One Developer’s Tale Shows How Hard It Is To Make Money From Games

One Developer’s Tale Shows How Hard It Is To Make Money From Games

Your career as a developer often comes down to simple economics. A presentation during the opening developer keynote at TechEd Australia highlights just how challenging it can be to make money, especially with games.

During the keynote, Patrick Klug from Greenheart Games discussed the performance of Greenheart’s Game Dev Tycoon on the Windows Store. By Microsoft’s standards, the game has been successful enough that it is now only taking 20 per cent of the selling price for the title as its commission, rather than the industry-standard 30 per cent. And because Game Dev Tycoon was highlighted in the Windows 8.0 preview release, it had a higher visibility than many competing titles.

But how does that work out in terms of cash? Klug said some 80,000 customers had downloaded the trial version of the software through the store, and the conversion rate was around 30 per cent. Let’s call that 24,000 customers, each of whom paid $7.99. Take off 30 per cent for Microsoft and that amounts to around $134,000. (I don’t know when the discounted commission rate kicks in, but if it had applied from the start, the total would be just above $150,000.)

$134,000 is not a small amount of money, but coding the game took the two-person Greenheart team (Klug and his brother) a full year. (It’s written entirely in HTML and JavaScript and the 30,000 lines were written in Visual Studio Express 2012.) Factor in extra costs (such as marketing, equipment and hiring contractors) and it’s a tough area to make money.

The game is also available for PC and Mac as an independent download and has been greenlit to appear on Steam, so the actual revenue should be higher in the long run. Klug said he was very pleased with the conversion rate, which was much higher than the rates for commercial software with a trial version he had worked on in the past. Those projects typically had conversion rates in the single digits, he said.

The lesson? Yes, there may be money in games development — but you need luck, patience and a reasonable bankroll. You also have to put up with high levels of piracy. Earlier this year, Greenheart revealed how it had taunted pirates by itself offering a cracked version of the game.

While the aim for players in Game Dev Tycoon is to make money from game development, in the cracked version you inevitably go bankrupt because of piracy. Demonstrating the humourless and clueless sense of entitlement that typifies many digital content consumers, people who had downloaded the pirate version complained about this aspect, rather than paying for a legal version of the game.

Disclosure: Angus Kidman travelled to TechEd Australia as a guest of Microsoft.


  • I was playing this all weekend. IT is great when you release a game and make a ton of money and heart breakingly bad when you think you have a hit and all the reviews come in at 3s and 4s.

    My biggest hit was ballet bear 2 with $100,000,000 profit. it was a dance/casual game that just went insane for some reason.

  • Interesting that Klug finds it hard to make $ out of Game Dev Tycoon, especially since it’s a carbon copy of Kairosoft’s Game Dev Story. His own development costs couldn’t have been high at all.

    Interesting too that a game that’s peeled right off another successful game has implemented anti-piracy measures.

    • Not sure how much of the cost is saved by copying. If you copy someone’s house design it still costs you almost the same to build.
      With software, it’s a different story if the code was reverse engineered, but copying is a lot more effort.

      • only copying and implementing is much much cheaper if the effort of designing & research isn’t included.

        it won’t cost you almost the same to build a house if you copy someone’s design, and hiring an architect to design an original house, and the proper engineers to mastermind how the utilities will fit into that. that’s why most people just use an established template with all of that included to save a hell of a lot more money.

    • The design side maybe..

      In any case, it’s this specific reason why I chose not to buy Dev Tycoon.. it’s a stolen idea.. not just a spin-off or inherited from Kairosoft’s game.. it’s a blatant copy.

  • I played this for a while and found it incredibly average in every sense… And instead opted to toy with developing my own game :>

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