Data-driven publisher No More Robots (@nomorerobotshq) has released a new report showing that on indie games on Steam are earning less than half of what they did in 2018.
No More Robots prefaces their report (which you can read in full here) with the acknowledgement that these numbers are estimates and should be treated as such.
Analyzing Steam data for game sales between July 5 and August 9, 2019, No More Robots compared that data with 2018 numbers.
They cleaned up the section of games they were looking at in 2019 to exclude AAA as well as the extreme ends of the indie spectrum (the bottom and top 5%) and were looking at about 170 games.
Their comparison found that the median copies sold on Steam in 2019 is 1,500 per game (with 3,000 copies being the mean) and the median earnings is $16,000 per game (with $46,000 being the mean). Compared to 2018 copies sold are down 70% in 2019 and game earnings are down 47%.
Interestingly, games priced lower than $21 USD are selling about 2,500 to 4,000 less copies than games priced $21 USD and up in their first year of sale.
No More Robots notes that the key takeaways from their report are as follows:
- The average, at least semi-marketed game on Steam currently makes roughly $16,000 revenue (across 1,500 units) in its first year on sale,
- Games released in 2019, are making around half as much money as games released in 2018,
- Developers are pricing their games too low – higher prices are, on average, resulting in better sales, and much better revenues.
What does it all mean?
No More Robots says it’s hard to figure out exactly why this is happen from a player behaviour standpoint.
It could be the rise of free-to-play PC games like Apex Legends and Fortnite increasingly taking up more of player’s time so they spend less on new games. Or it could be the sharp month over month increase in shovelware on Steam that pushes users away to more curated storefronts like the Epic Games Store or subscription services like Xbox’s new PC Game Pass or Humble Monthly.
The Epic Games Store is definitely a wild card in this situation, giving out free high-quality indie games every week. Whether this actually has an effect on Steam users decision to buy more games on Steam is uncertain.
From a developer standpoint the takeaways are more clear. Price your games higher, around the $15 – 20 USD range and don’t count on Steam to be as viable an avenue for indie game sales as it has been in the past.
Which leads me to the hot botton issue of PC gaming in 2019.
That Sweet, Sweet Epic Deal
Say what you will about the Epic as a company (and believe me I have, those union-busting, worker abusing fucks), but their deal for indie developers to essentially pay them enough to break even is incredibly appealing, especially in light of Steam’s declining viability.
So many high-profile indies have made the jump, from Ooblets to John Wick Hex to Untitled Goose Game. Fan outrage isn’t nearly as important a consideration as being able to eat, and indie developers have been vocal about how this deal is so vital to their livelihoods.
Most recently Super Meatboy Forever co-creator Tommy Refenes called the Epic deal “a total no-brainer” in a recent interview with Destructoid.
“After I got the numbers, the level of fear of not launching on Steam for PC was immediately alleviated,” said Refenes. He went on to explain how that guaranteed earnings makes the decision so easy for so many developers. “I don’t know who wouldn’t take that deal.”
I think No More Robots director (and report co-author) Mike Rose said it best:
One final note:— Mike Rose (@RaveofRavendale) September 10, 2019
If you see a developer taking an Epic Exclusive deal, leave them the *fuck* alone.
Look at the sales numbers above, then genuinely tell me you wouldn't take a deal over running this gauntlet. Taking an Epic deal secures your future, so get off your high horses!
Big Questions Remain
With Steam’s declining support for indie developers (and Epic’s increasing appeal) it will be fascinating to see what these storefronts will look like in a year. Will Steam become the AAA PC marketplace where Cyberpunk 2077 and the likes continue to get the VIP treatment from Valve while indies flock to Epic to earn a living doing what they love?
Will Epic abandon their indie-supporting initiatives as soon as they have a large enough user base to compete with Valve?
But who knows! Maybe this trend will be the wake up Valve needs to reassess how they treat indie developers. I doubt it, but that’d be cool.
Maybe Epic will stick to it’s indie funding exclusivity model in the long run. PlayStation and Xbox fund whole studios to make exclusives, after all. It’s not out of the realm of possibility.
Thanks for reading! What do you think about the declining viability of Steam for indies? I’d love to know what you think in the comments.
Also it’s quite possible I messed up some numbers here, I did reread the report several times and tried to present the findings as accurately as possible but math has never been my strongsuit. If so, let me know in the comments!