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October 31, 2020
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The one metric you SHOULD care about when launching your game

by Simon Carless on 07/24/19 03:07:00 pm   Expert Blogs   Featured Blogs

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So I'll make this simple. Many of you are making amazing video games. But expectations vs. reality re: sales/financial success have never been more out of whack for people launching a new video game in 2019.

But I have good news for you. There’s already a way to work out if your premium, non-F2P game launching on Steam* is going to be a success or not. And I really feel like many people don’t understand this.

Simply enough - you put up a Steam page for your game, and you will start to get wishlists. These are markers that users put down - essentially, ‘I’m interested in this game & I might buy it when it comes out’.

The amount of wishlists you have on launch absolutely dictate how many copies of this game you’ll sell in the first week, month and year. It’s not completely predictable, but here is a gross generalization from multiple studies by smart people (not me):

  • If your game has 1,000 wishlists on launch, it may sell 500 copies in your first week and 2,500 copies in your first year on Steam.

  • If your game has 10,000 wishlists on launch, it may sell 5,000 copies in your first week and 25,000 copies in your first year.

Don’t forget that the gross revenue to you from Steam will likely be around 60% or less, after Steam’s cut (30%), VAT for various countries (5%), and refunds (let’s say 5%, but it varies massively).

Here’s a good recent Twitter thread by Jake Birkett (Shadowhand, Ancient Enemy - wishlist it!) which goes through some of the ensuing math(s).

There are certainly exceptions to the above numbers**, and you’ll probably sell more than ‘launch week x 5’ copies of the game itself during that first year because some of them will be discounted in sales.

But the general concept is correct - imagine 2,500 times the average launch sale price (including country variants!) of your game, times 0.6.

That’s how much money you may have from Steam 12 months after the launch of your game. (Before taxes, and all that jazz!) For a $20 game, that’s $30,000 USD for a title with 1,000 wishlists at launch.

If that what you are happy with - perhaps as a hobbyist or because you have other work or means - then we don’t have a problem. Your game has been discovered enough for you, and we can go on about our day.

But if you’re two weeks or even two months away from launching your game and you’re a long way off where it needs to be in wishlists, don’t presume you’ll be one of those outliers.

And don’t ignore these metrics just because they are bad - they are extremely reliable. For every Slay The Spire (as noted, “the game's first early access release in November 2017 was very slow, with only about 2000 copies selling across the first weeks”), there’s a few hundred (thousand?) games who didn’t get that turnaround.

Anyhow, we’ll talk about why you might not be getting wishlisted and what to do about it in another piece.

*I’m aware that Steam is not the only way to launch games in 2019. And I’ll talk about console and mobile - and the Epic Games Store & maybe other more exotic formats - in subsequent newsletters. But Steam is still a default for many. YMMV.

**This excellent analysis on Reddit has an outlying example, 11-11 Memories Retold. The author notes that it launched with what is probably a couple of thousand wishlists (not many for such a big-budget title), and ended up with “an incredible tail ratio, but almost certainly a commercial failure.” Maybe it did better on console?

[This piece was originally sent out as part of my new Game Discoverability Weekly newsletter. Also coming soon to the newsletter - a LOT of practical advice for people about pricing, game genres, launch strategies, platforms, and more besides.]

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