Up For Debate - When is the Best Time to Release An Indie Game?

Written by Jon Sutton on Sun, Aug 6, 2017 2:01 PM

I was having a browse through Steam on Tuesday, August 1st, checking out the new releases section. It caught my attention just how many game releases there had been, both on that day, the day before, and stretching back weeks. The summer drought is now non-existent unless you live and die for AAA gaming. Out of interest, I totted up the number of new releases on that day. 74. That’s more games in a day than were released in the entire year on Steam in 2006.

In short, there have never been more games vying for our attention. We did a feature last year on whether there were too many games on Steam, and for the consumer, the answer is probably no. Why on earth would you want fewer games? You’d like the ones you’d actually be interested in to be more discoverable, sure, but there’s no harm in having more options. For the indie developers though, and even the lower-budget publishers, a store awash with games makes it very difficult to get your game noticed by the gaming public.

When it comes to indies, just being noticed is the biggest problem. It’s tragic just how many incredible games are probably floating around the darkest recesses of Steam, unknown to all but the 23 people who felt inclined to leave a positive review. The runaway successes are the freak outliers, not the other way around, broad to fore thanks to a combination of being great games, launching with impeccable, and just being noticed. Having the popular zeitgeist around your game is incredibly important. If people are talking about it, they’re buying it.

Find a quiet release period

So just when is the best time for an indie developer to release a game on Steam? The common sense answer we’d all probably give is around about now when the AAA releases have dried up for the summer. Gamers always want games, and sites always want something to write about. It’s perfect. Only, everyone has clearly got the same idea. Rather than avoid the competition, these releases have actually thrown themselves into the deep end, up against their fellow indies competing for a target market that already has a demonstrable interest in indie games. In a nutshell, don’t do it. The best time to release an indie game is when as few other possible games are launching. The trick here is to play it by ear, study the market and identify when the least enticing games are going on sale. It’s not a perfect science, but just simply avoiding as many other games as possible will at least keep you on the front page of the Steam store as long as humanly possible.

Ride the wave

The opposite solution is to ride the wave. The AAA rush is precisely then because it’s when gamers are most willing and most able to part with their cash. Not being a AAA release doesn’t necessarily mean your game is going to be drowned out. Many indie game fans aren’t sat around waiting for Call of Duty: World at War 8, they’re on the lookout for the next indie gem. Launching in the September to November period also provides a great opportunity to shift copies before a Steam sale, and then be poised to take advantage of discounts.

The other obvious time to avoid launching a game is right before, during, or just after, a Steam sale. For the duration of the sale, any newly launched games will be invisible. Avoid the sales like the plague.

Look outside of the Steam bubble

At the moment, the immense number of Steam users and the immense number of games being released make it a tough market. Devs putting all their eggs into a Steam-shaped basket is bad news. Get it on every store possible. There is heaps more visibility to be found on the likes of GOG.com, itch.io, etc. Their audiences are far smaller, but they already have a vested interest in smaller budget games.

Secondary to this - if you’re working a game for PC, just do everything you can to have a Nintendo Switch dev kit too. Nintendo’s console is still fledgeling, and there’s a market of only roughly 5 million users. But their thirst for games is real. Street Fighter II recently sold 450,000 copies at $40. It’s well over 20 years old. A little known Japanese budget game called Kamiko, which can be completed in under an hour, recently passed 110,000 sales. It’s the sort of game that would pass invisibly under the weight of Steam releases, but there’s only three or four other game release a week, it helps immeasurably at standing out. The knock on effect to Switch users talking about it is it’s cross-promotion for any PC version.

At the end of the day, there sadly is no cut and dry answer, and a fair bit of luck is going to be involved in any game becoming a success. I know we’ve got a few aspiring game developers among the GD community, when do you think the best time is to launch an indie game? Are you more inclined to buy indie titles when there are fewer AAA releases, or will you just buy whatever catches your eye? Let us know in the comments below!

Our favourite comments:

if the game is good, then honestly it doesn't matter when at all, of course choosing the right platform and publishing method is very tricky nowadays (all major platforms being particularly unfriendly, no matter if Microsoft, Steam, Sony etc..) and going full "on-your-own" isn't quite a way unless you can really afford to push things (such as for ex. CDPR with Witcher or Warshorse with Kingdom Come Deliverance but those aren't exactly "Indie games")

tzzsmk

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02:48 Aug-07-2017

it should be released when the game is done

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16:42 Aug-08-2017

Wiser words have rarely been spoken.

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01:38 Aug-07-2017

When it's ready

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16:42 Aug-08-2017

Wise.

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21:25 Aug-06-2017

I would think around 7PM

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19:21 Aug-06-2017

If I was a developer ready to drop a game, I'd just do it whenever and ride the wave!

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08:32 Aug-07-2017

It's a bit more complex when someone creates games for a living. A lot of emotions go into making a game. and it's difficult to be coldhearted when you have put in so much of your blood, sweet & tears into making something from your soul, only to have it rip to shreds buy ungrateful punks.

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01:14 Aug-08-2017

Then...dont become a developer. Gotta be thick skinned in that business.

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06:45 Aug-08-2017

That may not be necessary, provided you can find a crowd that appreciates you & your work. Think of it like this. When a musician performs to an audience, how many of them do you think don't like his/her music/performance?

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13:59 Aug-08-2017

that's actually a problem of any sort of digital creative job, exactly as you pointed out musicians, the problem is very same

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15:18 Aug-08-2017

The only way I see to resolve that problem, is to use the internet with purpose and control. PC ;)

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15:30 Aug-08-2017

will not solve anything,
I'd say most people are not ready to pay for digital content without being given any "ownership",
I gotta admit even I would rather buy a physical box of art instead of digital voucher or online subscription,
I understand era of physical distribution of digital content is gone, but yet I'm about to learn why should I pay for access to a product I pay for,
it would be for a long, very long debate, but my point of view is artists and digital content creators should change their thinking, start giving away digital crafts for free but empower and enhance the "physical" goodies (such as for ex. band merch, prints, events etc..),
for ex. people can buy Witcher figures, posters or even collector editions and whatever stuff if they want to support the devs and like to have something more than just a game, that is the right way I think

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16:47 Aug-08-2017

I can't speak for others but I am willing and "able" to buy any digital good, provided that the current version of said item is mine and belongs to me. With mine, I mean that I can listen to it, play it, as much as I want for as long as I want. If I want to sell it to a third person that is my choice...

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16:52 Aug-08-2017

and I am not willing to pay a fee so I can sell something that I bought, and is rightfully mine. I understand that this view, might ruffle some feathers with some people, but that is my view. And I will not bow down to peer pressure just because they are afraid of so called phantom profits.

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22:56 Aug-08-2017

but you cannot own digital goods unless it's stored on permanent nonrewriteable storage, without any need for online authentication/activation

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17:42 Aug-09-2017

That's why I'm planing (in the future, still trying to find a good person to work with) to buy some long term (with not just a few TB but PB) storage media that can be only written to once. That way, all that stuff that is important to me will be available to me when ever I want.

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17:44 Aug-09-2017

And if they don't want to sell me the stuff without the stupid DRM that is also fine, that stuff can simply be left to someone else. I make conditions, not demands.

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18:57 Aug-06-2017

Totally correct. The best example of that statement is Avernum (3 was my favorite one, released in 2002). It was so niche when Spiderweb software released the first few games. I was probably one of the first people who ever played it.


I LOVED IT. Every second of it. And believe me it was a long game. I spent hours..

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19:01 Aug-06-2017

playing it. Worth every second of the time that you spent on it. The story was beyond good 4 me personally, and if you want to play it you will not be sorry. If you want the latest and greatest (oh look at those god rays, 4K resolution) than this isn't a game 4 you. But if you are an old school gamer you will love it.

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08:29 Aug-07-2017

And trust me, if you're into game lore this game will blow your mind.

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17:50 Aug-06-2017

The best would be to release it at daytime, when people actually plays!

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15:54 Aug-06-2017

When it's ready rather then having a buggy mess - WarZ say's hi.

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15:18 Aug-06-2017

Release it then **** on anybody who reviews the game. Easy marketing.

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15:17 Aug-06-2017

Payday:-D

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15:14 Aug-06-2017

if the game is good, then honestly it doesn't matter when at all,
of course choosing the right platform and publishing method is very tricky nowadays (all major platforms being particularly unfriendly, no matter if Microsoft, Steam, Sony etc..) and going full "on-your-own" isn't quite a way unless you can really afford to push things (such as for ex. CDPR with Witcher or Warshorse with Kingdom Come Deliverance but those aren't exactly "Indie games")

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14:46 Aug-06-2017

It's everyday bro

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18:26 Aug-06-2017

with the Early access flow , 5 mil on steam in six months never done before , pass all the competition man full Release is next , man im popping all these updates , got a brand new pink dress and And I met a Jeep too and I'm coming with the crew THIS PUBG BIT*H WHO THE HELL ARE PLAYING YOU .

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18:56 Aug-06-2017

Why the pink dress tho?

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19:34 Aug-06-2017

Usually when there are cosmetic upgrades some people will try exotic looks it doesnt matter to them that it looks silly or doesnt give any tactical advantage xD

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