Category: Bionic Dues

Update: Starward Rogue Launches, Arcen and Humble Celebrate with Catalog-wide Sale

Update: The Bionic Dues free gift promotion has now ended — though our whole library will continue to carry major discounts on Humble store through this week.

Original Post: We’ve teamed up with Humble to offer a special free download of Bionic Dues in celebration of our new release, Starward Rogue — out now on Humble Store and Steam. For the next 24 hours, the Humble Store is carrying both the DRM-free and Steam versions of Bionic Dues on Windows, Mac, and Linux for the price of $0.

Starward Rogue launches today at a discount of 10% off in the Humble Store, and customers who claim their free copy of Bionic Dues will also receive a coupon for an additional 15% off Starward Rogue during its launch week. Here’s a quick word about our new game from Arcen’s founder Chris Park:

“Starward Rogue is a passion project designed not just by myself but by a team of other hardcore fans of this subgenre. We have several thousand hours in similar games, and we wanted to do something excitingly new without being completely alien. We had a very tight timeline, so as far as the rest of the world is concerned this game is coming out of nowhere. After months of crunch-mode development we’re still finding it hard to stop playing after each run, so hopefully you enjoy it as well as we do!”

Humble’s free offer on Bionic Dues will end tomorrow (Saturday, January 23) at 10 AM Pacific Time, while the 10% launch discount on both Steam and Humble Store wraps up next Friday, January 29 at the same hour.

About Starward Rogue

Starward Rogue is a new sci-fi, top-down action roguelite. Filled with secret rooms, hundreds of interesting items and enemies, challenging bullet patterns in a SHMUP-inspired style, and more. Features per-run leveling and perks, as well as a meta-progression between runs where you find out more about the story, delve deeper into The Megalith, uncover rare “incredibilities,” and experiment with mechs with powers of time control, magnetic dipoles, and more. Five difficulty levels run the gamut from very easy to incredibly hard.

Click here for the official forum thread on this post.

Hey, the Arcen wiki is now open for all to edit!

poweredby_mediawiki_88x31 Well hello!  I’ll have more information on Stars Beyond Reach later in the week.  But for the moment, I wanted to give a quick important announcement about our wiki.  Previously it was invite-only, and mainly edited by staff.  Consequently it was often out of date.

Now it’s open to anyone to edit, although you do still have to create an account (to hopefully keep spambots out).  There are certain pages — mainly release notes — that are protected from editing by anyone except admins.  Believe it or not, I didn’t know how to set any of that up previously, hence us never really having this open before.

Thanks to Dominus Arbitrationis for setting all this up, and getting things upgraded and kicked off at all.  And teaching me a thing or two in the process, as well.  You can PM him through the forums or contact him through the Special:EmailUser page on the wiki.  He wanted me to emphasize that this is a work in progress at the moment, so some aspects of it are still being set up right now.

There’s also some sort of slowdown on the wiki itself performance-wise right now, which I think is probably database-related.  I’m working with Rackspace on getting that figured out.

But if you’ve been wanting to update stats on AI War ships, or write a tutorial for TLF or AI War or whatever, or provide strategy advice on whatever game — now you’re more than welcome to!  A good wiki is the lifeblood of a lot of other similar games, so I’m really glad that we finally have something properly set up here.


Official forum post on this thread.



Arcen Titles Hit IndieGameStand, Up To 85% Off This Week

Wanted to drop a quick note that all of our releases are now available on the IndieGameStand storefront. To celebrate, we’re running a week-long promotion with the site carrying the following discounts:

  • AI War Collection (2014) — 75% off
  • Tidalis — 80% off
  • A Valley Without Wind 1 & 2 Dual Pack — 80% off
  • Shattered Haven — 85% off
  • Skyward Collapse Complete Edition — 80% off
  • Bionic Dues — 80% off
  • The Last Federation — 50% off

Sale ends Tuesday, November 4th. Shattered Haven is also available as part of BundleStars’ Halloween-themed Carnage Bundle — offering 10 horror/zombie Steam games for $2.99.

Bionic Dues Official 1.100 Released!

This one includes the real images for the new achievements (many thanks to community member nas1m for working on these!) and a single small bugfix for the shotgun.

Steam integration for the new achievements will come soon, and won’t require a further client-side update.

And that will mark the end of the 1.1 cycle. Hopefully another beta cycle will start breaking things again soon, but either way 1.1 should be a good stable version for folks to enjoy until it’s time for another official.


Bionic Dues Official 1.017 “Conduct Yourself!” Released!

1.017 marks the official release of the improvements from 8 separate beta releases, including:

* New optional “Conducts” such as the much-requested “Dead Is Dead” (losing an exo is permanent) to the relentless “On Your Toes” (you only get 5 seconds to pick your next action in missions).

* Massive rebalancing of the bot population logic so you don’t run into 50 DoomBots in a single mission, and significant rebalancing of bot stats themselves (there’s a lot less bullet-sponge-syndrome going on). The logic where the AI picks which bot types to upgrade between missions is now more consistent in the amount of agony it causes you. On the other hand, the Easy, Normal, and Hard difficulty levels are all harder (with Casual, Expert, and Misery mostly retaining their previous positions on the pain-scale).

* The Volatizer and the Shotgun have had their AOE patterns re-imagined to be more interesting and useful. And AOE in general has been heavily revised to make more sense (explosions no longer propogate to nearby rooms as if the walls weren’t there at all, etc).

* It’s now much easier to mod many of the game’s graphical aspects.

Many thanks to the players for the feedback that prompted most of these changes. The specific changes (and the players primarily to blame for causing each new refinement of suffering) are listed here.

The Dirty Dozen Sale on

Bionic Dues and 11 other indie titles are on discount this week direct from the developers, thanks to the inaugural Dirty Dozen sale collaboration with Show Me The Games.

Speaking on Bionic Dues, Keith and forum user nas1m (among others) have really helped breathe new life into the game over the past couple months. New options, new achievements, and lots of other good stuff that was actually never expected to see the light of day, once we had decided as a company to move on from the game’s post-release development. If you already own the game and enjoyed it at launch, I’d encourage you to fire it up again and update to the latest beta version (or just wait for the impending official release). There’s quite a few new switches to flip, and some nice improvements to AI behavior as well.

Here’s the full list of participating games, along with sale info (all discounted prices $USD):

  • Democracy 3 — 75% off ($6.24)
  • Loren The Amazon Princess — 66% off ($11.89)
  • Frozen Synapse — 50% off ($12.49)
  • Retro City Rampage — 50% off ($4.99)
  • Infested Planet — 50% off ($7.49)
  • Gone Home — 50% off ($9.99)
  • Beat Hazard Ultra — 60% off ($5.19)
  • The Blackwell Epiphany — 40% off ($8.99)
  • Defender’s Quest — 67% off ($4.94)
  • Sir, You Are Being Hunted — 50% off ($10)
  • Revenge of the Titans — 75% off ($3.74)
  • Bionic Dues — 75% off ($2.50)

Sale ends next Friday, August 29th.

Bionic Dues Beta 1.016 “Next Official’s Release Candidate 2” Released!

This one is a bit more tidying up in preparation for the next official release. I’m hoping that will be later this week; we’ll see.

If any of you have been getting sniped by BlasterBots in range of your spawn point, you’ll be pleased by the change that makes BlasterBots not be able to fire their gamma-ray laser (as opposed to their primary, shorter-ranged weapon) until they’ve been active for 3 turns.


This is a beta update delivered through the in-game updater, if you already have 1.008 or later. When you launch the game, you’ll see the notice of the update having been found if you’re connected to the Internet at the time.

Bionic Dues Beta 1.014-1.015 “Next Official’s Release Candidate 1” Released!

This one is just tidying up so the new goodies can be officially released. If there’s no major issues with this version it will probably be functionally what’s released as the official.

For this specific beta it’s mainly that’s the new achievements for the new conducts, a few balance changes (which do rather alter the implications of RaptorBots and Salvage missions), and a few bugfixes.

Update: 1.015 out to hotfix a bug in the last version that would spam the chat log if you mouseover’d a bot with an EMP’d pistol selected.


This is a beta update delivered through the in-game updater, if you already have 1.008 or later. When you launch the game, you’ll see the notice of the update having been found if you’re connected to the Internet at the time.

Bionic Dues Beta 1.013 “Explosive Refinement” Released!

This one is largely some quality-of-life UI improvements, but also fixes a few bugs and makes some AOE changes with substantial balance implications. In general I’m trying to polish this up a bit more so we can do an official update with the new goodies for the rest of the folks playing Bionic (that aren’t using the beta updates). After that further breaking of stuff will commence ;)

Displaying Enemy Bot Detection Ranges
I had no idea how useful this could be until I tested it. Kudos to nas1m for the suggestion. Basically this lets you bind a key to “show the detection range of the bot under the mouse cursor”. In other words it shows you where not to stand if you want that bot to not see you. It fully takes into account line-of-sight and cover, etc, so often it gives you info you wouldn’t have guessed.

Area-of-Effect Overhaul
You know how rocket blasts could hit stuff the next room over, through a solid wall? Not anymore. Basically a solid wall (not door, not cover, WALL) will block any kind of explosion, though most explosions will happily “flood” around a corner to spread death and destruction, albeit probably not with as much force as previously.

In general this is a bit of a nerf to the player, but mainly in the sense that it’s not letting you do something that didn’t make sense anyway, and hopefully this is largely counterbalanced by the enemy not getting buggily-high concentrations of DoomBots and whatnot as it did before this dev cycle.

That said, if more balance changes are needed please let us know.

Also, if you were wondering why Boss health was getting so absurdly high, there were a few bugs in one of my recent updates responsible for that. Fixed now :)


This is a beta update delivered through the in-game updater, if you already have 1.008 or later. When you launch the game, you’ll see the notice of the update having been found if you’re connected to the Internet at the time.

Bionic Dues Beta 1.012 “Bots Under Assault” Released!

This one makes it easier to mod the game’s graphics, but is mainly balance changes:

Mission Bot Population
Now every normal mission will have at least one type of “fodder” bot, and at least one of the higher-pain bot types. This is important because otherwise the game could (somewhat rarely) pick all high-pain bot types, and then you’d have a mission full of just those (it wouldn’t reduce the quantity of them at all). We’re all for a wide area of randomness, but ultimately “all DumBots” and “all DoomBots” aren’t very much fun (the latter, at least, is not).

Also, the game no longer uses the handcrafted bot mixes except on the very lowest difficulty levels, and even for them it doesn’t use them as far into the game. They were helpful in regulating the early experience to avoid people running into truly nasty combinations, but ultimately it was masking bugs/imbalances that need to be fixed.

Bot Level Progression
Previously, on Hard or higher, it was possible for the game to pick the same bot over and over to upgrade such that you could theoretically have one nasty bot type at 10+ before the rest got much above 1. Relatively rare, but excruciatingly painful when it happened. Now the outlier-control logic used on the lower difficulties is used in a somewhat more relaxed form on the higher difficulty levels, and in general it’s now better at keeping one bot from getting too far in front of the rest.

Assault Exo Buffs
Many of you have mentioned how underwhelming you find the Assualt Exo compared to the others, and it received some pretty significant buffs this time around. Notably (and this also impacts the Brawler) its epic-upgrade “Volatizer” weapon now has a new AOE pattern and is much more powerful.

There’s also various other balance changes (including a redo of the scale from Easy to Expert, since Easy, Normal, and even Hard were being so easy) and a few bugfixes.

Feedback on the balance (and anything else) is always welcome :)


This is a beta update delivered through the in-game updater, if you already have 1.008 or later. When you launch the game, you’ll see the notice of the update having been found if you’re connected to the Internet at the time.

Bionic Dues Beta 1.011 “Hoist By One’s Own PITAR” Released!

This one makes a number of improvements, such as:

Bot Rebalancing
The details are in the notes above, but basically each bot type now has a “Pain/Irritation/Traumatization Assessment Rating”, or PITAR for short. This is used to better regulate the relative frequency of bot types (in a normal mission) and presence and quantity in the end-game bot-army. Several stat changes have also been made, notably reducing the health of several high-health normal bots.

Please let us know how the balance is feeling, as it’s certainly an ongoing process.

Who Designed This Circuit?
This is another new “conduct” option for starting a new game, and it multiplies the power cost of all exo parts by 3. In the past some players have expressed an interest in having more of an opportunity cost for using higher-level parts, so here you go.

Naming Exos
Now each of your exos has a unique name. They’re initially just descriptive (“Siege”, “Siege #2”, etc) but you can change the name of an exo on its customization screen. Do with that what you will.

There are also several other UI improvements, like the ability to tag missions on the city map for your future reference.


This is a beta update delivered through the in-game updater, if you already have 1.008 or later. When you launch the game, you’ll see the notice of the update having been found if you’re connected to the Internet at the time.

Bionic Dues Beta 1.010 “Shotgun Distribution” Released!

This one contains several changes, including:

It’s Dangerous To Go Alone (But Now You Can)
Now when starting a new game you may select “(None)” for one or more of your exo slots (but not all four). This allows you to increase the challenge of the game and/or simply reduce the number of exos (and equipment slots) you have to manage.

Reinvented Shotgun
The player-side Shotgun now uses a new AOE mechanic that fits better with the common mental model of how a combat shotgun works: the cone of death always starts from the firer’s tile, and extends out to the weapon’s max range, but the cone gets wider (and less damaging) if you aim at a more distant point (i.e. opening the choke) and narrower and more damaging if you aim at a tile very near you (i.e. tightening the choke).

It’s also been buffed, so hopefully the many players who previously found it underwhelming will enjoy it more now. In fact it may be significantly overpowered now, but surely you would let us know if that were the case.

De-Oopsing Bot Population
When the game places bots into a normal mission (one that didn’t draw from the end-of-game bot-army) and deciding whether to seed a DumBot or a CommandBot (for example) it uses each bot’s frequency value. The problem is that previously it was actually inverting the logic such that bots that were supposed to be super-common were picked much less often than bots that were supposed to be more rare. This was after the step where it randomly (and evenly) picked which 5 normal bot types got put in the mission at all so it was not as obvious as one might guess. Anyway, hopefully this should avoid levels filled to the gills with MastermindBot’s, etc.

This inevitably impacts balance, so please let us know if the correct frequency values are making it much too easy, etc.


This is a beta update delivered through the in-game updater, if you already have 1.008 or later. When you launch the game, you’ll see the notice of the update having been found if you’re connected to the Internet at the time.

Followup to last year’s AI War postmortem (now discussing Bionic, TLF, etc).

Last June I wrote a postmortem of AI War, which also wound up being a form of history of Arcen as a whole.  But now a whole year has passed, and we’ve released Skyward Collapse: Nihon no Mura, Bionic Dues, and The Last Federation in that time.  We also have a lot more data on Skyward Collapse, Shattered Haven, and A Valley Without Wind 2.

Rock Paper Shotgun picked up that postmortem in their Sunday Papers yesterday (they may have previously, too, but neither they nor I remember for sure or can be bothered to go back and check, so anyhow).  One of the readers who popped over to check out the postmortem, Alban, had a great followup question:

Just coming here late following RPS’ Sunday Papers. As this post mortem is one year old there’s no data for Bionic Dues.
How does it fare? Will you apply the same kind of long term free/paid support as AI War ?

I’m going to get to his question, but first some background.  And in general an updated view of the company.

AirshipEternalConceptScreenshotThe Role of Luck (A long tangent, but something I’ve been thinking about)

Creating any sort of game or other creative work is a bit of a funny thing, because there is a certain amount of luck involved.  There are a lot of examples from the past of great games that inexplicably didn’t sell well.  I want to say System Shock 2, but I can’t recall if that is correct.  There were some others along those lines.

And then there are some that are clearly the recipient of good luck, going above (sometimes even far above) what you would expect them to.  Not that they aren’t good games, but that they simply were the recipient of good luck in the same way that the other games were the recipient of bad luck.  Angry Birds and Minecraft are two examples of games that are great, but that also were lucky.  AI War I also feel like was lucky, in that same sense.  I feel like Skyward Collapse was, too, frankly.

I’m getting ahead of myself a bit, but here’s how I would rate our games and expansions in terms of their luck (among other factors):

  • AI War (base game): Very lucky, and also the right game at the right time for the market.
  • AI War expansions: Not particularly lucky, as they don’t get press coverage much.  However, they are steady earners because they build on something else that was already successful. (There is some further clarification about what I mean on this in the forums).
  • Tidalis: Moderately unlucky, but also just really the wrong mix of casual visuals with hardcore depth.  This game had tons of chances to do well, with excellent reviews and lots of coverage, so really I think a lot of this is down to our blowing it more than luck.
  • A Valley Without Wind: Quite lucky in the main, but not as successful as we needed because we spent too much making it.  And misread the signs after it had been out for a while.
  • A Valley Without Wind 2: It’s hard to really gauge the luck here, as I handled the game in general so phenomenally stupidly.  We gave it away to all the customers of Valley 1 because of a promise I had made about a free art upgrade to the first game (which later turned into the sequel), and while I am glad I kept my word I am quite sorry I made that promise in the first place.  It’s hard to know how this game would have done, since we gutted our potential market by literally giving it away to most of them.  That said, the reviews were in the main pretty decent (certainly above Valley 1), but at the same time there was not all that much other coverage (compared to Valley 1), so I would classify its luck factor as middling in general.
  • Shattered Haven: This game has seen only niche success, mainly I think due to the graphics (which I am really frustrated how those graphics turned out, the criticism there is deserved), and with how slowly the game “gets to the good stuff” (which we later adjusted in post-release patches to get you to Stantonsburg quicker, but a lot of people gave up prior to that).  This game is one I’m quite proud of, but in general it just doesn’t connect with most of the market (though some people really love it), and I don’t think luck really has anything to do with it.
  • Skyward Collapse: This was just a fun little project, and a really quirky idea in a small package.  That this got as much coverage as it did, and sold as well as it did, definitely smells like a lot of luck to me.  I think that the game is fun and good, don’t get me wrong, but I think there was also a confluence of events that helped make this get more notice than on average a game like this would.
  • Skyward Collapse: Nihon no Mura: Blah, this was extremely unlucky.  We thought that if we followed the AI War model of just putting out expansions to something that was already successful, then people would show up for that.  Turns out that was not so much the case — or part of it, really, was just how insanely inexpensive this title is, which makes it very hard to break even on it.  More on this later, but I think there was some lack of luck here as well as some substantial stupidity on my part.
  • Bionic Dues: Boy this project was just a model of perfection internally.  We just did everything right, I feel like, and were firing on all pistons across the board.  We were SO fast, however, that we didn’t have time to really do any advance marketing, which was… a problem.  But there was also just a distinct lack of luck with this one.  I’d classify it as extremely unlucky, to be honest.  Some things were in our hands, but others were just out of our hands.
  • The Last Federation: This project was a longer and larger one than I had intended, and the combat model in particular was something we struggled to get right, burning up a lot of development time on that.  We ran ourselves down to our last dime (and then some, literally), making this game, and had to shrink from a fulltime staff of 7 to a staff of 4.  Which is frankly more inline with our income, anyway, but not something I wanted to happen.  Then the game came out and was just a phenomenal hit for us, far and away above anything we’ve ever done.  I think we made a really great and fun game here, but at the same time, as with AI War I recognize that there were some distinct places where we also got really, really lucky.  It’s kind of the inverse of the Bionic Dues situation, where some things were just out of our hands, but went very very much in our favor.

What sorts of things do I mean by “luck?”  Well, we try to pick release dates that make sense for purposes of the wider market, but there is a lot of luck in that, anyway.  Bionic Dues got squashed by other releases on launch and disappeared from view before people could really evaluate it well.  The Last Federation dominated the Steam front page for days, which was partly based on the high clickthrough rates to it but also based on just being at the right place at the right time.

In terms of getting the attention of people in forums, of reviewers, of press in general, etc, there’s also a luck factor.  Skill in PR/marketing, too, but also luck.  Some games we put out are loved by major reviewers or youtubers, and they tell us this privately, but then they never wind up having time to actually do a review or video, because of other titles that are more pressing in terms of their audience and what will make them money on views, etc.  Then by the time they do have time for a theoretical review, the game is old news.  That happened to Bionic Dues in multiple instances.  But for TLF, we had the opposite luck, where a lot of big names just jumped on it immediately and wrote or did a video about it immediately, rather than having a delay.

You could argue that that is partly due to the degree to which they connected with one game versus the other, and that is surely partly true, but I think that anyone who denies the role of luck in books, movies, games, and basically all creative things is kidding themselves.  You can’t get lucky if you aren’t prepared and actually having something worth talking about, but it is possible to do everything right and still fail.  There are indies all over the place where that is the case.  The most notable recent example of that, to me, is Source by Fenix Fire.  That game got a ton of press attention, looks gorgeous, seemed to do everything right on Kickstarter, had a hilariously modest goal for a game like that ($50k), and yet still failed to get funded.  WTF?  That’s just bad luck, and something those devs need to realize and not feel too bad about.

Please don’t misunderstand and think that I think luck is the only factor that matters, though.  There’s a lengthy followup discussion in the forums where longtimer ptarth raises a number of really interesting points and question (about both the role of luck and other things), if this topic interests you further.

Okay, back to the actual question.

AIWarDestroyerOfWorldsWallpaperAI War’s Ongoing Performance – Solid

AI War is now somewhere north of $1.3 million, I’m not sure exactly where.  We’re at over 5 years of the game being out now, and our 6th expansion is in the works for release this August.  There’s not a lot to really say here, this just continues to be a strong game for us.  It’s fallen a lot in terms of how big a portion of our yearly income it is, but that’s mainly because of the rise of other games for us, rather than a fall of AI War itself.

Bionic Dues – Not So Hot

colour_sniper2_png_by_arcengames_d6fez36_by_cassiopeiaart-d6iirw6Bionic Dues, as noted above, was a recipient of bad luck.  It hasn’t sold abysmally, it’s not like Shattered Haven or Tidalis, but it just hasn’t really been “discovered” yet, in a lot of senses.  Overall it’s had a really solid reception, and certainly some major press.  We bungled some things with Bionic in terms of advance press, but a big part of that was the fact that we weren’t really ready to show anything until the last second because the development cycle on Bionic Dues was so short.  Our “luckier” titles had longer development cycles with more teasing of stuff prior to them.

Bionic is at a semi-respectable $95k(ish).  It’s not something we’ve broken even on yet, although I have to go back and calculate exactly how much we spent making that one.  We will break even on it eventually, but it’s much slower than expected.

We were planning on doing an expansion for Bionic, but unfortunately the support just isn’t there to make that viable.  We had already done some features that we were going to include in an expansion for Bionic, and with the decision not to go ahead with an expansion we just rolled those out as new free features to the base game a week or so ago.  There aren’t going to be many updates to Bionic aside from bugfixes; it’s a complete, self-contained game at this point.

That’s actually true for all of our titles now except for AI War and The Last Federation.  Though we are going back and adding Linux support to everything that didn’t already have it (even Tidalis, after all!).

moon collides with planetThe Last Federation – Phenomenal

Our latest title, The Last Federation, just passed $500k in 10 weeks, so it’s our new most-amazing success.  AI War has still earned more than twice as much, but it did it over 5 years rather than 10 weeks, and with 5 expansions as opposed to zero.

As noted above our 6th expansion is in the works for AI War, nevertheless — we’re not abandoning that game just because we have something newer and more successful.  And naturally an expansion for TLF as well.  TLF continues to go great guns, and is basically single-handedly funding our work on our next title, Spectral Empire, a 4x which will come out next April.

To say that we are amazed and grateful for the reception that The Last Federation has had would be a huge understatement.  To put things in perspective, if you take an average of how the entire rest of our catalog has sold over 2014 so far, and then compare 10 weeks of that average to the first 10 weeks that TLF was out, TLF outsells everything else in our catalog combined by 7:1.  TLF was expensive to make, but it broke even somewhere around 7 weeks after coming out.  Skyward Collapse broken even much faster than TLF, but it also cost something like 1/8th as much to make.

MacGameStoreBannerShattered Haven – Worse And Worse

Well, this is our worst-selling title ever, even “topping” Tidalis, which I had not expected to ever manage to do.  We have  a lot of disparate income from various bundles and whatnot now, so it’s harder and harder to collate exactly how much specific games are making unless we keep careful track of it.  With TLF, you bet we were watching that with fascination (and it hasn’t been in any bundles, anyway).  For Shattered Haven, we’ve not been watching the numbers super closely.  I would hazard a guess that the total gross is around $30k total, based on the concrete numbers that I am looking at at then going from memory on the smaller gaps.

The Silver Lining On Shattered Haven (And Similar Games That Don’t Fare Well)

That said, I’m really gratified to see that some people do connect with it as much as I do, and come into the forums and say how much they love it.  Here’s an awesome thing: every single game that we have ever made is somebody’s favorite game that we’ve ever made.  In other words, even our “worst game” is one that somebody (that I’ve never met) feels is our best game.  In some cases, we get people saying that our “worst game” is actually their favorite game ever in a genre — or even out of all games in general!  That’s a huge honor, and always takes me by surprise.

Cynics will go “there’s no accounting for taste,” and sure, that’s true in a literal sense.  I think all of us like certain things that are not popular, and it’s not because we’re hipsters.  Shattered Haven’s gameplay was very inspired by both Zelda 1 and Lode Runner: The Legend returns, and I think that people who like the latter in particular (or games like that) are likely to respond well to Shattered.  Story-wise, some people think that it’s not really a good story (and some say the same about Tidalis).  But for those who connect with the emotion in Shattered, or the humor in Tidalis, it’s really quite wonderful.  It comes down to taste.

I mention this because this is also true of lots of other games around the Internet.  I see it in the forums of other indie developers all the time.  They make something that the market hates, that the critics spurn, and that is a financial ruin for them.  Yet there are strangers telling them how much they love that title.  It’s an odd thing to experience.

In some ways, I guess I kind of feel fortunate to have both this experience and the experience of having something much more widely popular and accepted.  Being able to recognize the nature of personal taste, and the role of luck as well, kind of helps take the sting off of my failures.  Or at least helps me put them in some kind of context, if that makes sense.  Very few people love every game we’ve ever made, and plenty of people don’t like ANY game we’ve ever made, but somebody loves every game we’ve made, and some games are loved by a LOT of people, and that has to be good enough for me; that’s the best anyone can really expect, I think, in all honesty.  Think about it; even for someone like Stephen King, who is like the Notch of novels.

Valley2Wallpaper1A Valley Without Wind 2 – Sigh

The gross total last year on Steam for the package that includes both this and Valley 1 was a mere $109k.  That’s… pretty pathetic, honestly.  Given the huge expense of making this game, the Valley 1 and 2 package has been pushed so far into the red that they are never going to climb out of the hole.

People always complained about the graphics in Valley 1, but then once we did Valley 2 (which is vastly prettier, I think), people started complaining about how they preferred the character animations in Valley 1.  Go figure.

Valley 1 also is excessively more popular in terms of playtime.  It gets played more than Valley 2 by about a 5:1 ratio.  Valley 2 is the one that I actually prefer out of the two of them, although both are really fun.  But it was a complete genre shift from being a Metroidvania to being a Contra-like.  And the crafting and mild citybuilding from Valley 1 was instead replaced by procedural bonuses, character classes, and a semi-intimidating strategic layer in Valley 2.

A lot of fans of the first game didn’t respond all that well to the shift, because they basically wanted more of the first game, but prettier.  Which I can understand.  Valley 2 probably would have been better received as a completely standalone separate game with no connection to the first.  Though critics did like Valley 2 better.

For myself, behind AI War, I think the game I have put the most time into playing recreationally from our library of games is a tossup between Shattered Haven (with my wife) and Valley 2 (with my 4 year old son).  Go figure!  This is kind of what I mean about there being no accounting for tastes.  Sometimes my taste is really odd to the point the market goes “what?” and that’s something I’m having to learn to live with (and to try to avoid, where possible, as it really risks the company).

Skyward Collapse and the Nihon no Mura Expansion – Ehhh…

Zuess_finAt the time this came out, it did phenomenally well.  Its first month was not our highest-grossing launch, but it was our most units moved by a large margin.  It broken even in 3 days, and was 6% of our historical revenue within a month.  That’s more or less where we left things at the last postmortem, a year ago.  Well, what’s happened since then?

Sales tapered off pretty fast, actually.  The expansion came out to a resounding lack of interest from all except the core players, and gaming moved on.  This seems to be what happens to most games — that’s why the initial launch is so important — but for Arcen the long tail has always been where the meat of our income comes from, so this was a surprise to me.

With the expansion, we deliberately released that in August just to see what would happen.  That’s a real dead period in gaming, and we figured we could pick up some extra press due to that, and that we’d make up the initial shortfall in sales via long-term sales in discount promos and whatnot.  It was a reasonable plan, although a speculative one, and we knew the risks when we tried it.  It didn’t pay off.

Actually, by putting so much work into Skyward 2.0 and the expansion, we managed to UN break even on the game that broke even in 3 days.  Facepalm.  But, by the end of 2013 we had re-broken even on the combination of the two, although the role of the expansion in that was questionable at best.

Looking At Company-Wide Numbers – Strength In Numbers, Actually

Still, despite the above, overall Skyward Collapse did respectably for last year.  The base game generated about $125k gross in that year on Steam, out of about $510k total for all our products on Steam last year, so Skyward was 24% of our Steam income last year.  That’s no slouch at all!  And frankly, Valley 1 + 2 were 21% of our Steam revenue from last year.  By the end of last year we had 7 full games released, plus 1 expansion for Skyward and 5 expansions for AI War.  That’s a lot of back catalog, and it’s not the sort of back catalog that starts to look stale after a few years like the latest 3D games do.  Our graphics start out retro and stay retro, and I think that’s part of the long tail that we experience.  And a number of other 2D or retro-styled games by other developers, frankly.

Anyway, aside from a dip in 2012 (I think it was the Q4 economy there, which hurt everyone), Arcen has always had at least around a 10% growth in year over year income.  Our big problem was always having expenses that grew at that rate or higher, thanks to my bringing on more and more staff.  So despite the constant growth, there was also a constant struggle.  Anyway, last year Arcen grossed over $700k in all, and no one product was more than 40% responsible for those numbers.  That’s a big win for us, given how dominant AI War has been in our history.

Our strategy in 2013 was kind of the opposite of what we did in 2011 and 2012, where we focused on just one or two really giant games.  Instead we focused on a larger number of smaller titles, the two chief amongst those being Skyward and Bionic.  That strategy paid off in some respects, but by the same token it doesn’t create titles with the longevity of AI War or The Last Federation.  So 2014 has seen us swing back the other way, working on larger titles again, but with more of an emphasis of keeping steady pacing without runaway expenses.

SpectralEmpireMock-7-14-croppedHistorical Performance, Updated

Overall, Arcen has now grossed somewhere around $2.7 million dollars. $500k of that came from The Last Federation in the last couple of months.  About $1.3m of that came from AI War over a span of 5 years.  That leaves $1.8m divided amongst all the rest of our products combined (6 games).  Valley 1 and 2 are the largest component of the rest of that, with about $500k in gross income between the two of them (since April 2011).  Skyward and its expansion and complete version account for about $180k.  Tidalis, something like $110k.  Bionic Dues, $95k or so, and Shattered Haven at something like $30k.

So, we’ve been all over the map, in terms of financial success.  I’m okay with that, so long as we stay solvent and free, though.  I look at Maxis games from way back in the early and mid 90s, and I really admire what they did.  They had some really hit games (SimCity, sort of SimTower), but then they also had a sizeable number of ones that never really took off.  But someone loved all of their games, even the “flops,” and there was value and innovation in everything that they created.  I’m okay with a track record like that.

That said, our next title is a semi-traditional 4x, so we are playing it somewhat safe.  Granted, it has our own twists and uniquenesses on it, but we’re not mashing up two unrelated genres like we so often have.  In the end it just boils down to being able to make what we’re most interested in making at the time, and then doing the best job on it that we can.  With a lower amount of expenses, and more money shelved away for security, we currently don’t have to run around with our hair on fire quite so much.  I’ve been basically in crunch mode for 5 years, and it’s really nice to be able to actually take a more reasonable amount of time to do things.

Anyway.  For the moment, things are looking very much up, and I’m feeling very fortunate for the situation that we’re in.  I had hoped to stabilize as a fulltime staff of 8, but ultimately we wound up stabilizing at a fulltime staff of 4.  That’s the one thing that really kills me, but it’s just more realistic for a company of our nature.  All in all, despite the many bumpy things last year, we managed to have a really solid year, and despite a very scary start, this year has now exceeded last year in every way.  Here’s to the future.

Forum discussion.

PS: In the forums, I was asked about what I think about Jeff Vogel’s recent posts about how the indie bubble is bursting, and what that means.  Unfortunately, I agree with him on most of his points.  If you’d like to read that discussion, it is here.

PPS: The forum discussion continues to be wide-ranging and detailed on a variety of subjects, some only tangentially related.  It’s an interesting read if you like this sort of thing.

Bionic Dues Beta 1.009 “Be On Your Toes” Released!

This one introduces two new options for your beta-testing pleasure (if you use the in-game updater to get the beta version) :

Dead Is Dead
If you enable this optional rule at the beginning of the game, and an exo is destroyed during a mission, it is not replaced after the mission.

On Your Toes
If you enable this optional rule at the beginning of the game, and you take more than 5 seconds to issue a command during a mission the game automatically issues the “wait” command for you.

You can use both if you like, and even combine them with Ironman. But that sounds kind of… intense.

Anyway, I hope many of you enjoy these, and let us know what you think. These are still in beta and I imagine they’ll need fixes and tweaks to fully fit. We’ll see!


This is a beta update delivered through the in-game updater, if you already have 1.008 or later. When you launch the game, you’ll see the notice of the update having been found if you’re connected to the Internet at the time.

[Forum Discussion]