Where the Water Tastes Like Wine is a fantastic, methodical narrative trek across America, according to fellow Game Informer editor Elise Favis. Unfortunately for creator Johnnemann Nordhagen, that hasn’t translated to the commercial success he hoped for.
“Commercially, it’s a disaster,” Nordhagen said in a postmortem on the game. “I can’t discuss exact numbers, but in the first few weeks fewer people bought the game than I have Twitter followers, and I don’t have a lot of Twitter followers.” Currently, Nordhagen has a little over 4,200 followers.
Nordhagen has not made any money on the game, and has in fact lost a hefty sum on it, having paid contractors and collaborators on the game a total of $140,000. “At the end of the day it’s astounding that a game that got this much attention from the press, that won awards, that had an all-star cast of writers and performers, that had a bizarre celebrity guest appearance(!) failed this hard,” Nordhagen says in the blog post. “It scares me.”
Nordhagen also breaks down what went right and wrong with the game’s development. Nordhagen cites the diverse crew of writers he hired to write dialogue and characters for the game, compose music, make art, and voice-act (inlcuding an appearance from Sting), press attention, and the support from his publisher Good Shepherd as what went right.
As to what went wrong, he cites a lack of playtesting as a major issue. “While we had a full QA team, they were focused on finding functional problems,” Nordhagen says. “When all the systems were in place, it was very late in development, and playing through the game took 10–20 hours. If you make a 10–20 hour game, guess how long it takes to playtest? And so I only managed to do a few full playthroughs of the game near launch.”
Other issues, according to Nordhagen, include a lack of expertise at the business and structural aspects of game development, having to switch artists partway through the project, not optimizing the game for mouse and keyboard (he focused on controller support instead), a crowded and risky indie game development market, and overscoping the project from the start, despite the focus on text and still art.
Nordhaggen then goes on to debrief, stating that while the game was costly, he’ll be okay financially, though he plans to move away from the costly San Francisco and go into his next project without the expectation to make money off it. “Basically, I’m not sure that games like this one can continue to be made in the current market,” he says.
For anyone who likes peeking behind the veil of game development, Nordhaggen’s entire post is worth a read.
While I found myself fascinated by Nordhaggen’s deconstruction of his project, reading that an experimental game didn’t sell well is always disheartening. Here’s to hoping he finds more success with his next project.