoped to see people do really crazy things with mods, but apart from Wuss Mode and a location tracking Omnitool there isn’t much out there. Both of these are very cool modifications, but considering that the game could have been changed into an RTS or a racer, we’d hoped to see more experimental stuff.

It feels worthwhile to discuss why modding hasn’t been as successful as it was with Amnesia. The first and most obvious answer is that SOMA is simply not as popular as the mega-hit Amnesia: TDD. Secondly when we released Amnesia there weren’t many other similar horror games around, and as a result many of Amnesia’s mods got played by popular streamers. This gave people a huge incentive for completing their mods. Thirdly, both the level creation and scripting is a bit harder in SOMA, making it more of a hassle for people to get things up and running. And finally, you can quickly create gameplay in Amnesia by just placing a few basic items, whereas SOMA requires more setup and lacks easily reusable elements. All of these issues combined probably explains why fewer mods are being released compared to Amnesia.

But we haven’t given up on modding. Far from it. There are lots of interesting things in the works coming from the community (for instance, a very fitting SCP inspired custom story) and we’re discussing what we could do to give people more incentive to create and finish more mods.

Reactions

I think the most surprising part of the player response is the depth in which SOMA’s story and subject matters have been discussed. For instance, there have been really interesting discussions as to whether the game’s (semi-)antagonist, WAU, is evil or not. Patrick Klepek at Kotaku wrote up a nice summary on this that can be found here. While WAU was designed to not be really evil, it was very surprising to see some people seeing it as the good force in the game’s world. It made us look at the story in ways we’d never thought about ourselves.

Another interesting discussion has been the coin-flip ‘controversy’. For instance, here is a long discussion that brings up various sides to the argument. This was another thing that we didn’t figure would be very controversial, but ended up spawning tons of intelligent arguments. It’s been a great deal of fun to see discussions like this. There’s one aspect of the game that we’ve only seen mentioned once, though, which we thought would be a much bigger issue. What that is we’ll leave as an exercise for the reader to figure out.

It’s also been great to see all of the real-world connections people have made with SOMA. Here‘s an article that goes through a few of them.

By far the most surprising reaction we’ve had yet has got to be one guy mailing us saying that the game inspired him to fly to the US and propose to his girlfriend. We’ve always seen SOMA as a rather bleak game, and it was really interesting to see how some people actually found it uplifting and inspiring.

In all, we couldn’t really have hoped for a better response. People report still thinking about the game months afterwards, and that it’s made them think deeply about subjects they haven’t considered before. This was what we were after when we started the game all those years ago, and it’s incredibly satisfying to see that we managed to reach that goal.

Future

I mentioned above that a problem with SOMA is that it lies between two genres. Not only has this probably led to lost sales, it’s also most likely the reason why SOMA cannibalized the Amnesia sales. The moment that SOMA came out, sales of Amnesia: The Dark Descent went down too, and has stayed down ever since. We saw the same happening when we released Amnesia: A Machine For Pigs, but since SOMA is in many ways quite different from Amnesia, we thought it wouldn’t happen this time. But it did, and the reason seems to be that people lump both titles under a “Current Horror From Frictional Games” label.

In order to combat this issue we’re thinking about differentiating the games we make a bit more. So if we make another sci-fi game, we’ll probably tone down the horror elements and make the sci-fi narrative more prominent.  The reverse would be true if we made a new horror game. The idea is that this’ll not only let us reach a new and wider audience, but also minimize the risk that people will mix up our games, and instead they’ll see them as separate entities. With SOMA it feels we’ve made it clear that Frictional Games is not just about pure horror, and we want to take advantage of that and diversify the experiences we craft.

Related to the above is our new internal development strategy. For the first time in company history we’re now developing two games at the same time. This will require non-trivial changes in how we manage the team, but in the end we’re very sure it’ll be worth it all. By having two projects going at the same time, we can release games at much higher frequency. In turn, this let us be more experimental as we don’t have to rely as much on each new game being a big money generator. We’re still in the early phases of this transition, but it’s shaping up really well so far.

This also means we might do some recruitment in the near future. Watch this space for more news on that!

SOMA – 10 days after launch

SOMA has now been out in the wild for 10 day so it felt fitting to write a summary of how things have gone so far. But first a little trailer:

Sales

I’m going to start with what I think most people are interested in: how much has the game sold? The current number now is at about 92,000 copies across all platforms (due to legal reasons we can’t give a per-platform breakdown). This is quite good for 10 days (+ preorder time) of sales! The money that we’ve got from this will pretty much pay our company expenses for another 2 years. Sales are still going pretty strongly too, with a total of around 2,000 copies sold per day. This number is bound to drop over time, and it’ll be interesting to see just how fast and where it stabilizes. While a lot of sales obviously come close to launch, a big part of our normal earnings comes from a slow daily trickle over the years of our existing titles. So our average daily sales a month or so from now on is actually more important than all of the units sold up to this point.

How does this compare to our other releases? Well, Amnesia: The Dark Descent sold 30,000 copies in the first month (and around 20,000 the first week). So SOMA’s launch is obviously a lot better than that. Compared to Amnesia: A Machine For Pigs, though, the launch is a little bit worse. That game sold about 120,000 copies the first week.

Our goal for SOMA’s sales is 100,000 after a month, and at the current pace it should be able to reach pretty much exactly that with a few units to spare. However, this doesn’t mean that we’ve come close to recouping all our costs. We need to sell almost 3 times that amount to do that. But given that it took us 5 years to make the project, there’s no immediate stress to do so. One of the great things about funding SOMA 100% ourselves is that all money earned goes into our own pockets and is directly used to fund our upcoming projects. So we are under no pressure to recoup immediately so long as we get enough to keep going – which we certainly have now.

Finally, another very interesting aspect is how new titles tend to cannibalize on the previous ones. We saw this with A Machine for Pigs; after it launched the daily sales of The Dark Descent were almost cut in half. That was not that unexpected though, given that they are both from the same franchise, but still a bit weird that the games’ combined sales ended up being pretty much what The Dark Descent sold on its own before. What we didn’t expect was for SOMA to do the same. When the pre-orders for SOMA started, Amnesia sales dropped by about 30% or so and this drop still remains. This feels strange as the two games are not connected apart from being made by the same company, so we wonder what mechanism it is that causes this. It might be that Amnesia’s sales will rise again a bit later on though, so it’s too soon to tell yet just what the effects are.

Reception

The critical reception of SOMA has been, overall, really, really great. MetaCritic is currently at 85 and the Steam reviews are 94% positive.

The thing that I worried most about personally was how the themes would be received. It turns out that I needn’t have worried – that’s the thing we have fewest problems with. Even reviews that gave us so-so scores lauded the game for the thought-provoking narrative. This feels awesome, as this has been the core focus during our five years of development.

The most common issue people have had is that they’ve felt the game wasn’t scary enough. This is quite interesting, so I’d like to take a little time to discuss this.

One reason this was so is probably due to expectations. While we’ve tried to be very clear that SOMA will be a different game from Amnesia: The Dark Descent, we have still used the name “Amnesia” as a way to grab attention. This sends a bit of a mixed message, as people might simply assume that because we say “from the creators of Amnesia”, a similar experience will be provided. One idea would have been not to mention the studio’s heritage, but that feels stupid from a PR perspective. Another idea would have been to tone it down a bit, but it’s hard to say exactly how to do that. The fact of the matter is that SOMA, just like Amnesia,  is very much a horror game. It’s just that it is presented in a different manner, using slower build-up and more focus on the psychological aspects.

Another reason why some people felt it was not scary enough is because horror is extremely subjective. The reactions to how scary SOMA is range from “not at all” to “the scariest game I have played”, and some of the people in the latter camp are survival horror veterans. We had this sort of reaction to Amnesia: TDD as well, but it feels even more spread out for SOMA. When we released The Dark Descent, horror with no combat was still a very fresh concept, but five years later that is no longer the case, and it has lost its impact for some people. SOMA also employs a riskier approach to monster AI that assumes the player will act in certain ways and reach a certain understanding about how the creatures work. If players don’t do this the experience might suffer. Above all, the main horror in SOMA is supposed to come from the existential dread that’s slowly unveiled as the game progresses. And in order for this to work properly, a lot of pieces need to align, and it will not work for everyone.

So in the light of that, it doesn’t feel all that bad that we didn’t get a more universal praise for the game’s scariness. But it’s taught us a valuable lesson: that one should be very careful in managing people’s expectations. This is a lesson that we thought we knew after A Machine For Pigs (which didn’t turn out to be the game many wanted it to be) but apparently we hadn’t learned enough. Once your studio gets associated with a particular game, it’ll play a huge role in what people expect from upcoming releases. That said, the vast majority of people that had expected another Amnesia ended up enjoying SOMA once they realized the game was different. So I don’t feel it has been a complete failure by any means, but just one of those things that needs more work in the future.

Piracy

It is interesting that this is no longer a subject brought up much. So I thought I would quickly get into it. And the first thing to note is that SOMA is the first game we have launched without having a pirated version out before release!

Another thing I have noticed is that we get fewer tech support requests from people with pirated versions than we used to have. It’s often pretty easy to spot these people as we issue new patches frequently, so there are lots of telltale signs in the log files. I’m not sure if this means piracy has decreased for SOMA, or if these people find tech support elsewhere, but I felt it worth mentioning.

As for us personally, we haven’t even talked about piracy. The only time it matters to us is when sending out review copies. Amnesia had a pirated version leaked before release, so now we make sure that we at least send out a DRM-protected version of the game to reviewers. But other than that, I don’t think we’ve discussed it for even a second. This is quite different from back in 2007 when I know me and Jens had hours of discussions on the subject.

Marketing

I’ve already touched upon this above when discussing the game’s reception. However, how to market SOMA in terms of horror was the easy part. The hard part was to explain what makes the game special. When we released Amnesia, showing off the physics and explaining that you couldn’t fight back was more than a enough for the game to stand out. But now the market is filled with these types of games, and more is needed to get people excited.

The main unique feature of SOMA is its exploration of consciousness and what it means to be human. This is also what has been the most celebrated feature of the game after launch. But explaining this to press and gamers prior to release has been exceptionally difficult. This is not some gameplay gimmick that can be shown off during a short demo session, but something that requires hours of build-up. So when you talk about the game, you have to be fuzzy and talk about very high-level concepts. When doing interviews like this I often got the impression that I wasn’t really taken seriously. The press don’t expect any lofty design aspirations to come true and would rather hear about concrete and more easily-digested (and explained) features.

To make things even harder, SOMA is very hard to talk about without spoiling the experience. I could never give an example of exactly how we handle our thematics through gameplay without spoiling a big chunk of the game. This problem of spoilers also makes the game hard to demo and to give to YouTubers. If we just give people a part of the game where you are chased by monsters, that would misrepresent the game (making the expectation problem worse) and fail to explain what is so special about SOMA. And if we show off one of slower sections that are all about build-up, mood and thematics, we have to show off really long segments, which becomes too spoiler-filled and takes way too much time for a demo. (For more discussion on making a demo for SOMA, see here).

We solved the YouTuber issue by only sending it out to a few trusted people, and only allowing a maximum of 15 minutes to be shown. That way we got people to play a lengthy part of the game (around 3 hours) and then show a distilled, and fairly spoiler-free, video to their viewers. We could only do this pretty late in development though, and given how important streamers and YouTubers are for PR these days, it felt like we would have like to do more earlier.

Another issue is that we might have unveiled the game a bit too early. We first showed off SOMA back in October 2013 and the plan was to keep content coming out until release. This turned out way harder to keep up with than what we’d initially thought. Because we were so unwilling to spoil the game, we could provide very little in terms of playable material for the press. Because of this, we had issues getting proper coverage at the end, as most of the standard things like “first playable preview” had already been done over a year back. We’d also had a plan to release a monthly live-action video clip to keep interest up, but because of production problems it got delayed and this plan fell through. (We are however showing them now!)

So it feels like it might have been better to have unveiled the game a year or so later to be able to keep up interest all the way to release and to have a more massive promotion campaign that way. A big issue with that is that it would have been very bad for the team morale. It’s quite hard to work on a project in the dark for several years, and there was a very evident boost in spirit once we had let the world know that SOMA was coming. Added to this is that we got a lot of good feedback from press and fan reactions, which helped us shaped not just our PR but the actual game too. This is makes it much more uncertain if a later unveiling really would have been a better move.

Future

So what is next for Frictional Games? First of all, now just about all of the major post-release issues have been patched up, most of the team will take some rest. We’ll then focus a bit on documenting how the game and engine works, in the hopes that modding will reach the glorious heights it did for Amnesia. After that we are on to new secret projects.  But those secret projects are really secret, so we can’t say a word.

Finally a gigantic thanks to all who have bought the game! We love hearing about your experiences so please tweet, comment on Facebook, or leave a comment here and say what you thought about the game!

Amnesia – Two Years Later

It has now passed a little more than two years since we launched Amnesia and one year since the last report, so time for another! One would think that there is perhaps not much to be said this long after release, especially for a single player game with no built-in social features. But the fact is that Amnesia is still going very strong and 2012 will probably be the best financial year here at Frictional Games, which we would never had expected two years ago.

Sales

As always, let’s start with the sales and some numbers. The first thing will be to figure out how many units we have sold in total, which is actually really hard to pin down. The biggest reasons for the uncertainty is that Amnesia was part of the Humble Indie Bundle (HIB) earlier this year and Potato Bundle last year. Both of these account for quite a lot of sales. Without counting the units bought there our total lands at 710 000 units. Adding all HIB and Potato Sack sales gets us to 1 360 000 units in total, which can be called the optimistic figure. This means that, optimistically speaking, Amnesia has sold almost 1.4 million units! This reasoning is not strictly speaking invalid, but I think that one should not really count anyone that bought the bundle and already owned Amnesia as a proper unit. A slightly pessimistic guess (not far from reality I think) is that 2/3 of every bundle and pack buyer already owned Amnesia. This gives us about 920 000 units in total, pessimistically speaking. So saying that we have sold a million units seems fair. Wait… a million units! Oh shit!!

Despite that huge number of sales, what I think is more interesting is how good the monthly sales still are. Not counting any discounts, the monthly full price sales lie at over 10 000 units. This means that less then every 5th minute someone in the world is buying a copy of Amnesia. This is totally insane to me. The figures themselves are far beyond any guesses we would have made two years ago. It is also insane, because this number is actually higher than it was around three months after initial launch. That a game can still be going this good two years after is truly remarkable.  This success is due to many factors, some of which are the uniqueness of the game (horror games without combat do not really exist on PC), the large modding community (more on this later) and the steady flood of YouTube clips (which is in turn is fueled by the modding community output).

Also worth noting that our Penumbra games are still going on at the same rate that they always have. They are still selling about the same numbers (a little more actually) as they did three years ago. This totals to about 900 units per month. Taking all sales together is more than enough to support the company, financing A Machine For Pigs (more on that later) and having some left over. This means that we are in a very good position and aim to use it to take more risk and try out new things (more on this later).

I think we have never disclosed how much we Amnesia cost to make, so might as well do that here. The (exactly) three years of development cost a total of 360 000 US Dollars. It has since earned more than ten times that. Take that investors we talked to in 2009!

Piracy

It has been over a year since we even thought about piracy. With sales as good as above we cannot really see this as an issue worth more than two lines in this post, so screw it.

Modding

I mentioned it a bit in last years summary, but feel it was not given enough focus. When we created the possibility of custom stories, it was something we thought of very late and I think Luis implemented it in less than a day. We put a few days on adding documentation our wiki as well, but all in all, it was a tiny effort compared to the rest of the game. Despite that, this aspect as been immensely important for the game and while it is hard to give any exact features in terms of sales, the influence on our community is easily seen. Before modding started, we had one or two daily post on our message boards. But as the modding community has grown, it is now up in over 40! (Remember this on the boards of a 2 year old a single player game.) There is even a long meme thread regarding the custom story community. What is interesting is that there are even internal expressions used, like “poofer”, that we at Frictional did not know about and that was specific to Amnesia modding.

The output of modding community has been quite big as well. Amnesia is as of writing the 2nd most popular game at ModDB and sports 176 finished mods. Not only do this amount of user content lengthen the life of the game, it has also increased the amount of YouTube movies made with an Amnesia theme. There are lots of popular Let’s Play channels that have devoted quite a bit of time with just playing various user-made custom stories. As mentioned earlier this have probably played a large role in keeping our monthly sales up.

It is quite clear that allowing users to create content is a feature worth putting time into. I also think that we managed to have a pretty good balance between having simple tools and still allowing a lot of possibilities. It is far from perfect though and for our new engine (which AMFP is not using) will have lots of improvements. It will still be possible to use the simple scripting as before, but now you can pretty much remake whatever you like and do not have to use a complicated total conversion to do so.

Future

The next big thing for us will be the release of Amnesia: A Machine For Pigs, which is a follow-up developed by thechineseroom and produced by us. This release will be very interesting in many ways. First of all it is a big experiment for us to do this sort of collaboration, so from the start we had no idea how it would turn out. Judging from the latest build we have nothing to worry about though, and so far it looks great. Another interesting aspect is how well it will sell compared to the initial Amnesia launch. Not only is the market a lot bigger now than two years ago, Amnesia is more known. The result will be very important to how we plan our future. Release for AMFP is expected early 2013.

At Frictional Games our main concern is our new super secret project. We do not want to say much about this project yet,but we can disclose that it will be horror and that it will be first person. One of the things I was most disappointed with in Amnesia was that it never really managed to deliver any deeper themes, but was more like a shallow fright-fest. For the new project we want to change that and really try and bring a certain theme to the front. Our hope is that this will create a very special experience, creating horror in a much more disturbing way. For the curious, some information on the path we are taking can be found in this paper. The game’s current status is that we have pretty much all tech working, and have started to playtest the first parts. Still, a lot is up in the air and the current design is bound to change. While we do not want the project to go on forever, we want to use our good financial situation the best we can and make sure we do not just rush something out (which we did with Amnesia actually). Release will probably be some time in 2014.

Frictional Games have also grown over the last year and we now employ 11 people, which feels very close to the maximum. At least the way we run the company right now. We also do not want to lose the small underdog spirit that has fueled us in the past. When you have such financially different situation compared to when you started I think it is easy to get caught up in expansion, wild ideas and basically do not get much done. So, we do our best to keep our feet firmly on the ground, to be strict on deadlines and to always remember our humble pasts. At the same time we will not take any easy solutions and play it safe. After the successes we have had, I think it is our responsibility to use our money and independence the best way possible.

Amnesia – One year later

Some links in this article have expired and have been removed.

A year has passed since we first released Amnesia and a lot has changed for us at Frictional Games since. We have gone from being pretty much out of money, to being financially stable in a way we never thought we would be. Everybody in the company has gotten raised salaries and we have more than enough money to complete our next game.

Our financial situation is far from the only change though. The success of Amnesia has led to us getting a lot more known among players and the press. Reactions to the game are still pouring in, and it feels extremely good and humbling to be able to have that kind of impact on people.

With that little summary, now let’s get down and dirty with some more detailed information. (And oh, see end of post for a wee surprise.)

Sales

Let’s start with what most people probably are the most interested in: how many units have we actually sold? During the GDC EU lecture I noted that we were now above 400k units total, but as we scrutinized all of the figures it turns out this was not quite correct. Jens did a recount of all income we have gotten so far and the figure ended on 391 102 units (which is of course not correct when you read this as the game sells at about 2 mHz).

This sounds like a huge amount for sure, but there is something to consider with this figure. About 75% of all the sold copies, that is 300k, were on discounted sale. This is quite substantial really, especially when you note that a good deal (almost half) of the remaining 100k were sold at launch. In the end this amounts to around 50% of all our earnings coming purely from discounted sales (most at a 66% or higher discount).

While discounted sales indeed dwarfs our normal sales, the day-to-day sales are quite expectational as well. Right now we are selling around 6000 units per month at full price. This is actually more than enough to cover all salaries and operational costs for each month, which is a situation we still have not really gotten used to. Another interesting fact is that monthly sales have actually increased, they are almost double now from what they were half a year ago. What all this means is that we can work with a healthy buffer that makes it possible to take more risks and down the road spend more money on outsourcing for sound, voices, art and more. Both of which should allows to make our next game as good as possible.

The distribution between platforms depends a bit on how you count it. In our own store it is as follows:

Windows: 70%
Linux: 15%
Mac: 15%

However, our store is the only one that sell a Linux version of the game, so in total sales the percentage of Linux is a lot less. When looking at other stores the distribution is around 11% Mac and 89% Windows. The Mac percentage goes down a bit during sales, where Windows sales increase 3 times or so more compared to the Mac ones. An interesting note here is that Mac sales in our own store did not go down as a other online outlets like Steam started to provide mac versions; meaning it did not steal our customers but opened up to a new market. We think it is a good incentive for other stores to support Linux as well!

The final data regarding sales is the difference between physical and digital sales. As of now, a total of 35, 000 boxed copies of the game has been sold, or around 9% of total sales. This is not too shabby considering we had no release in Europe and that the American box came out half a year after launch. The money earned from a physical unit is much less than from a digital one, but a physical release can still be helpful (however, other problem arise that might make it not worth it, something we will cover later on).

Impact on Penumbra

As Amnesia gained popularity, we already had our Penumbra games up for sale. We were quite curious in seeing how these sales would be affected by Amnesia’s success. As Penumbra is quite similar to Amnesia i terms of gameplay and mood, and that both were made by the same company, we thought that we would see a boost in sales and attention for Penumbra. Turns out that Penumbra was almost not affected at all.

The number of monthly visitors for Penumbra are still the same as they were before Amnesia. Same with sales; the monthly total is still a little above 500, which it has been for over two years now. The only influence Amnesia could have had is to keep the average up.

So why did Amnesia have no (or very little impact) on the sales of Penumbra? We think one reason is that main bulk of Amnesia buyers simply does not connect the two. While they are similar, the first look is quite different. Penumbra takes place in present day and Amnesia in the 19th century. Another reason is that whenever there is some exposure for Amnesia, Penumbra is almost never mentioned, so most people that enjoyed Amnesia never learn there is a similar game available.

User response

I noted earlier that the daily sales have gone up over the last year, and large part of that has been due this – responses from the players. Still now, a year later, once a week or more some new post about Amnesia goes up on reddit, youtube or a similar user generated site. This kind of constant bombardment of Amnesia related material has continued to raise awareness of the game.

The major example of this would be the the Amnesia WTF video that reached 4 million views before YouTube, because of mysterious reasons, removed it (here is a copy). Others include this pug picture that managed to spread quite virally, images like this one, and much more.

Another pleasant surprise was the amount of custom stories that have been made. In Penumbra we only knew of a single attempt to make a user-created level and that one was never released in public. For Amnesia at least 300 custom story projects have been started, and 20 or so have actually become completed, high quality, experiences. There has even been a Tetris clone made with the tools!

This surge in interest has made our community a lot more active too. A year after we released Penumbra: Black Plague, our forum was quite dead, having a post every other day or so. Right now we average about 200 posts / day, and all of it is pretty much thanks to the custom story creation. This has also spread to other parts of the forum, and there is a lot more general chatter, technical help between users, etc . It really shows that supplying users with creation tools is well worth the time.

The making of Amnesia

As a year has gone by a few resources on how Amnesia was made has popped up, so it seems like a good time to sum them up now:

The Terrifying Tale of Amnesia

A post-mortem of Amnesia at the Escapist, that describes what we went through when creating the game. It mostly deals with the financial side, but also on how corporate decisions lead to changes in design, screwed everything up, and other juicy stuff like that.

The Post-mortem is now also up on our site.

Birth of a Monster

The design and production process of the grunt monster, written by several of the people involved. Don’t forget the other parts.

Evoking Emotions and Achieving Success By Breaking all the Rules

A talk I gave at GDC Europe about a month ago. It goes over a lot of the design decisions that went into Amnesia.

Next for Frictional

So what is next for us at Frictional Games?

First of all, we want to get up to speed on our next game. Since we spent all resources we had on getting Amnesia done, we had to start the new project without any sort of momentum. Added to this was the potato thingie that also took a lot of time (but was really worthwhile). This has lead to a discrepancy between design, technology and art that we just about caught up to now. We have done a lot of work on the next game, but it is not until now we are close to having a nice work flow.

Because of this, a major issue for us to fix is to be able to manage multiple projects. We want to have a nice reallocation of resources at the end of each project and make sure to keep the flow going. However we do not want to grow the company too much, and thus we are looking into other avenues. If everything goes as it should we will announce our first stab at a solution to this quite soon!

Another big change for the future will be consoles. The main reason for choosing consoles is purely financial. Right now our main income comes from very few channels, and we need to spread out the risk somehow. The other reason is that we feel we are missing out on exposure by not being on a console and not reaching as many players as we should be able to. Unfortunately consoles are really old compared to the PC right now, so it will be far from straightforward to develop for two platforms. Our current thinking is to make the console get a lower end version and make sure console specs influence the PC version as little as possible.

Finally, in regards to what our next project is about, the basic idea is to use lessons learned from Amnesia and then take it to the next level. We have mentioned before that the next game will not be as horror focused as our past ones, but still have a scary atmosphere. Our intention this time is to dig into deeper and more intellectually demanding subjects. Another goal for us is to get past having classical puzzles that break the flow, but without making the game into a spoon-fed type of experience.

We are all really excited about the future, with tons of ideas we want to try out and now with the resources to do so properly. This is the first time for us developing a project that we know we can fund all the way and not worry about tight resources. It will be very interesting so see what will be possible to create this time!

More questions?

Anything else you want to know? Well, you are in luck because the entire team will be available for an Ask-Us-Anything at Reddit! Just go here:

It is really simple to register at reddit, so just do so and fire away in case you are curious! And do make sure to up-vote it so it gets some exposure!

And finally, thanks to all who have supported us, pre-ordered our games, put up crazy stuff on the internet, provided help in the forums and in other ways helped to spread the word!

Four months after Amnesia’s release

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Frictional Games have now officially existed for almost exactly four years (4 years and 7 days to be exact), Amnesia: The Dark Descent is our fourth game and it is now four month since we released it. Because of this we thought it was time for another round-up of sales and other stuff that has happened.

Those who have read our two previous reports might have noticed a small trend of the later being a little bit more positive than the earlier. This post will not be an exception and we can happily announce that things are looking better than ever for us. Summarizing all sales since release actually puts us in a state that we never imagined being in.

Sales

Let’s start with what I guess people are most interested in – sales. When counting all online sales as well a the Russian retail copies, we have now sold almost 200, 000 units! This is a tremendous amount and more than we ever thought we would. Our “dream estimates” before release was something around 100k, and to be able to double that feels insane.

Note that more than half of these units have been sold at a discounted price (with as much has 75% of the price off), so the total earnings are not as much as it first sounds. Still, we are in incredible good financial situation right now. Also, the daily sales are still quite high and the average has not dropped below 200 units yet. This means that we can still pay all daily costs from these sales alone, allowing us to invest the other earnings into the future (for outsourcing, PR, etc). It also gives us a healthy buffer and allow us to manage any unexpected happenings the future might hold.

With these figures at hand, we must confess that it gives us new confidence for the PC. The sales that we have had (and are having) are more than enough to motivate developing a game with the PC as the main (and even only) platform. Based on what we have seen, the online PC market is just getting bigger and bigger, and we are convinced we are far from the end of this growth. We think that other developers that consider making their game exclusive to a console might want to think again.

However, our sales have not been typical and it is safe to say that we have earned more than most other indie PC games. We have been extremely lucky with our media coverage and gotten tons of free PR (more on this later), something that has greatly influenced our sales compared to other titles. As proof of this, in the Steam sales charts we have been among the top three games for Adventure and Indie categories almost the entire time since release, often quickly above many of the games that were released after ours. With this we do not seek to discourage others from creating PC games, we are just saying that 200k units is not something that should be expected after 4 months of sales of an indie game. The market does continue to grow though, and it might not be long before these kinds of numbers are considered perfectly normal.

There is another really important thing that needs to be taken into account: If we have had a publisher and sold according to current figures, we would not be in the state that we are in now. More likely, we would now be something more like our first sales summary post. We would probably just have paid back our advance, and just recently been receiving royalties (at a much lower rate, like 25% of what we get now). This means that we would probably be looking for a new publishing deal at this point instead of having the freedom we now have. This does not mean that publishers are evil, just that one should think carefully before signing up for anything. Releasing a game without any financial backing or help with marketing is quite a struggle, but if you pull it off it is well worth the effort!

Media and PR

While we tried to make as much noise as possible at the release of the game, our marketing efforts have been far from big. Our main tactics have been to spread movie clips from the game, releasing a playable demo and to send out review copies. We think that most of this paid off as much as we could have hoped for, with great responses to trailers, players liking the demo and awesome reviews. However, plenty of PR came from a quite unexpected source, namely from user generated content.

An idea that we threw around before release was to have some kind of audience reaction footage, like Rec and Paranormal activity trailers have had. Having too much to do, we just left the idea lying and never did anything about it. However, shortly after the release of Amnesia players made their own videos with exactly this content! The extent that these have spread is quite amazing, one video having 775k views at the time for writing. That is almost a million views! And without any cats!

As we have now entered a new year, there have of course been a lot of awards. What is extra exciting about that is that we actually have been gotten a few! Just recently we got three nominations for Independent Games Festival, something that we are very thrilled about. Yahtzee of Zero Punctuation fame was kind enough to name Amnesia his forth best game of the year. Elder Geek awarded us PC Game of the year which was quite unexpected. IGN is currently nominating us for best horror game of the year and also awarded us best horror and coolest atmosphere for PC. Plenty of other awards have been given too and we are extremely happy about this kind of response!

How has these awards and nominations been us PR wise? Unfortunately it is a bit hard to say as all were announced during the Christmas sales, a time when sales where much higher than usual. Now when it is over, we do see around a 75% increase in daily sales compared to before the Christmas sale started. We think the awards and nominations are part of this increase, but the increase in new players during the holidays have probably also helped spreading the word and boost the sales.

What we can tell though, is that the awards and nominations gotten us more attention from the media. Especially after the IGF nomination we have gotten a lot of mails regarding interviews, review requests and similar. So even if these kind of things are not crucial for current sales, they can prove very important for the future of our company.

Current situation and future

So obviously Amnesia has been a huge success for us at Frictional Games, but what does it mean for us as a company? First of all, we are now completely financially stable and have enough money to complete our next game without any problems. It also means that for the first time in our lives we can actually get decent salaries, something that I personally would never thought would be possible. This means that Frictional Games is no longer a struggling endeavor that we will continue until our energy runs out. Instead Frictional Games has now become a proper career, income provider and something we hope to continue for a long time forward. Compared to how we felt just a few months ago, often considering getting “proper jobs”, this is quite a wonderful change!

Our financial situation also means that we are able to take some amount of risk. While we of course do not aim to go crazy, it means that we can try out new things without risk of going bankrupt. It also means that we might have means to release a new game more frequently than every other or third year. We have some ideas on how to approach this, and are actually in the process of trying some things out.

As for our plans to focus on consoles, as hinted above, this is something we are reconsidering. If online sales figures continue like they have with Amnesia, there is actually not any reason for us to release to anything but PC. Still, it would be foolish not to try consoles out and our current idea is to work together with a third party to do a port. This would mean that we can still can keep a small staff and not risk growing beyond our capabilities.

We are also hard at work with our new game which we are extremely excited about. While we still do not want to disclose to much, our goal is to take “experience based gameplay” to another level. We aim to use the emotions that Amnesia was able to provoke and to focus them in a different direction, which will hopefully give delightfully disturbing results.

Finally, a big thanks to everybody who have supported us over the years, played our game, spread the word, made crazy videos, etc. We hope you all will continue to support is into the future!

One Month after Amnesia’s release

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It has now been pretty much exactly a month since we launched Amnesia: The Dark Descent. And since the post on a week after release was quite popular, we have decided to do a new overview on where we stand now. This time we will mainly focus on the sales and give some more accurate figures on how things have turned out for us.

The big picture

So, with one month of data to analyze, how did things go? I think it can be summed up with: Better than expected on all accounts! As of today we have sold a total of 36, 000 units (including pre-orders, but excluding boxed sales in Russia), and our goal, which would determine if we would continue or not, were 24,000. Having met and exceeded that goal already feels quite nice. Frictional Games will live to create another game!

15,000 (41.7%) of all sales were in the form of pre-orders, which is quite significant. Part of the explanation for this is that there was a 20% discount during pre-orders and we also believe that people are more inclined to buy a pre-order. With perks such as Steam pre-loading, people seem to think it is worth putting up money before release. And since there is no pirate alternative to a pre-order, it is more likely that people will go through with the purchase (more on pirating later). In any case, pre-orders is probably something we will focus on more for our next title.

Platform specifics

Gathering an exact percentage of sales for Linux turned out to be a bit complicated. Purchases made in our store gets all three platforms, which is the only place to get the Linux version. The total amount of sold units in our own store is about 5000. Since we can connect some of these sales with steam activations and similar, we can make a conservative estimate of 2500 Windows users, leaving 2500 left for Mac and Linux. And since this this is the only store for Linux users, we assume 70% of these are Linux. This means 1750 sold Linux units, or 5% of the total sales.

Mac sales are a bit simpler to estimate, and given the estimates from above plus some other data, comes to about 8% of the total sales. The interesting bit here is that just taking the last week into account the amount of mac sales lie at about 12%. This probably means that the Mac market takes longer to penetrate and that Mac owners might be more likely to buy an “old” game. Unfortunately we do not have data regarding this for Linux, but assume something similar happens there.

Media and user response

As we said in the last post, the response from the media and users have been overwhelming to say the least. Right now, we have 86% at Metacritic, 90% from users on Gamespot, and so on. Considering it is a niche and story based game this feels extra nice (which, as Kieron Gillen points out on RPS, usually get lower meta-scores). We could not be any happier than we are with this response.

So how has this affected the sales? Well it is obviously impossible to say what we would have sold with worse grades, but what we can do is to see what correlations there are between positive reviews and spikes in sales. It turns out there is pretty much none. The only correlation we managed to find was with combined release of the Zero punctuation and Gamespot reviews. These were out very close in time and almost quadrupled sales compared to the previous days before (about 150/day to 600/day). It even seems like this boost still remains.

Apart from this example, it has not been possible to find any other correlations. Part of this is probably due to the noisy nature of the data; many reviews come out at the same time they overlap and it is not possible to discern individual contributions. However, when articles have been alone in time, there still have not been any noticeable spikes. One explanation is that it might be hard for people to find out where the game is bought, as our website is seldom mentioned in previews/reviews. This is especially true for the time before the pre-order became available at the major online retailers. Another explanation is that most reviews have more of a long term effect, instead of an instant sales boost. What this means is that reviews convince players that already know about the game to purchase it, instead of acting as a PR catalyst.

What reviews does do is to make other publications find out about you. Getting a review in a high-status outlet have meant mails from many other publications and convinced other media folk that the game is worth writing about. Thus, as mentioned previously, good review help sales in a long term perspective.

Pirating

Now it is time to discuss pirating and how this has affected us. First of all, it is quite easy to see that there are tons of torrents/shared files of Amnesia available. When we search the web to see if any news on Amnesia has popped up, almost 50% of the results go to a pirated version of the game. This is of course makes us sad, but it is also something one has to deal with when living in today’s world. We are well aware that the same technology that allows pirating of our game, is the same that enabled us create the game in the first place. Without a fast Internet and a connected world we would never be able to work together or distribute our games. But this does not mean that we should just ignore piracy and it is important to figure out what kind of impact it has on us.

As I have said, the sales have been above what we had expected, but compared to the response we have gotten it still feels kind of low. For example, the very hyped Minecraft has gotten more than ten times the sales compared us. While being a vastly different game compared to Amnesia, there are some differences that are worth discussing. In terms of the amount of PR received, I would say that Minecraft is more well known, but Amnesia is not far behind. Google gives us two times the hits compared to them and a popular pirate site gives Minecraft double the distributors compared to us. We have gotten more reviews from popular outlets, Minecraft has gotten more viral-like PR. As I said, I think Minecraft has the upper hand here, but not by that much. Still, Minecraft has a over ten times the sales compared to Amnesia, which is a huge difference.

Our conclusion is that a large part of this is due to the lack of pirating in Minecraft compared to us. As I mentioned above, Minecraft has 10x the sales, but only 2x the torrent distributors. A Google search on the subject also turns up twice the hits for Amnesia. It seems like more people are pirating Amnesia and we think there are two main reasons for this. Both of them are related to the single-player nature of the experience.

First of all, once you have played Amnesia there is little meaning to play again. A person pirating the game and finishing it has no real reason to go back. So even if a player likes it and determines that it is well worth paying for, there is no incentive to do so. It is quite common to read on forums that people have downloaded a pirated version and say that they will probably buy it later. The question here is how many actually does this? Even if you really liked the game and want to support the developers, it basically feels like money down the drain since you get nothing extra after paying. This is not the case for a game like Minecraft where more content is released all the time and the game is designed to be highly replayable (and darn it for that, damn time consumer!).

The second reason is the lack of any proper protection. Not only does Amnesia not have any real protection from the start, there is almost no way for us to force people into buying ad-hoc. What we can do is to release patches, but this only affect people that have not been able to start the game, a small part of the user base. So once the game is out we are basically screwed and we can not do much to make people chose a legal over a pirated one. Minecraft requires a server connection and is constantly updated, effectively pushing people towards buying the legit version.

So what to do about this? One way is to create different kinds of games, where we can implement these sort of things. But that just feels wrong. A developer should not design a game based on how it can be protected and doing so can only lead to bad things for our games (to avoid feeding potential flames; this is based on what we want to do with our games, not what we think of others who might do this). What we want to continue doing is to create single player games that try to evolve the way in which videogames tell stories and evoke emotions. Another option is to expand our horizons and try other platforms. This is what we are currently looking into. We do not know what this will mean as of yet, but hopefully we can continue to expand platforms and not limit them.

Our situation

So what does all this money talk mean for Frictional Games as a company? The most positive news is that we have recouped all expenses from creating Amnesia. This is of course awesome, but it needs to be taken into account that we worked long days at a very low salary, using minimal expenses. Our next game will not be possible to do on a budget like that.

For the team, it is now finally back to more normal salaries. This still means that we are paid below, or just at, minimum wage (there is not an actual minimum specified by law, we just mean according to standards) here in Sweden though. We have made some calculations and if we were to increase salaries to normal levels, our current earnings would only last for a year and a half at most. We estimate that it will take at least two years to complete our upcoming game and there are more expenses involved than salaries for the five team members (check the credits for Amnesia!). So right now, we have to stick to having low salaries and see how sales pan out.

At the time of writing our daily sales are at around 350 units, but it fluctuates quite a bit and it is hard to see how it will be in the long term. I said in the previous post that the sales were dropping drastically, but this actually stopped a day or so after posting. Our hope is that it will end up at around 70 per day, as this means that the day-to-day sales would cover monthly salary costs. The money earned at launch could then be used for other expenses and perhaps help us reach more common wages. Very hard to say when a steady level will been reached though. For the Penumbra games it happened two weeks or so after release, but PR for Amnesia is still pouring in, so we assume at least another month.

Final thoughts

Hopefully this post has give some kind of insight into sales for a PC game and where Frictional Games stand now. We are really happy how Amnesia have turned out in all ways. While sales could have been better, people are still buying it and will hopefully continue to. If it stabilizes at a good level, things are looking very bright indeed.

We also feel that we finally can leave Amnesia behind us and start focusing on our next project instead. As this will be our first project where we know from the start that we can finance it ourselves, it will be very interesting to see what can be done. In all our previous games, we have mostly rushed through the production. This is will be the first time we can take our time and make sure that all is the way we want it to.

Exciting times lie ahead and we hope you all will follow us into the future as well!