Steam Week 1 vs Year 1 Revenue

February 5th, 2018

Recently I asked a bunch of devs how their week 1 (gross) revenue on Steam compared to their year 1 revenue (including week 1). I wanted to know because we had just launched Shadowhand on Steam and I was interested to see if the first week could in any way be a decent predictor of longer term sales.

I got about 30 data points and you can see the resulting graph above.

A fairly tight range

The results are interesting in several ways. One obvious one is that most of the results fall in the 2x to 10x range and aren’t something like 50x or 100x. However, one dev who runs a large studio did have an outlier title that had a very large ratio, but I excluded it because it’s really not typical of your “average” indie game.

OK, sure the range isn’t that tight because if your game did 2x week one you might go bust and if it did 10x maybe you’d end up buying a Tesla (depending on the scale of your week 1 revenue). But I still think it’s interesting and can be useful. Let’s consider some more things…

Average

So the Mean (average) is 5.1x and the median (middle value) = 4.5x

This is pretty useful data. If your game made $10K in the first week (not an easy feat btw), you could perhaps reasonably assume it would make about $50K in the first year.

Be Conservative

This is not a political statement, but more like a sensible approach to predicting the future based on past performance.

Basically, it might be more sensible to assume something like a more conservative 3x ratio and plan your cash flow based on that.

That’s what I’ve done for 2018 after I saw the first week of sales for Shadowhand. At 3x, my year will be a bit tricky cash flow-wise, and at 5x it’ll be “OK”. Any more and I’ll be very happy. So, for me, based on a 3x-5x range it was clear that I need to get on and earn some more money pronto!

What about the Steam “flood”?

“But what if some of your data points are old and some are new? Surely that makes a difference in today’s crowded market?”

No. I checked, in a cursory way, and the release date of the game didn’t seem to make any difference.

What about big games vs small games

You will have definitely heard of some of the games in my chart, they have made millions of dollars. Others you probably won’t have heard of. Also some of the games were large in scope and others were not.

Again, I could not detect an obvious correlation between game size/fame and ratio. Though I haven’t spend very long on this, so take it with a pinch of salt.

What factors can affect the ratio?

My own game, Regency Solitaire, had a 10x ratio. It has not made millions of dollars, but it does have a good Steam review score (97% positive). So it’s possible that is a factor.

Another of my games, Spooky Bonus, has a 98% positive score and a 6.3x ratio. So I can’t draw a firm conclusion from that, but it seems logical that “good” games have a better tail as people talk about them more, and maybe the Steam algorithms surface them more to potential customers, plus of course a good review score may sway a “floating purchaser”.

If your game had a poor launch with little marketing support but gained traction later in the year (with press/streamers), or you heavily discounted it later in the year, that could obviously affect the ratio too.

Updates/DLC, localisation, community, being in a bundle, more marketing etc. All of those things could affect the ratio and I’m sure you can think of more.

Ideally if you get everything right (and there’s a lot to get right), you’d hope to have a good launch and also go above the average 5x ratio.

Can I use this chart to predict year 1 revenue?

No. Obviously the above chart is useless until you know your week 1 sales, and predicting those is a black art because they can have huge variability in range.

But once you know your week 1 sales, you will have a better idea of if you need to rush out and find some contract work, or if you can chill a bit and make more another game. Some sensible people have a plan B, such as contract work, lined up for post-launch anyway.

However, let’s have a little bit of fun with some extrapolation…

Recently Mike Rose gave a talk about realistic PC sales figures in which he stated that the average “good” game on Steam will make $10K in its first month if priced around $10. Now we don’t know his criteria for “good” but let’s run with his numbers:

- $10K in month 1 from Mike’s data.
- Assume $5K in first week (it’s not 25% of $10K because the launch spike is most of the sales)
- Use a 5x average multiplier based on my chart above.
- This gives $25K in first year.

That’s for an average “good” game. Doesn’t sound like a lot does it? Now go and read You are spending too long making your game for further thoughts on how to make more profitable games.

Caveats

This article is not advice, it’s just some personal musing that may or may not apply to you. So take it or leave it, and please feel free to correct me or expand upon my points in the comments. Thanks.

How did your game do?

Let me know your gross Steam revenue week 1 vs year 1 gross ratio in the comments. Probably best not to share actual $ values as that is no doubt disallowed in your Valve contract.

Also if you feel like it, please share your month 1 vs year 1 ratio because that could end up giving a tighter range.

If you enjoyed this article, please share it. Thanks!

You are spending too long making your game

January 26th, 2018

I asked on Twitter How long have you been working on your commercial game so far? Sub-question: Do you think that’s wise? and you can see the poll results above.

Shockingly (at least I think so), almost a third devs are on 3+ year long projects.

The comments I received seemed to fall into three camps:
1) I’m working on a short game and it’s nearly ready, so that’s fine.
2) I’ve been working on this game forever and I know it’s not a good idea.
3) I’ve been working on this game forever but it’s part-time and a have a day job so it’s not so bad.

Dev Time vs Hourly Wage

It’s common to hear that a game has grossed $X and if that number is big it sounds impressive. But the reality is that, depending on the actual costs to develop that game, it might not have broken even yet, and might not ever do so!

Let’s look at an example:
- Game has grossed $100K on Steam in first year, wooo!
- Steam and taxes eat up 35% so dev receives $65K, still kinda wooo!
- Contractors were paid $30K for art/audio and game was exhibited at a show for $5K.
- That leaves $30K of “net profit”, which is a bit less wooo.

But wait, what about the coder/designer? Well let’s say they spent one year full-time making it, then that’s a salary of $30K (about $14 an hour based on a 40-hour work week). For some people in the world that’s a lot of money but for others it’s really not enough to survive, especially if you have kids eating up the cash like little cash-fueled monsters.

What if the game took two years to make? Well then the dev earned less than minimum wage. Your locale may not have have a minimum wage, but here in the UK it is about $10.50 at current exchange rate.

What if the game took 3+ years? Yeah it doesn’t look good.

Of course some games can have a long tail and when you start to add up the revenue from multiple years, maybe that hourly wage goes up a bit, and that has happened for some of my games.

But there are a couple of really important things to consider here:

1) My $100K example above is actually REALLY GOOD. Most games will not make that much money in their first year, only a few good/lucky/promoted ones. So your hourly wage could EASILY be 10x less, or, 100x less.

2) Even if your game does earn $100K gross in year 1, it’s likely to not all occur at launch. (In fact I have another blog post lined up that will go into more detail on this topic.) But the launch might only be $20K, and if you have built up debts whilst making the game, that launch money won’t go very far at all.

What about my games?

OK here are three of my games on Steam with the most recent release at the top. Which one do you think has earned me the most $ per hour?

Shadowhand (a $15 RPG card game with publisher support)
Regency Solitaire (a $10 casual solitaire game)
Spooky Bonus (a $10 match-3 game frequently sold at $6.99 or less on casual portals)

The answer, by a mile, is Spooky Bonus. That game has earned me almost $400 an hour but I bet most of you have never even heard of it.

Why? Well it took me three months and was a casual portal hit. It was my 7th match-3 game and each time I made a new one I reused the old engine and changed the theme and added some new features.

Regency Solitaire took a year, and is my second most profitable game of the above three. I have two other older more profitable games that only took me three months to make (maybe you can see a pattern emerging here).

Shadowhand took my wife and I two and half years to make. It’s not a hit but it is selling OK at numbers that many indies would probably be pleased with. In fact it grossed more than the lifetime Steam sales of Regency Solitaire in its first week!

Shadowhand also cost more to make than previous games due to all the art, fancy audio, and marketing. Also the revenue is split with a publisher. So as you can guess, the $ per hour rate is currently very low. Now, to be fair, it was only released in Dec 2017 and it will hopefully have a good long tail with lots of sales and discounts etc. which will push up the $ per hour rate.

However, even with a decent long tail, Shadowhand is basically NEVER going to match Spooky Bonus for $ per hour. In fact it’s even going to struggle to match Regency Solitaire.

Quicker Games FTW!

That’s why in 2018 I’m focusing on making games a lot quicker. I have a 3 month project lined up and a couple of potential 6 month projects too.

Note that quicker doesn’t mean crapper. I already have an existing game engine that I can re-theme and add in new features etc. Also I won’t let quality drop in areas that matter although I do intend to reign in my perfectionism in areas that no one ever notices except me.

Also, proud as we are of Shadowhand, it was basically way-overscoped. It takes people about 15-16 hours to beat and many people then play it again on hard mode for another 20+ hours. So it’s super-good value for $15 (buy it!) Too good value in fact. Imagine we had made Shadowhand 1 and 2 and both were 8 hours long? Or Shadowhand was 8 hours long and had 8 hours of DLC?

A caveat

Remember, I’m a full-time indie and I need to earn decent money from my games to support my family of four.

I don’t have any money stored up so I can make a giant multi-year game. There’s nothing wrong with that, if you can do it safely and don’t have anything riding on the outcome, but I just cannot at present. Unless I get a patron that is, so yeah uber-rich indies who want to support a genuis game dev, please send me an email, thanks :-)

So, just please be realistic about your game and don’t fall into the trap of making a giant piece of art that earns you nothing except disappointment.

What about you?

How long have you been working on your game? Is that wise in the current market? Let me know in the comments.

My 2017 Indie Game Picks (Desktop)

January 12th, 2018

I didn’t play many desktop indie games in 2017 because I was so focused on finishing and shipping Shadowhand. I played some on console when I took a break from the PC, but they aren’t listed here.

Anyway, these are the ones I found most interesting (in no particular order). Note that they may be older than 2017 but I didn’t get round to playing them until 2017.

Evoland

It’s an RPG game that starts off like an old-skool game and gradually evolves into a more modern style game. I thought it was pretty neat.

Fidel Dungeon Rescue

A smart rogue-lite puzzle game with decent pixel art and a certain charm. It’s quite tricky!

Guild of Dungeoneering

A neat RPG where you build the dungeon by laying down cards for rooms, monsters and loot etc.

Hollow Knight

Everyone was talking about this so I thought I’d better try it and guess what? It was good. Metroidvania style gameplay and very polished art.

Kero Blaster

I can’t remember how I ended up with this game but I’m a sucker for old-skool pixel art experiences (if done well). So I probably saw this on Steam and got it, and it was good.

Oxygen Not Included

I got to play an alpha of this and it was so addictive I had to delete it otherwise I knew it would delay my work on Shadowhand. Recommended!

Punch Club

As an Aikido instructor, this game intrigued me and I got hooked as soon as I started playing it. Balancing your job, training and wellbeing is addictive (and too real!)

Reigns

I played a lot of card games the last couple of years as research for Shadowhad. This one wasn’t useful as it didn’t give me any ideas, but it was a clever idea, so it made my list.

Superhot

Yes I know, late to the party, but I liked it a lot. This is the only game on the list that I beat because I have a compulsion to beat level-based FPS games.