I collected all of my thoughts and put them into a Post-Mortem article that describes the full development, release, sales, and marketing history of Around The World, as well as what I intend to do for my next project. On that last note, the short version of it is that I'm putting the Prometheus Engine on hold, and have already started a new game, codenamed Project Squish.
I put a lot of heart into the article, and I hope everyone can learn a bit from it. Indie development is tough and frequently unrewarding, but it's also enlightening.
If I had to guess, I'd say that the most relevant section of the article regards how well ATW sold, so here's an excerpt of that after the jump:
With its snazzy box art from my brother and its prominent spot on the "New Arrivals" section of the Xbox Live Marketplace screen, Around The World sold at a fairly decent clip for a few days. At $1 a copy (after Microsoft's 30% cut, I make $0.70 per sale), I was very pleased to see Day 1 sales of 60 copies, 50 on Day 2, and 40 on Day 3. The drop-off made me frown, but I knew it was bound to happen as more and more new indie games were released, pushing me further and further down the New Arrivals list on a daily basis.
Finally, enough indie games came out that I disappeared off the New Arrivals list entirely. To complicate things further, I was hoping that my snazzy graphics (I thought!) and my relatively high level of polish (I thought!) would garner a high rating score, a 5-Star system that all purchasers of my game have access to. I was very pleased with my initial 3.5 Star rating, but eventually that number drifted down to 2.75 over the course of the first week of availability. Unfortunately, that number was too low to to get me onto the "Top Rated" Xbox Live Marketplace section. Okay, I was no longer in New Arrivals, and I didn't make the Best Rated list either. I knew I'd never appear in the "Top Downloads" list, but I had one more shot at continued exposure: the IGN Picks list. This list wasn't based on downloads or numeric rating... it was the result of individual, qualitative reviews by IGN staffers that were sent to Microsoft. Alas, IGN declined to pick my game for their list.
After a few days, with Around The World having precisely zero visibility on the Xbox Live Marketplace (and practically no online reviews, to boot), sales dropped off precipitously to anywhere between one to five sales per day, a trend which continues even as I'm writing this post-mortem. It has both a downside and an upside. The downside: Microsoft doesn't give me a payout unless I make at least $150 in sales per quarter. At $0.70 per sale, that meant that I needed to sell 215 copies to make money. Watching the sales numbers tick up slowly on a day to day basis was agonizing. Fortunately, I hit 215 sales just yesterday, July 8.
Yet, there was an upside: since my game has no visibility whatsoever, the people who stumble across it in the Educational section of the Xbox Live Marketplace are there for a reason. They're looking for educational games to buy for themselves or their children, which means that they have a high intent of purchase. Indeed, my sales conversion rate (the number of demos of my game downloaded versus the number of my purchases) remains slightly above-average for the XBLIG market. So, now that I know that (a) Around The World will never do anything more than limp along, but (b) a steady number of sales will trickle in for the foreseeable future. That means I can continue to expect a few bucks coming in and can safely move onto other things.