Expectations for Steam game sales (Gamasutra articles)

bgillisp

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@JosephSeraph : That assumes you can contact the artist. Some are one and done. And some are near impossible to find others who can draw in the same style.

And sure, not EVERY game needs all of them, but there are some that are so specific and the style matches nothing. Like there's the Nightmare pack, which is good if you want an entire game in an amusement park. That's all it has. Nothing else matches it out there. And speaking as someone who has the art skill of a 6 year old I don't see how to make anything else work with it. In fact, as far as my eyes can tell it *could* work but then again, my eyes think the DS and RTP mix, and I got ripped for that when I did that in my demo years ago. To this day I still can't see the difference (and don't try to point it out to me, many have, and I just don't see it. It's beyond what I can see and detect at my level of art skill).

So those of us with 0 artistic ability or insight do need more that matches, else we will just try to shove it together because guess what? To us it look like it works.
 

jkweath

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@bgillisp on the topic of tilesets that don't match, the RMBoy Graphics Pack was really disappointing - not only does it only come with enough graphics to maybe just mess around with in the editor, but they don't mesh well at all with OceansDream's Nostalgia set, which renders the pack effectively useless unless you could hire an artist to expand on it by about 20x. :(

I've seen some artists try to mesh a high-quality graphics pack bought from here with commissioned art, usually for characters, faces and busts, and the result is usually off-putting. So I can understand why some people decide to just stick with the RTP.

Setting a budget of 300+ per year and using 1 dollar a day on that form might be very cost efficient, long term. Of course, there are multiple platforms for that ... But yeah just echoing that cheap and very specific campaigns probably have the best chance of turning a profit especially after a good enough amount of time
This is an interesting idea that I hadn't thought of before. I might give it a spin with Reddit and Facebook, maybe with Twitter too if I can figure out how the hell the ads work there.
 

JosephSeraph

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@bgillisp on the topic of tilesets that don't match, the RMBoy Graphics Pack was really disappointing - not only does it only come with enough graphics to maybe just mess around with in the editor, but they don't mesh well at all with OceansDream's Nostalgia set, which renders the pack effectively useless unless you could hire an artist to expand on it by about 20x.
That's interesting. To be honest us pack artists -- at least me and a few others I do know -- are always open to suggestions and working on improving things that are already out there and supporting previously released, but limited, material is always better for everyone, be it for the audience that gets more asset packs that work in the same style, be it for the artists that have a more efficient workflow working on something we know that will work out, on an estabilished style, building upon the same audience. We really want to heighten the communication between us asset makers and the rest of the community. This is beyond the scope of this topic though, but I'll make sure to keep my eyes peeled for requests and common complaints about the pack and team up with the other artists to create solutions to these demands and value everyone's work a bit more!

We're a community after all and working together benefits everyone. :kaojoy:

Please make sure to make your opinions, suggestions and critiques heard in the appropriate forums.
I(hopefully we?) will pay attention to it. :kaoluv:
 

CraneSoft

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This was a very insightful topic. Sharing my $0.02 as a player.

I do think there are people who rely on advertisement more than necessary instead of "Making games with elements no other developer can offer". Like others have pointed out, oversaturated market is a real issue going on for years and is only going to get worse.

Marketing-wise is only one aspect of game dev - you can have the best marketers in the world but due to the oversaturated market, some sort of "uniqueness" in the artstyle is pretty much mandatory if you want to even stand out from the masses, much less making them interested in your game. Whether or not said game is good do not matter at the slightest here. And the harsh reality is - quality of art IS important in deciding whether a game will get exposure, those that managed to get by without it are extremely rare exceptions - often requiring something big such as a combination of Viral Marketing AND the dev already having a considerable reputation in the industry to work. Trying to compete with makers that already have millions of players thinking you could make them play yours because it's the same style under the assumption they "might" also like them is a lost cause, it simply does not work that way.

For the "Don't Give Up" case, I'll be frank and admit that I do not feel anything unique about it from the screenshots alone - there are cases where a game is simply not that appealing to the public at first glance, no matter how much marketing / advertising you do. For starters, the title itself is already an atrocious title choice that is almost impossible to figure out unless you already know about it - much less realizing that it is about a name of a game sold on Steam. And since it looks ridiculously similar to Undertale from first impression, the typical mindset is that majority of people will end up comparing this game to Undertale, myself included, calling it an "inspired work" at best or a cheap knockoff at worst, the LAST thing you want to happen. In fact, my first verdict after taking a quick look at the graphics and screenshots can be summed up as : "What is this an Undertale clone? Nah doesn't seem that interesting. *Closed tab* " If what I did is considered the average user behavior (and assuming I even know the game exists at all which I didn't until I opened this thread), I can totally see why the game doesn't get the sales it deserves. Now I'm not saying the game is bad, but what matters is that the game has failed to draw me in the first 10 seconds, and unless people kept talking about it in social media and gets on a trend, chances are I'll probably forget it even exists by the following week and never look back.

On the contrary, I've seen a dev who does the absolute MINIMUM amount of marketing required (literally, no progress reports, releases a trial out of nowhere and then the full game within the span of 2 weeks) and then releases a game that is considered top-tier for its industry standards never seen before - and it sold 10,000+ (in an industry where getting 1,000 is considered a hit due to saturation) in a week and get more exposure than 90% of others that puts in more work at marketing. Then he went missing for 2 years and return with a new game announcement last week, and instantly gets hundreds of backers. What makes him successful? His game has art and quality that surpasses 99% of the indie game market, has a completely original artstyle that instantly caught my eye (and many others), has better controls and looks more polished than some commercial (ie. actual, non-indie companies) ones, and I'm not exaggerating.

Overall, it is counterproductive to make games that looks even remotely similar to other big sellers on the market (there's where you do your research), even if it's not your original intent. (Considering development for "Don't Give Up" begins AFTER the release of Undertale...)

TLDR: "Don't Give Up" does not succeed because it used a bad title, looked like an Undertale knockoff and is unappealing at first glance.
 

Dezue

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...but what matters is that the game has failed to draw me in the first 10 seconds,...
That's actually a very good measure to go by when communicating about your game and designing promotional materials.
Make it easy for people to get excited about your games and maybe they'll grant you a second or even a third look
 

eluukkanen

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That's actually a very good measure to go by when communicating about your game and designing promotional materials.
Make it easy for people to get excited about your games and maybe they'll grant you a second or even a third look
Very true! If your game wont excite, then it will be forgotten instantly.
 

CraneSoft

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@Dezue I may even say the game screenshots in any game product page is the most important element ever, similar to landing pages in any normal website - they are the very first thing people will look at, and you have the 15-30 second rule which is the attention span people tend to have before they leave, failing to catch their interest in that short time frame meant you'd already lost them, and no amount of marketing will help with this. People will only bother to watch promotional videos that showcases the game in extra detail during the next part of their decision, which is after you've already caught their interest. :D
 

rue669

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It’s like when they say that you shouldn’t judge a book by its cover, yet people do it all the time.

The right screenshots that show off the gameplay, are eye-catching, and convey the genre of the game are essentially. Think like a player. Why do you choose the games you buy? What makes you tick?
 
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Another factor to consider might be level of anonymity, which one could potentially associate with level of accountability. Many have probably seen how unknowns could put up deceptively dressed games so if a developer has no reputation, doesn't have an identity, and perhaps doesn't even have a social media presence, it could be a perceived risk to buy even cheap games from that developer.

A developer's blog with the developer's true identity being transparent could potentially avoid trust issues when it comes to judging a game before buying.

Sure, the store page can say that so-and-so RPG has an immersive story as a selling point, but what has the developer written and what kind of education/accreditation have they received to even be trusted to write a truly immersive story?
 

Dezue

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@CraneSoft Very much agree. I'd even extend this philosophy unto promotional materials of any nature (forum signatures, twitter gifs and such), because that's actually what we see even before we go to the game's store page.

@rue669 I guess one good way to think about it is 'If they didn't even put much care into the cover, how much care could they have put into the book (or game) itself?'
Granted, many great books have 'bad' covers, but it's certainly easier for everybody if the cover matches the heart and quality of the thing it represents.
 

Failivrin

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This is slightly off-topic, but several others have mentioned Kindle publishing. I think the similarity to Steam publishing is incidental. There are several unique factors concerning why indie books don't sell. Here's a little rant for those interested in the nuances of indie authorhood...

One HUGE problem with Kindle is the pressure on authors to sell for less than the book is worth, or to settle for nothing. Kindle offers dozens of ways for readers to get your book for free, and readers expect authors to offer the free promotions. Book marketing services, even paid services, often will not agree to promote your book unless it's free. The end result, for me at least, is that the number of ad campaign clicks, or even the number of copies downloaded does not translate into dollars earned--not even close.
Another factor to consider is that most indie authors can't take advantage of print, which is a major boon to marketing your book and should constitute the majority of sales. Actually, the publishing industry is pretty sick and designed to exploit indie authors on multiple levels. It's a consignment industry run by big corporations in which indie authors have zero power. Something you might not know is, You can actually lose money while selling your book. No, I don't mean while advertising. While selling.
In a nutshell:
1) Bookstores order your book. They can order any number they choose. You cannot set restrictions on how much they order.
2) Maybe bookstores try to sell your book. Maybe they succeed. Maybe they sell more than half. Maybe they go bankrupt within a week and sell nothing. Happens all the time.
3) Anything the bookstore can't sell, they'll return to the printer. Professional authors don't have to deal with what happens next, but if you're an indie author... the printer will make YOU buy the books that didn't sell, and/or cover the cost of shipping them from the bookstores back to the warehouse.
If a bookstore returns one book, the cost to the author is significantly more than the profits of one sale. For example, if a bookstore orders 50 copies, sells 30 and returns 20, it's a net loss for the author. Only the bookstore and the publisher will profit, by forcing authors to assume all risk.
By the way, bookstores have been running this scam for a long time, and they absolutely won't stock your book if you don't sign a consignment agreement.
So yeah, publishing a book is detrimental to your mental health and definitely detrimental to your finances. The success stories in this area are mostly schlock, because the crowd of readers attracted to an endless stream of free ebooks is not very discriminating.

I have not published a game on Steam (yet), but based on what I've heard in forums, I think there are different dynamics for indie game publishers.
 

bgillisp

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@Failivrin : Depends on the publishing deal. I use Amazon self publishing, which only prints copies as they are ordered. The difference is the print cost is high, and you will usually have to sell the book for more than $9.99 (average paperback cost for many books) to cover the printing cost. However the difference is Amazon absorbs all returns, BUT has the right to sell it themselves and not pay you for the 2nd sale of the same book.

I find that way I don't have to worry about what you mentioned for print copies. Plus you can offer it as a print version and a kindle version if you wish.

About the art idea:
One thing to be careful of is you want to make sure that once you get people to buy the game they actually like it. Many a dev has tried to get the quick buck by great art, then when they do game #2 wonder why no one buys it, and the reason is, the players played game 1, hated it, and the 2nd time they are more skeptical of games by that dev.

And on that note, I have noticed more people on Steam are skepitcal of games from new devs period. I think too many of them have been burned by other indie devs and now are hesitant, no matter how pretty the game looks. So I think we are going to have to build up our audience slowly, and I mean SLOWLY. We might only sell 200 copies of game #1. Maybe game #2 only sells 300. So on. But that is normal. I've read up on many bands and older game companies, and many of the famous names we know were struggling before they got their first hit, and usually it wasn't their first game either.
 

Failivrin

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@bgillisp , That is correct. You can offer a print version of the book exclusively through Amazon. I was speaking from the perspective of getting your title into bookstores. Most bookstores never stock Amazon-only titles, partly because they are skeptical of indie books, but mainly because they consider Amazon a competitor. It's not a bad idea to print the book through Amazon, and they fortunately don't force you to sign a consignment agreement. The trade-off is that Amazon printing doesn't make a significant difference to overall sales because it doesn't increase your visibility. It's a nice bonus for Amazon users who prefer a hard copy but who would have discovered your book anyway. On the other hand, some readers may prefer print but opt for the ebook because they found a way to get it for free.
A good bookstore will market your book, or at least display it where dozens of people pass each day--and you don't have to pay for clicks or promotions! It's unfortunate the system is designed to exclude and parasitize indie authors so we can't take advantage of this marketing power.

Also, good point about the art. There are any number of factors that could make players shy away from a sequel, and even some highly popular games fall into a slump when the sequel is released. I think one factor is audiences aging, branching into new genres and new platforms, or simply getting busy with work/life and having less time for games. Ultimately, as developers, we can't beat ourselves up over low sales. Who knows? Even if only 200 people play your game, and half of them never come back for the sequel, it may still become one of their favorites.
 

Indinera

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From my experience sequels actually see quite a drop from the first episode, but we're talking here about direct sequels, so it seems logical. I haven't yet made a second episode in a franchise that would start with a brand new cast and story (a la Final Fantasy).

Also the price of the game influences hugely the number of players it'll get.
200 players for a free game doesn't tell the same tale as 200 players for a $20 one...
 

EthanFox

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This is an interesting idea that I hadn't thought of before. I might give it a spin with Reddit and Facebook, maybe with Twitter too if I can figure out how the hell the ads work there.
Just an FYI - Reddit has a minimum per-day price of 5$, and they really try to hit that too. It's a shame as it used to be much lower.

Fortunately now they've lowered the per-click price. A while back they set the lower limit to something crazy, like 50c, which made it useless for things like books or videogames being sold for under $10 (you're never going to achieve consistent sales of more than 1-in-20 clickers).
 
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Paid ads on social media seem to be very hit-and-miss according to some testimonies that I've read. For those who can't afford the level of marketing budget that AAA companies enjoy, it doesn't seem to be worth it over personally sharing in the correct communities or convincing influencers to mention one's products.
 

rue669

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Running ads is really tricky. It's largely hit or miss. You could run ads and watch your money deplete very quickly. On the other hand, you could hit the right ad, at the right time, with the right audience and see a big profit. It's even harder if you aren't in advertising or a professional marketer. Not only does the ad have to be perfectly engaging for the audience you're looking for, but you have to have the means in which to target those audiences. It's not easy and can definitely be demoralizing.
 

jkweath

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IMO it's worth understanding that not all ads run with the intention of making direct sales. I doubt ads for, say, Tide Pods convince people to run straight to the store to buy laundry detergent - but, next time that person is at the store, they're far more likely to subconsciously glance at the Tide section of laundry detergent and pick one of those up over the competitors. It's all about name recognition.

That's the theory, at least. I'm sure there's studies and evidence somewhere backing that up, otherwise I doubt the ad industry would even exist.

I ran a Google Ads campaign for Knight Bewitched around the time I first released it on Google Play and ran a discount. The ads would appear while people are browsing the games section of the Play Store. If you'd just looked at the raw numbers - $77 spent for a whopping 2 conversions - it was a complete wash. (the $77 spent was actually an accident. I was experimenting and decided to try having ads show up in India. Within 3 hours India had over 100,000 impressions and ran me over $40. No one from India bought the game. lol)

That being said, I ran the campaign assuming very few people would buy the game directly. Rather I was aiming to get my game out there and into people's consciousness, or something like that -- the theory being that the game might pop up in another sale (in non-ad form) and the person might think, "hey, I remember seeing that game!"

Whether the ad campaign was a success in that context, I'm not 100% sure, but Knight Bewitched has consistently outsold my other two games on the Google Play Store. At this moment I'm running a discount and an ad campaign for Knight Eternal, which just released, and have noticed it's out-selling even Knight Bewitched (which is also on discount), despite only having 3 direct conversions.

Whether the ad campaign is responsible for that, I don't know, but my whole philosophy is that I like to experiment with things like this. For example, right now I'm in the process of putting my Android versions on other platforms besides Google Play just to see what happens. Knight Bewitched is available on the Amazon App Store now, though I haven't noticed any sales yet. I just finished setting up a discount a couple of days from now, so if I get any performance from that then I'll upload the rest of my games to the Amazon App Store.
 
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