Following my other recent pieces, I have a whole bunch of follow-ups and interesting links for this article which help define the state of game discoverability in January 2020.
So it’ll be a smorgasbord* - let’s go for it! (*My almost 4-year-old son has been watching a LOT of Swedish Chef clips on YouTube recently, I think it’s rubbing off.)
Even more Steam graph number crunching
Following the excellent work of Danny Weinbaum which I interpreted in my last newsletter, dev Sergio Garces has built upon it in a Gamasutra blog post, with even more excellent/whizzy graphs and data about how games are doing on Steam.
There’s so much to look at that you should sample it yourself. But a couple I wanted to highlight in particular.
Firstly, Sergio did confirm - unsurprisingly - that, even though there are more players and buyers on Steam, the median revenue for each game is trending down over time as Steam saturates.
(The below graph uses a logarithmic scale, so the drops are a little bit more severe than the slow downslope might imply!)
Secondly, Sergio did 1-year and 5-year revenue estimates for all Steam games (!!!), based on reviews & other extrapolated goodness.
The Google Drive document with all of that in is here - I checked it for a couple of games that I know revenues for, and it was pretty decent! YMMV, of course. Nonetheless, it’s impressive and useful.
Steam tags - an additional point of view!
“Something I was thinking about is that of course, games normally have multiple tags. So you can have many tags, but maybe the wrong one. I'll use my own game Shadowhand as an example [these are the % of games with that tag that grossed over $200,000]:
- turn-based combat 21%
- historical 27%
- pirates 18% (the game is really about a highwaywoman, but does feature a smuggler and people look "pirate-y" because of the setting)
- female protagonist 17%
- atmospheric 15%
- card game 8%
- visual novel 7%
- RPG 6%
- strategy 5%
- puzzle 5%
- adventure 5%
- mouse only 4% (a bit too broad)
- indie 3% (but essentially, it's meaningless)
- casual 2% (Steam has always been bad for casual games)
- solitaire 0%
So there are some fairly strong tags, but also some weaker ones (perhaps because they are quite generic e.g. puzzle, adventure). And then there's the real kicker: solitaire 0%.
I wonder if there's some maths you can do on tags to come up with a number to predict success, but then if you have a tag that is 0% if that totally messes things up. Or it could be the hook that makes the game unique.”
I agree that I hadn’t considered that there can be ‘best case scenario’ and ‘worst case scenario’ tags, and all games have a lot of user-created tags. So definitely something to think about!
[Side note: Sergio Garces also made a Steam single tag visualizer as part of his Steam data megacrunch that’s pretty darn good.]
Steam market research - via tags!
OK, one final info trove, before your brains explode and you revert to protoplasmic ‘big data’ organisms.
Leha Games has made an amazing ‘Steam marketing research tool’, based on Danny Weinbaum’s data, which allows you to plug in multiple tags, game names, exclude certain tags and revenue, and even publisher names.
You can then get estimated revenue, average revenue per tag, and all kinds of things. Again, bear in mind that the revenue numbers are ballpark-y - but I think they’re ballpark-y enough (within 2x) to get a GENERAL idea of what’s going on.
For example, as shown below, here’s what you get if you just select the ‘Lovecraftian’ tag:
Anyhow you can do sooo many more neat complex things using this, and the associated Steam tag browser. Please have lots of fun, and thanks to our fellow datanauts for putting these together.
Miscellaneous other neat links.
Finishing off, here’s a few notable links or tidbits I thought you might dig. Thanks to those who referred me to them:
- Here’s an update/clarification to the semi-hidden Steam top wishlists list which is VERY interesting to look through. Having now paid more attention to it (because the No More Robots-published Yes, Your Grace is wandering up towards the Top 50), it turns out this list is simply ‘total # of wishlists for unreleased games’.
We’re pretty darn sure about this. So no complex rotating two-week ‘wishlist additions’, as I tried to speculate before, just ranking by total. (That’s why everything is fairly static on it.)
- Always interesting to see post-release case studies on hobbyist-made Steam games, and here’s a good one on Reddit, for Brother Brother. The game had 157 wishlists when it launched, and has sold under 100 copies (grossing $185) in its first two months on sale. Yes, this happens on Steam. But judging by the postmortem, the dev still had fun!
- Arnold at Tiny Touch Tales (Card Thief, Card Crawl, Miracle Merchant, etc) has been ever-transparent and released his 2019 dev retrospective with revenue. Notable: “2019 was the second year in a row where I did not release anything new. In regards to that I was aware that my sales would drop off quite a bit since my newest game Miracle Merchant is as of August 2019 already 2 years old. But another warm surprise: my old games still sell like hot cakes.” (His games grossed $110,000 on iOS and Android during the year. They are pretty good and in a popular mobile genre, so.. that’s still heartwarming, right!)
- Enjoyed this Bennett Foddy Twitter thread about why Metacritic just doesn’t even ‘touch’ some of the most popular Steam games nowadays. This is something that I’ve seen trip up a few older-school folks in the game biz.
Click on this Tweet link for the full thread, but here’s a couple of notable parts to it:
"The conventional wisdom is that you can figure out roughly how many copies a game has sold on Steam by taking the number of user reviews and multiplying it by 50 (on the pessimistic end) or 100 (on the optimistic end). A thread! (again, sorry - threads are the worst!)."
"My Summer Car, one of my favorite roguelikes, has 18,591 steam user reviews (let's say 900k-1800k copies sold, seemingly more than Assassin's Creed: Origins sold at launch). Also has 0 critic reviews per Metacritic."
- There are a lot of hit games that do not get written up in the press at all.
- Reviews are no longer a prerequisite for driving sales.
- You can't stay up to date any more just by reading reviews.
- Lots of invisible market niches to develop for!"
- Finally, here’s a YouTube video about ‘releasing a game on Steam with no marketing’. It’s interesting, because the creator shows his post-launch sales, which are underwhelming (to him), & suggests that with more marketing it would have sold better.
Well, potentially - but the game itself seems like it’s a bit of a novelty intentionally, so it’s not completely clear that no marketing is the issue.
Maybe it’s just that the game isn’t the kind that sells well on Steam. Either way - it’s interesting to hear post-launch justifications. (The title sold similarly to Brother Brother, it looks like…)
[This article is part of the Game Discoverability Now! newsletter series, a regular look at how people find - and buy - your video games. Or don’t. You may know the author from helping to run GDC & the Independent Games Festival, and advising indie publisher No More Robots, or from his other newsletter Video Game Deep Cuts.]