I’ve already talked about market changes in the past, and how quick they are in the indie game developer’s world. In today’s blog I want to talk about what you can do when this happens.
First of all analyze
The first thing to do is to check your statistics and draw conclusions. This because it’s always better to verify yourself if what other people say it’s true. Or maybe, it could be for them, but somehow not for you.
I know what you’re thinking: yes there can be generalized effects, but sometimes a small group of developers can still find profitable what they’re doing. For example: let’s say that RPGs are no longer a popular genre on Steam (that’s false obviously but it’s just an example). A developer who has built a following over the years might find that it’s still better to keep doing RPGs, than trying to reinvent themselves doing a new genre.
Of course it’s not an exact science, and also depends how quickly you release games. Since I usually release at least 1 game a year, with an average of 2-3, I was able to see market changes much quicker than other indies releasing 1 game every 3 years!
I distinctly remember two episodes, in 2016 and 2018. I had just discovered that somehow the Steam algorithm changed, or perhaps was the market. Anyway, I suddenly had much lower revenues than in the past, and I told other indies, who though I was exaggerating or maybe was just my games. A few months later, those same people finally released new games and they all went to me scared screaming “WTF you’re right!” 😀
This not to say that I’m always right (you know I am! just kidding), but that obviously if you release a game every 2 years you can’t really know what/if things changed. If you release 2-3 a year instead…
Find a solution
After you’ve analyzed your data, and discovered exactly what happened, it’s time to find a solution. I did this already many times in the course of my indie career. First big change was back in 2008 when I stopped doing strategy/sim games and moved to visual novels/dating sims. The other big change was in 2011-2012 when I did my first RPGs. The last big change I did was last year when I started doing crowdfunding and changed the way I develop games internally to be able to release games at good pace.
Sometimes a solution can be simple or obvious, other times can be a guess and very risky. But as the saying goes, if you keep doing a thing, and that thing doesn’t work anymore, it’s stupid not to change.
Yes: trying something new can be scary, and it’s not guaranteed to work, but it’s better than just keep doing the same thing that is failing over and over, and end up bankrupt a few months/years later.
A practical example
Let’s see how I applied this system myself. As said back in 2018 there was a big change. That’s when I decided to do some yuri only games (never done before) and also include more adult content (more erotic than hardcore, but a further step from the kissing and partial nudity of past games). While I don’t have and never had issues with adult stuff myself, for someone coming from tame otome games was a big risk!
Anyways, how did it go? Below you see the revenues on Steam of a few games, 1st week, 1st month and 1st year.
Now you can see that PS2 is outselling everything else ,but as already said in the past, what matters is the ROI. I spent 1 full year on PS2. So even if it sold more, in the same amount of time I could have done 3-4 games like Hazel, for example (PS2 script is indeed about 4-5 times Hazel! and let’s not forget all the branching and RPG gameplay coding part lol).
What’s interesting is that even considering games released back in 2016 (when it was MUCH MUCH easier to make money on Steam!) like C14 Dating or Heirs & Graces, recent yuri games with adult stuff like Volleyball Heaven outsell them! So it seems it was the right move, and that’s why last year I made 3 more yuri only games with adult content, and all of them did well, much better than my other recent releases (yes, even including At Your Feet lol!).
Also those graphs are only about Steam’s revenues. I didn’t include the KS. Including Kickstarter money, Hazel would be in 2nd place after PS2. I didn’t include it since it wouldn’t be a fair comparison with older games but of course in the end still matters.
In summary: I took a risk, but it worked. Of course I wasn’t sure what would happen, but I still tried. This is how you stay in business. Try new things until you find what works, what the market really wants. What people pay for, and not what the vocal minority says.
I must say that I was unsure if to post this last part. It seems like that I have something against certain genres of games or content. No. It’s not about me or my personal preferences – indeed I just finished a game with all romance combos, and I’m working on the first Loren spin off that once again has all romance combos. So I repeat, it’s not about my personal tastes: those are hard numbers, statistics. Which could even be different for other devs, depending on platforms, following, art style, etc etc there are too many variables to consider. But for me, that’s what happened. After doing 3 more yuri games last year, now I clearly know it wasn’t random.
As I said in the past, if you’re a fan of a genre, you should support the authors, spread the word, and so on. Complaining or voicing your opinion won’t change things. If I was just doing games as hobby, then it wouldn’t matter. But I’ve been in this business since almost 20 years and I want to keep doing this until retirement age (hopefully!).
To make you understand better my position here’s a comparison: imagine at your job one day the boss tells you that you can choose between two tasks. Both are identical to you, you have no preferences. But one pays twice vs the other. What would you choose?