Human Extinction Simulator was released on January 21st and isn't exactly a bestseller on Steam. Reviews are good but scarce and like many other indie games most people simply don't know it exists.
Awareness is the most difficult challenge indie devs have to face but even when your game is not hugely popular Steam can make an interesting difference. HES (as well as 125 other games) was in the previous weeklong deal on Steam and here are my thoughts about this experience.
The search for visibility
My initial plan was to not use discounts for a very long time. Even if it's far from being a blockbuster I figured that making about $100 a day wasn't the worst thing that could happen to me. I still have a day job so this additional revenue was nice even though I eventually hope that one day I might be working on games full-time.
Unfortunately this situation didn't last and that $100 a day became $50 and then $20 and then too frequently $0. Even with 85 million users games do die on Steam. The discovery update on Steam might be a success but there's a limit to what it can accomplish.
I made it a bit above 30% of my initial objective of selling 1,000 copies of Human Extinction Simulator at full price (over a year) before things got really quiet. Thanks to the fact that I'm selling the game at $20 it still means I made some money but I had to revise my good thoughts about why indie devs should not discount their games too soon. HES is now hard to find on Steam and direct sales are atrocious so I needed to do something about this.
So Steam has 85 million users but a fraction of this number know that HES exists. The fix? Put the game in front of these users through any mean available, the first one being the weeklong deals.
I've put a 10% discount on Human Extinction Simulator starting from March 23rd to March 29th which is a very low discount that most people probably expect from a new release on Steam (HES was released without a release discount). During that period I made more money than I did during the 2nd complete week after the game was released on Steam (it was released on January 21st so the 2nd complete week is from February 2nd to February 8th).
Now you can say that this 2nd complete week must have been terrible but the way I see it is that I made more money during that week from my game than I did from my day job which is enough to call this experiment a success.
How many people bought the game during the weeklong deal? Not a lot but since HES is sold for $20, even with a 10% discount it still means interesting money for someone who is not making a living only out of game copies sold. How many people who had HES on their wishlist bought the game with the 10% discount? None from what I see but over 400 persons added the game to their wishlist.
Weeklong deal with a single day visibility window
The thing with weeklong deals is that they happen every single week so they are not really events and are barely advertised. They are announced and featured on the front page on Monday but then they are quickly replaced by some other promotion. This is why the best results from my experiment were seen on Monday, a day I did better than some of the days during the first week after release of the game.
You can see above the traffic on the game's page. The green line is traffic coming from the weeklong deal page so you can see that by Wednesday it was all over. Sales kept coming during the rest of the week though so at that point it was really just the discount itself that was driving traffic.
There was 125 games in the weeklong deal but as I'm writing this there is a total of 534 games sold with a discount on Steam. Because so many games can be discounted at the same time and because of the initial boost in traffic I'd still recommend linking your discounts to weeklong deals.
Even with a 10% discount the previous week was the second most profitable period for Human Extinction Simulator, only beaten by the first week following the release. So the answer to "will you discount HES again later" is definitely yes but if you're waiting for the 50% or 75% discount then you might wait for quite a while.
I consider the results good and there are still many people who are not even aware the game exists so sticking to low discounts seems the right thing to do for now. Eventually I will try to convert people who put the game on their wishlist into buyers with possibly deeper discounts but I'm not in a hurry.
It's neat that with a 10% discount I made more money than the previous weeks. The discount paid itself because of the additional visibility. You can put a discount on your game only every 8 weeks so considering the results of this first weeklong deal I don't see the day I will put a huge discount on HES if history repeats itself. I still have a long way to go before I go through the 85 million users of Steam.
I wish I could have stick to my idea of not applying discounts for a much longer time but as it often happens things didn't go as planned. Between a 10% discount two months after release and not selling any copies several days in the last two weeks the choice was obvious. As much as I'd like that game devs were not discounting their games so frequently there comes a point when you have to pay the bills and if using discounts is one way to get it done then so be it.
About the author
My name is Dave Toulouse and I'm a solo independent game developer (operating under the name Machine 22) who worked on a dozen projects in the past 7 years. My last project is the turn-based strategy game Human Extinction Simulator.