Archive for April, 2018

Let’s play Shadowhand

Friday, April 27th, 2018

In recent weeks Jake has made a series of Let’s Play videos on YouTube featuring our strategic RPG card game, Shadowhand.

The first offers offers tips and tricks for Chapters 1-3:

The second offers detailed strategy for Chapter 4, Smuggler’s bay:

And as you’ll see, there are further videos, currently taking us up to Chapter 7.

If you are already playing the game and need hints, there is a guide, The Outlaw’s Almanack that you will find useful, too.

And of course if you haven’t got your copy yet:

How many wishlists should you have when launching on Steam?

Tuesday, April 24th, 2018

Y axis is exactly what the title says it is. X axis is just anonymised game number. This applies to all graphs in this blog.

Well of course the answer is: As many as possible!

I recently spoke to a bunch of devs and asked them to share their wishlist-related data because I wanted to know the relationship between wishlists at launch and sales at launch. I figured that this would help me to calculate the approximate amount of wishlists required at launch for a “decent” launch.

7-day Wishlist conversions at launch

On the Steam sales reporting system you can view a page of details about your game’s wishlists. If you set the date range to a week (or 8 days to be safe) that encompasses your launch day, you will see a small table at the bottom of the page. That table shows you how many wishlist emails were sent out at launch and how well those wishlists converted into sales during the first 7 days. I asked devs to send me their data and they kindly obliged.

Note that if you launched without setting up a “coming soon” page, this table will be missing. Also if your game is more than a couple of years old, the data isn’t available.

I’ve plotted the results from 14 games that had regular or early access Steam launches and the results are at the top of the page. You can see that there’s quite a large range. The average is 10.5% and the median is about 6.9%. Yes, I could do with more data points, so please let me know yours if you feel inclined!

Note that the highest conversion may be an outlier because the dev already had a huge player base for on online game and he encouraged them to wishlist the Steam game. So this may have resulted in a large fanbase buying during the first week.

Note that our game, Shadowhand, converted at 20% which is also pretty high. We also have a decent fan base from previous games and so did the other game on the chart with 19.5%.

If I exlude the possible outlier at the top then the average is 8.9% and the median is 6.2%.

Some games seemed to have a low conversion rate. Perhaps there weren’t many existing fans, or the price was too high, or the initial reviews weren’t positive. All those things and more could affect conversion rate.

Early Access 7-day Wishlist conversions at full launch

What about games coming out of Early Access into a full launch?

Well I managed to get 7 data points for those and I discovered that the 7-day conversion rate is much lower than for EA or regular launches. The average and median are both 2.4%.

This suggests that most “fans” (I’m using this term to mean customers who are prepared to pay close to full price for a game that they really like the look of) have already bought the game and the others are just hanging on for a deep discount. Also I suspect that the length of time a game is in EA may affect the conversion rate because if it’s in EA a long time then probably more fans will get round to buying it, thus lowering the conversion rate at full launch.

Wishlist sales vs total sales

So how many ADDITIONAL sales will a game make during launch week on top of wishlist sales? Well I asked devs that too and charted the results above as a ratio of wishlists sales to total sales. This chart includes regular and EA launches, as well as EA to full launches because there was virtually no difference between them.

The average ratio was 21.8% and the median was 20.5%.

Many things could affect this ratio. For example, a large fanbase who have already wishlisted the game would push it up resulting in comparatively less organic sales. Or the game could get some great launch press/streamers or a Steam main capsule feature which would lower the ratio due to all the extra organic sales.

Sales per Wishlist (aka the “Birkett Ratio”)

Now things start to get very interesting because we can say that if you had 10000 wishlists before launch then approx 10% of them will convert to sales at launch, which is 1000 sales. Then you can expect 4000 more “organic” sales for a total of 5000 sales in your first week (based on the wishlist sales to total sales ratio of 20%).

Which means that each wishlist is worth approximate 0.5 sales!

In fact I charted it (see chart above) and the average is 0.58 sales per wishlist and the median is 0.36. The full range is from 0.14 to 1.8.

This is super-useful info, especially if you plan to spend money on ads to get wishlists.

Of course, there’s a big range in here. Worst case your 10000 wishlists might only generate 2% conversions for 200 wishlist sales which account for 33% of total sales. Therefore total sales = 600 and each wishlist equates to approx. 0.06 sales. A poor result but also pretty unlikely!

Best case would be something like 10000 wishlists converting at 31%, so 3000 wishlist sales which are only 10% or total sales. Therefore total sales = 30000! So each wishlist would be worth 3 sales in an unlikely scenario where everything was fantastic.

How many wishlists should I aim for?

This year at GDC I was in a meeting with some devs and a Valve rep and they said 50,000 wishlists would be a good figure aim for if you want featuring to kick in. Wow, previously I’d heard about devs trying to get 10K wishlists, and we struggled to achieve that with Shadowhand as we only got about 4000!

Ultimately you want your game to make a profit, or at least to break even. So if you know your total cost (and you should) then you can work out how many units you need to sell to break even.

Let’s say you need 10,000 units to break even in the first week, then you’d need about 20,000 wishlists according to my research (using the 0.5 sales per wishlist ratio).

For a $10 game that would mean $100,000 in gross revenue in the first week, or about $65K net revenue after Valve takes their cut and deals with sales tax.

Then you can use my week 1 x5 formula to calculate your year 1 revenue as per my recent blog post on the subject.

Well I hope you found that interesting. Please let me know your thoughts and feel free to email me any data that you want to share in order to improve my results. Thanks!

Latvian gamedev conference

Friday, April 13th, 2018

When my husband and business partner Jake Birkett is invited to speak at a game development conference in Latvia, my interest is piqued. I realise that my knowledge of the games business in this part of the world is extremely limited, and of course I want to find out more.

Thanks to generous sponsorship from GameInsight, the one day event in Latvia’s capital, Riga, is free to attend, and attracts over 100 game industry professionals and students.

What about Latvia?
Latvia is a little country with big ambition. This small Baltic nation has a population of fewer than two million and an interesting cultural mix, partly as a result of historical rule by neighbours such as Sweden, Russia and Poland. Even so, Latvia has retained its own Baltic identity and language.

The Latvian Game Association (LSIA) was founded in 2014, although some of its members had been active since 2007. Its remit is to promote the development of the Latvian game industry and mutual cooperation between game developers, in addition to education. The industry also gets support from sources such as the Latvian Agency of Investment (LIA).

Getting started
Riga is famous for its nightlife and so some of the speakers were out late sampling the local beers and karaoke scene. Our hosts from are generous with their time and have the event well organized.

Imants Zarembo kicks off with his recent experience of getting a game on Steam and working with a publisher. Zarembo works at Soaphog Game Studio, a team of eight that spent around four years developing roguelike dungeon crawler Rezrog, which won the Latvian “game of the year” award back in January.

One of his key takeaways is to throw out early prototypes: “we made practically all the mistakes we could make,” he admits, “we kept building on the same base.” He also advises other devs: “be serious about your marketing.” The publisher experience still boosted the project and facilitated localization: despite various twists and turns taken by the business, the game has broken even.

PR and marketing advice

There is no shortage of great PR and marketing advice on hand, like the excellent PR primer for gamedevs by Agnieszka Szóstak, founder of PR Outreach based in Warsaw, Poland, complete with a launch timeline.

Further marketing advice is on hand from 11 Bit Studios’ senior writer, Pawel Miechowski, based on the strategy deployed for standout pacifist game, This War of Mine.

Miechowski has over 20 years’ experience, and goes into detail on how to create a “brand book” for your game title, the significance of selling emotion to create a marketing impact, and the importance of a consistency through all communications.

His strategy paid off in terms of garnering considerable coverage from the mainstream press, he says. The takeaway? Set the marketing tone from the very start of your project and don’t be afraid to market only to a specific audience: “If you try to make a game for everyone, it’s going to be a game for no-one,” he concludes.

A tale of two studios
Next Brjann Sigurgiersson (Image & Form Games) and Jake Birkett (Grey Alien Games) offer contrasting talks on game studio survival and strategy. Sigurgiersson describes using the same game world and intellectual property (IP) and switching genres to create a series of games, as Image & Form has done successfully with its Steamworld games.

The company increased the price of its later games, such as Steamworld Dig 2 and says the advantages include reusing the same tech, creating for the same, engaged community and continuing to iterate.

The downside of making a game series? “If you aren’t careful then it can be boring, your skills don’t evolve much and it feels like creative suicide,” says Sigurgiersson. “You could be restricting your consumer base.” However as a business model incorporating self-publishing and a growing studio in Sweden, it works well for his team. “Strong IP is key – life is too short to make bad games,” he concludes.

Birkett’s talk drills down into the revenue per hour for indies as a key metric when judging the success of a project. Using data harvested from a large number of other developers as well as from Grey Alien Games’ recent projects such as Shadowhand and Regency Solitaire, he shows that there is considerable risk for many indie developers in over-long development times, and also shows how to estimate future sales on Steam based on the first week of sales. (There is also a version of this talk on YouTube.)

The takeaway is that remaining light and agile and keeping project turnover brisk is a sensible strategy in the current market.

Ari Pulkinen then treats conference attendees to a talk on branding through music, followed by a retrospective on a significant career in concept art by Bjorn Hurri. The final, high-energy talk is by Riga-born Anatolijs Ropotovs, CEO at GameInsight, with almost 20 years of game industry experience.

Leaving on a high note

Ropotovs started out operated his own gaming community site, then went on to develop games and user experience on various platforms, including social city-building games and current mobile mega-hit, Guns of Boom. He manages large teams and has many millions of players.

The key advice from his talk was that it’s OK to fail. Keep innovating and moving forward because anything is possible.

I’d go again
It’s an invigorating message for the developers gathered in Riga. The quality of projects in the prize gamejam is high, and as we spill out to the local bar the talk is animated and the ideas continue to flow.

The afterparty in full swing

For many, the next stop is a similar event in Tallinn in neighbouring Estonia, and after that, Casual Connect in London.

I wouldn’t hesitate to recommend this event in future…I have learned a lot, met some great people and have also caught some of their energy and enthusiasm, which leaves me brimming with ideas and ready to dive in to work when I get back home.

by Helen Carmichael

A bonus picture of Jake REALLY enjoying the Latvian dumplings