Sunless Sea Sales and Funding Deep Dive, Part III: Early Access and Final Release

By Adam Myers, March 27, 2015 · Sunless Sea

Hello! This is the final post in our series on Sunless Sea’s sales and funding. So far, we’ve covered Kickstarter in part I and pre-orders and Greenlight in part II. This time, we’ll be talking about our aggregate sales figures – in early access, and in the month since final release.

Before we began development in 2013, we tried to estimate potential sales based on what numbers we could find for other indie games. It looked like we might sell anything from 5,000 copies (if it did really poorly), to 50,000 (if it was a pretty big success).

Early Access

On 17th June, we soft-launched the early access version of Sunless Sea on our website. Then, on 1st July, we launched on Steam.

SteamCapsuleSmall SteamTopSellersSmall

We reached #4 on the Steam top sellers list, and were featured in the main capsule for just over a week. Here are our aggregate sales for July.

Aggregate July Sales

Across all channels – our website, Steam and the Humble Store – we sold 28,423 copies in July. Of those, 72% were in the first week.

We’re still not sure why there was a bump in sales from 5th – 7th July. There was no corresponding increase in traffic, and we didn’t get much coverage from the gaming press on those days.

The next graph shows our sales across almost the entire early access period, from 1st July to 31st January.

Aggregate Early Access Sales

  • A: our early access launch.
  • B: in mid-October, Sunless Sea was selected for a Steam daily deal. This was a 33% discount, available for 48 hours, with some visibility on the Steam front page.
  • C: Humble’s Halloween sale.  For most of the sale we ran a 20% discount, with a 33% discount for a brief period and no additional storefront visibility.
  • D: we ran a 20% discount during the Steam and Humble winter sales. We didn’t get featured or receive any special visibility, but still saw a sales increase of roughly 800%. There’s are two spikes at the beginning, a larger one at the end of the sale (some people hold off until then, in case a game gets discounted more steeply later in the sale), and another on Christmas day.
  • E: Emerald, our first major update since the Steam release. This got a bit of press coverage, and since Sunless Sea did pretty well at launch, we also experimented with paid advertising. Cumulatively, these had a small but noticeable effect on sales: roughly a 30% increase on the previous week, set against a broader downward trend.
  • F: Steel, a major release in which we completely overhauled the game’s combat system. We combined it with another, smaller advertising campaign. Sales increased by about 150%, but from a much lower daily average than when we released Emerald. There were around 200 extra sales.

There were other major releases which I haven’t labelled, because their effects are hard to see on the graph. They all added major features, large amounts of content, or both. The lesson we’ve taken from this is that major updates aren’t particularly good for at driving sales. In future, we’re unlikely to publicise updates outside our existing community

Across all distribution channels, we sold 50,017 copies during early access.

Full Release

On 6th February, we launched the full version on Steam, the Humble Store, our website (via a Humble Widget), and GOG. Here’s a sales graph running from 1st February through a month of post-launch sales.

Aggregate Launch Sales

Before release, sales went from 100 a day at the start of the month to ~500 on the 4th and 5th. Some people were probably taking the last opportunity to benefit from our free lifetime DLC promise for backers and early access purchasers, but mostly, it looks like it was due to being streamed on Twitch by TotalBiscuit.

In the first 31 days, we sold 54,210 copies across all distributors – more than during the entire seven months of early access. Once again, most sales happened during the first week: 70% of the total, compared with 72% during early access.

And now, our cumulative sales graph.

Cumulative Sales

We reached 100,000 copies on 25th February. Within three weeks of finishing Sunless Sea, we more than doubled our most optimistic lifetime estimates. We’re delighted, and deeply grateful to everyone who made this possible. Everyone who gave us feedback on the game. Everyone who trusted us enough to back the game on Kickstarter, or buy it during early access. Everyone who shared their expertise. Our wonderful Fallen London players. Thank you all! We can continue releasing free updates. And we can keep on making the games we want to make, with stories that get into your dreams.

Finally, here are some sales breakdowns for other games that we’ve found useful: Dustforce, Guns of Icarus Online, Shovel Knight. Thanks for reading, and if you know of others, let us know in the comments!


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Sander Bouwhuis May 10, 6:50am

Great to see you having success. I've been interested in this game since I first saw it on TotalBiscuit's channel. I'm pretty annoyed that (as you state) Early Access gave you all DLC for free, but now I'd have to pay for them with micro-transactions. I wanted to buy this game, but now I 'need' to wait until there is a GOTY-style edition. It's a shame developers have gone this route nowadays. Often by the time all the DLC are out I'm no longer interested in the game. Maybe you can have another entrance in Steam which includes all DLC (current and future) and call it 'Complete edition'?

Rebecca May 1, 12:13am

Level Up Labs, makers of Defender's Quest, posts sales breakdowns and Steam theory on its blog semi-regularly.

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[…] users will bother placing a review. To illustrate that, know that Sunless Sea has sold more than 100,000 copies, yet only a little over a thousand reviews are present on Steam. Not everyone will be quite that […]

Paul Apr 1, 10:37pm

Regarding the July 5th-7th bump, that's probably down to it being the first weekend it was on sale. A lot of people don't bother to buy something until they have time to play it. (I learnt about the game from Northernlions lets look at.)

Clovermite Apr 1, 1:53am

I discovered Sunless Sea in September from watching SplatterCat's channel ( ). I thought the game looked incredibly unique, so I immediately joined Fallen London to become familiar with the back story, and found myself enjoying Fallen London. As a general rule though, I don't like to get involved with Early Access, so as tempting as it was to get access to lifetime DLC, I waited until it was released. I got an email from Hannah Flynn on February 6th as part of being a member of Fallen London, and two days later I bought it on Though I don't think I actually got around to playing it until a week later.

Alexis Kennedy Mar 31, 3:29pm

Aha - thank you!

Ginneon Thursday Mar 31, 2:43am

Concerning the July 5th-7th bump, Penny Arcade linked to Sunless Sea July 7th. This was, incidentally, how I discovered both SS and Fallen London.

Sunless Sea more than doubles dev’s best case scenario sales estimate – StdGod Mar 29, 4:20pm

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Scurra Mar 29, 1:30pm

"And we can keep on making the games we want to make, with stories that get into your dreams." For which I am entirely unsure whether to thank you or sue you for the therapy sessions and the replacement bed sheets. Thank you for these pieces; I'm a big advocate of commercial transparency (and, ironically, of personal privacy; the two aren't mutually exclusive.) These sort of articles are a big help in helping people make informed decisions about things, even if each example has to be considered unique.

The Sunday Papers | Rock, Paper, Shotgun Mar 29, 10:31am

[…] hard otherwise to get a sense of what it means to release a liked, profitable game. Here’s Failbetter on the numbers behind Sunless Sea, and there are valuable links to similar stories at the […]

Obo Mar 28, 8:03am

Yeah not going to lie, if it wasn't for TOtalBiscuit I would have never heard of this game. That's a lot of power.

Derek Mar 28, 6:56am

Thank you for some information on what is a normally secretive business. First releases and sales do seem to be the main driver of purchases. I hope you update this in the future once additional sales are completed during the life of Sunless Sea. Personally, I'd be interested to see what happens to sales figures once the price drops to popular price targets like $10 and $5.

Napier Mar 28, 1:53am

Might've been worthwhile to graph these sales on a logarithmic instead of linear scale. That should solve the problem of "other major releases which I haven’t labelled, because their effects are hard to see on the graph."

MEITTI Mar 27, 5:28pm

I was one of the folks who saw your game the first time in Totalbiscuit's WTF-videos. Sailing in a pitch-black sea was already kinda interesting, but it was TB's magic words: "Its like Terry Pratchett's Discworld and Lovecraft mythos combined together." that caused me to buy this. Got many friends to buy the game as well after describing one voyage to them, all of us loved Mount & Blade which had a somewhat similar sandbox world to it with tons of cool stuff to do but no real "endgame" goal.

Giorgio Mar 27, 4:27pm

Great articles! I see only one mistake, just at the end when you thank your awesome Fallen London players. Surely you meant your DELICIOUS players!

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