Revisiting War of Words

Categories: C#, Games

Tags: War of Words

Back in March 2010, I released a game called War of Words on the XBox 360 platform (Indie games).  This game was a hybrid RPG/Word game that used word spelling as the princaipal combat mechanism in the encounters.  It was very similar to Puzzle Quest in spirit, although the core game play mechanisms were quite different. 

I had a lot of fun working on that game (and a lot of frustrations too).  I had hoped that it would have done better in the marketplace than it did, but Indie Games was not promoted by Microsoft much and I think the game also lacked some polish that would have made it more professional like an Arcade title.  For example, some graphics weren’t so great (as they were created by me) and the storyline was not very interesting (my fault again, as I am not a good writer either).  I do think the game was better than the average Indie game.  It currently is rated as 3.5/5 stars on the XBox marketplace with 232 votes (hardly any Indie games score over 3 stars, and many Arcade and AAA titles struggle to get over 4 stars). 


This game cost me about $600 USD to make.  About $250 of it was for a few hours of an artist’s time to draw the majority of the graphics.  Another $200 was spent on audio/music licensing.  I also had a domain name and website (which has been taken down) which cost $100 for a year.  I bought a few misc. things like video capture software to take video for promotions.

As far as revenue, I can’t say exactly how much it made because the history of payment is long gone (most of the profits were made in the first 3 months of release and Microsoft does not keep more than about 18 months of history).  I started out selling the game for 400 points ($5 USD) but later dropped it to 240 points ($3 USD).  I make about 70% of that amount per game.  I do know that dropping the price increased the purchase to trial ratio to almost 25% which is quite excellent.  I think before the price drop, the ratio was between 10-12%, which is pretty good too. 

I can tell you that I did not become rich with this game, obviously.  The real reason was downloads.  If people downloaded the game, you were pretty certain that at least 1 in 10 would buy it.  If 100,000 people downloaded it, you’d make a decent amount ($30,000 - $50,000).  But I didn’t get download numbers like that.  I pretty much blame this on the fact that Indie games is not a great service if you want to get noticed.  There’s too many bad games and demos that squeeze out good titles.  Also, you have to think of the audience and I think a word game on a console is probably not optimal.  If your game wasn’t about farting or beer drinking, it would not make it to the top of the list.  If you got on the top downloaded or top rated lists, you were going to actually get noticed in the dashboard because of the promotion you received.  If you didn’t get in these lists (I was in the recent released list for about 1-2 weeks and then gone forever), you got buried in the dashboard.  Frankly, I’m surprised that any one finds it today (there’s still a few purchases a week).  I know I didn’t really market it too much, but how was I supposed to do that exactly?

I also could not translate the game to multiple languages (the fact that it is an English word game makes this doubly challenging than perhaps a simple shooter game).  I sold it in all XBox markets in the hopes that English speakers there would play it.  Foreign sales were pretty strong actually compared to what I thought.

Sequel Plans

I originally was very optimistic about a sequel even with low sales numbers.  I knew that I could take all of the money I made and the code/content I had and make a better sequel that would probably have made more money and taken less time to create.  But I lost interest.

I basically quit Indie Games because I felt that the peer review concept was not optimal.  In fact, I was pretty much correct as Microsoft has basically dumped the technology behind Indie Games (XNA) and has focused instead on DirectX 11 for Windows 8 and whatever XBox One has.  Their stance on Indie publishing on the XBox One makes it likely that Indie Games won’t even run on it let alone Game Studio being ported to it.  You could tell something was up when guys like Shawn Hargreaves started to leave the team.

I have a lot of design documents and ideas in my head for a sequel (including turning it into a turn-based game), but it will never happen with XNA, which is a real bummer to be honest.  I liked the platform and Game Studio was really cool.

I toyed with putting it on Windows Phone 7 for a while and even had a very small prototype but in the end, it just didn’t feel right on a phone (without major changes to its design) and WP7 has no users and so a very small market.  I could try iOS, but it’s flooded and I don’t like Apple and I’m not versed in any of their programming languages/platforms.

I think turning it into a HTML5 game would be interesting.  This type of game would be best for touch or mouse-clicking I think than using a controller.  But I’m pretty busy doing real paying work and being with family than doing this kind of thing.

More to Come

I’m planning on blogging about this game in more detail, especially with technical stuff like building directed acyclic word graphs (DAWGs), searching word graphs, building AIs that play games, character and RPG stats systems, etc.

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