I just recently stumbled upon a Instagram post by Pro Indie Dev where he had found a study which claimed that less than ~25% of games on Steam make basically all the sales within the platform. What this means, is that approximately 75% of Steam games never make low to zero sales.
I find this study rather sad, since I'm sure that a lot of these non-sold games are made by passionate game developers. By developers who've had the courage, discipline and motivation to finalize a game and actually release it worldwide just to end up seeing that no-one buys their game.
This can be super demotivating for the developer(s) and most likely make them throw away the dream of making games as a living.
So why do only 25% of the games make sales? What makes these games more interesting than the rest 75%?
I've done my study within the Steam platform to identify what is the "one thing" in common with games that make sales and I'm rather confident in saying, that games that make good sales, focus into being something very clearly.
Let's take a quick (classic) example from the Steam "Indie" top sellers -category.
Obviously this is an old game, but the reason it has maintained the position within the dungeon crawler games is because it does that what it promises.
Artstyle: Wicked, strange and dark themed world.
The Binding of Isaac does not try to be something different, or whole a lot of stuff. It does not try to please anyone else, it goes deep into the dark "fantasy" world and offers clear, intuitive controls to experience that.
Sounds simple, right? Why don't all the developers do a clear product for existing genre and audience? Why 75% of the games can not reach that?
I've came up with a term for this and it's called "over-develop". What Over-Develop means is that most of the indie developers, or small teams end up taking so much of features for their game that they struggle in maintaining the necessary quality in every aspect that they should.
The ideas and features the developer(s) come up with, start to feel mandatory for the games success. In some cases, even the whole game is programmed in a way, that it's almost impossible to even remove these features.
Game developers who've been doing projects for some time, may have noticed that they've come up with a big pile of unfinished games which is caused by the over-development as well.
You're not making the game(s) to please only yourself. You're making games for others to experience as well. They won't see your great ideas in your head, they only see the things that make to the game. So keep the development simple and make the most out of the "small" things to deliver the message clearly, what you're aiming at.
As an example, here is the Binding of Isaac development in a nutshell:
1. Figure out the style / game world (Dark)
3. Make good controls which FEELS good to play in that given genre.
4. Make one single enemy mechanic, which enables variety in mechanic (ex. move speed, chase player true/false, shoot speed, damage, visuals)
5. Offer the player clear next steps where he/she should be going (go to next level by using these portals, kill all enemies to get to next level, survive X amount of time...)
6. Add simple cutscenes in between the levels to visualize the (possible) story.
7. Polish effects, sounds, UI until the content feels ready (Without adding extra features on the way)
(Disclaimer: Of course, I've not been developing Binding of Isaac, but if I would re-create it. It would look something like that.)
For most of the seasoned developers the list above sound very clear and "no-brainer" but still, many of us don't do it. We get caught more into adding features, than finalizing the simple, most valuable side of the game: Artstyle & core mechanics.
I've been in the game industry for a long time, but I still keep on doing this. Now with Seeker: Quest I've been cutting down features like grass for the past months (as discussed within the Jestercraft Journal) and the development is starting to be on the track again. It actually feels refreshing to focus into those details and simple things, than building complex features for weeks/months.
So, what makes a game interesting? The game has a clear message, what it's sending for its players. There are no questions within the advertisement, store page or other marketing materials. It tells the player the theme/atmosphere that it's giving (with art style) and the core mechanics is in line with existing games of that chosen genre. Nothing extra.
If a game can achieve these, then it's only matter of the size of the market the game affects (ex. Visuals novels, competitive FPS, story driven games...) and how big of a reach can you get with your marketing campaign.
If you think about it for a moment: How can you even direct your marketing to the right players if it's not clear who the game is for? Your game is not supposed to be for everyone.
What do you think about this, did this help you clarify what's the difference between interesting and non-interesting game? Consider dropping a comment, or join my Discord -channel for further discussions.
You can also check out our Patreon page, currently it only has free posts but we'll soon start offering more benefits/extras for supporters. Hope to see you there as well!
With love to the craft,
Klaus 'Jestercraft' Kääriäinen