One thing that I was missing before deciding to start independent games development, was some solid data describing what to expect from this business in terms of income. There are a lot of posts on this topic, but none of them is answering the question thoroughly. Please do not understand me wrong – I am not trying to create games purely for money, but I wanted to know if it can be profitable enough to support myself, so I can create games full-time, not sacrificing my family life on the altar of a hobby.
Most indie developers state, that a statistical game will earn nothing at all. Jeff Tunnell has written, that you should expect anything between no income at all and what a best selling hit game can give. Koen Witters’ short article explains that with a hard work you may expect to earn at least a few thousand dollars from the first game.
I agree with them – you have to put a lot of effort in developing your game first, so it is fun and it looks nice, and next even more effort in marketing and distribution to let the world find out about it. But let’s assume that you already have a fine game and you do your work regarding distribution part. What to expect then? You may find specific games sales stats, be it hit games or those that don’t sell well. Grey Alien Games has listed some of them in his article, if you are interested.
Example sales is not enough
Such data might be helpful, but there’s one problem with it. They are all case studies only. Case studies won’t give you an overview of the market. I have however found out several informations apart from listed above. They might seem just minor tidbits at a glance, but combined together can become a basis to estimate expected income from the Big Fish Games casual games portal.
First of all, you can find out, that a base price of games on this portal is around 10$. There is however a membership program, that gives a possibility to buy games cheaper, so games are sold for average price of around 8$. As a developer can earn 30-40% of the game price, you can get around 2.8$ from a single purchase (I assumed your royalty is the middle of that – 35%).
It’s good to know, but we still don’t have any idea about how many games are sold there. Let’s just focus on games from their top 100 list, as we already assumed that we are talking about fairly successful games.
Here, as well as in many other places, you can find out that around 1M games were downloaded each day from the Big Fish Games in 2008, what gives around 30M games per month. Estimations of Azada sales through Big Fish Games gives its conversion rate (CR) as 1.5%, so I suppose we can assume that Big Fish Games’ mean conversion rate for all games is 1%, the same number that is often mentioned as a standard CR. That would give around 300K purchases monthly. If we assume that most of them (let’s say 250K) are generated by top 100 games, expected sales of a typical game from this list would be 2,500 copies, what gives around 7,000$ in a month.
Games are not the same
The number might seem interesting, but it is still not enough. We all know, that top 10 games will sell better than games from the end of the list. What we are missing is a data about how this number vary inside the list. But as we don’t have such information, let’s try to estimate it too.
First of all, let’s divide this big list of games to 10 separate groups with 10 games inside each. That would be first 10 games in the first group, next 10 games in the second one and so on. Let’s also assume that sales grow exponentially between these groups, for example if the last group generates 1,000 sales, the next group will generate twice more (2,000 sales). The next one will generate twice more again (2,000 * 2 = 4,000 sold copies). All we have to find out in such a case is how much sales grow between these groups.
We already know one thing – total number of sold copies must be around 250K. If we could only figure out the average sales of a game in the top 10, we would be able to calculate the growth ratio. Actually we have some hint on this. As mentioned in the Grey Alien Games article, SteveZ from Blue Tea Games has shared data on his royalty report from Big Fish Games. He has made 20K$ in a single month in 2008 (a month when he has released a new game – Forgotten Lands: First Colony), what gives around 7,150 copies sold. You can find out directly from the Big Fish Games portal that this game was the 12th best selling game in 2008. As it has been launched in the end of the year, we can safely assume that it was in the top 10 when released. From the same portal you can find out that this game was max 2nd best strategy game, so it wasn’t a typical #1 best selling hit game. We can thus safely assume that it was rather an average game from the top 10 list. The whole top 10 group would sell around 71,000 copies monthly in such a case.
What can we do with this number? We can apply some basic math equations to find the missing data – a growth ratio between groups and thus a number of games sold by each of them. I will not include calculations here (you can do it as an exercise if you wish), but as a result I have obtained a growth factor around 40%. According to that we can construct a table with expected per month sales for each group (please note that a number of sales in the first group is near estimated 71,000 copies and if you sum sales from all groups the value would really be around 250,000):
|Group (games positions)||Copies Sold||Copies per Game||Profit per Game|
It is still a question however, how long can a typical game hold on the top 100 list, or hold inside the specific group. Would such sales last a month or two, or can you expect it to sell rather stably across a year or a half? From what I’ve noticed even older games (if only they’ve gained some publicity and coverage) can hold on the top 100 for quite a long time, for example the First Colony was on the top 100 list for 17 weeks. Generally you may find such data directly on the Big Fish Games portal, but it differs substantially between various games.
It is also up to you to determine if your game fit in the top 100 list and eventually where it belongs inside.
Is it exact?
It’s only an estimation based on the limited amount of data. Although I’ve done my best, there are so many missing factors, I can give you no guarantee that the result is 100% correct.
First of all I’ve assumed, that games outside the top 100 are only a crowd, generating almost no sales. It can be truth, but it is possible they generate for example more than 25% of the portal’s sales. It can be the opposite too – maybe last games from the top 100 are also only a part of such crowd.
The next thing I have assumed is that sales grow regularly between analysed groups. But it can also grow only a bit near the bottom of the list, with a significant increase near the top of it.
The last thing that I was missing is a data about the average sales number of a typical top game from the portal and number of games sold each month. I has estimated these values only, and it could affect the result as well.
However, even though it might not be precise, I think it can still be valuable. After all it is better to have such an estimation (even if it can be incorrect), than having 100% sure no estimation at all.
Is it really all I can sell?
Thankfully no. Don’t forget, there are games that sell really well, much above what I have estimated. But even if your game is not as successful, you can always sell it through different distribution channels.
First, you can submit it to more than a single portal to increase a number of sold copies. You can also try selling it directly from your own web site. Apart from that you could also try any other distribution channel that comes to your mind, be it for example inclusion in some games magazine. Even if each of that generate only a bit, it will sum up to a bigger number. Not to mention that if you create a second game you get income from both of them. Just remember to be persistent and not to give up.