The Disappointment of Success - Article

By Chris Kerr, May 7, 2013
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What happens when you make a great game but it doesn’t make enough money? That’s the question that faced the talented guys over at Explore and Create. Their first foray into video gaming took the form of Sir Benfro’s Brilliant Balloon, a small title for iOS devices. It was well received by critics and was even named as one of the App Store's Best of 2012. What more could a developer ask for? 

You'd be forgiven for thinking that once you've made a game of such quality, it's only a matter of time before it starts selling by the bucketload. In a perfect world, that's certainly the case. This, however, isn't a perfect world. You see, there’s a reason the term ‘hidden gem’ exists, and for every Angry Birds, and Temple Run, there are other brilliant games that go undiscovered. Sir Benfro’s Brilliant Balloon is another victim of the over-saturated iOS market, a market where it’s becoming increasingly difficult to make an impression. If you’re thinking that’s where the road ends for Sir Benfro, though, think again, because this story could be about to get its happy ending. 

Just a few weeks after releasing the game Tim Fishlock, one of the men behind Sir Benfro’s Brilliant Balloon, received an email from a fan called Josh Weinstein. This fan just happened to be the same Josh Weinstein who’s worked on The Simpsons and Futurama. The two have since collaborated in order to create an outrageously beautiful Sir Benfro book entitled Sir Benfro’s Big Adventure. Like others before them, they’ll be using Kickstarter to raise money in order to self-publish the book, ensuring that fans can put their money where their mouths are.
 
Benfro One
 
Sir Benfro’s transition from gaming to literature shows that there are always other ways to continue gaming franchises that aren’t getting the love they truly deserve. What once looked like the end of the road for Sir Benfro has turned into the beginning of a new journey, and it’s one I’ll be keeping a close eye on. 

What other gaming franchises would you like to see carry on in another format? Let us know in the comments section! Before you do that, though, check out the quick chat we had with Tim about the ups and downs of Sir Benfro...

Chris: So Tim, did the Sir Benfro app fall seriously short of your financial expectations?

Tim: Yes! We've sold around 25,000 copies which is about a 10th of where I thought we'd be a year or so on. 

Chris: How did the financial failing of the app make you feel? Especially when you consider that the product itself was well received?

Tim: I think it dawned on us fairly early on that we weren't going to be remunerated in any meaningful way for the amount of man hours we put into creating this app. Fantastic reviews in The Sunday Times, The Observer and lots of app review sites resulted in some relatively tame peaks in sales. I think the most we ever did was around 600 in a day. Then at the end of the year we were thrilled to be one of the App Stores Best of 2012 titles but that only resulted in a couple of weeks of boosted sales. 

We average 4.5 stars in the user reviews for the US and UK App Stores. So yes, to get critical acclaim but no financial reward has been a tough experience and very stressful for both me and Giles at times. However, I'm a firm believer that if you do great work it'll eventually take you in a positive direction. Giles (who co-created Sir Benfro) has got a great job now which is in part down to the amazing work he did on our app. And without the app there'd be no collaboration between me and Josh. Do we regret making Sir Benfro's Brilliant Balloon? Absolutely not. 

Chris: Based on your own experiences, do you feel the gaming industry is a ruthless place to work? 

Tim: I can't speak for the whole gaming industry of which iPhone apps are only a small part. I'd say this: how many great independent films have there been in the last 60 years that never recouped their budget but still have cult appeal? How many great albums are there that never did big money? It's the way of the world. Having said that the way the App Store is set up does make it especially tough to rise to the top - I just don't think it is sustainable. 
 
Benfro Two

Giles and I find the whole in-app purchase thing really off-putting. And I think that's the model now for the majority of developers. Release your app for free and hope that people spend within it. I think all of this is a symptom of a larger problem. And that's that the majority of people expect everything on the internet and beyond to be free. Music, newspapers, apps. Fortunately, we haven't had too many critical reviews but there have been some people who have said, 'yep, it looks nice and the music is good but I'd finished the whole thing in under 3 hours or so - not worth the money! 2 stars'. So, you spend the price of a Snickers on something that took two people a full year to make, it occupies you for 3 hours and that's not a good enough return for your money!? Bonkers! 

Chris: If the kickstarter is a success, where would you like to see Sir Benfro in the future? 

Tim: Josh has been involved in two extremely successful animated series. He has high hopes that Sir Benfro could be a TV show. That's a world I know nothing about but he's confident. Obviously, it would be amazing to take the character that far. But for now I'm just concentrating on getting the book out there and building up a Benfrollowing!

Chris: Thanks for your time Tim. 

Sir Benfro’s Brilliant Balloon is free to download for the duration of the Kickstarter campaign, which means you need to get it right now. Go on, off you fly to the App Store now little gamer, fly, fly, fly.
 

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