Universe Sandbox

Universe Sandbox

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Dan Dixon  [developer] Dec 21, 2013 @ 12:01am
Upgrades & Updates: The Future of Universe Sandbox
This was originally posted November 2012 on the old Steam forums.

Short Version

In late 2011 I had promised that everyone who owned a copy of Universe Sandbox would get a free upgrade to the major new version of Universe Sandbox, but since then many things have changed. The new version is a complete rewrite in a new engine and has become more complex and costly than originally conceived. As of 2013, the project employs seven people including an astronomer, physics programmer, and climate scientist. I think the promise has handicapped the long term future of the software and so I’ve decided that the new version will no longer be a free upgrade for existing users.

Long Version

Earlier in 2012, I stated, on more than one occasion, that anyone who has ever purchased Universe Sandbox would get the upcoming new version for free. Since that time, many things have changed, and I think this promise has handicapped the long term future of the software.

Let me try to take you through my thinking...

In November 2012 I shared a weekend with an amazing group of people devoted to social justice and leveraging their privilege for lasting, positive change in the world. My take away from the experience was: How do I use my opportunity to make the most positive change in the world?

I want to continue to develop Universe Sandbox for years to come and use it to inspire learning about our amazing universe. I feel that this is, and will be, my life’s work, and I’m so lucky to be in the position to work full time on something I love and care about so much.

I feel conflicted that I have to charge for Universe Sandbox at all; I think knowledge should be free. I’d give it away to everyone if I was independently wealthy, but I’m not. And no longer is this project all about me. There are six other people who work on this project, whose income is paid from the sales of the original version. So I think it is fair to ask those who can support Universe Sandbox to do so, in order for us to provide it to those who can’t.

When I promised upgrading everyone for free, this is what I was thinking:
  • Some people were having startup issues (the software won’t run at all), and a free upgrade would compensate for this.
  • We’d be ready to release the update by the end of 2012 (yet we’re nowhere near release).
  • The feature set of the new version, would be equivalent to original version.
  • I want everyone to have the new version, because it’s going to be awesome.
  • I saw that Train Simulator had given a free upgrade to all of their users, and I liked that (however I wasn’t considering that they probably make most of their money via expensive add-on packs).
  • I didn’t want to add a number or anything to the name of the product. I like calling it “Universe Sandbox” and not “Universe Sandbox 2” or “Universe Sandbox Ultimate” for example.
  • We will be releasing on new platforms and this will open up new markets (although how successful this will be is unknown).
  • Monthly revenue was still covering all development expenses.

What’s happened since:
    The scope and complexity of the project has dramatically increased, and we’we've been adding complex new features that aren’t in the original. It’s becoming more awesome than I ever thought would be possible.
  • Development is taking longer than I expected (as we’re making it more awesome) and so I hope we will release v3 sometime in 2013.
  • I’ve agreed to give the current version away to every school in the world for free[universesandbox.com] (that signs up for the Steam for Schools program).
  • I released an update to that reduced the software prerequisites and fixed two of the major startup issues.
  • We've moved toward procedural generation of everything in the new version, so selling expansion packs (like what Train Simulator does) doesn't make as much sense.
  • I’ve added three more developers and an operations assistant to the team, which has increased the cost of development and thus the monthly burn rate.
  • There’s still quite a few part time people to hire to work on music, sound effects, 3D modeling, graphic design, and localization.
  • Monthly expenses are now more than the typical monthly income from sales of the original.

Reasons to charge for the new version:
  • More than half of all purchasers bought Universe Sandbox for 50%-80% off (or via an indie bundle) and many have said they would be happy to pay for the next version (but understandably wouldn't if handed a copy for free).

  • There currently is no planned successor the the new version and we’re rewriting all the code to be a solid foundation for updates and development for years to come.
  • I don’t have a good idea for how to move to a free to play model that doesn't involve having to buy planets or tools, and I feel that gets in the way of the unlimited freedom of the sandbox concept.
  • I don’t want to release a feature reduced version of the new version that asks you to buy an expansion of the new stuff. Besides, doing two different versions (limited and full) is more work to maintain.
  • I have one good idea for an expansion pack that I’m really excited about (and think you will be too), but it’s still a long way out from being developed, released, and beginning to generate revenue.
  • It costs a lot of money to support the livelihood of 7 people, and make something awesome; I’d love to pay them all more.
  • I want to work on Universe Sandbox indefinitely, and I’m not sure how to generate the revenue to support this endeavor outside of selling individual copies.

I’ve been debating what to do about this for months and have discussed it with friends, family, colleagues in the video game industry, and the development team. I’m very sensitive to making people feel slighted in reversing course and not updating everyone for free, so If you feel wronged, please let us know and I’ll make it right.

I hope that you’ll understand the decision to not upgrade current users to the new version for free. Please let me know what you think in the comments below.

Originally posted November 2012 on the old Steam forums... some details updated in December 2013.
Last edited by Dan Dixon; Apr 1, 2014 @ 8:00pm
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Showing 1-15 of 37 comments
Arnold Tapestry Dec 21, 2013 @ 2:25am 
Give existing owners a little token DLC something instead, or add trading cards to this version. To be honest I bought at a time when I expected the upgrade was around the corner, but I'm not going to cry about it, as it's been good edutainment.
A man's gotta eat, after all.
Nelodiavolo Dec 21, 2013 @ 2:32am 
I can understand the reason why this has changed. Overall I don't really mind purchasing the second game if it brings new features to the table. I did obtain the first game during a Steam sale and I admit that I waited because I wasn't sure what to expect. What I got was a great planet simulator that entertained me while at the same time educated me on planetary awesomeness. I eagerly await the sequel.

I have had the original for ages and was very pleased to hear there would be a free upgrade to a new version.

However I totally support your decision not to do this as its clear the new version is going to be well worth both the wait and the cost. And thanks for taking the time to explain everything - good luck to you and the team! :Dignity:
DThor Dec 21, 2013 @ 7:51am 
I always cringe a bit when a dev offers free upgrades - it's a tough model to follow. I don't particularly like paying more money, but as mentioned already people need to eat. The new one looks absolutely awesome - apart from personal use I can see it being quite useful as an education tool. Since the price of the old one is currently the cost of a coffee during the steam sale I'll probably snag it, but really looking forward to the new one!
isatinov Dec 21, 2013 @ 8:09am 
So what's the current status of the new simulation?
nonamejuju Dec 21, 2013 @ 12:37pm 
Man if only I had see this post 3 hours before... I will not have bought universe sandbox and waited for its sequel.

Didn't know there will be one....
Relax the version you have now is awesome anyway :)
Mini_Meatwad Feb 8, 2014 @ 11:08am 
So i get a free copy of universe sandbox 2 for having this since 2010? Oh thanks, i really love destroying the universe and building it.
kundeservice Feb 9, 2014 @ 5:04am 
sounds awesome! :D
VestedGamr Feb 9, 2014 @ 11:37pm 
My only concern is whether simulations from the current program (I honestly can't call it a game - it's the most advanced gravity sim I've seen availble to the public and should definately be considdered a scientific tool) can be converted over to work with the new version. I would hate to lose my map of known exoplanets and complex star systems within 16 parsecs of the sun.
Antnap Feb 25, 2014 @ 7:37am 
Just looking forward the the new game coming out, can you give us a new update on that?
Darkarma May 6, 2014 @ 5:16am 
Just a personal note, I'm still looking forward to this
SugarySnax May 7, 2014 @ 2:36pm 
Makes sense to me, Dixon. You've got to make money to add features. I paid a pittance for the game and so don't feel like you owe me anything but in the future you should be careful about what you say. Some will be angered and in truth it is a slippery slope. People don't like to hear a promise and then have that promise be tampered with for any reason so prevention is the key.
Darkarma May 8, 2014 @ 6:06am 
More than willing to pay for a new version myself. Unfortunately the current Universe Sandbox isn't powerful enough for me. Then again I'm trying to very carefully model a fictional solar system from scratch.
SlayerOne May 10, 2014 @ 5:09am 
Originally posted by Dan Dixon:
Since that time, many things have changed
like reality setting in. I don't think free updates can work for very long.
while i've found Ubox an interesting diversion, i don't think there's enough entertainment value for me to buy a new version. i'm no astronomer (not even an amateur one).
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