First of all a quick update about Tales From The Under-Realm: Hazel. I am currently working on the game GUI and began scripting the first part of the story, since the editor has already checked it. You see a screenshot above of one of the first scenes with Sasha.
Now about today’s post: since from time to time I get email/messages from people who want to start making games, this will be a post about the games market in general, not only related to my games. I am just sharing my thoughts/experiences, everything is my personal opinion of course!
What is the “right platform”
What do I mean by the “right platform”? I recently had my games ported to consoles and the result was good. However, I regularly chat with other devs, and they had very different experiences. My idea is: every platform has advantages/disadvantages that can impact a game’s success more or less depending on the genre.
I’ll make some examples: complex games that are best played with a keyboard and a mouse are of course going to work much better on a PC than any console. I tried playing the console port of several PC hits, like Frostpunk or Stellaris. They did a great job, and they play relatively well, BUT if I could choose, I’d always play them on a PC with keyboard!
For other genres instead, the consoles are clearly well suited. Platformers, racing, FPS, adventures, etc. So maybe you could have better results on console for those genres because that market is way less crowded than PC/Steam and in general the games price didn’t collapse (no bundles on consoles!) as much as the PC market in recent years. It’s true that on Xbox there’s the gamepass, but so far it didn’t seem to impact much non-gamepass games from what I know.
Too much offer, not enough demand
Of course, how a game plays well on a device is just a part of the equation: as already said above, a very big factor is also if a platform is crowded or not. That’s why I’d be wary when you hear stuff like “on that new platform XYZ my game sold 100 times Steam!”. Yes, when there are like other 10 games, sure. But after a while? So it also depends WHEN you release a game. I was lucky enough to release one of my best games (Loren) very early on Steam. But I made more games later that could have been on same level or close, but the market was already crowded so much that I could never repeat that success.
Mobile is also very good for certain kind of games (like visual novels), or better it WAS. I feel now the “gatekeepers” did a great job in destroying that market, which is now full only of MMO and clones, with a few exceptions as premium games (but with the various “gamepasses” things not sure how much that will last). Personally I now consider mobile the worst possible market to be, because of a lot of factors: low perceived value/price, difficulty of developing (especially for iOS but even Android is rather unfriendly now), censorship, and last but not least all the income is concentrated on a super tiny fraction of the market and you need to spend a lot of money to “acquire users”. So overall I’d say the situation is much worse than what happens on Steam/consoles.
Yes, because another “bonus” of the game market is that it’s constantly changing – a platform that was good back in 2014-15 now could earn you next to zero (happened to me when got banned from Google Play!).
I know many people won’t agree with this, but sometimes (recently, it’s happening a lot to me!) you as developer have NO CLUE AT ALL why a game did well, or bad! As a joke, while talking with other indies privately (some of them much more successful than me) I made up the idea of the “Steam lottery”. In practice, while when I sell on itch.io or I run crowdfunding campaigns more or less I have an idea of how a game could do (based on past data/games and my true fans), on Steam every time I launch a new game is like buying a lottery ticket!
I really never had so varying results as with Steam. Excluding the first year, when there was no competition so all the data was screwed, in the next years I really had crazy results. Even talking with other indies, two visual novels (maybe even sharing same artist!) had really different results. Sure, different prices, different topic, writing skills. Different launch dates, competition on same genre/niche. There are so many variables that’s honestly impossible to know what’s going to happen.
So, in my view, it’s a sort lottery and you definitely need a good amount of luck to make a hit. Or maybe, a game that would have been an “OK” game, by luck turned into a hit, and vice-versa. I know it seems a silly thing, but I really believe it. And there’s nothing you can do about that, except trying to do your best.
I think that if you can, using a cross-development tool to create your game is always a good idea: however in the end, finding the right platform for your game genre is probably the single most important thing you can do to achieve success, or in most cases, to just stay afloat.
And last but not least, remember that the only way to know if something works, is to try. What didn’t work for me at all, for you could be a life-changing choice! Work hard and keep trying!