Expectations for Steam game sales (Gamasutra articles)

Discussion in 'Commercial Games Discussion' started by jkweath, Nov 4, 2019.

  1. jkweath

    jkweath Goes Fast Veteran

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    I've been on sort of a Gamasutra binge lately after a few articles got linked awhile back, and I wanted to share a couple articles here that I think you guys would be interested in reading.

    Steam game sales for 'the other 50%'

    This article's from a guy who's interviewing hobbyist indie game developers to see how their games sell. Bad Logic Studios, the developer featured in the article, has three action-platformer games they started publishing in mid-2018. So far, they've sold less than 1,000 copies total across all three games.

    It's been said often on this board that the 'average' RPGMaker game sells less than 1,000 copies in its lifetime. The blog author believes that it's not just RPGMaker games, but 50-70% of all Steam games. Crazy, huh?

    This other article is a real jaw-dropper:

    My 3 year journey to create DON'T GIVE UP, a bare all postmortem

    So this article is about a guy that developed a unique RPG over the course of 3 years (many people compared it to Undertale, in his words), had the game featured on Game Jolt, Itch.io and Humble Bundle, ran two successful Kickstarters, was frequently active on Facebook, Twitter and indie dev forums, attended and showed off his game at four separate gaming conventions, wrote over 200 emails to influencers, and so on:

    His experience is a stern reminder that an indie game dev can do everything right marketing-wise and still not succeed.
     
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  2. bgillisp

    bgillisp Global Moderators Global Mod

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    It can be a real toss up these days, as it isn't like 2014 or so when you could break 200,000 sales if you were on Steam as people associated game on Steam with quality. Nowadays, the numbers have changed drastically and I'd say single digit sales might even occur, and I've heard of two cases where it has. For the first, I read an article on rockpapershotgun where they interviewed a dev who had sold 9 copies of their game on Steam. And it wasn't RPGMaker or an asset flip. 9 copies still. We had another post on here in September that they had sold 8 whole copies of their game. So single digit sales can occur now due to how flooded the market is.

    As for me, The Book of Shadows went for sale on September 12th, but the official launch was Sept. 27. On Oct 4th I had sold 108 copies. I haven't checked since though.

    Also note my game isn't on Steam or itch.io yet, so that may change things once it launches there. My plan is to launch on those sometime in 2020 after the Winter Sales are over that they always have, and can probably say more then.
     
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  3. rue669

    rue669 Veteran Veteran

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    There’s got to be another reason for it other than over saturation over the market.

    Look at indie books—there are indie sellers who make a crap ton of money and others that make squat. But that market is very saturated and they still get success stories.

    I guess what I’m trying to say is, you can’t look at these articles and think you’ll be the same. You also can’t look at these articles and think you are the exception. I think there’s probably something in the marketing of games that hasn’t been tapped yet. I don’t know what that thing is, but I do think it’s there.

    Thanks for taking the time to share these articles with us.
     
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  4. bgillisp

    bgillisp Global Moderators Global Mod

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    Honestly, I'd like to see a source showing that even one new indie dev or book writer has made enough to live off of since 2016. And keep in mind I mean the writer or developer released the first book (or game) in 2017 or later.

    The reason I say that is, for what I've noticed you have to build up an audience. And that takes time. So the first game or book is probably not going to even break even. But the 2nd has a chance to do that, if you built up a decent audience with the 1st. And the 3rd can go even farther, if you do it well.

    I read an article (man I wish I'd saved it) by someone who wrote errr...not PG13 books...who said that what worked for them is they churned out a book every 4 months or so. Any later and people got impatient and moved on, and any earlier was too soon for people to have bought and read the last book. But every 4 months seemed about perfect for that.

    I'll have to see if I can find more on that, but basically it is adding fuel to the idea that you will need to make a lot of items quickly to keep the momentum going. Maybe I can search for it tomorrow on my break?
     
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  5. Indinera

    Indinera Indie Dev Veteran

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    You couldn't, if you mean a certain rm game that I've seen you mention here often, it was mostly free keys giveaways and bundle (ie very cheap) units.
    Still sales were indeed generally much higher back then, true.

    Important (very important) to mention it was $20 sales. Your game basically made more in a week than that "Don't give up" game (which allegedly did a gazillion marketing things) in a month. B):thumbsup-left:

    How about marketing is overrated (especially by people selling it aha) and it's just about knowing the right persons/luck/game appeal?
     
    Last edited: Nov 4, 2019
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  6. Poryg

    Poryg Dark Lord of the Castle of Javascreeps Veteran

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    Oversaturation is 90% of the reason. It's beyond awful. Let's see the numbers.

    According to Steamspy Steam currently has 33,626 games. And the influx that came when Steam direct was introduced was terrible. See for yourself:

    2019: 7256
    2018: 8723
    2017: 6815
    2016: 4603
    2015: 2576
    2014: 1295
    2013: 523
    2012: 402

    The mean score of the games is slightly above 75%. So far from every game is total trash. If it was only 25% and 3/4 were trash, the selection would be easy, because if you make a good game, it would eventually get pushed high up above the trash.

    So almost 50% of ALL games on Steam came out in last 2 years and it's possible we will make the 50%. For November 2019, it's not even been 4 days and there are already 70 games out there. Now tell me... How many players have more than 2000 games in their database?
    The highest number in my friendlist is around 1500. I currently have 790 games on Steam, 74 on GoG. That's not even a thousand. And most indie games I have are a byproduct of humblebundle or large cheap bundle sales on Steam. Not because I've heard of them or anything.
    The only thing that could help your sales the most nowadays would be exposure with large youtubers. And I mean really large. Drifty is a large fish in RPG maker, but small fry otherwise. You need to reach those millions of subscribers if you want to be successful. And with the image of RPG maker and oversaturation of the market with RPG maker games... Try that.

    Oh and what's the 10% of the reason? Marketing, reviews, gameplay not being so great that everyone just wants to share the games in the world... And RPG maker carries a large stigma too.

    That's why many game devs choose different markets. But the problem is, nowadays even the other ones are oversaturated. HTML5 - kongregate, newgrounds... Full of so many garbage and mediocre games. People publish every crap game they make for some reason, even training games... And rake quick buck on Patreon on awful adult games. But for many games it would still work much better than Steam.

    Also, it might be interesting to check out the games sold in the year they came out.
    348.6mio in 2014
    429.2mio in 2015
    447.3mio in 2016
    438.2mio in 2017
    220.4mio in 2018
    and so far 99mio in 2019. The number is not yet final, but I don't think it will reach the heights of 2017.
    The demand is lower, but the supply is still getting higher. That's not good for the market either.
     
    Last edited: Nov 4, 2019
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  7. Icelord888

    Icelord888 Veteran Veteran

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    I have to agree with Poryg here, developing a game was made easier with time, but actually polishing one, that has only gotten harder.
    Player expectations have only gotten higher and higher and their patience has gone down as well as their interest(or is it?).

    Imagine going to buy candy as a kid on your local store, there are like 7-8 types of candy but mom only gave you money for you too afford 3 types of candy, so you would pick one of them and talk with your friends why your pick is best pick,etc now that you're an adult and you go to a famous sweet shop and they have 1000+ types of candy, you have a lot of money and you could buy 500+ of them but you will only buy 20 or 30 of them, have your fill, discover 5 of them that actually impressed you and stick with them or the ones like them....

    On a more serious note:
    I've noticed a few things when I released my game free on itch and then I've compared the results with those of a friend that has released a paid game on steam. Here is what I've noticed:
    • Your game will instantly get swarmed! You've worked years on your game and have finally released it! Yay! Its at the top of the most recent list, now people will see it and enjoy it, oh wait give it an hour and it won't be there anymore on steam, even worse on itch where the spotlight is like 5 mins. Why is this happening!? Oh well let me enlighten you! Two other guys have released demos of thier game, not bad, but they should be in their own category, then comes three guys with a proof of concept (okay, what are you doing here...?), and then, oh boy and then come like 10 guys who either wanted to test how you upload & sell stuff on that platform, want to make a low effort cash grab or have made a bad joke game or have a game that is more of a mod than anything else, or they just tried out an engine and feel like they have to throw their scrap somewhere for people to see...
    • Picking when to release your game, releasing it on Thursday or Friday seems to yield the best results, but releasing it on sunday/monday is a sure way to bury it.
    • If you want your game to get noticed, you better have a team of people ready to comment on your game and give it likes and praise. Also having a mixed to negative comment on the front page where you can download the game, is very bad, most people will not read them and will only see the red thingy or that one bold word that says something like Don't like ...
    • Its time for some statistics!: What amazed me the most is that 20-30% of all the people that view your game will download it (You can safely halve those for a priced game). Of those 5-8% will never ever play it (this is somewhat better for paid games). 10% will play it between 10 minutes and 30 mins and then give you a first impression on the early game and never touch it again. This sucks if you have a slow paced game or if your start is just ok-ish(I consider this to be my greatest failure about my game). It seems like having a normal increase in game betterment is bad. So if you have something like this:( Meh -> Ok -> Amazing) is bad! You should have something like this (Amazing->Meh->Ok). Exceptions exist (look at doki doki) but chances are that you won't be an exception. Lastly 5-7% of your players will actually finish it (this is better for paid games 10%+).
    • Without amazing luck, marketing skills and willpower, or great friends or funds, your game will be pretty much be doomed to obscurity, even if it is a great game and having the rpg maker stigma also hurts. I remember telling a friend about my game and telling him that it has this and that and story & stuff, he was captivated, until he asked me the engine I made the game, after my answer his face turned gloom and he didn't seem interested anymore. I even had this one teacher at my uni who was passionate about games and held out game jams & stuff publicly criticize me when I told him I wanted to hold a presentation regarding the RPG Maker engines.
    Well... I guess that we will have to try out even harder to show people that rpg maker games are awesome and I like to believe that one day we will achieve that.
     
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  8. Pots Talos

    Pots Talos Veteran Veteran

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    My game has been out for over a year now on Steam, it got buried quickly but luckily, we've done well at gaming conventions and have gotten over 1k sales between Steam and selling the game at conventions.

    Besides the gaming conventions, we've done basically zero marketing outside of random posts on Facebook and Twitter.


    This is my teams thinking also. We’ve put all money made from The Great Gaias towards our next title so we can keep improving on everything. Once Gjallarhorn is released, we will do the same and make the third title even better.


    I think you are right about this but I’m throwing some money towards Youtube ads for the holiday season and want to see how this translates to sales. I’m guessing it won’t help much but I want to get more data and will post back here with results for anyone who is interested.
     
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  9. Indinera

    Indinera Indie Dev Veteran

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    Feel free to post the results, always interesting. :ninja:
     
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  10. bgillisp

    bgillisp Global Moderators Global Mod

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    @Indinera : It was many games in 2014 actually, not just one. About every game on Steam that I got info on that released at that time seemed to hit 100,000 - 200,000 easily. Now, granted, one of them tried to do a remaster later and barely hit 3000 copies, so the changing market caught up with them eventually.

    Still I'll take my 108 as that was what, one week after official release?

    @Poryg : That's some interesting info, where did you get that?

    Personally I think the trick is to find the market and sell the game there. Everything has a market, but just dumping it on Steam and hoping they find it will not work. You need to find a way ti distribute it to those who want those kind of games, and that might mean other places that Steam. Which is why I didn't release on Steam first myself, the market for RPGMaker games isn't there in my opinion, but elsewhere, so I sold it...elsewhere. Sure I'll probably put it up there eventually though.
     
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  11. Indinera

    Indinera Indie Dev Veteran

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    Most of them had the same "strategy", bundle and giveaway galore to inflate artificially the number of owners. Never trust Steamspy.

    If I were you I'd say $2000 as it tells a fuller story. Some people make 100 sales and $50 off them...
    The main weakness of Steamspy even in its prime is that it's totally unable to tell the income and that's the main element of information for any and all games.
     
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  12. Poryg

    Poryg Dark Lord of the Castle of Javascreeps Veteran

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  13. Parallax Panda

    Parallax Panda Got into VxAce ~2014 and never stopped... Veteran

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    Very interesting read.

    Obviously the market is very saturated, we all know this. And there’s no question about that being what’s impacting the sales negatively the most.

    However, looking specifically at the games featured in the articles.

    As an artist, something that stood out to me was that none of those games looked great (visually speaking). And I think visuals are one of the most important aspects of marketing. And undeniably what would help you the most in getting those “organic sales” on steam by people just browsing randomly. Because no one is going to click on something that doesn’t grab their attention right away.

    So what do I mean with “not looked great”? This might come off as a bit mean (apologies to anyone offended) but these are my honest feelings, looking at these games through the eyes of a potential customer (and I guess, as a fellow dev).

    First off, the games from Bad Logic Games doesn’t look bad, but they don’t look good either. More importantly, the visuals are very bland and uninteresting to me. It looks... cheap, and quickly made. And in the trailer, the animations are very simple as well.

    Fun fact: Those sprites actually remind me of some assets I’ve seen on sale on gamedevmarket and itch.io. Although I wouldn’t know for sure that they are the same without comparing.

    Moving on.

    The game “Don’t give up” in the other article looks straight up ugly. The pixel art is not well done and you can easily see it’s made by a complete amateur.
    BUT, it’s actually more interesting. Yes, it looks bad but it has a somewhat unique style and it’s very colorful so it might still attract some attention. However problem is, since the art looks very amateurish many potential customers might assume the entire game is of similar low quality and simply move on.

    But then again, we’ve seen “ugly” but quirky games blow up before so I’d say you have a chance if your game looks like that but is special in somehow.

    Well, those are my 2 cents.
     
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  14. bgillisp

    bgillisp Global Moderators Global Mod

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    @Indinera : That is true, but they asked sales here so I reported sales. Income is a different thing altogether. After all the textbook I wrote just sold it's 100th copy recently, and in terms of income I've made about $4000 off of it. But being a textbook it sells for a lot more than a novel to, though on the flip side most of my sales of it are start of college term only.

    On another note, we did have a dev who admitted they shoved the game in every bundle they could, and they got $10,000 after taxes from Steam.
     
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  15. Indinera

    Indinera Indie Dev Veteran

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    You get $40 from each copy of it sold? If so that's pretty awesome.

    Doing bundles is a strategy like another, but heavily relying on luck (so, not for me xD).
    What I don't think is fair is to consider bundle sales as game sales. If you have a game that sold 100 on Steam and 20,000 in a bundle, I would never consider it sold 20,100. Most of these 20,000 might have indeed come from another (or a few) very popular game(s) yours happened to have been bundled with. I've seen it happening countless times (but never for me, because luck :dizzy:) and it's just not a reliable/accurate way to count sales.
     
    Last edited: Nov 5, 2019
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  16. rue669

    rue669 Veteran Veteran

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    I think if you’re looking at the commercialization of games and you being that indie developer taking on that commercialization, then it means you need to think like a business. And thinking like a business means more than one product (multiple games, multiple books, and all of high quality).

    There are rare, perhaps very rare, occasions when one single book or game could make you oodles in money. But if you are in the business of commercializing your game and think one game will do it and you can retire for life, then you will be sorely disappointed.

    You may have been able to make a lot of money in the past off one game, but that doesn’t mean you still can’t have a successful side gig as an indie developer. It all depends on whether you want to treat your work as a business. And I say side gig on purpose. Commercializing your rpg maker game should not mean you quit your day job. I’m not saying it can never happen, I’m just saying that the chances are quite low and therefore manage your expectations.

    And I do still think advertising is an untapped resource for indie game developers, especially for RPG maker. But advertising is risky and involves a lot a lot a lot of trial and error. And I mean a lot.

    I would like to leave the game dev who has aspirations to make a commercial rm game with some positivity and hope. Generally I find most of the posts in the commercial forum are a total downer. Maybe we need more topics about success stories of indie developers.
     
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  17. bgillisp

    bgillisp Global Moderators Global Mod

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    @Indinera : $53.55 for direct sale, $33.55 for sales to a retailer, as they cut retailers a discount so that is reflected in the part I get. The book sells for $100 for a direct sale.

    @rue669 : That is true. I think the days of one product and get rich are gone. And honestly I don't think they ever existed really. If you look back at history most of the big name game companies made their first game just to do it, or even as a tech demo. Kings Quest I was a tech demo for a new PC, but people kept asking where to buy it so they sold it and Sierra was founded based on that. I'm sure if we dug into the history of other big PC gaming companies of the 80's/90's we would hear similar stories too.

    Personally I'm doing more of a drip feed approach to advertising. I'm only advertising to small groups first, and getting the feedback from them, before trying bigger groups. And that way once the bigger groups hear of the game they can see the (hopefully) positive feedback that is already there and it will make them less leery of the game than if it is random game from random indie dev # 315672.

    For example, right now I've mentioned my game on a few discords, and told them where to go to buy it. I'm getting the game demo up on other sites so those people know it exists and can go buy it on aldorlea if they like it. I got a streamer to play my game. Granted the streamer I got has an audience of ~200, but you gotta start somewhere! Plus now a youtube video exists of someone playing the start of my demo so some people can go watch that if they prefer that to playing it.
     
    Last edited: Nov 5, 2019
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  18. rue669

    rue669 Veteran Veteran

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    I think that’s a great strategy. Definitely build an audience. It’s a slow burn. I don’t think this idea of a big launch is just not sustainable for indie devs. You need to think long term.

    Triple A games can do a big launch. But they have a ton of money and a marketing team to back them up. And even if they report losses when they screw up.

    Some first time authors for big name publishers do see a crapyton of success after one book. The Silent Patient by Alex Michalidis comes to mind. First time author, first book, and his book is everywhere! But it’s a great book.

    Then you see someone like Dan Brown. His first few books didn’t sell. The DaVinci Code was his hit seller and that made the sales of his other books go up.

    it’s about pushing good, high quality products and slowly but surely building your true fans. It does not happen over night and very rarely with just one product.
     
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  19. Indinera

    Indinera Indie Dev Veteran

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    That's huge, I need to start writing that kind of book lol
     
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  20. bgillisp

    bgillisp Global Moderators Global Mod

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    @rue669 : Agreed. Which is actually why my 2nd game is non-commercial too, as I know people are leery of RPGMaker games due to all the awful ones that have come out to date, so I wanted one that is free so they can see what I can do too in a shorter game as well.

    @Indinera : Good luck getting more than the one college you write it for to adopt it though. Still, it's something and an extra $500 or so every semester, which is nice side change. Still it does make me wonder how I would do if I did write a less specialized textbook than one that is for a unique course taught at one school.
     
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