I’ve track a lot of data about my indie business in a giant spreadsheet and recently I did an analysis of 3 games to see the breakdown in sales per platform. I had a gut feeling that PC way outperformed Mac and mobile but I wanted to 100% confirm that.
Just in case it’s not clear from the image here’s the percentage split:
- PC 91%
- Mac 6%
- Mobile 3%
- Console 0%
3 games = $160,800
I analysed the sales of the following 3 games:
- The Wonderful Wizard of Oz: Released Nov 2006 Total revenue = $55,800
- Holiday Bonus. Released Dec 2006. Total revenue = $54,000
- Spring Bonus: Released April 2011. Total revenue = $51,000
Those three games have been released in the following places:
- Direct sales via my site on PC/Mac
- Mac App Store
- Numerous casual portals including Big Fish Games, iWin, Real, Oberon, Amazon etc. Mostly PC but some have taken Mac versions.
- Google Play/Kindle/Nook
- XBLIG (only for Holiday Bonus)
It should be noted that the Mac versions of Holiday Bonus and Oz came out about 1 year after the PC version, so they have not has as long to catch up with PC sales.
Also it should be noted that Holiday Bonus mobile was released in Dec 2011, and Spring Bonus mobile was released in April 2012. There is currently no mobile version of Oz.
So yes, obviously my pie chart is skewed in favour of PC, although Mac has had a pretty good chance to compete.
Only one game was released on XBLIG as an experiment and clearly that market isn’t interested in casual games judging by the poor revenue, which is fair enough. Conversion rate is actually pretty good (>20%), so many people who play it do actually buy it, but downloads are just super-low.
Of course my mobile games haven’t been on sale for as long as the PC/Mac versions, so haven’t had a fair shot. However comparing the launch of my mobile games to the PC version, there is still a huge difference in revenue.
I’ve self-published one mobile game and used a publisher for another one. The published game definitely did better, so that’s useful information. Even though it’s nice to self-publish and track your own sales stats and have complete control etc, I believe you are more likely to make money by using a good publisher – unless you have a great game that can garner tons of press attention. My games are “just” casual games and so the press is basically not interested.
I do have an Oz mobile port on the way and Holiday Bonus GOLD was just self-published on mobile (it was a last minute thing so not enough time to get a publisher), plus I’ve got something in the pipeline for Spring Bonus. So I’ve not given up on mobile yet and I expect my mobile revenue to grow, but still I don’t think it’ll touch the PC revenue.
Spring Bonus (last 19 months)
I produced a revenue by platform pie chart just for Spring Bonus because it’s a much more recent game than the other two so presents a more accurate picture. Here it is:
You can see that mobile revenue is higher than Mac but still less than 10%.
Well the article title says it all: PC is not dead and mobile is shit.
Of course I make a certain type of game and the market is more geared up to sell PC copies of those, and indies releasing PC games on Steam certainly find they can do pretty well on there too compared to other platforms. Other developers are having great success on mobile – good for them. But I would urge caution in the mobile market. It’s HUGELY over-saturated and hard to get noticed. I got my existing games ported to mobile as a low-risk approach, but there are teams of developers out there spending 6-12 months on mobile games and I personally think that’s a recipe for disaster in most cases.
Looking at my numbers, perhaps I’d be best sticking to PC only? Putting all my energy into that and not buying expensive Macs (and constantly upgrading the OS and Xcode, and farting around with provisioning profiles and certificates) and not buying an ever growing army of mobile devices to test on. Most devs have a PC anyway, even if they just play games on it! For me anyway, PC is the clear winner.
If you are a cross-platform dev and want to share your numbers in the comments, that would be awesome. Thanks!
I’ve been tracking the monthly sales of all my games since 2005 when I first went indie and I recently decided to combine 5 of them into a single chart and it proved to be very interesting!
The 5 games are:
- Xmas Bonus (Dec 2005)
- Easter Bonus (Mar 2006)
- The Wonderful Wizard of Oz (Nov 2006)
- Holiday Bonus (Dec 2006)
- Spring Bonus (April 2011)
Two of my other games, Fairway Solitaire and Unwell Mel, are not included in the chart because they were contract jobs for Big Fish Games (BFG). Nor is any of my revenue from consultancy, advertising, employment at Big Fish Games etc. – this is just the revenue from 5 of my own games on multiple platforms (PC/Mac/XBLIG/iOS/Android/WP7)
A note on revenue
[EDIT] I realised that November 2006 was wrong. It should have been $9632.43 due to $7K from retail deals for Oz. That actually means the total is $163,806!
Note that the revenue is the net royalties paid to me after publisher/distributor fees. Most of my sales come from the casual portals who take anywhere from 60%-80% for themselves. Yes, you read that right.
If I assume the portals take an average of 70% then the gross revenue from those games is over $500,000. If the portals only took 30% (like Apple/Steam/Google), I would have a very different living standard now…
Here’s a chart showing the units sold each month. It’s pretty similar to the revenue chart but there are some differences which I’ll explain below.
Click on the image above to see it enlarged.
- Looking at the first year on the Units Sold chart you can see when Xmas Bonus came out in Dec 2005 and when Easter Bonus came out in Mar 2006. There are tiny spikes for those. The revenue isn’t tracked accurately per month for those titles, which is why there’s a big spike in June 2006 because I logged it all then.
- During my first year as an indie, those games only made me $1562, which is clearly not enough to live on. I supplemented my income with IT consultancy work, and went into debt whilst I worked on my next two games.
- I spent most of 2006 writing a new game game engine for The Wonderful Wizard of Oz which I then reused for Holiday Bonus. This is why the two games were launched very close to each other. This is the first big spike on the chart.
- After that you can see a declining 4 year long tail with spikes every December. The spikes are entirely due to me asking the portals to re-promote Holiday Bonus every Christmas.
- During 2007/2008 I was doing control work for BFG and so there are no new titles.
- Note that in December 2009 the units sold spike is very high but the revenue isn’t as high comparatively. That’s because the game was on sale for $2.99 on BFG and so even though a lot of units were sold, revenue wasn’t huge.
- During 2009/2010 I was living in Vancouver working for BFG and so there are no new game releaesd. You can see the revenue had dropped right down and I needed to do something, so I did…
Spring 2011 – Spring Bonus
- In Jan 2011 I quit my job at BFG and went indie again. I made Spring Bonus which I shipped in April 2011 on multiple casual portals including some who had never taken my games before. That’s the first really huge spike.
- After the launch of Spring Bonus you’ll notice that the revenue doesn’t always correspond with unit sales. That’s because some of the new portals have different business models including making money from advertising or pay per minute of play.
Winter 2011 – Reusing IP
- Towards the end of 2011 I had two epic ideas: After the success of the localised version of Spring Bonus, I thought I should localise Holiday Bonus and Oz and get them on BFG. I also thought I should try and get Holiday Bonus and Oz on the new portals who never took those games in the past. Both ideas worked and panned out very well and led to the massive spike in December 2011 and have contributed to the pool of higher monthly revenue I’m currently receiving.
2012 so far
- The spike in spring 2012 is a mixture of things. There’s a spike in units sold in April due to Spring Bonus being re-promoted but the revenue spike is in May. This is actually a big payment from one of the portals for Holiday Bonus and Oz, and it’s non-unit sales revenue! These payments seem to arrive on a 3 month cycle and that’s why the graph is so bumpy in recent times.
- I’ve also released a couple of mobile games (Holiday Bonus and Spring Bonus) over the last year or so and there are more coming soon. However, mobile has not been a big earner for me. Most of the revenue is from sales of the PC/Mac download versions, and 99% of that is from the portals. My direct sales are very poor but I don’t put much effort into them.
- Finally do not worry if Oct/Nov 2012 look a bit low. I simply haven’t received all the royalty reports yet.
I’ve said it before in other posts, but… wow games have a really long tail! Especially if you can maximise the IP in terms of localising it, getting new distributors to take it, and getting it on new platforms/devices.
Also note that I struggled to make money for a long time at the start. If you are new to being indie make sure you get your first few games out there quickly to see what the real world is like! Also make sure you have at least a year’s worth of savings stored up to live off, preferably more.
Being indie is a long-term game. If you are dedicated, you can make it work. Good luck!
Last week I finished Holiday Bonus GOLD, and it is coming out on a bunch of portals soon as a new game on some, and as an update on others. This should keep my Christmas sales spikes going for a few more years. It’s also coming out for iPad and hopefully Kindle. Oz mobile is coming out soon too, in early 2013.
I’ve also been helping Klei Entertainment with with Eets Munchies, which is due out next year. Plus I’m porting Titan Attacks to mobile for Puppy Games, which is also due out next year.
So watch this space!
Please share this article as I’m sure many people will find it interesting. Thanks!
I went indie in 2005 and since then I’ve shipped 7 downloadable casual games for PC/Mac, worked on a Facebook game at Big Fish Games, done some consultancy work, and made a bunch of game jam games for fun.
Of the downloadable games, my first two were a flop. They have made $4174 over the course of 6 years! Two of the downloadable games were contract work for Big Fish Games, so I can’t share sales figures, but I can for the remaining 3 as follows:
The Wonderful Wizard of Oz
Launched November 2006
The Wonderful Wizard of Oz was the first game I made using BlitzMax. Early in 2006 I was approached by Alex Ahlund who had the idea to make a Wizard of Oz game because the copyright on the book had expired due to it being more than 100 years old. I was using BlitzPlus at the time but it was too limited to make commercial quality casual games (as my first two flops proved). So I spent 3 months learning BlitzMax and writing the Grey Alien BlitzMax Game Framework, which I have kept on improving up to the present day. Then I made the Oz game and we shipped the PC version on a bunch of major casual download portals. The Mac version didn’t come out until November 2008.
There was a big spike of sales at first, then revenue leveled out and remained constant for many years. Recently though I got it localised into many languages and re-promoted it on Big Fish Games and got it on some new portals and it has made a whole bunch more money (almost $10000). In fact it had its best month ever of sales in Jan 2012 – 5 years after the initial launch! Check out the graphs below (units sold and revenue per month):
Getting it localised, re-promoted and put on some new portals only took me 32 hours (I keep an accurate time log) so the extra revenue works out to be about $312 per hour so far. I’m still expecting a big royalty from another portal and I think that revenue will remain pretty good for quite a few months yet.
Previously all the royalties were from units sold but a couple of the new portals pay out based on number of plays and advertising and these alternative “orchards” of revenue have proven to be very fruitful.
Launched December 2006
When I making Oz, I got a strong feeling that I should stop adding features and ship it so I could make a Christmas-themed game, so that’s what I did! My first commercial game (Xmas Bonus) was Christmas-themed but was a flop, so I took a risk by making making a similar game. However, I thought I could really improve on my first game and the sales figures speak for themselves. I was going to call the game Xmas Bonus 2 but a guy who worked for Oberon suggested the name Holiday Bonus and I believe changing it was good move.
I had to work extremely hard to get this game out on time so I crunched like crazy. I started work on 17th November and shipped the first build on 8th of December. I had worked a total of 191 hours in 22 days (approx. 3 weeks). I’m pretty sure that $50K for 3 weeks’ work could be called a success.
Although really only $31,600 came from the initial PC version and a Mac version that was released in Jan 2008 (for some reason BFG failed to launch it in December). The rest of the revenue came from localising it, re-promoting, and launching on some new portals for Christmas 2011 (like I did with Oz). This only took me 28 hours and has generated $18,000 so far and that number will keep on going up. At $642 per hour that’s the best money I’ve ever earned for effort put in.
Here are some epic charts:
You can see it spiking every Christmas and last Christmas was by far the best. Pretty amazing for a 5-year old game!
Also back in Dec 2011 before I localised/re-promoted the game I did a postmortem talk at Full Indie in Vancouver and talked about the long tail of games. You can watch it below:
It’s worth mentioning that I also worked with Damien Sturdy who ported the game to Unity so that we could sell it on iOS/Android. He did a great job and we both spent a lot of time on it, but so far revenue has only reached $541. Take note: self-publishing a casual game on mobile is REALLY hard! Also the game was ported to Xbox Live Indie Games by James Mintram but has not made very much money at all – still it was great to play my game on a giant TV via my console
Launched April 2011
Spring Bonus is my most recent commercial title. After Holiday Bonus I made Fairway Solitaire and Unwell Mel for Big Fish Games as contract work. These games did very well and I also improved my framework. Then I spent 2 years working at Big Fish Games in Vancouver before quitting in Jan 2011 to go indie again. I had planned to get started on some “indie” games, but I needed to put some money in the bank and I needed to prove to myself that I could still make good games on my own. So I decided to make Spring Bonus (I’m a big fan of the Spring, and in fact my second game was Easter-themed but it flopped).
I couldn’t use any of the source code from Unwell Mel because Big Fish Games owns it, which was a shame, but I managed to improve my old Holiday Bonus code and got some great art and music made. I put the game together in a couple of super-intense months and launched it 7 minutes after my non-compete with BFG expired I’m planning on doing a full postmortem at Full Indie in July, so keep an eye out for that (I’ll post a video on youtube). In summary, even though it has made the most amount of money in the shortest amount of time of the 3 games mentioned in this post, it wasn’t as successful as it could have been for a couple of reasons that I aim to correct with my next casual game.
All the sales figures below are for the PC/Mac (and localised) versions only. The game was ported to iOS/Android by Damien Sturdy again and was published by Hothead Games. It has done much better than Holiday Bonus on those mobile devices, but those figures are not public are not included in the totals above or charts below. Also it was ported to Windows Phone by James Mintram but unfortunately those sales have been very poor (worse than iOS/Android by far.)
Total effort expended
$ per unit=$3.44
Total expenses=$18,700 approx. (varies depending on USD/GBP exchange rate figure I use)
Total profit=$124,000 approx.
$ per hour worked=$110 approx.
I keep an accurate work log for every game I make and so the figures listed above are pretty damn accurate. Also I only log actual productive work, not farting around on Facebook or eating lunch etc.
People typically work about 2000 hours a year in North America if they work 40 hours a week and take 2 weeks off for vacation (whether they are productive 100% of the time during those 2000 hours is debatable). So it seems like I worked about 6-7 months in total making those games. Of course the reality was that after every game I was exhausted and had to take time off. Also the income from those games has taken 5+ years to arrive, so it’s not like I could really say “Ok I’ll bang out 6 games in a year and make $280K in revenue”, although it’s certainly nice to think that ;-p
Note that quite a lot of the recent revenue has been from pay per play/advertising etc. so the $ per unit sold is inflated. It’s more like $2.20 per unit from the casual download portals.
The 3 games listed above are by no means “hits” in the downloadable casual game space; there’s certainly plenty more room to increase revenue, which I aim to do with my next casual title by getting everything right based on previous experience. I know plenty of devs whose casual games have made them well over $100K without too much initial outlay on art etc.
When I began making casual games they were in their heyday. Then people started to say casual games were dead and many developers jumped ship to Facebook when they saw Zynga’s profits, and more recently devs abandoned Facebook in favour of social mobile games. The funny thing is, casual games are still selling fine whilst many devs are getting burned on Facebook and mobile (or selling their souls in exchange for evil IAP revenue). I’ve got experience with Facebook and mobile and I can say for sure that they are not easy markets at all! Therefore I’ll keep making some casual games to bring in revenue whilst I experiment with some more “indie”-style games for fun.
If you are thinking of making a casual game, please remember that my first two games flopped and that I didn’t make any money for about 18 months after going indie. It’s all about quality and the correct vibe. You need to spend money on good art and make sure that your game is well polished and fits into the genres that casual players expect. Many indies would hate to make casual games and even scoff at them, but I like many casual games and I’ve enjoyed honing my craft with them over the years, plus they have kept my family housed and fed for 7 years now.
I offer casual game design consultancy for a fee or percentage of revenue, so please contact me if you are interested. I can help convert your game from a flop into a success. For example, one game I helped with has made several hundred thousand dollars for the developers.
I hope that you have enjoyed this detailed post of my sales figures. I encourage you to share your own too! Please let me know your thoughts in the comments.