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Shovel Knight sales surpass dev's lifetime estimate in one month

After going unpaid for months, Yacht Club shifts 180K copies.

New indie outfit Yacht Club Games has sold 180K copies of its debut effort Shovel Knight.

Shovel Knight is about to unearth some treasure, just as Yacht Club did with Shovel Knight. And in a way, they both embarked on perilous journeys.

This figure includes its 15,684 Kickstarter backers, but it's still really impressive given the team's six-person size and low budget. The developer offered a very thorough breakdown of its development costs in a blog post on the matter.

So first off, the crowdfunded game raised a total budget of $328,682 ($311,502 from Kickstarter and $17,180 from PayPal).

Its staff consisted of five full-time folks with composer Jake Kaufman working as a contributor.

Yacht Club noted that typically game studios assign $10K per person, per month. This doesn't mean the staffer actually makes $10K a month, however. "That includes not only individual expenses for the employee like salary, health insurance, etc but also company expenses like rent, electricity, water, food/snacks, conventions, computer and other equipment, software licenses, lawyer fees, taxes, development kit expenses...the list goes on and on," the developer explained.

The game was expected to take two years to finish. So $10K a month per person means $120K per person annually. So with six people on board that would be $720K for even just one year. That's double the budget for the entire game! Clearly, that wasn't going to work.

So Yacht Club tried crunching the numbers again. This time it decided it would work on a one year dev cycle, release the game to make more money, then invest that back into adding free DLC. The dev also omitted Kaufman's fee as he was willing to wait and receive payment after the game's release when revenue would started pouring in. But that would still be $600K a year to keep the company going.

To combat this, Yacht Club had to then cut each person's budget in half. $5K a month might sound pretty good per person ($60K a year), but only an estimated half of that would actually make it to their pocket - and that's before taxes. The developer also noted its staff was working 12-18 hour days seven days a week.

The harsh reality of making a crowdfunded indie game.

Even this aggressive cost cutting still didn't cover the game's production expenses as the budget ran out on 1st March, just as Yacht Clubs' accounting prophecy foretold. "We ended up operating for five months without money or payments to the team here," the developer said. "It was a difficult period, where some of us were awkwardly standing in front of cashiers having our credit cards declined, drawing from any possible savings, and borrowing money from our friends and family."

It sounded pretty hellish, but Yacht Club was secretly (or perhaps not so secretly) confident that Shovel Knight would be a success. Having researched these trends thoroughly, the developer realised that Kickstarted games tend to sell between two to four times its amount of backers in its first week. Shovel Knight had 15,684 backers, so Yacht Club was expecting it to shift between 30K and 60K total units.

Why read when you can just look at this infographic? Except now I've made you read this simply by existing as text under this picture.

Then it sold 75K copies outside of Kickstarter in its first week.

In its debut week alone Shovel Knight was the top-selling game on 3DS, second on Wii U (after Mario Kart 8), and cracked the top 10 on Steam. This is especially impressive as it launched during the Steam Summer Sale and was competing with a variety of Wii U games after Nintendo offered bonus codes for games like Pikmin 3 and Wind Waker HD with new copies of Mario Kart 8.

If you're curious about the platform breakdown, Yacht Club noted that 27 per cent of its Shovel Knight sales were on Wii U, 33 per cent on 3DS, 37 on PC, two per cent on the Humble store, while the last remaining per cent was purchased over GoG.

"This means we can keep our current course and continue making the stretch goal content without fear of disbanding or seeking additional funding," Yacht Club stated. "It means we can continue living our dreams producing awesome games for our incredible fans (and soon-to-be fans)! And we still have lots of markets to release the game in - Australia, Europe, Japan...although those markets are typically less when compared to America, they will definitely help contribute to our next efforts. The steady supply of free stretch goal content updates should also provide a nice boost in sales once each is released."

The developer noted that its original total lifetime sales goal was 150K copies. "That was our high point! So thank you, everyone, who supported us and made it possible for Shovel Knight to surpass that in just the first month. We are blown away!"