If you’ve been keeping even just a cursory eye on the upcoming games list on Steam for the past few years, you’ll be acutely aware that it’s the Wild West out there right now. There’s gunslinging, saloon fights, and a whole lot of coffins. From just a few hundred games releasing each year back at the turn of the decade, there are now several thousand games releasing on Steam each yeah. Sometimes, there are dozens and dozens on a single day. A game can be pushed down from the front page within a matter of minutes, never to be seen again.
It’s all because releasing a game on Steam is now an incredibly simple task, but making it a success is almost like winning the lottery. It used to be that a great game would sell well. Now, plenty of great games sink without a trace. But for those thinking about releasing a game on Steam, just what are the odds of you being successful? Mike Rose, founder of publisher No More Robots, found the answer to this and much more during a 2018 GDC session that has been recently uploaded.
First things first, as of February 2018, the average number of games released on Steam was 40 per day. At that rate, there will be 14,600 games released on Steam within 2018. For a slice of perspective, there were 6,000 games in total on Steam at the end of 2015. In 2012, 392 games were released during the entire year. We now exceed that many games in just 10 days. We are being flooded with more games than ever before which, in turn, means more games are failing than ever before.
According to Rose, 82% of games released on Steam don’t make enough money to cover the minimum wage for a single US resident. For studios, just 7% of games make enough money for the studio to survive and go on to make another game.
At the time, 2017 was considered a bad time for indie developers to release a game on Steam. It turns out 2017 had nothing on 2018.
Steam Sales Statistics in 2017
- In 2017 the average game on Steam sold 500 copies in its first month (500 median, 3700 mean)
- In 2017 the average game on Steam made $2000 in revenue in its first month ($2000 median, $18,000 mean)
- In 2017 the average Steam game retailed for $7
Steam Sales Statistics in 2018
- In 2018 the average game on Steam sold 50 copies in its first month (50 median, 2000 mean)
- In 2018 the average game on Steam made $250 in revenue in its first month ($250 median, $25,740 mean)
- In 2018 the average Steam game retailed for $5
Before we get totally doom and gloom about these figures though, it’s worth bearing in mind that the overwhelming majority of games released on Steam are terrible. Plenty of these games likely sell zero copies, and justifiably so. This obviously schews the results considerably, and we can see from the mean revenue that more money is being made on Steam in 2018, it’s just going to proportionally fewer games.
Moving well outside the boundaries of objective data, Rose also analysed the sales of games when the ‘crap’ games are removed from the equation. What constitutes a garbage game is going to vary from person to person obviously, so this is a subjective analysis.
Steam Sales Statistics in 2018 Minus the Shovelware
- In 2018 the average game on Steam sold 2000 copies in its first month (2,000 median, 10,000 mean)
- In 2018 the average game on Steam made $12,500 in revenue in its first month ($12,500 median, $110,000 mean)
- In 2018 the average Steam game retailed for $12
The end result is markedly different. When we strip out what Rose deems as the 'crap' games, the average price of a game more than doubles. The median sales for a game that isn't shovelware also jumps 40x, while the median revenue increases 50x. In short, games that don't look immediately terrible are doing okay on Steam in 2018, although the $12,500 median is still nowhere near enough to support a single developer in the US for just a year.
The mean result is obviously much higher, but this can be majorly schewed by the smash hits. These games are the exception rather than the norm.
How many copies will my game sell on Steam in a year?
Jake Birkett, creator of Shadowhand, also put together a formula that can roughly calculate the revenue a game will make in a year based upon its total sales in week one and month one.
1st year revenue = (1st month revenue x 2.5) = (1st week revenue x 5)
For more info on this data, do be sure to check out Mike Rose's full talk in the video below.