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Steam vs. Itch.io - The industry contradiction question

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Hello everyone, I have a question about a contradiction that is coming out of the Indie Game Market...at least as far as I see it. 

I am hearing that it is suicide to release your game without any marketing and that’s fine, that makes perfect sense.  However, I am also hearing people who have released games saying that their sales on Steam were much much better than Itch.io. 

 

This doesn’t make much sense to me and it is a contradiction in terms of the necessity of Indie Game Marketing.

 

If my game will only go as far as my marketing efforts (assuming the game is worth buying) then why should I give 30% of my profits to Steam vs. Itch.io's 0% payment requirement?  If Steam does, in fact, boost sales simply because it is Steam, then that implies that marketing is not 100% important.   Yes, I understand that Steam has DRM, but piracy, from what I hear, is just something that all developers have to live with (or thwart it themselves by releasing crippled versions of the game on the piracy market.)  If I am bringing the customers to my game's storefront....if I am the only one putting all the marketing effort and marketing work into selling my game, why should I give 30% away to Steam?  If releasing a game on Steam, with no marketing at all, will result in $0 sales, why bother with Steam at all?

 

So which is true here?  Releasing a game with no market is guaranteed to bring in $0 sales or does releasing a game on Steam mean that some sales will come in with no marketing effort at all, simply because you are on Steam?  Could it be that once you get a certain amount of sales on Steam it will attract other Steam customers that your marketing couldn't reach?

 

Thanks for your input here.

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Steam has a large userbase, such that at least a few of them are bound to come across any new game there by sheer chance. But a couple dozen isolated people doesn't make for much of an audience.

I personally don't upload to Steam, mainly because it requires signing an NDA and I have made a personal commitment to never sign such an agreement (that is, an agreement that requires me to keep arbitrary secrets perpetually, or for an unreasonably large or undefined period of time).

I don't really think I'm missing out on that much. Back when Greenlight was running, I put three projects on there. One of them, which already has somewhat of a reputation behind it, was greenlit, toward the end (but I ended up not going through with it because of the aforementioned NDA which I did not agree to). The other two were roundly lambasted by almost all users who saw them, and they never got greenlit. It seems clear to me that Steam users have very little patience for imperfection, so if you're going to make a Steam release, you'd probably better make sure it's your best work first.

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JulieMaru-chan, thanks, that makes a ton of sense. 

My goal is to sell my game for $4.99, but if I go on Steam, I would have to up the price to make up for the added 30% pay out to Steam.  This is something that I don't want to do because I want my game to be competitive price wise.  Also, this would be my first game so that advice you gave at the end was a real bonus-helper for me, thanks.

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1 hour ago, gcgipson said:

If Steam does, in fact, boost sales simply because it is Steam, then that implies that marketing is not 100% important.

If marketing was that simple we wouldn't spend as much on it.

Think of how in a public place, surrounded by people you don't know. Then in the crowd you see a friend or someone you know. You are much more likely to talk to the person know than someone you don't know. That is very simplified.

So Steam that has more users have a better chance of having someone who has seen your adverts and browsing games.

54 minutes ago, gcgipson said:

My goal is to sell my game for $4.99 ... added 30% pay out to Steam.  This is something that I don't want to do because I want my game to be competitive price wise.

This is never easy. You want to cover your cost but don't want to price it so high that people won't even consider it.

57 minutes ago, gcgipson said:

Also, this would be my first game so that advice you gave at the end was a real bonus-helper for me, thanks.

Players are your allies. People who criticize your game are people who have taken interest in it. Mine that criticism and show interest in the players. I find that doing this has around a 32%-36% chance of converting a person who criticized the game without playing into a buyer. I also think it improves the chances of other buyers buying but I have found no way to test this yet.

Remember this is your first game, so chances are that you won't get much out of it except experience. Then again I have seen people who got lucky and other developers who marketed well sell there first games for huge profit. So it isn't that there is no chance, just be ready to salvage things if it fails.

If players don't like it take note of what they don't like. You can always release a improved version later when you have learned more.

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There are several logical errors in your initial idea.

"I am hearing that it is suicide to release your game without any marketing and that’s fine, that makes perfect sense.  However, I am also hearing people who have released games saying that their sales on Steam were much much better than Itch.io. This doesn’t make much sense to me and it is a contradiction in terms of the necessity of Indie Game Marketing."

No, this is purely a statement about the quantity of people that use each marketplace. If I do no marketing, sell 50 copies on Steam, and 1 copy on Itch.io, it is true that my Steam sales were much much better, but it says nothing about how valuable marketing would have been, if I'd done it. I could have sold 500, 5000, or 50,000 copies on one or either platform with marketing. It's a completely separate issue.

"If my game will only go as far as my marketing efforts"

Again, it's a mistake to try and draw a direct logical comparison between marketing and success. A few games do well without marketing. A few games almost entirely rely on marketing. But most games that do well have at least some marketing, and a ton of the failed games are from developers who put their game up on Steam, then said "so, how do I market my game with zero budget?" Marketing correlates with sales, because it increases your audience and your sales can only ever be a subset of your audience. It's not a guarantee, but it's not worthless either.

"If Steam does, in fact, boost sales simply because it is Steam, then that implies that marketing is not 100% important."

To reiterate, the fact that one factor (in this case, 'being on Steam') increases sales does not necessarily mean that (a) it always increases sales sufficiently to be worthwhile, or (b) it increases sales so much that extra marketing wouldn't help.

"If I am bringing the customers to my game's storefront....if I am the only one putting all the marketing effort and marketing work into selling my game, why should I give 30% away to Steam?"

Because it's not a binary situation of one extreme or the other. Sure, your marketing might drive some people to Itch and you get the full benefits. Some people however, will only buy their games from Steam, so you might have them as an interested customer but never make a sale. Wouldn't you have preferred 70% of their money than none at all?

"If releasing a game on Steam, with no marketing at all, will result in $0 sales, why bother with Steam at all?"

Again, it's not an extreme, or a yes/no situation. Being on Steam means several extra opportunities to access customers. Some of those customers would use Itch.io. Some would not. Sometimes being on Steam means you get on the front page and reach thousands more people. Sometimes it doesn't.

"So which is true here?  Releasing a game with no market is guaranteed to bring in $0 sales or does releasing a game on Steam mean that some sales will come in with no marketing effort at all, simply because you are on Steam?"

Obviously I'm repeating myself but neither is true. It's not black and white. These things all interact. There reason you can read almost contradictory reports because everything is on a sliding scale and because it differs from one game to the next. All you can do is maximise your chances, and that means doing whatever marketing you can, and considering whether the 30% cost of Steam is worth it.

(P.S. Please don't launch at $4.99 unless your game is shovelware. Price higher to begin with, reduce in the sales later.)

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3 hours ago, Kylotan said:

There are several logical errors in your initial idea.

"I am hearing that it is suicide to release your game without any marketing and that’s fine, that makes perfect sense.  However, I am also hearing people who have released games saying that their sales on Steam were much much better than Itch.io. This doesn’t make much sense to me and it is a contradiction in terms of the necessity of Indie Game Marketing."

No, this is purely a statement about the quantity of people that use each marketplace. If I do no marketing, sell 50 copies on Steam, and 1 copy on Itch.io, it is true that my Steam sales were much much better, but it says nothing about how valuable marketing would have been, if I'd done it. I could have sold 500, 5000, or 50,000 copies on one or either platform with marketing. It's a completely separate issue.

"If my game will only go as far as my marketing efforts"

Again, it's a mistake to try and draw a direct logical comparison between marketing and success. A few games do well without marketing. A few games almost entirely rely on marketing. But most games that do well have at least some marketing, and a ton of the failed games are from developers who put their game up on Steam, then said "so, how do I market my game with zero budget?" Marketing correlates with sales, because it increases your audience and your sales can only ever be a subset of your audience. It's not a guarantee, but it's not worthless either.

"If Steam does, in fact, boost sales simply because it is Steam, then that implies that marketing is not 100% important."

To reiterate, the fact that one factor (in this case, 'being on Steam') increases sales does not necessarily mean that (a) it always increases sales sufficiently to be worthwhile, or (b) it increases sales so much that extra marketing wouldn't help.

"If I am bringing the customers to my game's storefront....if I am the only one putting all the marketing effort and marketing work into selling my game, why should I give 30% away to Steam?"

Because it's not a binary situation of one extreme or the other. Sure, your marketing might drive some people to Itch and you get the full benefits. Some people however, will only buy their games from Steam, so you might have them as an interested customer but never make a sale. Wouldn't you have preferred 70% of their money than none at all?

"If releasing a game on Steam, with no marketing at all, will result in $0 sales, why bother with Steam at all?"

Again, it's not an extreme, or a yes/no situation. Being on Steam means several extra opportunities to access customers. Some of those customers would use Itch.io. Some would not. Sometimes being on Steam means you get on the front page and reach thousands more people. Sometimes it doesn't.

"So which is true here?  Releasing a game with no market is guaranteed to bring in $0 sales or does releasing a game on Steam mean that some sales will come in with no marketing effort at all, simply because you are on Steam?"

Obviously I'm repeating myself but neither is true. It's not black and white. These things all interact. There reason you can read almost contradictory reports because everything is on a sliding scale and because it differs from one game to the next. All you can do is maximise your chances, and that means doing whatever marketing you can, and considering whether the 30% cost of Steam is worth it.

(P.S. Please don't launch at $4.99 unless your game is shovelware. Price higher to begin with, reduce in the sales later.)

12

Thank you all for sharing your wisdom, especially this part, "(P.S. Please don't launch at $4.99 unless your game is shovelware. Price higher to begin with, reduce in the sales later.)" :)

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