Happy Birthday to me! Well it actually was earlier this month, the day before the previous blog post. But here I’m celebrating my 15th birthday as indie! I already wrote about my journey in my previous post of five years ago, so if you want to know more about it read here: https://www.winterwolves.net/blog/2014/04/my-first-40-years-10-as-indie/
Now, five years have passed since that post, and things changed, changed a lot. In practice, everything has become insanely harder. I had to start a Patreon, because things are so tough recently that I felt I needed some help to finish the next games. Once again your response was really overwhelming for me, and I want to thank you all for your support!
Why things got harder? there are many factors but in the last weeks I thought about it a lot, and basically it’s due to a single main factor: “the gatekeepers”.
Back in 2004 when I started, you could sell directly from your site. I even knew people making six figures a year directly. And consider that amount using vendors which takes around 8-10%, not modern portals which take 30-35%…! But wasn’t only in 2004, I was still selling fine direct even when I wrote my previous blog post back in 2014, so 5 years ago.
In recent years instead, we had two different big changes:
- the advent of mobile devices
- Steam accepting all games and becoming “de facto” the most common way to discover/buy/play new games
In the first case, a new market opened, so thanks to Ren’Py I decided to try, and even if the money is really low compared to desktop, at least with Ren’Py doing the mobile ports is easy (except iOS, because of course everything Apple-related must be a pain in the ass, forcing me to hire an external coder!).
But in any case, even if probably some people who before were playing my games on desktop, now play them on mobile, for sure there are also new people/players who were introduced to my games (except for RPGs, I don’t know how you can play one of my RPGs on the tiny tablets! seems impossible) thanks to mobile devices. So that probably balanced things out in the end.
The ‘Steam tax’
But Steam? That is a different matter. Now, I am not “anti-Steam”. I am neutral, and I welcome the new Epic store because a monopoly is never a good thing (I can say it being neutral since there are 0% chances any of my games ever being accepted on Epic store lol).
As a matter of fact though, when before you could make a game, and say “I have 1000 true fans who will buy my next game. This new RPG costs $24.99, I’ll make around $25k and after vendor costs will be around $22-23.000.” now this reasoning is no longer valid. First of all the competition is crazy. Second, the discovery is a big problem on Steam right now due to non-working algorithm (I keep getting flight simulator games shown to me, even if I never bought one in my life!). But even if we consider that the same amount of people (the true fans) will buy my RPG, the problem is the fee: of those $25k in sales, less than $17k will end in my pocket after Steam’s cut. Such a difference for small indies like me is a lot, means less money to invest in the next game, more worries, etc.
Many of you still buy direct from me, and once again I thank you (I get almost 30% more each sale!) but the vast majority will obviously buy on Steam. I am not blaming users, since it’s not really their fault.
It’s what I call “the Steam tax” – basically when in 2014 Steam started Greenlight, IF your game got accepted on the store, you would get GOOD exposure. Really, really good, millions of views. Totally worth the 30% commission they asked in exchange of such visibility. Now? It’s almost like selling more or less to the same amount of people that before were buying on your own site, but of course you earn 30% less than before. Not a good thing as you can imagine!
I won’t be lying and for the first time since I’m indie, I am not sure if I’ll still be here five years from now to write a new blog post. I mean, I probably will because even if this ended up becoming an hobby for me, I would still find the time to do it.
Things in life change, and nobody can really know what will happen in future, but the situation right now is rather tough. And it’s not just me, the mr nobody indie! I know of friends who made MILLIONS (literally millions) back in 2010-2014 on Steam that right now are not earning enough to make a decent salary (indeed many quit full time indie and took a daily job instead).
Haha this post turned out rather sad, didn’t it? It wasn’t my plan I swear, but if I had to write about the current situation, this is it. I hope nobody thinks I’m giving up or anything: I’m doing my best with my skills and resources. But I’m also living day by day, without much expectation about what will happen.
Hopefully we’ll see again in five years and I’ll still be a full time indie!