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Self-publishing lessons learned from Mike Bergenstjerna of Mstar Games

By on June 10, 2010
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Welcome to the third in a series of 12 posts from games developers who have taken the brave step into self-publishing. They have all contributed to How to Publish a Game, and you can get the first two chapters absolutely free here.

Mike Bergenstjerna is the man behind MStar Games, an indie developer that has launched three games on Xbox Live Indie Games: Carrum, Space Pirates from Tomorrow and Blazin’ Balls.

He provided me with so much information in our email exchange I had to repeat most of it here!

“I’ve got 3 games on market at the moment.  Two of them are doing OK, one bombed on release.  I’m doing it full time because I have a very understanding and supportive wife! 

Blazin’ Balls, my last game, has been out for about two weeks and I’ve made about £250 from it so far.  It took four weeks to write and another three weeks to test and get approved. .

As a rule you have a window of about three weeks of “peak” sales. If you make it in that period your sales will go on for maybe four or five months.  If you don’t then the sales fall off very sharply. 

There are four significant “lists” of Indie games on the Xbox interface – new releases, top downloads, op rated, and a list of games selected by IGN.  If you’re on two of those four lists you’ll be shifting a reasonable number of downloads (maybe 1,500 a day) and the average conversion rate is about 7% from what I’ve seen.  But generally you make about 80% of your sales in the first month on market unless you’re in the top five or six of the top downloads/rated lists. 

I’m aiming to get another three games out before the end of the year, but if I don’t have a “hit” by then I expect I’ll be going back to working in an office for The Man.  Four or five games which get you around 30 sales a day after your “release spike” is what you need to aim for to have a sustainable income from the service but that takes about 18 months.  Plus, there’s no real way to predict if you’ll hit your marks or not.  It’s all good fun!“

What’s been the best thing about self-publishing your game?

The freedom to decide what I work on and when

What’s been the worst thing?

Financial uncertainly and time pressures

What would you do differently if you did it again?

More testing and listening to gamer feedback

What advice would you give someone thinking about self-publishing for the first time?

Never expect a game to make you rich or famous, and never undervalue user feedback

You can find out more about Mike and Mstar Games at www.mstargames.co.uk.

About Nicholas Lovell

Nicholas is the founder of Gamesbrief, a blog dedicated to the business of games. It aims to be informative, authoritative and above all helpful to developers grappling with business strategy. He is the author of a growing list of books about making money in the games industry and other digital media, including How to Publish a Game and Design Rules for Free-to-Play Games, and Penguin-published title The Curve: thecurveonline.com