Frictional's heady sci-fi horror adventure Soma has shifted over a quarter million copies. Despite that, it hasn't been profitable. But it's close!
In a developer blog reflecting on the game's sales, Frictional noted that it only needs to sell another 20k-30k more copies to earn back its investment. The studio says it sells about 125 units a day on average, while certain sales events give it a boost, so it expects to start making money before the year is over.
This may sound disappointing for a project that took a half decade to develop - especially when similar games like Firewatch sell a half million copies in a month - but Frictional is satisfied with Soma's performance thus far.
"It might seem weird, but this is actually very encouraging for us," Frictional's Thomas Grip wrote. "Soma was a really ambitious project which took five years to develop, used a load of external help and had a big chunk of money spent on a live action series and so forth, making it a very costly affair. Yet Soma is well on the way to becoming profitable after just six months, despite not being a runaway success. This makes us a lot less worried about making another game of similar scope."
Frictional wasn't exactly sure why Soma didn't capture the cultural zeitgeist the way Firewatch did, but the developer postulated one theory: "One stand-out thing that we've identified is that the game falls between two genres: horror and sci-fi. What this means is that the game might feel a bit too sci-fi for someone looking for a pure horror experience and vice-versa. While we think the mix works very well for the game, it seems quite possible that this has put off potential buyers."
The other downside to this genre-merging was that by still being partially a horror game, Soma's release resulted in Amnesia: The Dark Descent's sales plummeting in lieu of the studio's successor.
"We saw the same happening when we released Amnesia: A Machine For Pigs, but since Soma is in many ways quite different from Amnesia, we thought it wouldn't happen this time. But it did, and the reason seems to be that people lump both titles under a 'Current Horror From Frictional Games' label."
To combat this problem, Frictional will start developing two games at once, each in a different genre. "The idea is that this'll not only let us reach a new and wider audience, but also minimise the risk that people will mix up our games, and instead they'll see them as separate entities," Grip stated. "With Soma it feels we've made it clear that Frictional Games is not just about pure horror, and we want to take advantage of that and diversify the experiences we craft."
"This will require non-trivial changes in how we manage the team, but in the end we're very sure it'll be worth it all. By having two projects going at the same time, we can release games at much higher frequency. In turn, this let us be more experimental as we don't have to rely as much on each new game being a big money generator."
While Frictional has been reasonably satisfied with Soma's sales thus far, what disappointed the studio was the lack of a modding community for Soma. The developer's previous project, Amnesia: The Dark Descent, received nearly 450 mods, while Soma has only received a handful (like this one that makes enemies harmless).
"While it's amazing that people spend time making mods for Soma at all, we expected that there would've been a few more," Frictional lamented. The developer figured this was because Soma was less enticing to streamers. "When we released Amnesia there weren't many other similar horror games around, and as a result many of Amnesia's mods got played by popular streamers. This gave people a huge incentive for completing their mods," Grip reflected. Soma was a less popular game, and one with more complex level creation and scripting, so that could explain the vastly reduced modder community.
Frictional still intends to court that market though. "There are lots of interesting things in the works coming from the community (for instance, a very fitting SCP inspired custom story) and we're discussing what we could do to give people more incentive to create and finish more mods," the developer said.
What exceeded the developer's expectation, however, was the community's reaction to the game. Frictional found a lot of the critiques surrounding the game to be more in-depth and stimulating than it ever anticipated.
"In all, we couldn't really have hoped for a better response," Frictional said. "People report still thinking about the game months afterwards, and that it's made them think deeply about subjects they haven't considered before. This was what we were after when we started the game all those years ago, and it's incredibly satisfying to see that we managed to reach that goal."