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Auralux was supposed to fail, yet it defied all and went on to be a bigger success than anybody could have imagined.
Auralux, E McNeill’s first commercial game, was created 5 years ago and was supposed to be a failure in every way possible if you look at it. I mean, it was created by a single student developer, had little press attention, and had no real appeal on the internet. Not just that but it was a mobile game with a very steep difficulty curve that had no multiplayer features, and it was a free-to-play model that was not the usual. So there was no expectation or hope for the title. McNeill said, “When I first released it, I told my friends that I’d consider it a success if it earned enough money to pay for dinner at the campus burrito joint.”
You read this and you’re probably thinking that by all means, should this project have failed. That’s quite the contrary. Auralux grossed over $800,000 since its launch and has been downloaded over 1.8 million times. With the low expectations, the numbers completely blew McNeill away. Even to this day, he still has a hard time comprehending what happened. However, even with the success, he only saw about a quarter of every dollar that Auralux earned, and that was received gradually over the last 5 years. The good news is it still changed his life and it allowed him to quit his job, focus completely on developing indie games, work on experimenting on risky projects like early VR games, and create a sequel to Auralux which was just announced.
Reddit Saved His Game Career
In 2011, McNeill was able to find some beta testers and development advice on Reddit which was able to give him the idea for how to escape obscurity and give to the community simultaneously – giving out the game for free with no strings attached on Reddit as a gift for the community that supported him. There was no way for him to limit the number of downloads but there wasn’t much more for him to lose at that point.
Once the announcement of the free download was posted, it hit the front page and on the first day there was close to 60,000 downloads. Once that happened there were several indie studios that contacted him because they wanted to bring Auralux to other platforms besides just PC. He eventually partnered with a small team called War Drum Studios and built the mobile version of Auralux. McNeill felt that without that initial explosion of attention and support, he would have went on to another project. So he felt very thankful towards the Reddit community.
War Drum immediately started on the the mobile version of Auralux but at the same time were spending time porting Grand Theft Auto (GTA) games to mobile. Naturally, GTA was a much higher priority and Auralux was put a bit in the back burner until a year and a half later when they released the mobile version. There wasn’t much progress and acquisition of users until Google featured the game on the Play Store in May 2013 which is when they saw a spike in the revenue graph. Even with this, McNeill was taught that mobile games earn most their sales upfront and then quickly fall off, but that’s not what happened.
How Did This Happen?
McNeill believes part of it was the due to the game’s business model, but the biggest reason being that Auralux was sustained by word-of-mouth exposure. It’s not like the word-of-mouth where things go viral and explode but the kind where people have fun and then tell their friends about the game and it goes from there. He’s not sure what the secret to his game’s momentum was though.
The Humble Success
Auralux isn’t like other games that are huge and blew up like Candy Crush or Goat Simulator. It’s like a quiet and humble being, just trekking along its path. It still manages to go strong and suggests that certain types of old-fashioned game development is viable. There is no secret gimmick or trick to it, instead it was a game in its purest form – for the player and not as a money making scheme.
It’s been said that the game industry “is not about making good games right now — the consumer doesn’t care enough.” I don’t think that’s true. Yes, the indie game business is increasingly crowded and unforgiving, but that doesn’t mean we should turn our backs on the kind of games we love, the kind that got us into this business in the first place. The “make a good game and sell it” business model might be simplistic, but at a fundamental level, there’s still truth in it. It never really went away. And I don’t think it ever will. ~E. McNeill