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From Steam to Switch: A Journey of an Indie Game

Is Nintendo Switch a salvation or a trap for indies? Let's have a closer look.

7262. This is not just a number. This is the exact number of games have been released on Steam in 2017. When Valve decided to shut town the Greenlight system in June, their plan was to put an end to fake crowd rankings and replace it with more straight one: money. As long as you are a developer and have 100$, you were free to go. But did it change anything?

Before this "new" system, 4207 games have released on Steam in 2016. So when you compare it with 2017, nothing really changed at all. Actually, it went worse because the decision authority was not the community anymore. It was Steam publisher admins (so they say) and the money itself. Right now there are 22.331 games on Steam and around 30 to 50 of them come every day. So it is clear that this number will exceed 30.000 at the end of 2018.

As the games, new developers born each day around the world, with the dream of success and fame. Most of them like to call themselves "ındies", as we do and there is no shame on that. There aren't many choices in front of indies when they decide to start this journey. If you are looking for a quick adventure, you choose Google Play Store because the approvement process is much easier than Apple. And of course, the market share is bigger when you look into numbers. But details are hidden inside the numbers, which we will talk about it later.

If Google Play Store is not the choice, Apple Store comes next with its premium friendly environment and much suitable (rich) player base. Apple's App Store holds 361.877 total games when Google Play almost doubles it with 677.560. Not a great place to be for a debut game right? Of course, it depends on many metrics but you can not blame people if they can't find your game among thousands of games. As they say "don't hate the player, hate the game". But is it really the case?

Let's say you decided to not go for mobile devices at all and joined into the land of indies, which we call Steam. The visibility algorithm of Steam depends on many things including:

  • The day you published your product page.
  • The genre, release date and the price of your game.
  • The total wishlist you gather until the release.
  • The variety of traffic sources who purchase your game.
  • The number of reviews, curators and community actions.
  • Tags, recommendations, trade cards, badges and so on...

These may sound like ordinary details for every game shop out there. But when you have to compete against over 20.000 games and counting each day (not talking about constant discounts), that is not an easy task. Especially when you don't have enough marketing budget to generate some good coverage around the world. Of course, every game sells itself, no matter how much money you spend. But to survive, you have to reach people and sometimes, money talks in mysterious ways.

According to numbers from various games which have been released on Steam, 1% conversion rate from product page view to purchase is good. So if we make a quick calculation: you have to receive around 1 Million product page visits to achieve 10.000 sales in your first week. Because that first week will measure your total yearly sales. So if you are aiming 50.000+ unit sales, you have to see some great numbers, of course if you are not working with a really good influencer to bring you thousands of people in a couple of hours.

Steam can only provide you (roughly) x20 visibility on the first date of the release. And if you don't receive a decent amount of sales during that time, the boost from Steam will surely go down dramatically and you will return where you have started in 15 days. As long as the game stays inside the "New and Trending" or "Best Sellers" sections (in the homepage or the tag pages), the river will flow. But of course this is a good scenario and not everybody (probably around 80% of all devs) can't see this success story. So what is the alternative?

765. Another number but this time much much lower than the first one. This is the exact total number of games on Nintendo Switch. Nintendo's new console was released in March 2017 and sold over 14 Million units so far. Each month, around 10 to 20 games become available in eShop and you guessed it right, maybe half of them are indies. So what is the other half? New titles and remakes. And that is the tricky part of Nintendo Switch.

If you are following the latest news, you know that many companies are porting their games to Nintendo Switch. Not only small studios but big publishers like Bethesda, From Software and of course Nintendo's in-house studios. This is one of the main reasons for western players to buy this console. Who can't say YES to play Doom on the go right? This time Nintendo takes things a bit more serious than they did during Wii U period, opening their doors to western devs. But of course the mobility of Nintendo Switch is probably the main reason for this new trend and it doesn't feel like it is going to stop anytime soon.

So when we go back to indies, it is actually pretty clear to see why Switch is a new home for indie games:

  • Not enough games for users to buy.
  • Not enough "new" games for users to buy.
  • and Not enough games for users to play on the go.

These three reasons create the most suitable environment for games from small studios. There are many reports have been shared about the big sale differences of the same game between Switch and Steam. Even the mighty Meat Boy has sold almost the same amount of copies which it did years ago. Can you imagine the need of users for new games? Of course, it doesn't mean that every game will be successful when they release on Switch. But it is obvious to see that reaching around 14 Million people among 765 games is much easier than to find a place inside over 20.000 products for 14 million concurrent users of Steam.

But does it mean that it is still safe to be there? For now, yes. As long as Nintendo keeps things under control, we won't see 50 games to release each day for Nintendo Switch. Nintendo's goal to reach 37 million unit sales until April 2019. So with the basic math, we will roughly see around 1000-1200 games at the eShop in early 2019. So if you are thinking about releasing your first game, better to check out what Nintendo offers to you. Maybe that decision can even save your studio's future.

Until next time.

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