Dear Esther, the indie “ghost story” that debuted yesterday on Steam, crossed the line into profitability in less than six hours.
Dear Esther is a bit of an oddity. It sprang to life in 2008 as a Source mod and was reborn yesterday as a longer [although still very short] and far more detailed stand-alone “game.” The word “game” is in quotes because Dear Esther, by most conventional measures, barely qualifies; it’s a story, a metaphor, quite possibly a hallucination, all of which unfolds over a slow journey on a perfectly linear path across a deserted and entirely non-interactive island. It’s most definitely not the sort of thing you’d expect to see burning up the sales charts.
And to be fair, it’s not, but it has sold better than just about anyone reasonably expected. It took only 5.5 hours to sell more than 16,000 copies at ten bucks a pop, generating enough to cover its Indie Fund loan and push the game well into the black.
“To be honest, we are a little surprised by how many people bought Dear Esther so quickly. We were expecting the game to have a niche appeal. In fact the situation is quite different; all day it was the top-selling game on Steam,” the Indie Fund blog reported. “So, released among games about killing, reckoning, crusading, killing, and really old scrolls (containing really old magic… for killing), the meditative beauty of Dear Esther has been recognized.”
Amusingly in hindsight, the Indie Fund expressed concerns to Dear Esther writer and producer Dan Pinchbeck in May 2011 “that the Steam audience may not be the right one” for such an experimental game. “We don’t think it’s a bad idea to release on Steam, but we don’t know how well the game will do there (our thoughts so far are, ‘maybe the game will break even, maybe it won’t, but it won’t make a decent margin of money’)” it wrote in response to the Dear Esther funding request. “What we are thinking is that PSN may actually be the best audience for the game, since PSN has a tradition of doing arty stuff, and so it might be good to launch on both PSN and PC simultaneously.”
Nonetheless, the group voted to fund the game in full a month later, to the tune of $55,000. At ten bucks a pop, that debt is more than covered and thechineseroom can now to get work on Dear Esther II: Blood Money Blowback. Or, you know, whatever.
“We appear to have been very wrong about all this,” the fund wrote today. “We are happy to have been wrong.”
Dear Esther is available now on Steam and, for those with a taste for the experimental, is really quite good.