The misleading Steam reviews

First of all, short update on Tales From The Under-Realm: After Midnight. I am at good point, I’m finishing to script the ending scenes and waiting for some art, but overall I believe I should have a beta out next month!

And now let’s get to the topic of this post.

Many people use Steam reviews to judge a game success. And up to a point, it’s a valid metric. If a game has an insane amount of reviews (in the order of hundred or thousands) in a short time, one thing it’s sure: has sold a lot of copies!

Elden Ring already had 353000 reviews after about 2 months from launch!

But what about us small indie devs? It’s really hard to say, when reviews are under 50-100, if a game was successful or not.

Of course it’s even harder to say now because every year, average income for each game drops noticeably. So games with same amount of reviews or review scores could have very different results.

Lately getting past 10 reviews for an average priced game ($10-15) it’s super hard, since very few players leave them. Anyway, to make this post, I compared the revenues of the games I released back in 2016-17. I picked those since I didn’t do any crowdfunding back then and it was a time where you could still get decent exposure on Steam.

For comparison, none of the recent games got such high amount of reviews and still some sold way better (see a previous blog post: https://www.winterwolves.net/blog/2022/04/market-changes/ )

The graph above shows the revenues in red, the review score (in percentage) in green, and the reviews amount in blue. Note that I wrote this blog a few weeks ago so maybe I got some new reviews in the meanwhile, but it shouldn’t change by much.

Generally, higher reviews=better sales, but it largely depends on the genre: both PSCD and Queen Of Thieves have fewer reviews than C14 Dating or Heirs & Graces, but revenues are similar or slightly higher.

I think from my experience (not just those games but considering also all my others) is that games with extra gameplay, especially RPG (not so much card games sadly) bring more revenues with same review amount and similar rating. It’s also true though that games with gameplay take on average 2-3 times the amount to make.

I also believe that if a game has a particularly well done story or that somehow remains impressed in people for various reasons, like Heirs & Graces, it can bring a lot of reviews, but sadly not much revenue (it’s probably the game with the highest disparity between reviews and revenues that I have made!).

For comparison, Queen Of Thieves has 1/3 of Heirs and Grace reviews, much lower rating, and still it sold slightly more. Because is a RPG, and also because it features female protagonists and/or lesbian/yuri romance which seems to be the single highest selling point for VN on Steam market (it’s not random that most of the recent games I’ve made all are yuri!).

Conclusions

This is just my experience but speaking privately with other indies they had same results. That’s why I believe that if a game has less than 100 reviews, trying to determine how successful it was based on review amount is difficult. If a game has over 100, then it did well, and if has over 1000 then it was definitely a small hit! Everything else are just theories.

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