Developing Hellblade was a bold move by Ninja Theory, as they built the game with a fairly small team of 20 people, dealing with difficult topics of mental health, tons of experimental technology and lofty ambitions for an “independent AAA” business model. In essence, they wanted to create a AAA quality game, but do so with a small budget, and they’ve really pulled it off.
Today they’ve announced that the game has sold over half a million copies in the first three months, which means they’ve broken even on the game’s development and are now starting to turn a profit. That’s actually exceeding their expectations of being at this point after six months.
Throughout development, Ninja Theory have been incredibly open, and that continues here. Those 500,000 sales generated $13 million, which gives you an idea of how much it cost to develop the game across three years with a team size of 20 people (this, of course, includes technology licensing and a lot of R&D time). There were 75,000 pre-orders for the game on both PC and PS4, with the game selling 250,000 copies during its first week at its full price of $29.99. All of these sales were digital, and split pretty evenly between the two platforms.
The final dev diary looks at the game’s launch, including the controversial decision to seemingly permanently kill players with the Dark Rot if they failed too often and a game breaking bug. With quick reactions to address the bug, how this actually played into Ninja Theory’s hands, spreading awareness of the game and its themes of mental health.
Speaking of the business model as a whole Tameem Antoniades, Co-founder and Chief Creative Ninja said:
The escalating stakes in the AAA retail publishing model has killed off countless independent studios like us, many smaller publishers, and is now straining even the largest of publishers. This isn’t survival of the fittest but a routing of the creative base upon which this industry was built.
The future isn’t written and we don’t believe that the writing is on the wall. AAA will always exist but we need strong alternatives as well.
Three years ago we announced our intention to find a way to do our best work outside of the AAA retail model and have openly documented the journey in our thirty development diaries.
The final step is to share our commercial model and digital sales data for the benefit of other developers. The more data we have for alternative business models, the more developers can take informed commercial and creative risks. For the benefit of our beloved medium, we’d like to encourage other developers to share their own data as well wherever possible.
Thank you to everyone who has supported us and made Hellblade: Senua’s Sacrifice a commercial and creative success.
Source: press release
I’m really pleased that this worked out for Ninja Therory. The themes Hellblade explores aren’t the sort of thing that I imagine a traditional publisher would get behind but clearly there’s an audience out there for it. Let’s hope this opens the doors for more AAA independent titles.
Really glad to hear their doing well with it. I haven’t picked it up yet but it’s on my list.
See game dev’s, you dont need these nasty publishers any more. Hope more developers go down this route.
Shows that it is viable to make a polished decent looking (and overall) game without needing to sell 10 million copies to break even. And it wasn’t £50 and hasn’t even got a season pass or loot boxes!
One of the best and most original titles of 2017 and deserves every bit of success it gets.