I’ll be having a reddit AMA on Friday the 12th of February

If you don't know what that is, it means people can ask a bunch of questions and I type furiously to answer them in the time allotted. This will be Friday, February 12th, starting at 1pm Eastern (10am Pacific) and going for ...  a while? I have made a new reddit account with the fabulous name of "Jonathan_Blow" for these purposes. (Note the underscore! There are some other accounts with similar names!) Maybe we can also get some other people from the team in there answering questions. The thread is now up.  

Fun Sales Fakts

The Witness has now been on sale for a week, so it seems like a good time to post a financial summary. Often, independent developers find these kinds of numbers useful in making their own plans, and the general public can find them interesting too. There is a wrinkle, which is that I can't be too precise about the sales results on specific platforms, because often when we sign a deal with a particular store, we agree not to reveal their sales numbers. I am actually not sure at this time which stores we are allowed to be specific about and which we aren't, and I would have to dig up and sort through a number of contracts to be sure about it; but that is not a good use of time right now, since I am spending most of my day supporting the users who have technical problems (shipping games on PCs these days is really not fun). The situation can be thorny in subtle ways, too, because if I post information about all stores but one, then I am implicitly revealing the sales figures for that last store, which is not allowed. 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. We can also compare sales by units instead of revenue; this is a little more of an apples-to-oranges comparison because The Witness has a higher price than Braid did (Braid launched at $14.99 [$16.50 when inflation-adjusted to 2015 dollars], and The Witness launched at $39.99). By number of units, the first week of each individual platform handily beats Braid's first week of sales. (Witness on PC by itself beat Braid's first week by a decent margin, and Witness on PSN by itself beat Braid's first week by a decent margin, counting only by number of units). This is great because as price goes up, naturally the number of units sold goes down. So the fact that we beat Braid by units, more than doubly, is a really nice success. The Witness launched on two platforms, PSN and Windows PC. Neither of these platforms dominates our sales; PC is very strong for us, and PSN is very strong for us. There are some publicly-available guesstimates for specific platforms on sites such as SteamSpy, but the numbers that SteamSpy is reporting for The Witness are a bit too low (though this is kind of to be expected, I guess, from the way that site works). 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. As I mentioned, right now we are dealing mostly with PC graphics driver problems, and we are also working on adding some features to the game about configurable controls and rendering options, for PC and PS4. After this, in the near future, we will start investigating the bringing the game to other platforms. Under serious consideration are: iOS, Android, Xbox One, OS X. We will provide more-concrete information about these as it becomes available!  

Price and Pre-Orders

A lot of people have been asking about the price, so: The price of the game on both Steam and PSN will be $39.99 / €36.99 / £29.99. A lot of people have been asking about preorders too. Preorders will go live on Steam and the Humble Store (and on this web site) today at noon PST. Unfortunately we won't have preorders on PSN, because apparently developers have to set those up months in advance and we didn't know that! The preorders are regular price! They contain an amazing bonus pack-in: the warm fuzzy feeling that you have pre-ordered the game. (And that's all). So it's exactly the same as buying the game at launch, except earlier. shot_2015.09.16__time_13_00_n37 If you buy from the Humble Store, 10% of the price goes to the Against Malaria Foundation. For a lot of us in developed nations, malaria seems like a far-away thing that you only think about when you go on a really adventurous trip, but in many parts of the world it's a serious problem. The good news is that we are making great progress in reducing incidence of malaria, see this report:
The Against Malaria Foundation is rated one of the most cost-effective charities in the world by both Giving What We Can and Givewell, two organizations focused on ensuring that charitable donations do maximum good in the world. Giving What We Can has a good high-level description of the philosophy behind this movement.

Whose voices are in The Witness?

We're a couple of weeks away from our release date, and we've just finished recording the last of the voice acting, which means it's a good time to tell you about the actors! The Witness deliberately riffs on several traditional elements of game design, and one of those elements is the classic audio log, where you are wandering along and you find a recording that was placed there by someone before. The Witness has recordings like this, but let's just say they are done in a highly non-traditional way. When you first encounter them you won't find much in the way of answers, but, if you keep looking, you will eventually be able to piece together what's going on. These are the folks whose fine voicework you will hear in these recordings:

Ashley Johnson, who you may know as Ellie from The Last of Us, or from her roles in Tales from the Borderlands and Infamous First Light. She also plays the smartest person on the hit TV show Blindspot. You can find Ashley on Twitter.  

image1 Phil LaMarr, who I best know as Marvin from Pulp Fiction, but who you may know as Vamp in Metal Gear Solid 2 and 4, or as Ratbag from Shadow of Mordor. He also played Hermes in Futurama and Ollie Williams in Family Guy! You can follow his random musings here.

  Matthew301 8x10Matthew Waterson, who played very English person Sir Lucan in The Order: 1886, an has recently acted in Fallout 4 and Halo 5. Check out Matthew's amazing Sean-Connery-themed profile picture.

  IMG_3356 Terra Deva, an oft-performing musician, including recent hit single "At Night" with the swiss group Shakedown (though she doesn't play music in The Witness because we don't have music in The Witness! She is acting!) and veteran of... The Mickey Mouse Club!!!! (Among many other places!) Terra's Twitter page is here.  

We recorded these sessions at Warner Bros. Studios. Our voice director was Liam O'Brien, who has also done quite a bit of acting in games himself. Pierce O'Toole acted as the great force of organization throughout the process and many things would have gone worse were it not for him! Having said all this, I will warn you that the story in The Witness, such as it is, is fairly subtle and happens mostly implicitly. You really have to explore and read between the lines to know what's going on. So do not expect a traditional game story like The Last of Us or The Order! All that said, we are very happy to have these actors lending their talents to our game, and I look forward to release when you'll see what we've been up to.

Entering the Home Stretch

We've been averaging about a blog post a month -- not by design, it just works out that way -- which means if we stick to that pace, then in just one more posting, the launch of the game will be imminent. Well, I think we will post a little more frequently, because we'll have increasing amounts to say about the game as we get closer to release. In the meantime, here's: (It is longer than Long Screenshot #1!) Voiceover This week we just finished recording the majority of the final voiceover. We're going to do a little more in early January, but most of it is in the can. After New Year's we'll make some postings where we announce who the voice actors are (you may know some of them from other recent games!) Physical Box Release We've had some people asking us whether there will be a physical retail release of The Witness. It's seeming likely, as we have been in talks with a couple of parties for a while about that possibility. *However*, it looks like if there is a retail release, it won't happen until a little bit after the digital release. The reason is just that we need all the time we can get up until the release date in order to get all the finishing touches into the game; but because of the lead-time involved in physical manufacturing and distribution, we would have to freeze the game right about now in order to have it on store shelves for the release date. *Or* we could delay the digital release date in order to wait for the physical. But I don't see a good reason to do either of those things. I would rather just focus our energy on making the game as good as we can make it, and a retail version can lag behind by a little bit. What Else is Going On We've gotten the bulk of the translations into the game for all the languages mentioned in the previous blog posting. There is a small percentage of text that will come in a little later, but for the most part those languages are in. Also, we will be adding Hungarian to the list of languages suppoorted at release. Here are some screenshots of Arabic and Russian: Arabic Russian Of all the languages, supporting Arabic took by far the most programming work, and as you can see from some gaps between the letters, and a couple of cases where letters are too close to each other, it's not quite done yet. I will be working on that as soon as I finish with this blog posting! But I think even with these issues it is starting to look nice. We're doing *lots* of little gameplay fixes all around the island, like, what does collision feel like in this area when you bump into things, what happens if you are standing in this doorway and the door tries to close on top of you, all that kind of thing. Visuals are mostly locked down at the moment; we are no longer changing big things about how the game looks, we're more making spot-fixes here and there every time we see something we don't totally like.

On Music, Sound Effects, Story

record_player Music and Sound Effects Once in a while I get a question, from someone who really liked the music in Braid, what the soundtrack in The Witness is like. The answer to this question is that there isn't one. There is (almost) no music in the game. This is not an arbitrary decision, but is in fact very important to the coherence of the thing we are making. The Witness is a game about being perceptive: noticing subtleties in the puzzles you find, noticing details in the world around you. If we slather on a layer of music that is just arbitrarily playing, and not really coming from the world, then we're adding a layer of stuff that works against the game. It'd be like a layer of insulation that you have to hear through in order to be more present in the world. Instead, we put a great deal of care into the sounds of the world around you, in a way that maximizes immersion in the game. This is made trickier by the game's setting: you are alone on this island, and there are not even any other animals. There are no birds in the trees! In everyday life if we imagine the sound of nature, we'll think of some elements that have no place on the island: a forest naturally has the sounds of birds, plains with smaller shrubbery will have crickets, a marsh will have the sounds of many insects. There's none of that in this game because in this game you are really alone, and it has forced us to be very creative with the audio in order to ensure things have depth and texture to them. This work is being done by Wabi Sabi Sound, who did the sound for the very atmospheric Dead Space series, and more recently some smaller, artier games like Ori and the Blind Forest. We thought it would be fun to release a few more small videos to give you more of a feel of what the world of the game is like, so here's: Story and Voicework Lately I have been doing a lot of work on story and voice acting stuff. When wandering around the island, you may find voice recordings that were placed by ... well, at the outset of the game, you don't know who; and as the game goes along, there is an interesting mystery to unfold about who these people are or were. In the game currently we have what is known as "temp voice", which is me reading all the parts under very noisy conditions and just getting them into the game so we can make sure the data works properly with the engine, to get all the subtitles into the game and roughly synced with the audio (which we need to do sooner than later so we can give the translators those subtitles, which they will translate into many different languages). We have cast the real actors and starting tomorrow we'll do our first test readings with those actors. We'll use this to get a new layer of temp voice in the game, which will get it closer to final; this will allow me to see how the game really feels with this stuff in there, possibly to adjust the nuances of the way the recordings appear in the game and the way they are played back. When everything feels good we'll do a set of final recording sessions. There's not a whole lot of time until release, and we have several holidays coming up, but we'll get it done! We are working with Warner Brothers Game Audio in Burbank, California to do the voice stuff; they are providing the facilities and voice direction and production assistance. After we do a few recording sessions I will have more details to share in this department. limited Localization Earlier, I mentioned subtitles. As many games do, we will be localizing our game so that people who speak many different languages will be able to understand the words. We are not recording voice acting in different languages, mainly because it is pretty hard to make sure quality is high when you do that. It is hard enough making sure acting is good in just *one* language. We generally seem to feel the same way about movies: a foreign-language dub of a movie is generally considered to be inferior to a subtitled version, because the acting is so important. Our localization efforts will involve menu text and subtitles, just as for a good movie. This is not 100% final, but here's the list of languages we are planning to have translations for, at launch:
  • English
  • Italian
  • French
  • German
  • Spanish (Spain)
  • Spanish (Latin America)
  • Portuguese (Portugal)
  • Portuguese (Brazil)
  • Arabic
  • Russian
  • Chinese (Simplified)
  • Chinese (Traditional)
  • Japanese
  • Korean
  • Polish
  • Indonesian
We may add more languages later but man this stuff is expensive, so there is a limit to how many languages we can do at once. We will have more news for you before too long!