The Witness Made $5 Million In One Week

Jonathan Blow can't really talk about specific sales figures, or who's playing what on which platform, but he can tell us one thing: The Witness made a buttload of money in its first week of release.

$5 million to be precise.

In a blog post, Jonathan Blow goes into a little more detail on the specifics, while juggling what he's contractually allowed to say.

Finally, I want to make clear that we did not make this game in order to make money. We were trying to build a beautiful / interesting / intricate thing, first and foremost. The money just helps us stay in business in order to build new things. It is very easy on the Internet to read a financial posting like this cynically, so I urge folks out there not to do that.
Okay, so here’s what I can say:
Across all platforms, The Witness has totalled over $5 million USD gross revenue in the first week, and it has sold substantially more than 100,000 units.
This is a good chunk more revenue in one week than Braid made in its entire first year, from August 2008-September 2009. (Braid initially launched on XBLA in August 2008, and it came to Steam in April 2009). Braid was considered a hit independent game at the time.

You might expect that a good chunk of this gross revenue is a direct result of its price — US$39.99 — but even allowing for the price, Blow claims that both PC sales and PS4 sales are outpacing Braid, meaning that The Witness is outselling Braid by a pretty large margin overall.

Interestingly, this still isn't enough to cover the production costs of The Witness.

So, the game is doing great. That doesn’t mean we have broken even on our development cost yet! Because our development budget was so high, $5 million in revenue is not enough to recover it yet (because we split that revenue with the storefronts, we have to subtract VAT in Europe, etc). However, it is looking like, as time goes on, we should break even and make a comfortable safety margin on top of that, which will allow us to make more nice games in the future — unless some kind of world economic disaster happens.

Blow also mentioned that ports for Android, iOS and XBox One are all under "serious consideration".

Fun Sales Facts [The-Witness]


    I'm confused, anyone in the games industry tell me how did this game cost so much to make???

      They spent what... 7 years making it? Even with a small team (and assuming they weren't all working on it for the full 7 years), paying a bunch of peoples salaries for several years (plus all the other expenses of running a business like renting office space, computer hardware and software, etc) while building this, as well as marketing costs etc. It all adds up.

      Last edited 03/02/16 2:45 pm

        I think it was a core team of 8 or so, by the end, and Blow said he had a team of 15 at one point, from memory, plus I think there were a few companies contracted in to do things, and then all the other expenses, and yeah, it's reasonable.

          At an average of say 10 people over 7 years, and assuming the company gets 50% of the gross, that would be 2.5million divided by 10, divided by 7
          which gives us about $35,000 per year per person gross even if it only went on wages.
          Now of course there was rent, equipment, marketing etc. etc. so yeah, sounds pretty cheap actually.

          Last edited 03/02/16 3:08 pm

          Quick absolute lowball figures just on staff (realistically paid more than 50k each but figured that's a half decent round number).

          Years 1-4 | 8 staff @ 50k = 1.6mil
          Year 5 | 10 staff @ 50k = 500k
          Year 6 | 12 staff @ 50k = 600k
          Year 7 | 15 staff @ 50k = 750k

          Based on those quick armchair numbers I'd say the project probably cost close to 10-20 million overall (Contractors, office space, insurance, 401k, office equipment, weekly office expenses, xmas parties, staff bonuses, overtime (if they're lucky), advertising, submission fees, external testing etc etc etc).

            When you look at the time spent, the costs are reasonable enough. But it's the time spent that is the kicker. 7 years is a ridiculously long time for any game development, let alone a relatively simple puzzle game. The longer a development project runs, the more waste (busywork that doesn't advance the project's goals) builds up, the more chance you have to find your tech stack is outdated and components need to be replaced, and so on.

            He made a good game (not great, just good) and he'll get his money back on it, which is the main thing that matters, but hopefully it doesn't set precedents for how his future projects go because all it takes is one title not received quite as well by the public and your excessive development cycle is suddenly a huge liability.

              Yeah it's a pretty risky thing to do in the grand scheme of things (Duke Nukems, lol). But yeah, it's a pretty game and he'll hopefully make his money back with a nice profit... certainly not the best thing to be repeating over and over again.

              It's on the high side, but for a small team to meticulously craft an ambitious game, without the litany of bugs that modern games usually have, where very little of the tens of hours feels like filler? I reckon it's acceptable if they're able to break even and stay sane.

                I guess we differ on the filler point. I felt like the entire tetris puzzle area was the worst kind of filler =)

                  I guess we do! I particularly enjoyed the tetris puzzles, and how each time you get comfortable, they throw more elements to change that.

                  The only section that I felt was filler-ish was the shady trees area. The puzzles where you have to follow or avoid tree branch shadows felt like they were formulated by the least imaginative members of their team.

                  I really liked the tetris puzzles, although I think they were over used in other areas. They should have used those mainly in that area, but then used them less elsewhere. I feel like they could have implemented more symmetry and floor puzzles throughout the map and less tetris stuff.

                  Some of the puzzles in the treetops I felt were a bit too tough. Either that or by that point my brain was dying/I had missed a few minor concepts.

                  Also I've now finished the game. Although not everything is done. I did 9/11 of the lasers without any online tips/guide or help. I needed assistance for a few of the puzzles in the Treetops and Town Centre. Overall I estimate that I cheated through about 15 puzzles MAXIMUM of the 420ish I've done.

                  Overall I'm super happy with this game and I'm keen to find out more about the secrets hidden in this game. I'm pretty confident there's stuff that hasn't been figure out yet.

                  Also, for those who've finished or don't mind discussion that involves spoilers, I feel like there's a lot of extra content in the game that doesn't seem to have a purpose (that has not been discovered).

                  1. I kinda understand the Black Obelisks, I've done some of those environmental puzzles and inspected the Obelisks after, but I'm still unclear as to the reason why they're in game. Anyone got any more info they can give me regarding this?

                  2. The final section of the game is F****ing hard! Holy shit. After finishing 7 lasers, and finally unlocking the floor, (That was SUPER hard) I get presented with floor upon floor of more puzzles. I think I swore out loud when I realised. Goddam. That being said, those last puzzles were some of the most fun/inventive of all the puzzles. I especially enjoyed the 360 degree puzzles right at the end, in the water. They were super cool and refreshing.

                  3. So I did a bit of research last night into some things. There's a HUGE trick right at the start of the game you can do too see special extra content. Google it for more info, I won't spoil here.....but Holy crap, that changed my perspective on the game significantly.

                  4. Lastly, there are things that it doesn't seem people understand yet. i.e - What are the triangle puzzles for? They're hidden everywhere, they must do something, I know there's other hidden puzzles that do things (Another one in the dark red room with the man on the ground near Endgame), also in the Town there are some puzzles in the building with the sound dampening room that don't contribute to your progress. Why is that????

                  Last edited 03/02/16 11:06 pm

    Good on him.

    Took his time to create a game and make money off it. So be it. There is so much risk in vidya game development and I figure anyone who releases a good well rounded game deserves the money they get.

    I'm only halfway through The Witness, at this point but I'm thoroughly enjoying the peaceful nature of the game. You can't have a puzzle game that also has bugs in it. So, I'm very pleased with the polish of the game and also the aesthetic. I think it fully deserved my money.

    But the most interesting thing is what's happening overall. It deserves a spoiler chat at some point in the future.

      Every time I've thought that I encountered a bug in the game, it turns out that it was a bug in my brain :)

    Complains about piracy harming his game one day... Days later announces said game made 5 mil in the first week, and that PC sales are outpacing Braid, all while claiming it's "not about the money".

    Got nothing against the guy, but I do find that oddly interesting.

    To be clear, I'm not condoning piracy... I just don't believe it is anywhere near as big an issue as some would have everyone believe. Those who act like every copy pirated is a lost sale are vastly out of touch with reality.

    Last edited 03/02/16 4:33 pm

      I haven't read all of the discussion closely, but I don't think he was equating every copy with a lost sale? I think his point was that if it's popular enough that it's widely pirated, then the people doing so need to realise that they'd better cough up some cash if they ever want to see something like that made again in the future.

        I think a lot of people (self included) obtained the game to try it out. It didn't do it for me and I am grateful i didn't shell out 50 bucks for a game i wouldn't enjoy. Game should of had a demo and/or lower price tag. You could argue steam refund but anyone who's played this game will tell you that you must play it longer than a few hours to get the gist of it ,etc. No one can argue that 7 years is a LONG time for a game like this. And then there's the whole oh everyone is pirating woe is me.. nek minute... we just made a butt tonne of money in a week....

          The demo thing is a nice point. One of the best reasons, or least worst if you want to go that route, I can think of for pirating a game these days is to see how it actually runs on your system before buying.

          In my opinion this and a few other reasons people pirate games would be eliminated if they simply released a demo. So if you want to complain about piracy, then not release a demo for a puzzle game priced at $40 USD you're just asking for trouble.

          As for the people who'd still pirate your game in spite of demos being available, let's be honest, you weren't likely to see a sale from them regardless. Even if they couldn't pirate your game, chances are they'd just skip it entirely instead. I think some companies are actually starting to realise this.

          Steam refunds are also quite limited... Especially for Australia where you can usually buy Steam keys elsewhere MUCH cheaper than the borderline criminal prices on the AU store, and if you do get a key elsewhere you obviously can't get a refund.

          Last edited 03/02/16 6:01 pm

          Forget about the legal repercussions. I think it would be a bad idea to play a pirated version of this game. The reason being, when you get to the really deep puzzles I don't want to contemplate any other solution than rectifying my train of thought.

          As far as you are aware the pirated version maybe the exact same, but this game will have you questioning every assumption you had before you know it.

    I bought it. It's awesome. Unfortunately because i'm a dolt I am progressing through it at a snails pace. After getting through the initial tutorial stuff I am only solving a couple of new puzzles per day. Pretty much choosing to get out when I feel myself starting to bang my head up against it.

Join the discussion!

Trending Stories Right Now