'Amnesia' Is Selling So Well, The Developers Have Forgotten All About Piracy

from the sorry,-can't-talk,-busy-selling-games dept

Swedish developer Frictional Games is celebrating two years of success with its sleeper hit “Amnesia: Dark Descent.” In a lengthy blog post (via Rock, Paper, Shotgun), the developers run down the continued success of their very niche horror game, along with praising the communities that have grown around the game.

[If you're not familiar with the sphincter-clenching scariness that is Amnesia, take a look at the following video, which will allow you to hilariously enjoy someone else's complete hysteria. NSFW.]

Frictional Games attempts to run down the sales figures on Amnesia, a problem somewhat complicated by its inclusion with a Humble Indie Bundle. Long story short, though: sales were unexpectedly good.

The biggest reasons for the uncertainty is that Amnesia was part of the Humble Indie Bundle (HIB) earlier this year and Potato Bundle last year. Both of these account for quite a lot of sales. Without counting the units bought there our total lands at 710 000 units. Adding all HIB and Potato Sack sales gets us to 1 360 000 units in total, which can be called the optimistic figure. This means that, optimistically speaking, Amnesia has sold almost 1.4 million units!

Frictional adjusts for the Humble Effect by providing a “pessimistic” estimate based on the assumption that ⅔ of all bundle purchasers already owned a copy of the game:

This gives us about 920 000 units in total, pessimistically speaking. So saying that we have sold a million units seems fair. Wait… a million units! Oh shit!!

Not a bad total at all, especially for a non-AAA studio whose game featured combatless horror and whose advertising was mostly word-of-mouth. Even more surprising, the two-year-old game continues to sell at a brisk pace, even at full price:

Not counting any discounts, the monthly full price sales lie at over 10 000 units. This means that less then every 5th minute someone in the world is buying a copy of Amnesia.

Why are sales still so strong? Frictionless credits two very active communities:

This success is due to many factors, some of which are the uniqueness of the game (horror games without combat do not really exist on PC), the large modding community (more on this later) and the steady flood of YouTube clips (which is in turn is fueled by the modding community output).

Opening up your game and letting your fans build on your foundation is one of the best ways to rack up sales months (or years) after the release date. Just ask the developers of Arma, whose Arma 2 (another 2-year-old niche game) continues to sell very well, thanks to a strong modding community, including one of its own employees who developed the amazing “Day Z” zombie survival mod.

The output of modding community has been quite big as well. Amnesia is as of writing the 2nd most popular game at ModDB and sports 176 finished mods. Not only do this amount of user content lengthen the life of the game, it has also increased the amount of YouTube movies made with an Amnesia theme. There are lots of popular Let's Play channels that have devoted quite a bit of time with just playing various user-made custom stories. As mentioned earlier this have probably played a large role in keeping our monthly sales up.

It is quite clear that allowing users to create content is a feature worth putting time into. I also think that we managed to have a pretty good balance between having simple tools and still allowing a lot of possibilities.

When you give your fans a toolbox and invite them to not only create, but share the results openly, they become your advertisers. Without spending a cent on promotion, a developer can turn hundreds of individuals into a street team that shamelessly plugs your product because they love it. Respecting them enough to allow them to build on your original creates the sort of loyalty that locked-down software never will.

Oh, and as for piracy, the supposed bane of PC developers' existences? Here, in total, is all the developers have to say on that subject:

It has been over a year since we even thought about piracy. With sales as good as above we cannot really see this as an issue worth more than two lines in this post, so screw it.

Make great games. Extend the life of your software by opening it up to modders. Support your community. These simple steps (well, the last two are much simpler than the first) have allowed a small developer (11 employees) to command the attention of PC gamers and critics, resulting in Amnesia earning back over 10 times its cost. Who needs to worry about “lost sales” when so many people are clearly willing to pay?

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Comments on “'Amnesia' Is Selling So Well, The Developers Have Forgotten All About Piracy”

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Anonymous Coward says:

“Who needs to worry about “lost sales” when so many people are clearly willing to pay?”

You can only imagine how many more sales they would make. But for a group that probably expected to push 20,000 copies and smile, this is a great success.

However, I would say that the success isn’t because of piracy or a lack or attention to piracy, rather it’s a good and unique game that has been marketed on the cheap.

It would be interesting to see how much each of those sales actually brings in.

DMNTD says:


Yes, if you want your game to last then you will bring the community INTO the box with you. Otherwise you are usually looking for a quick buck…Spacemarine from THQ, The latest Modern warfare are great examples on how to destroy your fan base. Oh and make P2P your only connection on a multiplayer game..THAT is an offense that is not forgiven…evar!

Want a long lasting game…sandbox the tools and if multiplayer, make dedicated servers.

Josef Anvil (profile) says:

Piracy and Greed

I think they summed it up by stating they were happy with sales. Piracy only really becomes an issue when the content owner is overcome by intense greed.

In general, “pirates” are only taking copies of things that are already selling VERY well. They are not sending artists into starvation. The content owners or their gatekeepers simply want much more money than the content is actually worth because their monopoly makes them feel entitled.

The concept of limited monopoly is completely gone from copyright. Life + 70 years is UNLIMITED as far as the consumer is concerned. If an artist creates a copyrighted work today and lives another 40 years, then that means that their work may be in the public domain when my great grandchildren become adults. Limited? Not from where I’m sitting.

DCX2 says:


There’s a danger in setting up dedicated servers, in that if your servers go down, no one can play multiplayer. Ask the Left 4 Dead 2 community how much they enjoy Valve updates, which about 1/4 of the time bring down the Dedicated Servers, and then everyone has to play Local Host Server. If not for the Local option, there would be no multiplayer.

Fortunately, Valve also lets you run your own dedicated server, for free. So when other people have to play Local, I can usually find a way to play on my dedi.

Oh and Valve encourages modding through the Sourcemod community. Free dedicated server downloads + encouraging mods = total, absolute win. That’s why I’ve put over 1000 hours into the game, and wifey has put over 2000 hours into it. At this point the electricity to run the game costs more than what we paid for it. I’ve even been considering buying another four pack when it goes on sale, just because I’ve played the game so much.

PaulT (profile) says:


“You can only imagine how many more sales they would make.”

…or how many they would have lost had they panicked about piracy and tried locking down the game with DRM, raising prices, etc…

“However, I would say that the success isn’t because of piracy or a lack or attention to piracy, rather it’s a good and unique game that has been marketed on the cheap.”

That’s one guess. There’s many other possibilities. I know, for example, that I only own the game because it was in the Humble Bundle. I’d never heard of the game before. I bought that particular bundle for the charity donations and to grab extra copies of Limbo (which I already owned on the 360) and Psychonauts (PS2), so it wouldn’t matter a jot how good or unique it was were it not in the bundle. That’s not to say that quality doesn’t matter, of course, just that the nature of this specific title has nothing to do with why one of those million sales happens to have been made with my money.

I’m sure there’s plenty of other reasons like mine, but I’d say they largely came about because of the open nature of the developer as opposed to the Ubisoft/EA-style “let’s rape the consumer and blame piracy if that fails). A quality game distributed with that attitude may well be less attractive than a merely decent one with a more open attitude, especially in the indie market.

Anonymous Coward says:


Actually Paul, you bring up the good question: How many people own it but don’t even bother to play it? You know, they bought the bundle for other stuff, and maybe never even fired it up?

Would you call that an intentional sale or just an accidental deal?

Oh, and keep the hyperbole down. EA hasn’t raped anyone.

PaulT (profile) says:

Re: Re:

“Would you call that an intentional sale or just an accidental deal?”

Funny how you’d concentrate on a positive negative that can be used to wave away any positive points people are making.

Anyway, if they’re making money, why does it matter? A sale is a sale, whether it’s a bundle, the 20p Kindle book I bought on a whim yesterday, the half-priced album or a full priced pre-order. Plus, how many people will buy their next game because they “accidentally” bought this one?

“How many people own it but don’t even bother to play it?”

Again, does that matter? I still have got around to playing the copy of Assassins Creed Revelations I got for Christmas, or the copy of Rage I picked up cheap last time I was in the UK. That doesn’t mean they weren’t legitimate sales. However, it does mean that I might not be in the market for new games in the near future because I have a backlog to play. Just don’t try pretending it’s all to do with piracy if the next sale isn’t made.

“Oh, and keep the hyperbole down. EA hasn’t raped anyone.”

Meh, nobody thought I was serious, although those people who have been negatively affected by their DRM and other post-market anti-consumer tactics might think differently. I’ll take that back for now though.

Chris Brand says:


“I would say that the success isn’t because of piracy or a lack or attention to piracy”. I think that’s exactly the point – piracy is completely irrelevant. It doesn’t matter how many people are pirating the game, because sufficient people are paying for it that the creators are making enough. These people are focussing on the positive side of things – giving people good, positive, reasons to buy the game – rather than the negatives – “how can we prevent people from getting it without paying ?”, and obviously doing it right, because people *are* buying it.

Ninja (profile) says:


Oh they did virtually rape thousands with their crap DRM. No hyperbole here.

How many people own it but don’t even bother to play it?

And yet they made shitloads of money despite those who never played it. And if the game has that many mods then I’m fairly sure people play it. A lot. Lots of user content means the game might not be famous in the mainstream media but it is loved by its players.

Stop trying to discredit a success, makes you look silly.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re:

“Stop trying to discredit a success, makes you look silly.”

Ninja, I am not trying to discredit a success story, I am trying to understand it and figure out how it is a commercial success.

It doesn’t appear to be the bundle, because they are pretty much assuming it’s the same people that already owned it that might have bought the bundles as well (2/3 of them, anyway). So the real sales are coming from somewhere else, driven by something else.

So the answer would appear to be not in how it is marketed, but (gasp) that it is a good an unique game. All the chat about piracy, no piracy, drm, no drm doesn’t change that fact. A shitty game without drm is still a shitty game.

Put another way, you guys all hate on EA, but they sell millions of copies of stuff. A shit DRM still doesn’t stop a good game from selling.

The only conclusion from the story really is that good games sell. The only real question is “how much more would they have made otherwise (by pushing on DRM, or raising prices, staying away from bundles, etc)?”

Not an Electronic Rodent says:

Re: Re: Re:

The only real question is “how much more would they have made otherwise (by pushing on DRM, or raising prices, staying away from bundles, etc)?”

See that’s where you’re very very wrong. That’s the exact opposite of a “real” question. It is in fact an unreal question.

Faced with a success story where someone made a shed-load of real money, the only thing you can focus on is “But they could have had all that imaginary money too!”

Milton Freewater says:

This article is irrelevant because ...

Piracy is not an economic concern. It’s a VIOLATION of RIGHTS.

Forgetting about piracy is like forgetting all about being beaten or raped!11!!!

If you ask HOW it’s like being beaten or raped, my answer is simple: I don’t know. But I believe saying it twice is the same as being right once.

Ninja (profile) says:

This article is irrelevant because ...

Don’t you get tired of conflating a civil issue with hideous crimes? Aren’t you ashamed that you are grouping a petty offense that is actually socially accepted as not being wrong at all with something that is pretty much universally accepted as wrong and deplorable?

Or are you just trolling on purpose?

ltlw0lf (profile) says:

This article is irrelevant because ...

Piracy is not an economic concern. It’s a VIOLATION of RIGHTS.

No, it is a violation of temporary restrictions provided by copyright. You don’t have a right to prevent others from distributing your product, you have a privilege afforded under the law. And for many of us here, copyright is a relic of feudalism which should be either rethought or removed from modern capitalist societies.

Austin (profile) says:

Modding > DLC

I have never understood the EA loginc on this, but if I have learned anything from Skyrim (yeah Bethesda has a shitty legal department but they still make awesome games…) it’s that Modding moves units. There is NEVER ANY INSTANCE WHAT-SO-EVER where it doesnt’t magke good, sound business sense to enable modding on your games.

And yet, for whatever unknown, illogical reason, EA continues to go above and beyond to ensure that they can sell DLC (often already on the disc) whilst putting even more effort into ensuring that unpaid volunteers cannot sink ample time into improving their product for them.

And yeah, this isn’t just EA, but there’s a reason I’m using them here: they remain the worst offender.

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