It’s not easy making games.
Canadian developer North Side pulled the plug yesterday on its pioneering PC adventure game Bot Colony, with lifetime sales of just 814 copies. Bot Colony used North Side’s own natural language understanding (NLU) technology to let players have realistic conversations with A.I. robots. But PC gamers weren’t interested enough in the innovative tech for it to turn a profit — in fact, the game has cost North Side millions of dollars. With Sega also closing its once legendary San Francisco office earlier today, this is yet another example of the perilous nature of the gaming industry.
North Side founder and high-tech entrepreneur Eugene Joseph explained that Bot Colony sales are so poor they don’t even cover the cost of running the NLU servers. “Sales are so low we can’t even cover the cost of the servers running the Natural Language Understanding software, which is $524 per month,” he said in an open letter on the Steam digital store. “We don’t even sell two units per day, which would enable us to keep the servers running.”
Bot Colony cost between $2 million to $3 million to make, according to Joseph. That’s on top of the $20 million that North Side invested creating its NLU technology. And with lifetime sales of just $10,000, the numbers just don’t add up.
Bot Colony is no longer available to purchase via Steam Early Access — the sales portal that lets people buy games still in development — but Joseph says he’ll keep the servers running until Mar. 15 for those who already own it. After that, this game will no longer work.
North Side released a large update to Bot Colony just last week, but it only brought in $200 extra in gross sales. In contrast, the update actually cost $460,000 to build, according to Joseph.
“This was the last straw that led to the decision today to shut the game down — 96 hours after launching the update,” he said.
The misadventure has cost Joseph personally, as he explained in some detail.
“I’ve subsidized Bot Colony for years, and as a result I now owe $5M to the banks,” he said. “My house — and it’s a nice house that I love where I’ve lived the last 15 years — is on the market. I’ve had to lay off 40 of our employees — most of our staff — because of the lack of sales. It is a tragedy, especially because we’ve put our hearts into this game, believing we will change the industry by enabling players to converse with the characters in games.
“I’ve always enjoyed taking care of our customers, so I cringe at the thought of pulling the plug, but we don’t have a choice.”