Firewatch developer Campo Santo talks indie game pricing and launching a boxed version

Formed by veterans from Telltale Games, Klei Entertainment and Irrational, Campo Santo released its first game Firewatch at the start of year.

The title was an instant hit, selling 500,000 copies in its first month and recouping its development budget in its first day on sale.

It was overwhelming,” composer Chris Remo says. We didn’t actually have launch projections. We didn’t have a set of internal figures when we were saying: ‘if it sells this well, it’s a success and if it doesn’t it’s a failure’. Our hope was that it would sell well in a reasonable amount of time to not only recoup the development budget but pay back Panic – our funding partner – for its investment and allow it to make some kind of profit as well.

All that said, it did sell better than expected. What I mean by that is simply, whatever our expectations may have been, the game did better than that. We were really surprised and happy about it. It was a really stressful period because we have a fairly small staff that had to handle all the post-launch issues.”

The game launched at a 14.99 price point, which some consumers said was too high for the amount of content within Firewatch. The pricing of indie games has been a hot topic this year, with Jonathan Blow’s The Witness and No Man’s Sky from Hello Games coming under criticism from players for their RRPs.

It’s important as a developer to not become too distant from your audience to the point when any criticism is dismissed out of hand as arising out of a place of ignorance,” Remo says. There is a mentality of: ‘if only they knew how hard we worked, they wouldn’t make this complaint, don’t they know how hard it is to make video games?’ I have come face-to-face with that attitude inside other studios and I find it extremely distasteful. I don’t like the idea of a player needing to have pre-requisite knowledge in order to appreciate the thing you have done. The thing should speak for itself.

But game price is an artistic choice. It’s essentially a bet that you are placing, not knowing in the future what the result is going to be. We’re lucky that the game did sell well.”

One of Firewatch’s most interesting features comes with the PC edition. Players are able to take pictures with an in-game camera, which can then be posted to them as physical prints.

We had the idea for the in-game camera for a long time, just on its own, in part as a story-telling tool to help inform the events that occurred before the game starts,” Remo says. We just had that crazy idea for the physical merchandise on a whim. Once someone threw that idea out half jokingly, the camera became completely uncuttable. Once someone said: ‘why don’t we actually print these out?’ it was like ‘okay, the camera is staying, that’s amazing’. Panic gave us help as needed.

We had to track down the last remaining manufacturer of photo envelopes in the United States and contract them to make this thing. We had to design all the graphical elements, Panic had to figure out this entire pipeline for how to actually receive this information from the player and then print it out and mail it without getting overwhelmed.”

And though a digital release, Campo Santo is interested in bringing the game to physical retail if the right opportunity presented itself.

We love making physical things for sure, and people have asked us about this a lot,” Remo says. We’d like to do it, but it’s a matter of the right situation presenting itself or us just finding the time and resource to do it. It’s probably mainly a logistical issue. We don’t have any specific plans for it at this point. But if the right way to do it comes along or if we have some crazy idea that we talk ourselves into as described with the photo thing, that would probably increase the likelihood of it happening.”

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