A little over a month ago we released the Linux port of Osmos, promising statistics on our sales and downloads. We wanted to find out – from a financial perspective, for our studio – “is it worth porting games to Linux?”
The short, simple answer… is “yes.”
Did we get rich off it? No. But the time we invested was repaid, with room for margin of error, and possibly with a little extra at the end. Allow me to break it down:
It took Dave six weeks to do the port, including time spent testing across multiple flavours of Linux, and running the beta from start to end. Personally, I’m really impressed with what a solid job he did, and how quickly he did it. I doubt an experienced Linux programmer could have done it much faster, especially since Dave was already intimately familiar with the codebase. In fact, it’s hard to imagine porting any game to Linux much more quickly. (Excluding games built in Flash and engines that already support it of course.) The code was engineered to be cross-platform from the start, built on libraries like OpenGL, OpenAL, libogg/libvorbis, freetype, etc. In addition, Aaron had already done a great job on the Mac port, ironing out any remaining gcc/abstraction details. All this to say that Osmos was primed and ready for Linux-porting, and all work done on that front was specific to Linux.
We spent an additional week or two on miscellaneous tasks, including some additions to our e-commerce/delivery system, support, community, PR time, etc.
So… let’s call it an even 2 man-months across the board for our studio. A big question is, what’s a man-month worth? All I can say is, if your answer is the industry consulting standard of $10k/month — you’ve way overbid, and put the Linux port of Osmos into the financial-loss category. However, as independent developers with a passion for what we do, our goals and desires are considerably lower than that (i.e. less than half).
Unfortunately, this isn’t so simple for us to measure. We’re selling Osmos under a pay-once-for-all-platforms philosophy — for $10 you get the Windows, Mac and Linux versions. So the numbers are fuzzy. What we can determine though, is how many times each person downloaded each version. We can also look at our sales graph over time, where there is a clear and obvious spike associated with the release on each platform.
On first glance, one very cool stat emerges: our best sales day ever (by 29%) was right after the Linux release, similar to what 2dboy experienced with World of Goo. That said, the spike is also somewhat narrower than what it was for the Windows or Mac releases. In any case, if we measure the area above the “background noise” for the Linux release (based on the previous month’s sales), this gives us a conservative lower bound on sales. I say lower bound for several reasons. 1) As many Linux folk have pointed out, some purchased Osmos prior to the Linux release in support of our studio and on the promise that we would deliver the port. 2) There may still be some Linux mini-spikes to come, and future “background noise” will of course include Linux customers. That said, based solely on these numbers, Linux accounts for roughly 15% of our sales to date.
You may notice that the percentages add up to more than 100; this is because customers can download on multiple platforms. In any case, it’s safe to call this an optimistic upper bound, as I know for a fact that some customers click on every download link just to test it out. Also, it’s impossible to know if some of those people would have made the purchase based solely on the Linux version.
So as a bottom line, Linux accounts for between 15% and 21% of our sales, with the “real” number being somewhere in between.
When we say “yes, it was worth porting Osmos to Linux”, we’re basing it on the lower bound. If the reality is closer to the upper bound: that’s “gravy”. The tail: more gravy. (Though it does cost us time and money to support and maintain the site).
It’s also important to note that this analysis applies only to sales from the Hemisphere Games website. The majority of Osmos sales come from portals — in particular, Steam. (Steam’s recent addition of Mac support has had a huge effect on our Mac numbers.) If we were to include portals in this analysis, the percentages would look very different. So in the bigger picture, the lack of a strong Linux portal makes it a much less “competitive” OS for commercial development. Of course, if
A few more stats…
As any Linux user or developer knows, there’s more than one way to skin a distribution on Linux. Dave created four different packages: .deb, .tar.gz, a 32-bit .rpm, and a 64-bit .rpm. Here are download stats by distro.
So .deb is more in demand than all other packages combined, while the 32- and 64-bit flavours of .rpm are rather low. A question I have for the Linux community is: could we have skipped the .rpm packages? That is – to be completely materialistic about it – how many sales would we have lost as a result? (Just curious…)
Another point of interest for us was referring web traffic, and we were surprised to see where much of it came from. Here are the sites that generated the most traffic for the Linux port:
- and a special mention goes out to Liam Dawe of gamingonlinux.info, who helped spread the word to a number of those sites! :)
While we expected/hoped to see traffic from sites like linuxgames and happypenguin, we were very surprised to see the amount of interest from Russia and Eastern Europe. Apparently Linux gaming is alive and strong in that part of the world!
“I am not a number — I’m a free (as in speech) man!”
People are interested in numbers, and we’ve provided them, but that’s just one dimension of the story. As independent developers, there are other more altruistic factors that are important to us.
Before I go on, I must admit that I’m spoiled. Dave did all the hard work on this port, and all I did was some website work: extending our digital delivery system, etc. So I’ve experienced nothing but the happy glow of the release, and from my perspective the Linux community has been awesome and generous. We’ve received a heap of positive and encouraging feedback, which is always nice to hear. Support emails for Linux are night-and-day-different from Windows or Mac — they include the log, version numbers, stack info, troubleshooting schemes already attempted, etc. Sometimes they even include the solution to the problem — just letting us know. And Linux users are vocal — there have been some amazing people in the community that have helped spread the word. We simply could not have done this ourselves; we wouldn’t have known half the places to approach, and even if we had we would have come across as fish-out-of-water. So once again, thank you.
That’s it for now on sales. We’ll probably follow up with some additional stats on the Linux tail in a month or two; but in the meantime, if you have any questions or comments, fire away!