Should you make a sequel to your Indie game?

Before we launched Hand of Fate 2, I had two drafts of this article sitting around. One was “Indie sequels are great, everyone should do them!” and the other was “Indie sequels are crazy, avoid like the plague!” Now that the dust has settled, it’s time to look at the question in detail, properly armed with all of the facts and figures.

First though, lets talk about the elephant in the room. Everybody, armed with numbers pulled from SteamSpy (RIP) will confidently tell you that indie sequels are always a bad idea. In fact, if you look at our SteamSpy (RIP) numbers you’d likely say the same thing. Hand of Fate 1 has sold 750k units, and Hand of Fate 2 has sold 100k. Case closed, indie sequels are a disaster!

Of course, this is the risk of looking at figures without context, and of comparing apples to oranges. Let’s look closer.

Hand of Fate 1 did sell a lot of copies! But it sold them over 3 years, and it sold them at some pretty deep discounts — and it sold a lot of them in bundles. If we start comparing like to like, we see that actually Hand of Fate 1 and 2 both performed similarly in the first six months after release[1]. Given Hand of Fate 2 has only been out for six months, it seems like the future for the Hand of Fate franchise is in safe hands.

However, Hand of Fate 2 is priced at $29.99, while Hand of Fate 1 was priced at $24.99 at launch — and has since been dropped to a base price of $19.99. So if we compare revenue over the first six months, we see that Hand of Fate 2 has done even better than Hand of Fate 1.

That future is looking even brighter.

Even more importantly, however, is the fact that the release of Hand of Fate 2 drove new players to Hand of Fate 1 — if we account for the boost that Hand of Fate 1 received as well, the revenue graph looks like this.

The future now looks glowing.

A quick dig into the actual numbers quickly puts the lie to common mantra “Indie Sequels always do worse,” — but it’s easy to see how people get there when you compare three years of sales (at a wide range of discounts and bundles) to the first six months of a new game at full price.

Ultimately, the release of Hand of Fate 2 is generating almost 140% of the revenue across the franchise as Hand of Fate 1 managed in its first six months, and it’s doing that through a combination of strong sales, along with driving attention to the previous iteration of the franchise. The last six months has been the strongest six months in our history for revenue.

Building IP is hard, and risky. If you have an IP that’s found an audience, it’s well worth your while to build on that.

The answer is clear. Case closed! Indie sequels are great, everyone should do them!

Actually, it’s not that simple either. If we’d simply made “more Hand of Fate” I don’t believe we would have performed nearly as well.

How to build a sequel that’s not just more, but better

“Hand of Fate 2 is the vastly superior game, as it enhances the already attractive basics with new encounters, companion characters, better combat and weapons, and a host of smaller changes. Whether it’s the artwork or the balance, virtually no element was left untouched.” — IGN

I think the above gives a good indication of the critical reception to Hand of Fate 2. Almost every review touched on how far we’d gone to improve things from the first game.

This leads to my rules for a succesful indie sequel.

  • A sequel must be much better than the first, in order to be received as well as the first. You need to make up with polish what you lose in originality.
  • A sequel needs to address the critiques of the first game, otherwise your players feel disrespected. In our case, there were several oft-mentioned features (character customisation, difficulty, combat, camera) that we paid a lot of attention to on the sequel, because we knew they were front of mind for our audiece.
  • A sequel needs to add something visible to the mix. In our case, the biggest change we made to Hand of Fate 2 was to change the format of play from a linear series to individual, hand crafted Challenges. While that’s a change that impacts every element of the game, it’s not as visible to people who aren’t extremely experienced Hand of Fate players. So we focused our press around Companions — AI friends who fight alongside you. Those were more visible, and easier for people to wrap their head around, and it helped people to understand the new game was a completely new iteration of Hand of Fate.
  • You need to be more than an “Expansion Pack.” Players have a strong idea of value, and if you’re providing something that feels like it could have just been extra levels for the original game, you’re probably not doing enough.
  • Build a fresh identity. It was really important to us that every screenshot of Hand of Fate 2 was immediately able to be identified as a new game. We did this through big changes (new UI, different colour robes for the Dealer) and smaller ones (tweaking camera position, updating colours, changing layouts).
The revised camera, Dealer robes, and UI (including UI for new mechanics, Fame and Companions) in Hand of Fate 2

If you can make sure your game addresses those points, you’re in a really good place to build a sequel that outperforms the original title.

Further, there’s a bunch of things you can do to help build your audience and bring them to the table for your sequel. We discounted Hand of Fate 1 heavily in the leadup to the launch of Hand of Fate 2 in order to build up our brand recognition and audience. That worked well, and helped to ensure that Hand of Fate was fresh in peoples minds at the launch of Hand of Fate 2.

Hindsight shows that a sequel was the right choice for us, as a single player narrative focused game. I think it’s also the right choice for many more indies out there, who may have been scared away by the commonly repeated fallacy that indie sequels are bad news.

Not only that, the more you build up your franchise, the healthier it is. We have a Hand of Fate boardgame coming out soon (and it had a very succesful $500k Kickstarter late last year) and the doors are open to do even more from here.

A well tended franchise can give an indie studio stability over the course of many years, and the opportunity to do more than they would have otherwise. If you’ve got a succesful title, it makes sense to at least consider a sequel as your next step.