Steam Spy is a service that reports the number of owners of games on Steam using their API and a little modelling/guesswork.
Entrepreneur Math is when you make up numbers based on unrelated or partial data to prove to yourself how successful you’re going to be. For example: “There are 80,000 searches a month for ‘Cats Wearing Heels’. If my website, catswearingheels.com, gets 10% of those searches, then that’s 8,000 visitors a month. If 1% of those then go on to buy two pairs of my designer cat heels, then I can easily make $4,000 a month”.
Doing this kind of math is a Very Bad Idea. It leads to chronic Unrealistic Expectations, and is not a good estimate of anything except how optimistic your imagination is.
Resist the temptation to do it.
How I did It
Here’s my list of games from 2017:
- Bertram Fiddle: Episodes 1 and 2
- The Darkside Detective
- Night in the Woods
- Thimbleweed Park
- The Frostrune
- Milkmaid of the Milky Way
- Tiny Echo
- Darkestville Castle
Using Steam Spy, I took the low end of the total number of owners for each of the games (i.e. if the number of owners was 100,000 and the margin of error was ±10,000, then I made it 90,000), multiplied it by the lowest price in the last two weeks (i.e. if there was a sale, the sale price was used and, over Christmas when I first did this, basically every game was on sale).
I then multiplied this by 0.6 to take into account Valve’s 30% cut and to allow 10% for giveaways, Humble Bundle keys, review copies, etc.
This is me Being Realistic but—and I’m going to restate this in case it wasn’t obvious—this is still all meaningless. At this point there are so many guesses and assumptions that the model is already broken beyond all repair. We should stop here.
Average game earnings: $256,200
Minimum game earnings: $2,875
Maximum game earnings: $1,500,000
Let me just grab my spectacles. They’re my favourites because they have this nice pinkish-reddish tint to them.
The results are heartening. The games with the least amount of income had margins of error of up to 50% and deep discounts in the sale. If we tweak the formula a little, use the high end of the margin and the average of full and sale price, then the minimum earnings shoot up to $20,000.
Not to mention that this is a single storefront—many of these are also available on GoG, or they have App Store and Google Play counterparts. Some of them are even available on the Xbox, PlayStation, and Switch stores.
(This kind of tweaking, it should be noted, is another symptom of Entrepreneur Math. When the results don’t give you the story you wanted—let’s face it, a year+ of development time to make less than $3,000 is not a great story—change the assumptions until they do.)
Some developers—especially indies—might not like having what amounts to their personal income out there for all to see, so I’m not doing game-by-game breakdowns.
Also, I lied. Not every game in the above list is included but some other games not on the list (but of the same genre) are included. Hopefully that’s enough anonymising that I won’t upset anyone with this silliness—it is not supposed to be an accurate reflection of anything except my own insecurities.
Why Do This?
If this is so useless and ridiculous, why did I do it?
- It’s easier and more fun to daydream than to actually work.
- It proves to Erin that there is a market and that I’m not wasting my time (her response: “I don’t want to hear it, I’m not expecting this to make money and that’s fine.” Which is…supportive, I guess?).
- It gives me hope.
I do not have a lot of experience with games development. While I am vaguely aware that it’s going to be harder than I realise, I don’t think I fully understand the enormity of what I’m taking on. Based on past experience, I don’t think I can understand the enormity of it until I’m neck deep in it and have no choice but to dig myself out.
I do realise that the odds are very much against me. The above list is a list of the best adventure games of 2017 and, for every successful game that’s released, there are dozens that barely sell a few copies.
However, it does proves that, if you can create something noteworthy, then there is a viable market out there for these kinds of games. I also kind of know what to expect—when Trail Wallet was released in 2012, the App Store was already mature and the competition was exceedingly tough (gone were the days of just releasing an app and hoping people noticed), and yet we still managed to build it into a decent, steady income.
All of this does give me hope (however naive), and hope is important.