The Stanley Parable

A postmortem on the launch of the Stanley Parable

October 20, 2013

Okay! So we're a few days out from the launch of the Stanley Parable, and I wanted to take a minute to talk about what happened, what went right, what we did, and lessons from this launch that might help others with their own game development and marketing.

First up: The Stanley Parable just crossed 100k units sold! This is a lot more than we were expecting, and the shock of a successful launch may have been one of its biggest challenges. Some of the repercussions of this success is affected by business decisions we made 18-24 months ago, long before we ever thought this was going to make any real money! First and foremost, this taught us a single and invaluable lesson: do not expect success, but be prepared in case it happens.

I'd like to take a look back at specifically some of the things that we did, especially in the last few months of development, to cultivate and prepare for a successful launch:

Trailers

Not much to say here except that we released 5 trailers over the course of the game's development, and not one of them contains any substantial actual footage of the game. This is going to be a running theme throughout this postmortem: if you make the marketing material interesting on its own, it's irrelevant whether it "sells" your game. Our focus was always on creating content that was on its own fun for people to experience and to be a part of, with essentially 0% of the design aimed at trying to get the game to sell.

The Demo

The idea of a demo seemed obvious at the time. Since our game was very difficult to talk about without spoiling, why not simply make an extra piece of game in the spirit of the main game to convey what it's about! Most of the assets in the demo are re-used from the main game, so very little time was spent on content creation. I was writing it in the background for a few months, and William spent about 3 weeks building the version you can play now.

The end result, in my opinion, was very worth it. I don't yet have specific numbers, but we estimate that 150k-200k people have played the demo since it launched. It received its own run of news on most major news sites, the demo alone received video previews and was streamed by many high traffic Let's Players. Copies of the demo were sent to all of these outlets about a week before it launched.

Essentially we got the press equivalent of two video game launches. And we cheated, since we re-purposed most of the assets that we were using for the main game. All that it took was a creative remix of those resources and press outlets, youtubers and people all over social media were eager to talk about it. Plus, because the demo was free, this was essentially the equivalent of an artist putting out free work to gain attention and then monetizing later work once there's an established audience, except we did that whole process in a week. The quick turnaround means that we could channel all of the energy from the demo straight into the main game.

I know that it's easy to ask whether other developers have the time and resources to develop an entire second product while working on the first. To be sure, not everyone will have the ability to do this, nor does this approach work for every style of game. But let me propose: we spent two years making The Stanley Parable. For an extra two months work, we get an entire second game's worth of press. That seems like too good a deal to risk going without.

Streaming and Personalization

There's already been much discussion about the stunning impact of Let's Plays on game sales. However, one additional element we explored with Stanley was that of personalization. For example, we got in touch with the folks who run Game Grumps about doing a video for their Steam Train channel. We had Kevan (the voice of the narrator) re-record 3 lines from the demo, one at the beginning where he welcomes them, one in the middle where he asks them to apologize to the viewers, one toward the end that was just a play on one of their catchphrases. This video, otherwise exactly the same as every other video of the demo in every way, drew 313k views where most of their other videos have 100k-200k views.

Again, it was extra work to add these lines, but for an additional 100k views of our work (not to mention incredibly personal views, I still get people thanking me for giving this gift to the Steam Train community), the extra work had huge marginal payoff. We did the same thing for Adam Sessler's play of the game which drew a smaller crowd, so purely from a marketing perspective it had less impact than doing the same work for a major Let's Player like Total Biscuit of Dannerdcubed or whoever, but it was also a chance to connect much more personally with that particular community and with the folks at Rev3. Every one of these custom versions was borne out of a personal conversation with someone at that channel, it was always a desire simply to give something back to a community that we cared about and to have fun doing so. I would definitely do more of these kinds of personalized pieces of marketing in the future, and to know who I'm doing it for and why I care about that particular community. And if the community happens to be a very large one, that's good too!

Emotional Discharge

Here's one thing we didn't plan for at all:

It's not unheard of for developers of relatively small games that get relatively big reception to experience a bit of post-release depression. When the demo launched, it left William and me incredibly emotionally vulnerable, the response was pretty overwhelming and we simply had trouble holding ourselves together. We were each a chaotic little bundle of raw emotion. I was expecting the same or worse to happen on the actual launch day, but surprisingly I felt almost none of that total emotional breakdown! I guess the launch of the demo simply got it out of my system, I went through that a week early so that I didn't have to deal with that as the same time I was dealing with the actual launch, reception and sales of the main game. This was never something we anticipated, but it ended up being a wonderful little corollary of launching a second game a week ahead of the first.

Tidy conclusions to sum it all up

I think the biggest takeaway from all this is that we released a lot of free and personalized content leading up to the main game, each of which was itself engaging and fun for people to experience. We wanted the media on its own to be something a person would want to share and talk about, and because every piece of media we released contained something that wasn't in any other piece, each one got its own press and conversation. The focus from the game itself to the supporting media was always the same: make this something that people will want to talk about. Each one had to be unique, had to have its own thought put into it, as though we were releasing it purely on its own. In doing so, we were able to get away with saying nothing about the main game because by the time the main game actually launched, the name itself was on a lot of peoples' minds. Give people a reason to talk, that's all we aimed for, and the rest sorted itself out. Release a whole bunch of things for free in fairly quick succession, then at the end of it put a price tag on the last one. It was a lot of extra work, but the results feel very much worth it.

If you have any other questions let me know and I'll try to answer them to the best of my knowledge!

70 Responses to “A postmortem on the launch of the Stanley Parable”

  1. jasper says:

    massive congratulations, a well deserved success. so happy for you man! :)

  2. chino says:

    “Oh yes, The Stanley Parable is out now! http://www.stanleyparable.com/ I can’t describe how much I love this, and have since the original mod.” That tweet was the moment I met with Stanley. I played the demo. Fell in love with the design. Thanks for everything in the game, and thank you so much for this postmortem.

  3. Jordan says:

    Content that was engaging and personalized to build an audience.. very effective! Thanks for the article.. I imagine timing was tricky in executing this campaign but seems like you nailed it. Congrats to everyone involved and hopefully their will be an OSX version so I don’t have to duel boot or run parallels on my Mac :)

    • Davey says:

      As far as timing, we gave out copies of the demo and main game to as many major outlets as we could a week before the launch of each, and set an embargo time. Not everyone posts at that time, but if enough of them do it lines up really well.

  4. John says:

    Do you have any info on the soundtrack reception?

  5. Mike says:

    I am in love with the “let’s play videos” however don’t want to ruin the possibilities for myself to discover first hand. However I run a Mac :( when will a release date be dropped for that version?

  6. Jack says:

    Hey Davey, when do you expect this to be out for mac/linux?

    • Davey says:

      Soon! We have a few other issues to address first.

      • ZipZoo says:

        So, will the Mac version happen before Christmas? I wanted to get this as a gift…

        • Davey says:

          Hopefully! We’re working on it now.

          • Matt says:

            After I finished this game, it left me empty – like something was missing. I realized that I’m addicted to this – addicted to exploring new possibilities and “weirdish” things happening.
            I think it would be nice if you started planning on making a sequel to this. Not like all “A-title sequels”, but more like “Stanley-Parablish Sequel” (if you know what I mean).
            Please… ;)

  7. uSx says:

    The demo is what made me buy your game.
    I had no clue on what it was, I love indie games but am very sceptical about them.

    The very second I got into that demo I knew I was going to buy the game.

    I have even been sugesting arround me to people to play the demo even if they’ve played the game. BEST DEMO EVER.

    And a really awesome fucking game.

  8. AshaiTides says:

    Congratulations!! I was one of the people that found the game via the Rev3Games let’s play.

  9. Linearskillz says:

    The demo sold me on it. It was sooo good and I love that it was completely original content. Congratulations on your success, you deserve it!

  10. Doomroar says:

    Congratulations on selling 100K it was a pleasant road to read this development blog.
    Yeah i have a question when is the next game? haha.

  11. GW says:

    Amusingly enough, I’d not even heard of this one until it launched. OK, I’m a busy dope and not following so many games because I’m already following too many games. But I was surprised when a few fellow editor types asked me if I’d played your game yet. It looks as if I’ll need to do just that of only to keep from having to tell people to NOT spoil anything. I’ve avoided reviews like the plague, as going in cold is the best way to enjoy any new game experience.

    Anyway, looking forward to some expanded horizons. Keep up the good work. Or take a break, chill from the raves and THEN keep up the god work. No rush to the next game means less pressure and the ability to come up with fresh ideas as opposed to hacking out a sequel that’s forced into the same things because the fans are begging you to do so.

  12. Dylan says:

    Congrats on your success! I’m very happy to see this game getting so much love and attention. I wonder if you guys collected any data from the game or the demo. I would love to know how people interacted with the 8 button.

  13. illogic says:

    Adam Sessler’s playthrough on Rev3Games was a riot. That sold me on the game, and I am loving it!

  14. Chris says:

    PewDiePie’s let’s play of the demo has almost 2.3 million views… I’m pretty sure that had more of an impact on who all bought the game than any of those other videos.

    • Davey says:

      True, but that doesn’t mean all the other videos weren’t worth it

    • Matt says:

      Agreed, he is the first one to got me hooked on the mod. TB’s video didn’t come out until 10/22 (and never did a video on the mod), so gratitude was a bit premature.

      Though I am glad they found success in any which way they got it.

  15. Cubes says:

    Congratulations to everyone involved :D D
    I bought the game after watching the Raphael trailer, I thought if the game was half as fun to play as the trailer was to watch it would be money well spent C: loved the game > u>

  16. Guillaumeish says:

    Just, thank you guys. This is like, the best game I ever played.

  17. MarkJ says:

    Will the Demo be available on Mac and Linux too? Obviously, with it being basically it’s own game, I’d like a try at both.

  18. v3n3 says:

    Hey,
    I just want to say, thank you.
    Thank you for this amazing piece of… well, art.
    From all those Games which are all the same, there are a few that stand out from the big mess, and yours is one of my current favourites !!!

    Ive seen a Video about the Demo on GameTrailers, I laughed my ass off, seriously.
    Luckily I watched that Video a day late, so the Demo was out and even better, you released the Game a few hours later.
    I think I spent most time on your Game, to explore all those little Details, then any other in the past few months, maybe even years.
    Please, keep up the good work and Im really happy that I found your Game :-)

    Greetings from Germany
    Benjamin

  19. TariQari says:

    Your game is immensely popular, even more than having let’s players play it (including myself, http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Nt8aiPM4NKA). It has already made it’s way into my class (Video Game & Culture Analysis) in College, so I’d say it’s a pretty big deal when it’s being thrown up there with Mass Effect, Bioshock, and Pokemon. Props to the development team and definitely, the narrator.

    Good job and keep up the good work!

  20. Deekin says:

    That was probably the greatest demo I have ever played, it constantly had me laughing. You guys are amazing, I’m definitely buying this. I’m going to have to stop myself from watching any gameplay I really don’t want to ruin it for myself.

  21. Mariobro says:

    I’ve been following the remake ever since it was announced.
    And now the journey has ended.
    I love you all, so much.

  22. Spargo says:

    I stumbled onto the original mod back when it had been out for a few months, and I thought it was brilliant. This stand-alone remake is blowing me out of the water with its complexity of character and brilliant use of thematic elements and the deconstruction of said elements. You should all be proud of every inch of this game. It’s becoming the best game I’ve ever had the pleasure of playing.

    Also, I completely applaud and adore your use of personal versions of the demo for various Let’s Plays. I particularly loved the Game Grumps episode. It’s so nice to see a game team reach out to the community and make them feel involved with the demo, trailers, and even the promotional support.

    Thanks for everything. Really. It’s all simply fantastic. You should all be very, very proud.

  23. antipax says:

    I just want to say thank you. I played the original mod, kept tabs on the project, played the mod and bought the game on launch day and the next day bought the soundtrack on Bandcamp. It’s been one hell of a ride. I’m having a great deal of fun. Thanks for a job well done.

  24. Ryan says:

    Huzzah for all your success. Very well deserved!

  25. Martin says:

    You guys are wonderful, and the game is brilliant. Congratulations guys!

  26. Tom says:

    Make a sequel that ridicules sequels (like trying to appeal to more people while messing with the existing playerbase, resulting in a general catastrophe, like Dragon Age II and many many more).
    Appealing to a greater playerbase because the marketing tells you to is the most common mistake out there that keeps getting repeated over and over and over again.

  27. Pat your selves on the back for me, this game is a great achievement! My girlfriend & I were playing it all last night and had a great time (she isn’t even a gamer). Thank you for being so original and I wish you every success in your new games. I’ll be watching!

  28. FatMan says:

    I was disappointed. I really, really was. You still haven’t implemented the stuff you promised in earlier YouTube episode.

    First thing is you haven’t addressed the issue of narrator dialogue too much. There is way too much focus on Stanley. Why mention him so often.

    Second where are the emotional booths?! I wanted to experience the feeling of beeing the bees knee. You denied me that. As well as shoes?!? Fiends.

    And ability to use my grand-grand-grand uncle’s spirit to win on Jeopardy. Why was that cut. Only good part was rating the baby burning experience simulator. It was very soothing.

    All in all I rate this game -1+2j-2k-3.31231m on a scale of 1 to 10.

  29. Fred says:

    I would love to buy this, but only DRM-free. On Steam? No, thanks.

  30. Aaron says:

    I never would have seen or bought this game without seeing the adam sessler demo, that was some good marketing, Damn you.

  31. Philip Rau says:

    Yeah I would never have bought the game if it hadn’t been on Steam Train. That was some fantastic viral marketing, and the personalization made it a must-buy for me.

  32. Matthew says:

    How did you get your demo in front of those high-traffic Lets Play-ers?

    • Davey says:

      Well we already had some credibility from the first game, and I spoke in person with a few of them at conventions, so that helped.

  33. Kevin says:

    Congrats on all your success, I’ve thoroughly enjoyed your game (and I can’t believe I played that #### game for # hours >.<). Do you guys have any plans on the future? Any future projects?

  34. Asdasd says:

    This is the only full-price (or near-as-possible, given the launch discount) game I’ve bought in years. Having played the mod, I would have been interested in picking it up at some point, but then the demo was so incredible that it flipped me from what you might call a ‘bundle customer’ right over the impulse purchase precipice. I haven’t felt so positive about a demo since the (rightly referenced) Half-Life: Uplink, and I’ve been pointing all my friends (no, don’t ask how many..) in its direction with something I can only describe as Joy, Earnest Enthusiasm, Post Cool-Aid Zeal, Emotional Investment In A Corporate Product, Fanboyism, Human Delight and Looking Up.

    So this post is partially to say well done you conniving, manipulative marketing black magicians, but also much more to say WELL DONE on creating an incredible game fully two and a half times. I think you deserve the success, whether you were ready for it or not!

  35. Sebastian says:

    Thanks. Thank you so much. That was great. It still is.

    Only once in a while you can come along such a unique experience. And you only know that afterwards. When you think “I want more of that.” or “How can I repeat that?”

    But from the beginning: “Little did he know …” – I’ve personally never heard about the mod, seen the viral videos, etc.

    Yesterday I just read one post on Reddit about Stanley, then just bought the game based on the metacritic score & the steam screenshots.

    “Why not?” I thought. I was right.

    People often do spoil their one chance of a “virgin” experience by knowing too much about the topic beforehand.
    Like movie trailers – is there any trailer thats totally different than the original film? That would be great. Okay, there are sneak previews to suprise you.

    And because of your foresight I enjoyed your demo AFTER playing SP and even later I had fun watching the “let’s play …”.

    Anyway, since I can’t recreate my first experience now that I know what I know about the … game? (more like interactive fiction) … it still doesn’t end.

    One can in a way relive this amazement thru others: I’ve shown it three people since then who are not into gaming/playing at all.

    They all reacted very positive and drawn to it. My wife – she is filming this week – can’t wait to go beyond the (spoiler) door after she went thru the (another spoiler) door two times. It was a hard decision for her to stop, but she feared to loose all nights sleep. It is that good.

    So again, thank you. And thank you, too, people who created the tools to make this kind of art form. It the on the shoulders of giants thing.

    Maybe one day Stanley will be in the Museum of Modern Art. Just a guess.

    PS: I would love to play this with Oculus Rift. Yeah …

    PPS: Sorry my bad english – I’m not a native speaker.

  36. Bonfire Knights says:

    Since the Demo was comparatively easy to make, does that mean DLC would be very viable. $5 DLC pack with a couple bonus endings would sell like hotcakes. You could even make a cheap gimmick DLC that does practically nothing.

  37. aeiou says:

    This is a good game in my view. Everything is wonderful, and I only wish I could have more of it all. I suppose there’s a limited amount of choices we can ever make, though, but I haven’t made them all, myself. I congratulate you all on your well earned success, and wish you well in the future!

  38. Inspector Clouseau says:

    Congratulations, man! Really well deserved!

  39. Allan W. says:

    Congrats on the success of the game. and thanks from me for such a great game. I’ve enjoyed playing very much, so much so, I just downloaded and played through the demo for a bit of extra fun. The reason I think I enjoy it so much, is that I find it to be very Monty Python like, (which I love). I find it very much like a string of Python sketches, starting a new sketch after each ending. That may go someway to explaining it’s success, a lot of people love python type humour and in the game your also part of it.

  40. Aimee G. says:

    I’m really happy for the success that you guys have had with this game. I bought it and thoroughly enjoyed it as well.

    I enjoy reading indie dev blogs on sites like Gamasutra and that is actually where I first heard about this game. That particular dev blog left me thoughtful and wondering for a long time. I kept thinking “Once you go secret you can never go becret.” I had no idea what The Stanley Parable was even about, I only knew that I must play it.

  41. ahdok says:

    I’ve never seen a company try the strategy of including none of the game in any of the promotional material about the game before, but it’s incredible. You can play the demo without spoiling or forcing you to replay any part of the game, and as someone who loves the game, I can recommend people play the demo to get them interested without worrying that I’m detracting from the experience in any way.

    Not only that, your demo is an extremely clever hard-sell. You mention the name of the actual game repeatedly throughout, but it doesn’t come across as marketing.

    I think people will be talking about the lessons TSP is teaching the industry years from now, and I expect to see some adoption of your clever ideas.

  42. James I Cameron says:

    I’ve been dabbling in and out of the promotional work for The Stanley Parable ever since I played the mod early last year. I’ve loved every bit of material released and knew long ago, as soon as I saw the game up on Steam Greenlight, that I was already going to buy it. The pre-release material; the blogs, trailers and the demo, have all felt like a part of the game itself. It’s been fantastic to follow this game for so long and I can’t wait to see what you guys do in the future if anything.

    Btw, when I saw the forklift in the demo for the first time, I couldn’t help but laugh as I was reminded about that great blog-post about forklifts. Great work overall guys and girls, The Stanley Parable has to be one of my favourite ‘games’ of all time.

  43. Eldritch says:

    Is there anywhere I can go to troubleshoot? I am experiencing errors that render the game completely unplayable; deleting all game files and re-installing has not helped.

  44. SeekerPsycho says:

    I feel the need to say it here, as I have expressed my excitement for the game here in the past:

    I was majorly hyped for the game start to finish following this blog, and you did not let me down. Start to finish, from HL2 mod to blog to HD version, The Stanley Parable has been so much fun. While I was a bit disappointed that 50% of the HD’s “big” endings are revamped versions from the HL2 mod (and thus felt a little spoiled), I had a great deal of fun with the strange, thought provoking wit of it all. (and on that note, I considered the price very fair as well, especially since that HILARIOUS mod was for free. This has been one of the few games where my thought process has not been “I’ll pay it to get the game” but “WOW this has been fun! The creator of this deserves some money.”)

    I’m so glad the game has been selling so brilliantly. I feel you guys have a great marketing mentality.

    Thank you for one of the most unique and clever games I have ever played : )

  45. Ian says:

    Just want to say thank you for fearlessly creating a piece of work exploring depersonalization, depression, and the general shadows behind “normal” life. The game was more exhilarating for me than most any recent game experience.

    I don’t think the general audience who might praise your game would perceive it in this way as I did. And those that feel the need to criticize it illustrate their total incomprehension of the subject of interest to your game!

    “Let me wake up, he thought to himself.”

    WHAT A ROOM WHAT A ROOM WHAT A ROOM

  46. Stefan says:

    Hey! You did an awesome job with that game. I love it! I never have laught so much, you humour was fantastic!!

    It would love to hear some outtakes from the narrator…it think we didn’t spoke everything perfectly at the first time. Do you have some recordings to publish or are they already published?? That would be great.

    Thank you very much for that game .. I hope I will play such a kind of game in my life again :)

    Stefan from Germany

  47. jmdcodejunkie says:

    I am just curious, i know what everyone is saying about the explosion room, but is there anything to the buttons? is there any different narrative from playing it a few times? is there some sort of code to do ANYTHING?

    I have played through this game several times, and really love the vast variety of narrative plays there are. but it bothers me that this one room has nothing more than the count down, and the buttons. the buttons flash on the screen, different colors with numbers. and then there is the red button with 3 attempts, the 4 screens with some sequential color code that breaks after a few attempts, is there ANYTHING there?

    it really is bothering me!

    I would like to hear it from someone on the team. not just from the people from the internet. I urge you to send me via email so i can be sure its from a valid, real person who I could trust to give me valuable feedback, and not some unknown from the internet who only has as much exposure to the game as i would.

    Other than this one scene, the rest of the game is hilarious and rewarding and definitely worth it!

  48. […] a success: over 100,000 copies sold in the last few days. Developer Davey Wreden has now written a blog post detailing all of the things that went right and wrong in the run-up to the official […]

  49. Vinnie says:

    I’ve had to buy this game. I played the demo but i didn’t play the demo? I kind of felt that way about buying it also. The purchase is going through as i type this. I can’t get over how curious i am right now lol…

  50. Vinnie says:

    Back again. Awesome. 10/10. So original and narrator deserves some kind of award. You do too for creating this game and i look forward to any future work you do. Take some time off though you’ve earned it! :P All the best from Scotland.

  51. Adrian Garcia says:

    Hello Stanley (sorry man, had to), this is Raphael (had to as well) could you tell me when you are releasing a Mac version? I really would like to purchase this game, but my Apple-ly computer means I can’t. Please, give me some info.

  52. […] a success: over 100,000 copies sold in the last few days. Developer Davey Wreden has now written a blog post detailing all of the things that went right and wrong in the run-up to the official release. “I […]

  53. […] sums this up in his launch post-Mortem:“if you make the marketing material interesting on its own, it’s irrelevant whether it […]

  54. Cohen says:

    I have completed all twelve or so endings. Do you intend to update the game with more?

  55. Stanley Parable Fan says:

    Please, I want some updates or more content in any way, shape, or form. I have played this game and loved every moment of it. I want more. Please!

  56. our site says:

    Hello my loved one! I wish to say that this post is amazing, great written and come with almost all significant infos. I would like to peer more posts like this .

  57. […] Últimas Figura: 100,000 copias ( primeros 3 días ) […]

  58. Marco says:

    After hearing about it and playing the demo, I ended up buying the full game. I love every second of it. I’m glad to hear that the game has been this successful, and I know that everyone involved in the making of this game deserves everything that comes with your success. Thank you.

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