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What Were They Expecting? (Indie Game Sales Numbers) (Forums : Cosmos : What Were They Expecting? (Indie Game Sales Numbers)) Post Reply
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Aug 1 2017 Anchor

There is something I've wanted to ask about for a while, but never asked because it's a quick way to lose friends. Plus, he who lives in glass houses shouldn't throw stones and all that. As the title suggests, I want to ask about indie sales figures, and how people seem to have unrealistic expectations.

The story is likely a familiar one to those on these forums. An indie game will come out, sell 10-20 thousand copies, but then the developers say the game was a failure. I look at those stories and wonder how that's the case, and what they were expecting sales wise.

To explain what I mean, let's look at The New York Times best seller list. Without looking it up, I want you to take a guess how many books you would have to sell to make it onto the list. Got a number in mind? Ok. The answer? From what I read online, the number varies between 5-8 ...thousand. At this point, some people get incredulous. Harry Potty or Game of Thrones sells more than that, and you'd be right. But once you move outside of household names like 50 Shades of Grey or The Martian, the numbers fall off dramatically. How many of you have read "The Nightingale" by Kristin Hannah, which is on the list at time of writing? Hell, who's even heard of it? I don't mean to knock the book, I'm sure it's great, and I don't have the raw sales numbers, but that's what I read about best sellers.

Maybe you want game specific examples. Ok. I occationally play what some would call "weeb games", Senran Kagura, Gal Gun, stuff like that. Again, I don't have the hard numbers, but it's not unusual to hear of these games having print runs as small as 50,000 to 10,000. This idea is backed up by Steam sale numbers for the PC ports selling around that many. Speaking of which, the Dark Souls esc game The Surge has 70,000 sales on Steam. Remember, these are games made by professional teams with publisher backing. The idea that 2 guys in their bedrooms can make a game that will surpass those in terms of sales is ...optimistic at best.

Which brings me to one last point. Where are they spending the money? Let's say a game costs 20 USD on Steam. It sells 10,000 copies, that's 200,000. Steam takes a 30% cut, but lets say you've got taxes and other stuff to pay, and say that you only get 50% of that money. That's still $100,000. I rarely see what it is indie games are spending the money on, because they are rarely graphically or technically impressive.

Look, I'm not a professional business man, but it takes all of 5 minutes to open up SteamSpy and look at some sales figures. It also doesn't take that long take those numbers and figure out how much money you can reasonably spend while still making a profit.

So, what am I missing? What do these indie game devs really expect sales wise, and why? The closest I can think of is that they are all expecting to be the next Five Nights at Freddy's, or Undertale, but even that seems foolish given how few games get that popular. Again, even mid level publishers with all their resources don't expect that.

Aug 3 2017 Anchor

An indie game will come out, sell 10-20 thousand copies, but then the developers say the game was a failure

Exactly, how many developers who says that? and where did you get this news? Internet is filled with hoax so I have to ask to confirm

Aug 3 2017 Anchor
DarkBloodbane wrote:

An indie game will come out, sell 10-20 thousand copies, but then the developers say the game was a failure

Exactly, how many developers who says that? and where did you get this news? Internet is filled with hoax so I have to ask to confirm

I'm not quite sure what you're asking. I haven't counted every single instance of this happening if that's what you're asking. As for where, it varies. News sites, blogs, lectures, interviews, social media posts, it depends.

But if you want a couple of examples, one is Brigador, which was apparently a failure for the dev, despite the game selling over 100,000 at time of writing (assuming Steam Spy is accurate of course). A dev wrote a post about the game here-
Imgur.com

A famous example was Sunset. Steam Spy says they sold 12,000 at time of writing, but at the time of release, they claim they sold 4,000 in the first month and considered the game a failure. What makes this one famous is the developers (Tale of Tales) threw a big tantrum on Twitter that I'm sure google can help you find if you're interested.

But honestly, I can't remember the titles of most of the games. Finding the name of these games, let alone the original social media posts or interviews where they mention the game was a financial failure is more work than I'm willing to put in. However, give it 1-6 months and there might be another article or post doing the rounds about a struggling indie dev who considers his game a failure because in "only" sold 15,000 copies. Google will also give you some examples, but you'll have to check their sales, and why they consider the game a failure.

Aug 13 2017 Anchor

Just out of curiosity, what would any of you expect to be considered reasonably successful in terms of sales figures and price of game for a new turn-based fantasy RPG game maker's first game that's taken about a year to make? Also, I've been wondering whether it costs the developer money to release free demos on steam. Sorry if my questions might sound rather stupid. You can probably tell I'm a newbie. I'm considering releasing about 5-10% of my game as a free demo and then the full version for a cheap price. Does that sound like a reasonable idea?

Dragonlord
Dragonlord Linux-Dragon of quick wit and sharp tongue
Aug 14 2017 Anchor

For a "turn-based fantasy RPG" I would certainly not put down a single dime... those games exist like sand on the beach and are equal to each other like sand on a beach. To be honest for a project to look for payment it has to offer something new or special. There's too much same-y-same soup indie games floating around. One reason people don't hit expectations I would say. Don't compete with AAA on the boring run-of-the-mill games... they outperform you there any day any time.

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Aug 14 2017 Anchor
SabreXT wrote:


...Which brings me to one last point. Where are they spending the money? Let's say a game costs 20 USD on Steam. It sells 10,000 copies, that's 200,000. Steam takes a 30% cut, but lets say you've got taxes and other stuff to pay, and say that you only get 50% of that money. That's still $100,000. I rarely see what it is indie games are spending the money on, because they are rarely graphically or technically impressive.

Look, I'm not a professional business man, but it takes all of 5 minutes to open up SteamSpy and look at some sales figures. It also doesn't take that long take those numbers and figure out how much money you can reasonably spend while still making a profit.

So, what am I missing? What do these indie game devs really expect sales wise, and why? The closest I can think of is that they are all expecting to be the next Five Nights at Freddy's, or Undertale, but even that seems foolish given how few games get that popular. Again, even mid level publishers with all their resources don't expect that.

Let's do some quick maths:

I live in a relatively cheap area in midwest America. To be an indie developer, I have bills to pay. Namely: internet, rent, vehicle insurance + health insurance, electricity, food, etc. On top of that you will have fees that your team will require: Cloud storage, domain names, websites, replacement hardware, additional hardware for development (Mic, drawing tablet, decent camera...), paying other devs, etc.

Let's roughly add all this up and say pay about ~$1500 a month for everything. (Which is very little compared to the rest of the US, and made significantly cheaper being a one-man dev)

If I work on a game for a year, that is $18,000 I'm losing. Conversely, if I worked in fast food the whole time instead of developing a game, I would have a net gain of $15,000 (minimum wage of $7.25, 40 hours a week, for a year), which is honesty terrible money and wouldn't cover normal living costs, but I'll use it for an example.

If I wanted to justify pursuing game development, I would need a minimum ~$33,000 in revenue (After taxes, royalties, etc) to cover expenses and make up for potential lost if I didn't pursue something else. That's an absolute minimum and not including major unforeseen expenses, I would actually have lost money, I wouldn't save any money to start development of my next game, and my personal health would hate me for living on the bare minimum lifestyle.

Also in your sales figures, it isn't a straight sales. The game might be sold on discount or part of a humble bundle, or you may have had game keys pirated (But still shows up in SteamSpy for owners), and/or you might have royalties for musicians, artists, or the engine you're using.

So what are they expecting? Most devs I know are hoping, at a minimum, to break even. But more likely they are hoping to cover their expenses, and making enough money to justify diving into their savings to making another game. Otherwise they will drop game dev and pursue a cushy office job making double.

Edited by: JustDaveIsFine

Aug 19 2017 Anchor

Most devs I know are hoping, at a minimum, to break even.

Hope is a lot different from reasonable expectations. I can hope to become a millionaire for a game made over a weekend, but that's not realistic.

Getting into the messy details, like sales, bundles, unexpected debts, what have you, I was trying to keep things simple for the sake of explanation, but it's a legitimate criticism of what I said. However, it's a criticism that cuts both ways. Obviously, you can't plan for the unexpected, but you can try and save some money in case things don't go according to plan. It would seem that these devs haven't done that.

Then there's this line that stood out to me-

On top of that you will have fees that your team will require: Cloud storage, domain names, websites, replacement hardware, additional hardware for development (Mic, drawing tablet, decent camera...), paying other devs, etc.

The problem is you already established you're operating at a loss. $18.000 a year according to you. You have to keep costs to an absolute minimum. Why are you hiring people? Why do you need payed cloud storage? Why do you need a camera? Why not get affordable, consumer level tech before you quit your day job? I can understand, say, commissioning a soundtrack, but that should only be for stuff you absolutely can't do yourself. (eg. I have no musical talent and no music production tools.) Again, just to be clear, I'm no expert on the matter. My work is dumb hobby stuff that is nowhere near release worthy. However, I'm trying to learn to do 3D myself because I simply can't afford to pay people to make 3D assets for me. At least I have a better idea of where they are spending the money.


Just out of curiosity, what would any of you expect to be considered reasonably successful in terms of sales figures and price of game for a new turn-based fantasy RPG game maker's first game that's taken about a year to make?

I don't know. I'm not the right person to ask. One place to start would be to go on steamspy (or any other service where you can see sales data) and look up other, similar games. Also, look up the developers and see if they have any previous work, and if they had a publisher. Also, look up the devs (and publsishers) to see if they have a history. Finally, even once you have sales numbers of those games, don't expect to get that high. But as said, I'm not the right person to ask.

Dragonlord
Dragonlord Linux-Dragon of quick wit and sharp tongue
Aug 20 2017 Anchor
SabreXT wrote:

The problem is you already established you're operating at a loss. $18.000 a year according to you. You have to keep costs to an absolute minimum. Why are you hiring people? ...

One reason certainly would be time. Doing all by yourself (assuming you can do all by yourself on a reasonable skill level) takes a lot of time. The longer it takes the more expenses accumulate. So hiring somebody helps cutting down development time. Or last but not least you simply lack the skill in one domain.

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Aug 20 2017 Anchor



It wasnt easy back then, its not easy now.

Edited by: vfn4i83

Aug 21 2017 Anchor

Reasonable expectation is hard. There are people who spend decades in the AAA industry trying to crunch numbers to estimate reasonable sales. Indies are more uncertain.

Admittedly I'm using mostly consumer-grade stuff that I picked up for cheap when I had a normal day job. I've made several small games using the bare minimum for development. (Literally just a laptop) There were definitely quality sacrifices that had to be made. Some of the work I create even now feels like it could be made stronger if I used better equipment. Audio recording and video creation are easy examples of this.

It's definitely a trade-off.


Aug 29 2017 Anchor

agree with guys

Sep 4 2017 Anchor

It wasnt easy back then, its not easy now.

Great speech. I've been listening to a lot of Robert Rodriguez. Even though he talks about film, a lot of the stuff he mentions applies to games as well.


One reason certainly would be time. Doing all by yourself (assuming you can do all by yourself on a reasonable skill level) takes a lot of time. The longer it takes the more expenses accumulate. So hiring somebody helps cutting down development time. Or last but not least you simply lack the skill in one domain.

Then that implies you can't afford to work on games full time yet?



Dragonlord
Dragonlord Linux-Dragon of quick wit and sharp tongue
Sep 4 2017 Anchor
SabreXT wrote:

Then that implies you can't afford to work on games full time yet?

I know next to nobody in my country who can. Meddling through with some external help, yes, but not stand-alone. Something like an industry doesn't exist in this part of the world.

Edited by: Dragonlord

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