Friday, 4 April 2014

End of Line for Unlimited Edition?


This past year RGCD was involved in two of the highest profile C64 game launches for over a decade (Super Bread Box and Bomberland). We've continued to build up an awesome back catalogue of releases, including new titles for the PC, Jaguar and AmigaOS.

Yet this is also the second year in a row that RGCD has made a net loss, despite the fact that 2013-14 saw us selling more units than ever before. Admittedly, compared to 2012-13 the loss was only marginal, but still - a loss is a loss, no matter how small.

So what went wrong? Well, the simple answer is this: dead stock.

At RGCD we strive to ship out your game orders as soon as possible. However, the production chain for each game is rather extensive; game packaging has to be prepared, posters and stickers ordered, manuals and covers printed and cut - but most of all the cartridges themselves have to be assembled and soldered by hand, flashed, tested and shipped from our hardware supplier to our Exeter office. The only solution to keep the order-to-shipping time as short as possible is to buy our cartridges in batches and maintain a level of stock in-house of each and every game we sell. But what happens if a game just doesn't sell?


Let's look at Vice Squad for a moment. Released last year, the game received pretty much universal acclaim within the retro-gaming community. It's a solid little shmup developed by an established team that ticks all the right boxes; on paper it looked as though it should have been an out-and-out success. Yet currently, Vice Squad is the rarest game cartridge that RGCD has released, with only 18 copies sold. We've received nothing but positive feedback following those 18 sales, but positive feedback does not cover the bills.

RGCD has a fantastic customer base, with over 800 people on our mailing list who regularly make game purchases from our store, and I'm sure that there are a load of people with Vice Squad on their to-buy list - but ultimately this poor performance of this particular game means that I'm left with a stack of unsold cartridges that I'm still paying for, putting a financial bottleneck on releasing new games.

We're also fortunate to have a great relationship with the developers and artists we work with. The £5-6 markup we put on each game is split between all the people involved in a release (RGCD taking no more than 20-25%). So, with Vice Squad selling 18 copies, that's a grand total of around £27 in the RGCD piggy bank. This does not even cover the cost of promos sent out to the retro gaming press prior to release. If we'd slightly raised the price and limited it to 50 copies this figure would be closer to £100, with a turnover time of (at worst) a month. We'd still not be raking in fat stacks of ca$h, but at least all costs would have been covered and there would be some left over to invest in the next release.


It would be OK if Vice Squad was an exception, but sadly it isn't. Assembloids, again despite receiving critical acclaim, sold in similarly low numbers, as did Sheepoid DX. So what we end up with is the successful titles such as Bomberland (100+ sales) and Super Breadbox (80+ sales) offsetting the loss made on these less popular games, which is mostly acceptable, but yet still mildly annoying when I know that by limiting their quantity I would have been able to ensure their profitability.

When RGCD branched out into publishing games, my prime focus was on delivering what I would want as a customer; well-presented, professional quality games sold at fair price. This focus is also why I've avoided 'limited edition' runs in the past - as a retro/indie enthusiast myself, I know how frustrating it is to hear about a new physical release for an old console, only to discover that it has completely sold out (often within hours or days of release). I'm still dedicated to continue publishing and distributing new games on the Commodore 64, but clearly something needs to be done to ensure that RGCD becomes self-sustaining. So this is the reason why over the coming months you'll see a few limited edition releases coming off the RGCD assembly line, with Ernst Neubeck and Simon Quernhorst's Phase Out being the first, followed by Richard Bayliss' Trance Sector Ultimate.


We'll still offer some new games on an unlimited, ongoing basis (based on forecasting their likely popularity), and ultimately this decision will be the developer's to make. The team and I are in no way interested in 'artificially' restricting the quantity of games; on the contrary we're looking to match the actual demand. So if it turns out we've totally underestimated customer interest in a game we are of course willing to consider making further batches, with each cartridge uniquely numbered. Oh, and on that note, yes, there will be another run of Soulless carts in the near future (I do read your emails and messages!)

This hasn't been the easiest statement to compose, and I'd love to hear your thoughts on this difficult subject. Please feel free to drop me a line via the contact form, twitter or facebook.

James Monkman (and the RGCD Team).

12 comments:

  1. Bad news.
    Yyou must care about your pocket and do all this the way the market and customers purchase the cards. Perhaps, as you said, the way is the limited edition cards, as done before with some titles. Only the time and how you do it will say how this all ends.
    I and most of the people that read this knows that you're doing the best that you can.
    Take care,

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  2. Sounds like ideally you need a new cart design, a flash cart you can pull from a box of 100s made in bulk for a good price and burned as required. And maybe a nice colour laser printer for paper parts on demand. Limited/numbered/signed/forced scarcity is an understandable conclusion to come to, but not one that sits well with everyone and can lead to someone else "making all the money" see Jaguar resellers/attempted resellers of Another World and other "homebrews" (I have no idea how or if selling-on of C64 goes down, I can't imagine it being anything like as unhealthy).

    The margins on the C64 releases seem incredibly miniscule, it wouldn't take much to go wrong to end up with some major financial headaches... I mean we're talking sub-PD library markups compared to 3.5" floppy stuff back in the day on the 16-bit machines. I have no idea what the few C64 cart-based games originally sold for, but I imagine with inflation factored in, your smaller-scale releases are actually way cheaper - that shouldn't be possible!

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  3. I think you need to be selective on the games you publish. I'm not sure the best way to do this? Maybe a poll prior to producing the the games to gage the interest. Taking pre orders. Maybe just digital downloads for some games, along with PDF manual, and art. Anyone have other ideas?

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  4. Getting a number of preorders before publishing to cover costs of producing.

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  5. CS might have a point indirectly. There's got to be a saturation point. I can see desirability in new cart releases that come along once every 3 months or so, but more frequently than that and does it somehow feel less special? Does this lead to apathy from the collector/gamer scene?

    Sorry to go back to Jaguar, but it's the only first hand experience I have... when you could count the years between cart releases it was a big deal when the next one came along. More recently we've seen something like 5 or 6 in the past 12 months and add that to an aging machine with a dwindling userbase and, well, it's inevitable that volumes per game will be less for some titles. Yet something exceptional with an amazing backstory such as Another World can shift 200 units and have people waiting in line for a year for the next batch.

    Fuck knows basically, there's so many variables and unknowns, the best solution seems to be to make sure you get the pricing right so that if something only does small numbers, you're at least breaking even, when the smash hits come along you can get the pennies in the bank and keep the whole project viable.

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  6. Hi there! Just wanted to say a huge thanks to everyone for their emails and support today. I never expected nor imagined a response like this.

    I didn't post this article for sympathy at all - I just had to explain that things were going to be changing. Truth is, and I'm sure those of you who know me can vouch for this, I'm not in this for the money. I honestly enjoy releasing new games on old platforms - there's something really special about launching a game for a 30 year old platform, boxed with a poster, manual and stickers. It just feels right. Also, I truly believe that the C64 (perhaps unlike the Jaguar) has a large enough active fanbase to warrant one new game cartridge coming out every month - and RGCD is a service foremost, we want to help people still coding on this machine to release their work in the same way that it would have been back in the late 1980s (if not better!)

    RGCD isn't going to be quitting putting new games out on cartridge any time soon, it's part of who we are and what we're known for now (and I speak here on behalf of myself, Martin, Tim, Jamie and all the other guys I work with). Together, we all agree that for some games 'limited' makes sense - and for others (I'm looking at cartridge exclusive games here) I think it is fair to assume that they'll be popular enough to keep them coming. Like I said above, the core message is that we intend to reorganise things so that we meet customer demand. We can afford to make a few mistakes, but not mistakes exclusively :)

    I don't expect (or want) people to feel under any pressure to buy every single one of our games - including those that are limited in number. Back in the 80s, did you buy every game that came out? If you want a particular title, get it! If you don't, let it pass. I feel that we maintain a pretty good quality control level here. I've yet to see a really negative review of any of our releases, but I know that some people are only into old school, whereas others find conversions of modern games more exciting. That's totally ok.

    Our back catalogue will remain available, apart from a few of the really old games that we're putting out to pasture in the near future (Edge Grinder and Panic Analogue).

    Finally, I just wanted to say I've had more C64 orders today than in the whole of last month, so it looks as though I'll be busy for the weekend. And yes, now Vice Squad, Assembloids and Sheepoid DX aren't quite so rare any more. Thanks guys - the coders will all be having a few beers on you <3

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  7. Hi,

    I really don't like the idea of limited editions that would exist without having a regular edition on the side because it encourages speculation - which is a real plague!

    So I would find it fair if you'll have a set of copies that would be numbered with a special case (or whatever you want to make it special and limited) in order to get some more assured income - and I agree with CS on the preorder proposal in order to get an idea of the number of people would be interested in any game. But on the same time I would expect you to provide some copies of the game that anybody wanting to play and not collect would be happy to buy too.

    I know that's an uneasy balance to find thought!

    As for ordering, I'm actually waiting for the new batch of Soulless to make one (and Vice Squad will be in it for sure!)

    Anyway, you're doing a great job and whatever your choices may be, you still be a great benefactor of retrogaming community - especially of C64 one!

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  8. I think that downloadable editions also play a strong part in this. Most of us still enthusiastic about the C64 now run such things as the 1541 Ultimate or the Easy Flash. With such convenience only the people that really want to own a collectable cartridge will buy the physical goods.

    With that in mind, I feel that more profit could be made by raising the price of the downloadable editions, as right now, the price is very low. I know I wouldn't mind paying a few pounds more for crt download, with the knowledge that it was helping RGCD stay with us and make a profit.

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  9. Maybe if you guys try to work with resellers, that could help unload a bit the extra cartridges. Maybe people going to shows, or announcing in local websites could sell this type of game, which are great, well design, great packaging, etc...

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  10. hola,

    yo he comprado 12 titulos y me siento muy afortunado de poder jugar con ellos.
    considero que son de gran calidad.

    si no he comprado mas ha sido porque los que quedan no son de mi estilo, si no tambien los habria comprado.

    yo estoy dispuesto a ayudarle comprando mas juegos aunque juege menos con ellos, todo sea por poder seguir disfrutando de su labor!!

    un saludo.

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  11. To echo what some folks have already said, I think many people either wait for the free download crack or buy cheaper from Psytronik if they want an original. The games that people DO buy in numbers are ones they genuinely want to play on real hardware, especially if they aren't going to be available in any other form (which is the case for Bomberland and SBB). So as CS noted, it may be more a case of reducing the number of games published on cart, and focusing on ones that people are more likely to buy for the above reasons.

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  12. Wait. If your 18 sales meant 18 happy customers, the product is 100% succesful. It is clear that it wasn't a quality problem. How visible is the product to potential customers? Did you invest some in advertising on some geeky websites? I mean, I myself came here thanks to comodorefree.com magazine, but hey how much is that audience? My suggestion, before retreating, is to try a different advertising strategy. Maybe facebook, maybe paid banners, I am sure there are a lot of 8bit lovers still oit there!
    Regards
    Leo

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