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Dynamics of Steam as a Sales Platform
by Burak Tezateser on 07/17/14 04:46:00 am   Featured Blogs

The following blog post, unless otherwise noted, was written by a member of Gamasutra’s community.
The thoughts and opinions expressed are those of the writer and not Gamasutra or its parent company.

 

Visibility is everything. It’s so much more important than anything that you can sacrifice everything else to gain more visibility on the front page, but it’s not easy. In that sense, it’s much more important than if you have a good game, good scores, optimum price, good promo materials, and awareness. But all these work to increase your chance of visibility on the front page. It seems.

I am the founder and the producer of Nowhere Studios and we released our first game Monochroma on Steam more than a month ago.  Monochroma is a physics based platformer focused on a silent narrative. A method which is rarely used in movies and almost never used in games that tells a deep story. We wanted to make players think about the consumer society and our story questions the responsibilities of an individual to the people around them and to the society using a dystopian setting in which robots are sold as a merchandise. As visuals was our most important weapon to deliver our message, visuals and the story have been iterated a million of times during the development. We gave references to tons of movies, books and games. We are quite happy with the final product in that sense.

We've been developing Monochroma since 2011 with a core team of 8 people and there have been
 around 30 contributors joining in and leaving in 3 years. Total budget of the game was around $750 k spent mostly for the developers salaries. We also had some marketing budget to pay for the PR agencies, attend GDC San Francisco two times, GDC Europe and GameX. 

The game have been received extremely well in previews but it had terrible scores after the release mainly because of technical flaws that we fixed most of it in two weeks after the release. We still have some minor optimization problems but not enough to overshadow the overall quality of the game from my perspective and regarding the feedbacks I'm gathering. 

Whatever the reason, we couldn't make any sales. I blame market visibility.

Those who would like to know more about our detailed sales report can contact me through e-mail. But on this article, having discussed with other developers and analyzed day by day our own data, I’m going to suggest some best practices and try to develop an overall strategy to adapt to the market conditions. Because the current structure on Steam forces devs to become a bestseller to survive. If you don’t have that potential you can’t sell anything.

I’m telling this because I’m upset we only got one hour of visibility on the front page and not in the main capsule, just the featured part below that, after burning 3 years of development. We even lost the visibility on the new releases section in two days. But I’m not writing this to complain. I just want to warn you if you had something else in mind. In the first place, we chose PC as a platform because it was less riskier than mobile. But Steam also became a hit-driven marketplace and you should act accordingly.

Here is an article worth reading (you might want to read the comments as well) on Kotaku.

Cynical Brit discussed the topic from both the dev and player perspective as well.

Steam Documentation on Visibility

I am pasting the part below from the documentation on Steam. You can skip if you already read it. I don’t know if I’m allowed to post but I haven’t seen any warning against sharing.

“As a baseline, your product will get 1 Million views on the home page when released fully. Here's how it works:

As soon as your product releases, it is added to a pool of titles that have also just released.

Each time a logged-in Steam user visits the Steam Store home page, the system selects three titles from that pool to appear in the 'Featured PC Games' section (or Mac or Linux, as appropriate for your title).

When your title is rendered in this way, it counts as a view.

Your product will get roughly 1 Million views in this way. The length of time that takes may vary, depending on how many other products have just released and how much traffic there is on the front page of the Store at that time.

You will get data about the number of views your item gets and how many users click on your product in this area.

After The First Million Views

If your product proves to sell well during the first million views, it will continue to be featured in that space for more views. The formula used to determine these additional views will change as we tune the system.

If your product is doing really well, it may get bumped up into the Main capsule on the front page. These titles are currently hand-picked as we try to determine what customers are most interested in buying and playing.”

In other words, if your game can’t beat other games in sales during the first hour, you will be destined to rot in the depths of the platform.

Conversion to Clicks

This seems one of the things that seem to determine if you’re doing good or bad on your launch. This is how it looks from our end:

This means during that heaven like 74 minutes 1048202 Steam users saw our name and we received 2628 visitors to our sales page. Well, this was the peak moment of our sales and it goes down from that point.

Visibility is far more important than any marketing you could think of doing or at least you're capable of as an indie. But in the same time, Steam also counts your total sales during that time, so some marketing budget could help you to drive more traffic to your sales page and stay on the featured part. We thought about this as well and we were trying to combine our marketing efforts with our release hour. But because of the fact that we were inexperienced with the backend tools of Steam we couldn’t set the game live for the first 2 hours of our planned launch. The marketing started and it has been directed to our pre-purchase page that didn’t help a lot.

Sales Conversion

Steam doesn’t give you the data for your page visitors but you can embed google analytics easily to your sales page. Here is how it looks for us for the last 40 days.

The peak day is May 28 with a 27,000 visitors (around half of them are unique). Remember we had 2600 from the featured section during the first hour. The rest came from our marketing efforts, recently released section and social media.

Once you exit the recently released section and if you’re not being featured, you almost don’t have any means of getting traffic while browsing the Steam Client. Tags might be an exemption here but they are not being used so often. Still, on day 40 the percentage of incoming traffic didn’t change a lot.

A possible guide to success

Most of the entertainment business is considered hit-driven, therefore any advice from an experienced salesman from books, movies, music industries might work better than mine. But I’m going to share the things I noticed so far.

Game Genre

First of all don’t push your niche too far. We targeted puzzle platformer gamers with an interest to dystopian movies and literature. We tried a silent narrative and telling our story with hidden references and music. Ok, that’s very nice if you’re targeting a small community that will become huge fans of your game but in a marketplace like Steam a game like this won’t help you to keep the business up as your main goal should be to hold on to the front page. How does a procedural zombie survival sound?

Pricing

We tried a brave pricing strategy. The perceived price range for puzzle platformers is between $10- 15  but we gave Monochroma a price tag of $20. We thought we had more content than other platformers so it makes sense to put a little higher price. But it was wrong, first of all, we didn’t have any proof that the game is worth $20. Now that we have some good reviews from users it might be acceptable but it doesn’t work for the first hour of sales that everything is condensed to. 

A price skimming theory might work best if you don’t have a visibility problem. First you sell to the ones who have a strong demand for your product and later on you lower your value and you sell to those who seem to be more indifferent to your product. At the end you sell your game to everyone with the maximum amount they can give to and you make the maximum profit. But if you’re trying to stay featured on a market like Steam, price skimming doesn’t work. Lower your price close to 0 if you can. At least if you’re not sure you’ll be featured.

Metascore

In a year Steam saw more releases than the combined amount of previous years, Metacritic Score became more important than anything else in the first hand. We had a very low metascore of 55. It was the fault of not testing the game enough and not targeting the ideal reviewers. I wrote something on that topic before, you can read it if you’re interested in Monochroma specifically: http://monochromagame.wordpress.com/2014/06/10/monochroma-reviews-and-game-update-for-june-12/ . Unfortunately updates doesn’t help you to increase your review scores, now we removed the metascore from our sales page but that doesn’t help much. If you’re not Goat Simulator, or a big publisher game, you’re nothing but your score for most of the players.

Your goal shouldn’t be to be covered as much as possible. It should be to get the highest score possible. Get reviews from 3-4 reviewers that you think they’ll like your game and also think about creating a banner campaign on their websites, secure some good reviews and release your game. Even huge sites doesn’t create a big impact on sales than becoming featured on the main capsule, not even close.

We have been covered on over 1000 websites including Gamespot, IGN, Destructoid, Rock Paper Shotgun until our launch. Yet the review from Gamespot which was one of the first ones to review the game gave it a score of “4/10”. A review from a big site have a leading role for the following reviews as well. To avoid this some publishers are sending their games to some reviewers that they know to get a good initial score.  Gamespot gave it a negative score mainly because of the controls. With our first two updates we covered most of the issues in that article but even after that we were seeing the same problems spotted in decent reviews. (For example the floating box problem is the most obvious one, we fixed the movement of the boxes on liquids as told in the Gamespot article but still some reviewers were mentioning the issue.) Maybe they played an old version of the game but it’s more likely they didn’t even play the game and made a mixture of previous reviews.

Release Date

Pick a date when the market isn’t flooded with other titles. It’s known that April-June and September-December are times that people purchase the most games and usually big titles are being released in these dates. Hopefully most of them announce their release dates early so you can pick a date to avoid their existence. If you’re sure you’ll get featured you can pick the hot seasons as a release date for %20-30 boost in sales but being featured or not is a matter of life and death on the other hand.

Monochroma has been released on the same week with Wolfenstein, Watch Dogs and Among The Sleep.

Conclusion

Steam just became a very difficult market. If you’re not an indie darling you won’t be making any sales. This increases the risk exposure of mid-sized indies tremendously. If you’re developing a game without any actual costs (aka a student game, or maybe you’re just one guy) you might want to risk it but if you’re not you have to be pretty sure that you’re going to get featured on the main capsule at least for a week.  

I believe Steam has to do something to revert the situation as it will hurt them in the long run. But if the market is going to stay like this, we the developers should position ourselves accordingly.

Monochroma could have been easily featured in the old days of Steam but the current system doesn't allow it. Steam is offering an “update visibility” chance for developers who didn’t break through in their first try. You receive 500k views on the front page and you have 5 shots of update visibility. We haven’t used that option yet and I might share our experiences about it later on.


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Comments


Jennis Kartens
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Something I may add, since it happend to me with your game: Your trailer didn't communicate your game idea very well.

First thing that may be happening (happend to me and others as well): Your game gets compared to Limbo, due to obvious similarities. Though Limbo has an extremely high quality standard, which your game (based upon your Steam trailer) has not. It entirely failed to catch my interest, it has no direction, just loosely cut gameplay elements with some music. Generic, to say at least.

That was the point where I lost interest in Monochromatic. Even though at first I was very happy and intrigued to see another greyscale-game, since I usually like that.

Alex Nichiporchik
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Agree with Jennis. Looking too strictly into numbers makes you blinded towards the obvious, simple things.

sean lindskog
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I just had a look at both the Monochroma and Limbo trailers. They didn't seem that different to me. Both spliced together chunks of gameplay over an audio track, although Limbo's presentation was a bit more atmospheric. But Monochroma arguably had more impressive environment artwork.

I thought the Monochroma trailer looked pretty cool. If I were choosing between Limbo and Monochroma based on the trailer, it'd be a pretty close call.

Burak Tezateser
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Although it's not an article about Monochroma particularly but Steam's visibility system, your feedback is quite valuable for us. I will try to work more on that and see if it changes any convergence on the sales page.

John Owens
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Personally I thought the art style and production values looked better than Limbo however I think the problem was that it looked like another Limbo.

Either way I don't think that had anything to do with it. Gamers buy games based on their meta-critic score and possibly after viewing a Lets Play. The early bugs ruined any chance of gaining that momentum.

Unfortunately on Steam unless you're very original or as Burak said an Indie darling then you need everything to be perfect due to the low visibility.

I suspect like on iOS there will be a lot of developers leaving and it will only be the bigger publishers or early success stories who have now become quite big left.

However I don't really see what Steam can do except reduce the amount of games released. If a game proves popular then it's in gamers interests to be featured more.

jason Barron
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No game with a meta score of 55 is going to sell well, no matter what sort of viability you get. You're blaming steam for your own failures. Valve could put you on the front page for 5 days straight and the results are going to be the exact same.

You spent 3 years developing the game, but when it got a bad score, you blame it mostly on an issue you claim is fixable within 2 weeks. I'm not sure which would be worse, if your company is actually that incompetent or if you guys are refusing to see your own lackings.

>After some quick rounds of anger, denial and depression we came to the acceptance state and we noted down each problem spotted in the reviews. Surprisingly all of the bad reviews had one common idea: Bad, clunky, unresponsive,frustrating controls. How could that be? Our most talented programmers spent years to perfectionize the controls and the transition of the animation states. The reviewers should be out of their minds to say something bad about the controls. We thought we had the best controls (air control, adjustable jumps, IK, very close simulation to real world physics) of all platformer games.

Frankly, the fact that you wrote that down in the article you linked to is telling. It makes me question what else you guys did badly that you assumed you did fine.

No game capable of getting a 55 metascore "could have been easily featured in the old days of Steam", in the old days of steam when listing on steam required a higher degree of quality, you're game won't have been listed to begin with.

Most people's issue with steam's current MO has to do with the fact that they have taken a "welcome everyone, throw out quality control and seductiveness" stance (of which I personally is fine with, I think more selection makes up for a messy marketplace). If you're going to try and use that argument, you need to show you're negatively impacted by lower quality games crowding out your more deserving game. To be honest, you're looking for like the lower quality game doing the crowding to me. the sort of game people making this argument feel shouldn't be in on steam if steam had their old standards of quality control and selectiveness.

sean lindskog
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I don't know the Monochroma devs, but I feel like I need to step in here. Jason, your point about bugs and quality control is valid. But other than that, you're way off, and being unnecessarily harsh.

> No game with a meta score of 55 is going to sell well, no matter what sort of viability you get

Not true. A good metacritic score helps, but I've seen lots of games sell well without them. I've seen lots of games sell poorly with them.

> Valve could put you on the front page for 5 days straight and the results are going to be the exact same.

Not true. The author is correct that visibility is key.
Roughly speaking: sales = visibility * conversion
If 100* more people see your game on the first page, then you'll get 100* more sales.

> "you're blaming steam for your own failures"
> "incompetent"
> "refusing to see your own lackings"
> "It makes me question what else you guys did badly"
> "To be honest, you're looking like the lower quality game doing the crowding to me. "

These are just horrible things to say. or at least a horrible way to express it. The author selflessly wrote a pretty facts-oriented case study on succeeding or failing on steam. It may be helpful to a lot of other devs. Aiming this kind of attack at them is way out of line.

Burak Tezateser
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This article is not about complaining about bad sales of Monochroma, it's telling "mediocre games can't make any sales now on Steam" and I'm trying to give some advices to other game owners that received medicore scores.


How did you arrive to the conclusion "Valve could put you on the front page for 5 days straight and the results are going to be the exact same. "? When we were on the front page for one hour we were having tons of visitors and we were making good sales, Steam is a huge market. If we stayed there whole week, proportionally, we would definitely cover the development costs of the game.

There are also tons of games that have been featured on Steam with scores lower than 55, both in the old days and with the new visibility system.

Again, this is not an article about the quality of our game, I can't judge it and it's wrong that I say something about it. All of your arguments are invalid or irrelevant.

Thomas Schenck
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I think the mistake here is considering a score of 55 as a "mediocre" game - in my experience, this kind of score is well below mediocre.

Burak Tezateser
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I'm telling "mediocre games can't make any sales now on Steam" , I'm not impying Monochroma is mediocre, good or bad. I can't judge my own game.

My analysis on this article is based on 5 different games that have been released during the last 3 months, unfortunately I'm only allowed to share my own data. Furthermore a game with a 55 metascore might be terribly bad for your standards but it had a strong chance of being featured for at least few days 6 months ago.

jason Barron
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"I'm telling "mediocre games can't make any sales now on Steam""

...

No shit.

No 55 metascore game is going to make any sales on ANY platform, steam or otherwise.

This has nothing to do with steam's methods and everything to do with bad games being bad. You're product is not competitive, hence it did not sell.

"a 55 metascore might be terribly bad for your standards but it had a strong chance of being featured for at least few days 6 months ago."

No. Unless you're a big publisher with a business relationship with valve, that statement is absolutely not true.

Frankly, I laugh at how you think valve's current practice in which they don't feature a 55 metascore game on the front page for days is going to hurt them in the long run.

the reason why most indies sold well on steam in the past was because they were curated quality products.

Ruston Coutinho
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Well, I had fun with games that had metascores around 50-60. As a player, i give more attention the user reviews rather than a game's metascore.

But I can understand why many players avoid games with these scores, and I don't think they're wrong.

Benjamin McCallister
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"No game capable of getting a 55 metascore "could have been easily featured in the old days of Steam", in the old days of steam when listing on steam required a higher degree of quality, you're game won't have been listed to begin with. "


THIS THIS THIS THIS THIS THIS THIS THIS THIS.

Robert Carter
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Visibility is certainly important for any indie, and it may have been a problem with you getting some good sales numbers. But Im not sure it was your biggest problem. Most of your article talks about bugs and issues you had at launch, and issues with your control scheme. You say you fixed all of these within two weeks, but by that time everyone has seen your game and made their judgments. As you point out, the Metacritic score doesnt change because you patch the game.

I think you should blame your visibility less than your need of proper QA. Had you found these issues before hand and released two weeks later you would have likely had a much better reception.

I get the feeling that there is a lot of "Other good games happened to be released at the same time, reviewers didnt update their reviews, I dont have the press power of other indies" as opposed to "How could I have better competed with these AAA games, what should I have done to get better reviews, how could I have reached my audience better" in this post mortem. I feel that the latter is more likely to help with improving on future attempt, but I know from experience it is harder to do.

Good read, thank you for sharing.

Burak Tezateser
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Thanks Robert,

I think I couldn't communicate myself enough. I definitely blame lots of things before coming to Steam. Bad QA, bad management, bad pricing and some other things. I blame Steam visibility as the cause of not making ANY sales. Again this is our fault because it's clearly stated on the documentation.

This article wasn't a post mortem well at least the main motivation isn't that, maybe I should have written a post-mortem first before talking about Steam new visibility mechanics. I'm trying to find a best practice to survive once you launched a mediocre game.

My point here is that we made lots of mistakes but the price we had to pay for our mistakes was lower in the old days. A game with a score of 55 was able to recover around one third of its development costs while games with 80+ were making great sales. Now the difference is even higher. The market is even more polarized.

Thanks a lot for reading and giving feedback.

Matt Robb
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"I'm trying to find a best practice to survive once you launched a mediocre game."

There isn't one.

A mediocre game of any kind is going to be lost in the sea of other mediocre games. You need to differentiate in some fashion that pushes your game above mediocrity, especially if you're trying to make a living off it.

Mikail Yazbeck
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Burak, tessekur paylasmak icin. Sen cok cesur yani 'brave' boyle bi sey yazmak burda.

Eger istersin biz konusabilir skype'da. Profile'im a'gir :)

Cheers!

John Owens
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" reviewers didnt update their reviews"

Reviewers quite often don't even play the games. On a couple of AAA games we even had reviews that referred to things that where in the E3 build 3 months before the game was released and then taken out.

Plus I also often got the feeling that a lot of reviews where just reworded versions of others.

Martin Petersen
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Great insights and plenty lessons to be learned both about Steam and game development in general! Very much appreciated!

Adam Gersbach
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Wow such a shame. Pre launch marketing seemed great but testing fell short and ruined everything. I feel for you and the team and hope you come back wiser and stronger for this experience. Don't give up.

There is a valuable lesson in this post for all devs - test, test and then test again, it's worth it. We can't afford to let Mr Murphy get in the way.

Ruston Coutinho
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Did you think about releasing your game as an Early Access title ?

Burak Tezateser
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Almost all early access games are sandbox with a high replay value. But it might have been a nice way of dodging the low metascore and testing the game thoroughly.

Ivan Moreira
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From someone that is a gamer and not a developer, having around 300 games in my steam catalogue, 75 on to be played backlog, 100+ on my wishlist :

- I never even heard about your game before this article here and I have plenty of indie titles both on my current catalogue and on my wishlist (you can see it here: http://steamcommunity.com/profiles/76561198010641857/) . So, maybe you should work more on your advertising if even someone like me never heard of the game before. Reach out for youtubers, pay them to play your game (with disclaimer that they are receiving for that) and reach out for twitter, try to make people follow you and to retweet you on peek hours (there was a very good article recently here on gamasutra outlying good ways of doing that).

- Being on steam isnt a sure sale thing. It hasnt been like that since...ever. There was another recent article here that demonstrated that. Cant remember the link, though, sorry.

- Being quite honest here. Your pricing was your real doom. Your bigger sale, Enhanced Steam tells me, was a 50% sale going down to 8.5 dollars. Now, its not a huge price, not at all. But you guys have to understand that there is simply an endless amount of games to be bought out there. And good ones too (although a lot are really awful). Right now, on my 100+ wishlist, there are 40 games that are below your pricing (and I consider them nice games, since they are on my wishlist). Why would I buy your game? I just put it on my wishlist, mind you, but it will hardly be bought, unless it gets a 75%~90% cut.

You game dev guys have to understand, when you have a huge crowded market, you have only a few options to do well with sales (and none of that are guaranteed, they only raise the odds):

- connections/visibility
- pricing
- quality

Most people will prefer buying a mediocre quality game for a dollar than one not so great for 20 dollars. Not because they wont have fun with the 20 dollar game. But because they can have 20 one dollar game for that and have as much fun. So...try to think about it next time.
And good luck, see you on the 75% cut range.

Edit to add an example of poor pricing choice. Seems like a great game, but every reviewer says its not worth the price. Why should I buy it before a 75% sale?

http://store.steampowered.com/app/271730/?snr=1_4_4__tab-NewRelea
sesFilteredDLC_4

Clayton Shaffer
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First off I'd just like to say I appreciate the author sharing this kind of information. It's hard to get this kind of specific information from Steam itself and many game devs/publishers don't necessarily share that so it's always interesting when someone posts something like this as it gives more perspective to the value of Steam as a platform outside of its large user base.

Also to all the people nitpicking on the Metacritic score I think are really focusing on that too specifically. A Metacritic score is really more of an IDEA of how good a game is. I've found that many times games will get a bad score but the reviewers were either too nitpicky or weren't even a fan of the genre. I've played many games on Steam with a low metacritic score that I enjoyed and felt were worthwhile. I think many times that has to do with a certain level of expectation as well as an understanding more of what a game is trying to do rather than with endless comparisons to games in the same genre.

In the end I think the author was pretty honest to themselves. His conclusions seem supported by the data and really seemed to be a constructive look at how everything went down. I'm not sure why the negativity in some of these responses as it seems like the author made every effort to show actual data and even talked about how the review process wasn't quite as honest as it should've been (reviewers from a later date complaining about graphical anomalies that were fixed before they began the review process?? huge red flag right there).

Lex Allen
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This game is amazing and what happened to you is atrocious. There may have been some problems with your release, marketing, etc, but the bigger threats to you all along were market saturation, the perceived value of games because of an abundance of dazzling freemium titles, backlogs and a 40% nonplay rate on installed games on Steam, and a culture of piracy that has created a generation of freemium users that think $0.99 is too expensive.

It is inevitable that indies will be pushed out of the games scene and success will become an even rarer exception to the failures routinely experienced by indie devs. The Internet and we have destroyed the value of all digital content because of price-to-the-bottom wars. The result is and will be fewer innovative products next to a purgatory of mediocre sequels and triquels that people don't really want.

The only thing you can do now is pray for press and restrategize for the long tail. This failure may help to generate the press that you need. Maybe the long tail really will work out for you.

Burak Tezateser
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5 years ago going indie made really sense, digital distqribution was booming and developers became free of publishers. Now with the indie buble getting discovered is really hard and we're once again dependant on the marketing skills of publishers. Maybe.

Manuel Nascimento
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I'm writing here from the point of view of a consumer, never having been remotely close to the game developer world. Firstly, I'm of the opinion that Steam should find some way to better display games, particularly new games. I think that the "New Releases" section should be split into two: one for games that are actually new, released for the first time; and another for games that are new to Steam, but were released elsewhere before. I find that when I'm browsing the "New Releases" it's usually too short for the amount of games that get released per day nowadays, but also I find it confusing and also potentially misleading to mix "real" new games with games that are on Steam for the first time. Every game should have its chance, but I'd like to have that section split into two to avoid that problem, to help me navigate Steam, and also I think categorizing games that way by date is a fairer approach to the consumer.
Also, sometimes you'll have like 5+ games of the same "franchise", stuff like "My Little Badger", 1, 2, 3, adventures, chronicles, etc etc, games that are not new, "dumped" all at once on the "New Releases" section that will flood that section and, of course, push "real" new games down. I don't know for a fact, but, in practice, it seems to me like a way to "exploit" the system in order to get more visibility.
There are other minor nuisances that hurt my tolerance to keep looking in the "new releases" section, especially using the Steam Client (at least for the Windows version, that I use), like the fact that it resets to "top releases" every time, and you have to click on a new game, go back, click on "new releases" tab, possibly click on "next 10", click on another game, then repeat the process. Sometimes that's frustrating and will make me give up and not check the section further.
Finally, it would be nice to have some more pages, perhaps on a weekly basis, that you could filter further by genre, tags and price. Things like "new games this week", "most positive recommended this week", "top sellers this week" (by count and by revenue), etc.

Going back to the specific case of your game, although I realise it's not directly on topic, I'd like to say a few things more because I believe are concerned with visibility. Personally, the metacritic score, and review scores from other sites I frequently visit, is very important, and if a game has a lower score, that has a huge hit on my first impression of it. I realise this may be unfair, but I have limited time to play and search for new games, so I tend to look out for games that have generally better scores as perceived by the greater audience. As such, I think it's very important for a game to get released with as few problems/bugs as possible, as that tends to penalize the early review scores and general first impressions of the game, and that can "doom" the title forever.
Lastly, I follow some youtube channels about games, and many times some game being reviewed or showed there have made me go out and seek it and potentially made me buy it, when I otherwise would not have heard or given attention to. So, beyond the more "journalistic" sites that review games, I think youtube is a huge way to improve visibility, it has worked for me.

Ian Fisch
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Thanks for sharing this. I would really really love it if you would also share your sales data, as we're planning to release Road Redemption on steam in about 40 days. Please email me at if.inbox@gmail.com if you're willing to share.

Based on all of the research and marketing we've done, i'd say the problems come down to:

1. Price: $20 is way too high for an unproven title, especially one with bad reviews. I don't know why your budget was almost $1 million, as we haven't even spent even close to $200,000 on Road Redemption, and we're almost finished.

2. Trailer: Starts off pretty slow. It seems like the first 30 seconds mostly show off the graphics, which are pretty good but nowhere near awe-inspiring.

3. Reviews: I think you should have shared the game a lot more before releasing it on Steam. We've given a lot of free keys away to our early versions of Road Redemption, and the feedback has been great.

Ivan Moreira
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I wish you good luck with Road Redemption. 34 dollars is...hard to sell.

Ian Fisch
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Agreed. It's on sale for $25 right now and we're planning to lower the price when we bring it to steam.

sean lindskog
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> as we haven't even spent even close to $200,000 on Road Redemption, and we're almost finished

Ian - sorry, but I gotta call you out on this.

I counted at least 6 people in your KS video. That was over a year ago, and you've obviously been around longer than that, given the gameplay you had to show off.

So, let's say Road Redemption's wage costs are about 6 people * 1.5ish years. That's about 10 man-years of wages to pay so far. Let's say you've dropped $50k into all the additional costs of running an indie dev startup, like rent for that office the video was shot in, software licenses and tech, business, legal, accounting, a bit of marketing/advertising/trade shows/website, music and sound effects, KS rewards, maybe some hardware (I see you're porting to win, mac, and linux), and so on.

That means you've had roughly $100k to spend on wages, and you've paid each of your guys around $10k per year while working on Road Redemption (ignoring any business and payroll taxes).

Listen, that's great if you all can live below the poverty line. A lot of indies do. But not everyone can do that. Some folks have families, mortgages, student loans, car payments, health insurance, and real life expenses.

So your comment on Monochroma's budget is a little hard to swallow. Whether you intended it or not, it comes across as either boasting your budget was so low, or Monochroma's budget was wasteful.

If you were paying your guys even $35k per year, and it takes 15 man years by the time you get the game finished, distributed, and making money, you'd be at around the same budget as Monochroma.

Good luck with Road Redemption, it looks like a really fun game.

Burak Tezateser
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I completely agree with you. Wish you good luck with Road Redemption. Sent you an email for the sales as well.

Ian Fisch
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A lot of the people in that video were extremely part time and unpaid. For the majority of development, it was just 2-2.5 people working. Lately we've ramped up to 4-5 people, but that's only been for 2-4 months.

Basically we only spend money on things we really need. We used that office for a bit because it's an incubator in New Orleans. Most of the work has been done from home. Why waste money on office space?

Same goes for hardware. Most of the development hardware is PC's that people already had.

As for software, we've gotten free Unity licenses from console manufacturers.

We don't have a legal department. For contract labor, we just find contract templates online, and no one involved really has enough money to be worth suing anyway.

We don't waste money on things like dedicated sound people. Thousands of high quality sound fx and music tracks are online for free or extemely cheap. If you can't find what you need in that department, you're not looking hard enough.

When it comes to in-game assets, we've heavily relied on turbosquid and the Unity Asset store. None of our in-game assets were made from scratch.

We don't have a dedicated concept art person. If you can't find inspiring concept art on deviant art, you're not looking hard enough.

For animations, we used a couple of Kinects hooked up to PCs to do mocap.

So there you go. Basically if you're clever, it's not hard to develop a game pretty cheaply.

Our latest trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AdO9Wq23RVo

John Owens
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Ian your game looks fun and I loved Road Rash so this isn't meant as an insult but Monochroma looks like it would cost more than 4 times Road Redemption does.

All their bespoke graphics done to that style and quality takes a lot of work. You can't really compare the budget of a driving game to a platformer.

billy ashfordwebb
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Thanks for the post, its insightful and made me think about my own plans for the future as a solo indie game dev. I'd love the sales info too, if you'd be willing to provide it. (napperdapper@gmail.com)

David Landau
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I had some similar thoughts when our game at Adhesive was pushed towards Steam. Steam is still unfortunately viewed as a combination of market penetration and distribution when in reality the former just is not true anymore. There are so many games of so many different caliburs at so many difference price points that getting visibility to your game is nigh impossible.

We came to the conclusion that theres only really two types of games putting on Steam:
1. A game that already has high visibility that simply needs a distribution method/platform. These may gain market penetration as a result since they aren't relying on Steam's systems to get visibility, the players that came to buy the game from outside do that.
2. A game that is a breakout hit and can get onto the "Top Sellers" chart before they fall off of "New Release".

Its very Apple Store in how it behaves now.

It also means that if your game looks overpriced or underreviewed you're doomed. For a game that cost under a million dollars, I would expect a $10 price point, maybe $15 if it was exceptional. Maybe try dropping the price? With all the comparisons to Limbo you are gonna have a hard time with double their price tag and a 5x metascore.

Also our experience was similar to yours at Adhesive that once you fall off of those lists, exposure to your game is 0. Even if you grabbed a large crowd during that time.

Daniel Williams
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This article was a cry for attention and an obvious attempt at getting free exposure. There are much more positive ways to learn whatever "lesson" you're trying to impart with this whine fest. Two things you should look into:

Google define capitalism
Google define entitlement

Nobody, especially in such a "me too" market like this "deserves" credibility, attention, or success. It doesn't matter how much you spend. Big studios fail all the time, look at Project Copernicus...

I personally never leave negative comments, but I find your attitude and approach with this article insulting to game developers and publishers alike. It's like saying, "Hey Grocery Store, I just made another kind of Beef Jerky, put me next to every register even if you don't sell any because I worked hard on it!" Nevermind the fact that it's their customers they have to accomodate, and their merchandising tactics that they have worked out over countless hours of number crunching so they can meet their sales quotas and pay their payrolls.

I hope I've shared some insight to anyone reading this.

Bruno Xavier
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So your game had more than 1.000.000 banner views; but didn't sell anything remotely close to that.
And you blame Steam's "visibility issues"?! Ok then...

Andreas Heldt
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Thank you for the nice article about problems with visibility on Steam.
I read all the comments and I find it very sad, that a lot of people didn't understand the real value of this information.

Jacque Cousteau
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At the end of the day, the game is indeed mediocre; thus the lack of sales. It's a sloppy Limbo clone that I had to jump through hoops to get to even load onto my PC. When I did, it was just not worth the effort. Amateur hour.

S S
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Based on everything read with the article and the follow up comments, I have to say:

1. Steam working as intended.
2. Metacritic working as intended.

The way your studio handled this product was the perfect storm for loss. So many things were done wrong (and I do mean many), but not all of them are what you listed.

But boiling it down, your budget was not commensurate with the product that was produced. The resulting product(You claim it as being mediocre but it could easily be evidenced as being below mediocre.), to recoup production costs, was unrealistically overpriced.

This then led to a vicious circle of negative reviews from both gamers and critics.

Reading the article and the follow up comments left me feeling that the studio's members responsible for the launch of this game clearly were(in some ways very much still are) in an epistemic bubble.

Micah Hymer
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Hey Burak, I appreciate the transparency you've shown in this article. You were under no obligation to share your story and you don't deserve all the negativity you've received. That being said, I think there is a lot of great feedback above for your organization that I also think other Indie Developers should be paying attention to. Thanks again for sharing your studio's story. I'm very curious to hear how all this data actually translated into sales, but I understand if that's not something you're willing to share. Best of luck on your future endeavors!

Eyal Teler
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Thanks for the interesting article, Burak. I hope that the negative comments won't prevent you from posting more such articles in the future.

One point I already knew about and was worth reiterating is that your first impression lasts. As a gamer I've had trouble finding up to date reviews of games that got bad scores due to early bugs. Those early reviews are what people find, even if the game becomes much more polished later on. I guess the lesson from that is to do a lot of testing and get a lot of feedback. (The point about sending to the right reviewer is also good.)

The way Steam placement works was interesting to learn, and my takeaway from this is that regardless of the game, a lot of effort needs to go into making the conversion:
- Make people want to go to your page. The name of the game and the image will affect that.
- Make people want to buy the game once they reach the page. Apart from the score, the game images/videos and the price are likely what will determine if someone leaves quickly or not.

Josh Klint
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Revenue = Price * Quantity. That's a very important equation.


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