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PC is not dead and mobile is shit (with Charts!)
by Jake Birkett on 01/22/13 01:10:00 pm   Expert Blogs   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.


Revenue by Platform for 3 Games

I've track a lot of data about my indie business in a giant spreadsheet and recently I did an analysis of 3 games to see the breakdown in sales per platform.  I had a gut feeling that PC way outperformed Mac and mobile but I wanted to 100% confirm that.

Just in case it's not clear from the image here's the percentage split:
- PC 91%
- Mac 6%
- Mobile 3%
- Console 0%

3 games = $160,800

I analysed the sales of the following 3 games:

- The Wonderful Wizard of Oz: Released Nov 2006 Total revenue = $55,800
- Holiday Bonus. Released Dec 2006. Total revenue = $54,000
- Spring Bonus: Released April 2011. Total revenue = $51,000

Distribution Methods

Those three games have been released in the following places:

- Direct sales via my site on PC/Mac
- Mac App Store
- Numerous casual portals including Big Fish Games, iWin, Real, Oberon, Amazon etc. Mostly PC but some have taken Mac versions.
- iOS
- Google Play/Kindle/Nook
- XBLIG (only for Holiday Bonus)

It should be noted that the Mac versions of Holiday Bonus and Oz came out about 1 year after the PC version, so they have not has as long to catch up with PC sales.

Also it should be noted that Holiday Bonus mobile was released in Dec 2011, and Spring Bonus mobile was released in April 2012. There is currently no mobile version of Oz.

So yes, obviously my pie chart is skewed in favour of PC, although Mac has had a pretty good chance to compete.

Only one game was released on XBLIG as an experiment and clearly that market isn't interested in casual games judging by the poor revenue, which is fair enough. Conversion rate is actually pretty good (>20%), so many people who play it do actually buy it, but downloads are just super-low.


Of course my mobile games haven't been on sale for as long as the PC/Mac versions, so haven't had a fair shot.  However comparing the launch of my mobile games to the PC version, there is still a huge difference in revenue.

I've self-published one mobile game and used a publisher for another one.  The published game definitely did better, so that's useful information.  Even though it's nice to self-publish and track your own sales stats and have complete control etc, I believe you are more likely to make money by using a good publisher - unless you have a great game that can garner tons of press attention.  My games are "just" casual games and so the press is basically not interested.

I do have an Oz mobile port on the way and Holiday Bonus GOLD was just self-published on mobile (it was a last minute thing so not enough time to get a publisher), plus I've got something in the pipeline for Spring Bonus.  So I've not given up on mobile yet and I expect my mobile revenue to grow, but still I don't think it'll touch the PC revenue.

Spring Bonus (last 19 months)

I produced a revenue by platform pie chart just for Spring Bonus because it's a much more recent game than the other two so presents a more accurate picture.  Here it is:

Revenue by Platform for Spring Bonus

You can see that mobile revenue is higher than Mac but still less than 10%.


Well the article title says it all: PC is not dead and mobile is shit.

Of course I make a certain type of game and the market is more geared up to sell PC copies of those, and indies releasing PC games on Steam certainly find they can do pretty well on there too compared to other platforms.  Other developers are having great success on mobile - good for them.  But I would urge caution in the mobile market.  It's HUGELY over-saturated and hard to get noticed.  I got my existing games ported to mobile as a low-risk approach, but there are teams of developers out there spending 6-12 months on mobile games and I personally think that's a recipe for disaster in most cases.

Looking at my numbers, perhaps I'd be best sticking to PC only? Putting all my energy into that and not buying expensive Macs (and constantly upgrading the OS and Xcode, and farting around with provisioning profiles and certificates) and not buying an ever growing army of mobile devices to test on.  Most devs have a PC anyway, even if they just play games on it! For me anyway, PC is the clear winner.

If you are a cross-platform dev and want to share your numbers in the comments, that would be awesome.  Thanks!

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Robert Boyd
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Don't have the actual figures on hand (and not sure I can share them anyway) but for us, it goes PC > XBLIG > iOS > Mac > Android. Big gap between PC & everything else.

Joe McGinn
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Surely this has more to do with genre and target audience? If you make a PC game is it any surprise it sells better on PC? Just as a game designed for Mobile tends to have very poor traction on PC.

Gord Cooper
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Excellent, well-thought out article, good to see such a great dearth of research applied to a platform in its' (albeit burgeoning) early stages!

Care to share your data on how you marketed your game to the mobile space, as well, so that we can see what steps you took to avoid some of the common pitfalls that come with that market (App Store placement, price point valuation, et al)?


Jake Birkett
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Hey thanks for the info Robert! Glad to hear PC is doing well for you; I remember your games on XBLIG and despite it being a nice platform (well I thought so anyway) I do remember devs saying that revenue was generally very low for them (me included), although I know yours were/are pretty popular.

Thanks Gord. The title is a bit sensationalist I admit as it is early days for me and the mobile market. I do expect to see the % of revenue increase in that space for me though, but I'm not convinced it'll be massive unless I "get lucky". As for marketing of the two iOS titles:

- One of them (Holiday Bonus) was self-published and I used social media, a newsletter to existing customers, press release, blog and forums posts to promote it, contacted a few press (to no avail). The game had Lite and full versions.
- The other (Spring Bonus) was published by Hothead (so they promoted it to users of their other games and did other stuff). The game was a Universal binary with IAP to unlock level packs. They managed to get it featured by Apple which was cool and got it on Nook and Kindle, and it definitely made more money than the self-published title, but it still wasn't that much unfortunately for us all.

I'm releasing a third port soon, hopefully to be published by Big Fish Games, but that's not certain by any means.

james sadler
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Not really surprising for anyone not jumping onto the hype wagon. This is one of the key reasons why our team hasn't looked at the mobile market at all. The mobile market had a lot of great opportunity but it was overtaken by shovelware.

Gord Cooper
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I don't know that I'd call interest in a market with 1 billion+ devices in play a 'hype wagon'. I don't know if you've gone on the internet lately, but there is a great deal of shovelware on PC, as well.

The issue with the mobile market is finding your consumer. It's difficult, but not impossible, and with this being the first 5 years of 'serious' life for the platform, it's not like improvements aren't on the rise.

With 2013 being the Year of the Crazy Hardware (OUYA, Project Shield, Gamestick, etc... etc...), the impending hype wagons are liable to setup, catch fire and breakdown before mobile goes the way of the dodo.

Mobile is a platform that exists with gaming as a secondary consideration - never forget that. Finding your users in that market may be impossible, depending on the type of users you're targeting.

You can't just design for your userbase, you have to design for them where they exist, as well.

Jake Birkett
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My main worry is that I hear a lot of new indies, especially game design students about to go indie, thinking that mobile is going to make them rich, or at least keep them in business, when the truth is that may not be the case at all! Mobile should be approached with caution, with quick games with small budgets to test the water out in my opinion. When you discover the water is freezing cold, you can either persist in mobile with a different strategy (use a publisher for example) or get out and head over to the warmth of PC, which is not much warmer for unestablished indies mind you...

James Hahs
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@Gord Cooper

One billion plus devices and a lot of them are virtually different thanks to Google's inability to keep hardware manufacturers from diddling inside the OS. This makes Android cost more to develop for than it actually should, since publishers/developers have to keep in mind that a Samsung Galaxy S3 is inherently different from, say, a Motorola Droid Razr. This is also the main hurdle of things like Ouya and Project Shield. It's hard to develop for mobile with a particular user base in mind since your user base might be made up of so many different devices that should run the same, but they're don't.

Eirik Moseng
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@jake - I think a lot of indie devs are thinking short term and look at games like Angry Birds, Cut The Rope, Fruit Ninja, Temple Run etc. While these are excellent, throughly designed and well implemented titles, its only a handful or two that become such big-hit-wonders. So, instead of thinking building a long term value, they aim to create the next Angry Birds game.

While it certainly exists solo developers or small teams out there that hit big with their first title, people tend to forget that Angry Birds was Rovio's 52 game, and that after they almost ran bankrupt.

We, for instance, have chosen to build up on some of our old IP we had success with on the Java ME platform many years ago, to build long term value. While the game is not a typical iOS or Android game (is an old fashion 2D platformer), and it is built upon very old technology designed for devices in a total different era (old java mobiles) and therefor far from well implemented and being a good game on the Android platform, we are slowly and steady gaining success on the Android platform, both through self-publishing and through external publishers. Not to mention that the game has opened completely new doors for us, allowing us to work with well-known IP from the TV and movie industry.

Jake Birkett
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Hi Eirik, I'm glad it's working out for you. The two games I have on mobile now, and the third on the way, are all ports of existing IP. I felt this was the easiest way to test the waters without spending months and lots of money on new IP only to have it possibly flop out the gates. Now I'm in a better position to make new IP for mobile, but still I'd prefer to make it work on PC first with mobile as a secondary option.

Eirik Moseng
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I think that is a great strategy Jake. This is the same thing we do. Of course, we have been around since 1996 and we have been creating a good amount of titles for leading publishers and phone manufactures over the years, which has helped us gain some traction on the mobile side, however, we entered the Android and iOS market pretty late. Instead of working on completely new IP (i.e. trying to be more innovative etc), we decided to take some of our old IP and build upon which is working great. We are of course working on new IP and completely new games based on old IP, but we see that the long term thinking is working great.

And thank you for sharing! :-)

Kellam Templeton-Smith
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"My main worry is that I hear a lot of new indies, especially game design students about to go indie, thinking that mobile is going to make them rich, or at least keep them in business"

@jake, I'm currently in a game dev program and have heard several people make claims to this end (people much younger, fresh out of high school, generally). That said, there are the "PC master race" bunch who refuse to acknowledge anything else as a valid platform.

I'm curious though (not being familiar with your stuff), are your games particularly suited to mobile? Beyond shovelware, a big problem in mobile is ports (whether or not they're skilfully done). Some just don't fit the platform well at all, no matter the level of polish (eg. the GTA games, most games with twin virtual sticks+ a host of onscreen buttons).

At the moment, I feel like it's almost better to just develop separate products for different platforms-porting might be easy, but in some cases it seems like it could hurt your personal brand.

Jake Birkett
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@Kellam Yeah I'm dubious of ports where the controls don't map well to mobile for sure. My ports were of casual games that only needed the mouse (and left click) to work, so they translated well control-wise to mobile. They do work much better on iPad though than phone and most of my sales are of the higher price point tablet versions (10x the revenue of the phone versions). It's true that a game designed purely for mobile could play brilliantly and stand a good chance of doing well but then you miss out on porting it to desktop and a huge bunch of revenue. So perhaps it's best to design games that would work well on *both* platforms without compromise?

Kellam Templeton-Smith
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Hm, I'll keep that in mind, Jake. I've mainly been brainstorming ideas in terms of future platform, with only some thought to cross-platform design (eg. a couple designs are well suited to a controller, and would be somewhat hampered by a touch interface).

My current project (/ first one I'll be releasing to the public) is designed around a simple mouse interface, but will nicely transition to touch...barring a single mechanic I still haven't cracked yet.

At the moment though, I'm mainly concerned with skill building, not trying to get too caught up in counting chickens.

Bryson Whiteman
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Hey Jake, thanks for the writeup. I recognize Grey Alien Games from the Indiegamer forums.

I'm assuming that you sell a significant amount of copies through your web-store. How does your audience find your games? Do you have an established audience by selling through different portals? Are you running advertising?

Jake Birkett
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Hi Bryson, yep I used to be in Indiegamer a lot in the past, not so much now.

I sell hardly any games direct from my site - that source is about 1% of my revenue.

The bulk of my revenue is from the casual download portals like Big Fish Games, iWin, Real and that's how the customers find them. I don't do advertising. I also use the Mac App Store which is OK, but not massive.

Thierry Brochart
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Thanks for your post Jake. I'm not sure you've read mine:
It's not cross platform, just android. And it makes me feel like a stupid indie dev not trying the PC market... To tell you the truth I tried to sell PC games on my own but it's so hard to sell something on internet when no one knows you... But I believe being on a portal makes the difference but so far I couldn't get my games on a portal, they weren't interested at that time. A question of quality but also the game engine I used. Maybe I should try again now?

Jake Birkett
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Hi Thierry, thanks for sharing your numbers. Yeah it is very hard to sell direct, and I've spoken to people who have been good at it for years and even they say it's declining due to Steam etc. Getting on a casual portal is great, if your game is casual game and meets the quality bar, but if it's not then Steam/GOG/Desura etc seem to be the way to go, but of course there's no guarantee of getting on them either. It's definitely NOT easy to succeed if you aren't established or an indie who is in the press continually...

Mike Hanson
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Hi Jake.

As a relatively new developer making something for xbox live but considering a PC version too, this was a really interesting piece to me.
I wonder, have you done, or would you consider doing a similar piece on the pros and cons of various PC distribution methods?

Jake Birkett
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Hi Mike. Do you mean Xbox Live Arcade or Indie Games? There's a huge amount of different in the work/hassle required and also the likely revenue.

Anyway, I'm only experienced in direct sales and sales via casual download portals as I don't have any indie games on Steam or other "indie" friendly portals yet. I'm considering a piece mentioning who I've found to be the best casual portals anyway.

Keith Fuller
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Thank you for sharing this, Jake! I'm also glad to see experienced devs such as Mr. Boyd weigh in.

Jake Birkett
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Thanks. Yeah me too, Mr Boyd knows the score. Making the leap from XBLIG was probably extremely wise for him.

Justin Nearing
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Super interesting read, and a big kudos for revealing actual numbers.

My thought is that increased number of stores on PC (game portals/your own site/etc.) helped drive discovery of your apps. I would suspect that the number of impressions- people coming across your game- is much higher on PC because you can advertise much cheaper than the one store solution of iOS/Android/XBLA. I would also suspect that the conversion of impressions to sales would be consistent across platforms, and that the main reason for better sales on PC is coupled with the amount of impressions on that platform. Do you track impressions/conversion at all?

Jake Birkett
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Hi Justin! I have really poor tracking on my site due to it not making enough money to bother with (could be a catch 22 that), but the casual portals track demo to full version downloads (my conversion rate is typically 2-5%, which might sound low, but is actually good for a casual game), and they do some marketing for the games depending on your agreement with them. I don't do any other advertising although I do have a Facebook page, Twitter account and a newsletter that customers have signed up to (this is how I make lots of direct sales on my site, from letting existing customers know about new games or special offers).

Emppu Nurminen
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I would like to say the lack of launch dates for each platforms rubs the wrong way. The statistics are quite useless information, if the launch dates are favoring certain platforms over others.

Jake Birkett
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The launch dates for each game and each platform are mentioned in the article in the Distribution Methods section. The Mobile section mentions that the stats favour PC/Mac and that's why I showed a new chart for Spring Bonus in which the launch dates are closer together.

Carlos Rocha
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It's a good article, despite the lack of information. I think doing a deeper analysis on the decisions and strategies, including launch dates and promotion methods would help. I know not all the information can be given, just enough to give more support to your point. In a way, it just feels this was just to prove your anti-hype opinions.

Don't get me wrong, I kind of think the same way, just wanted to point out you could give better arguments, because I'm sure you have tons of more data, and some of it could be shared. Besides, a little promotion on your games wouldn't hurt either :).

Jake Birkett
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Yes good point, I could have provided even more info to back up my point. I don't believe the mobile hype, that's for sure, and my own numbers prove it, although other devs no doubt have figures to prove the opposite. My situation is fairly unusual in that I've been releasing Casual download games for PC/Mac for years via the casual download portals (Big Fish Games, iWin, Real etc.) and have only recently started to port them over to mobile (with limited success). However I have heard very similar anecdotes from other devs with indie games on PC and mobile.

K Gadd
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"Only one game was released on XBLIG as an experiment and clearly that market isn't interested in casual games judging by the poor revenue, which is fair enough."
What is that market interested in? What is the basis for your statement here? Did you invest any energy into promoting your game on XBLIG, compared to other platforms?

Keith Thomson
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The other question would be, why XBLIG where discovery is nonexistent? Maybe another platform would be better, such as PSMobile, the various nintendo e-shops, or PSN.

Jake Birkett
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@Kevin Gadd Good questions.

That market appears to be mainly interested in zombie games, avatar games, minecraft clones etc. at least based on the various XBLIG sales figures/charts I've seen floating around over the years. Also, it's kind of a no-brainer that a casual game wouldn't do well on there based on the Xbox demographic compared to the typical casual gamer. Still we thought we'd put it on there for fun and just in case there was a hidden market for it, but sadly there wasn't.

Apart from the usual social media posting, forum postings, writing to a few websites, and newsletter to my customers, I didn't do any extra marketing for the game on XBLIG. Nor do I do any extra marketing for my PC/Mac games because I rely on the casual portals who distribute my games to do that. The casual portals normally only show a new game for a single day on their front page and that is enough to drive hundreds of thousands of downloads whereas a game on XBLIG gets exposure for several days in the New Games list. If I had that much exposure on a casual portal, my games would have sold 6 figures each instead of mid-5 figures.

Basically my game on XBLIG gets very low downloads compared to PC/Mac but is converting at 25%, which I believe is pretty good. So game quality is not an issue for the types of people who go looking for a game like that, but simply the number of downloads is low compared to most other games on there, and indeed compared to games on other platforms. (Similar problem exists with Windows Phone in my experience.)

Even the games that do "well" on there have poor revenue compared to lesser games on other platforms, such as the excellent XBLIG games by Radian Games for example. Indie games on XBLIG have frequently had trouble with exposure on the Xbox dashboard, often being tucked away somewhere hard to find in the menu system - so that doesn't help downloads, plus I think most people only bother to look at XBLA instead.

Hope this reply is somewhat helpful. I didn't go into much detail in the article because the main focus is Desktop vs mobile.

Jake Birkett
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@Keith Thomson: AT the time there was no PSMobile (this was 2 years ago). Also to get something on XBLIG just required code XNA and a free Microsoft visual studio, whereas to get on all those other platforms needs a dev kit and complicated hoops to jump through I believe, right?

Andreas Heldt
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We have three games released on XLBIG and I agree with Jake, XBLIG is not interesting for earning money.

John Flynn
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Jake, it seems that your games aren't available on the U.S. iTunes store. Did you recently take them down, or have they never been available worldwide?

Jake Birkett
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Hi John. Can you check for Holiday Bonus (and Holiday Bonus GOLD, iPad only) again please? It should be on there. Spring Bonus was taken down by the publisher recently and they have given me back the rights to self publish it. Oz is not out yet.

Maria Jayne
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It may have something to do with how mobile games mostly went straight to the bottom of the barrel on price point. Most mobile games are what..couple of dollars? Which makes it harder to sell anything more expensive to the same consumer base, since they don't appreciate why it costs more.

Where as the PC game market is all over the place, you have free games and $10 indie games and $60 triple A games, there is already a solid precedent for the price points at each level.

Jake Birkett
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Yep, the mobile race to the bottom was pretty gross actually. A similar thing happened in casual games several years ago when they dropped from $19.95 to $6.95. Interestingly I do manage to sell my games at $4.95 on iPad and $1.95 on iPhone fine and dropping the price doesn't increase sales, in fact it had a negative effect on the iPhone games. I think this is perhaps due to the particular market segment (casual gamers) equating price with with quality, so cheapest isn't necessarily best...