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The average game on Steam sells only 32,000 copies

New data from Steam Spy sheds light on what approach developers should take when selling on Steam

Valve's Steam is easily the most popular publishing and distribution platform for PC games, but putting your game up for sale on the service is only the first step. If you actually want to generate a decent profit on your title, there are a number of things you should be aware of, as noted by Steam Spy's Sergey Galyonkin.

While there are some games that do enormously well (just like in the AAA consoles space) - Skyrim has about 8.6 million users on Steam and GTA V sold about 2.2 million copies in less than a month - a closer look at the sales data reveals that most games on Steam actually don't do very well at all. In fact, the average sales rate for a game on Steam is only 32,000 units. That may seem low, but it compares quite favorably to iOS where the average game makes no money at all.

How games sell on Steam can also be very different depending on the region, so it's important for any developers to recognize regional differences when trying to sell a game worldwide. The US, for example, is the biggest country on Steam with 22.5 million users (18 percent of the Steam audience) and open-world games and shooters seem to sell best. The UK, on the other hand, despite being somewhat small actually sees users playing and paying the most. And in other countries, like Japan or Russia, proper localization for a game can make a noticeable difference.

China, too, despite being the biggest market for piracy, is becoming a real option for developers. "Like Russia about ten years ago, China is slowly turning into a viable market for paid games. Grand Theft Auto V was recently released on Steam with Chinese localization and special pricing (29.99 dollars versus the usual pricing of 59.99 dollars) and managed to gather 11 percent of its users from China - that means 225,000 copies of the game were sold through Steam in China alone making about 6.75 million dollars in gross sales," Galyonkin pointed out.

"Of course, as Russians before, Chinese gamers are unlikely to buy just any game - the market for paid games is still pretty much hit-driven and games should have a strong multiplayer component so users would have an incentive to buy it instead of pirating it. But it is possible to make money from the Chinese market without going free-to-play."

Galyonkin has a few tips for developers working on Steam, advice that would be wise to heed. As noted above, outside of the West, localization can be key in bumping up sales. "Not everyone knows English well enough to enjoy a game. In certain countries people will not play a game if it is not fully dubbed in their language - blame the education or traditions, but that's the way it is," he said.

Additionally, it is important that you find the right niche, and not attempt to clone other successful titles. "This one is easier said than done, but it is the only way to stand out in a crowded market like Steam, where almost 2,000 games get released every year," Galyonkin stressed.

It's also important to market and talk about your game before launch, and if you're putting the game on Early Access, you should really think of that as the game's launch, not a focus test. "You only launch your game on Steam once, so even if you are releasing an Early Access game, it should be more or less feature-complete and playable from the beginning till the end without any game breaking bugs," he said.

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And while Steam sales can be good to boost a title later on, it's important not to set your initial price too low - you can always discount later. Finally, it's critical that developers continue to support their releases long after launch.

"While games tend to generate most of their profits in the first months, several games stand out here because developers cared enough to support their games with new content (free or paid) and gamers responded. Additional support doesn't just generate sales because of sheer goodwill, it is also a great way to increase visibility both on Steam and in gaming media," Galyonkin said.

Read the rest of the report here for further insights.

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Latest comments (10)

Morville O'Driscoll Blogger & Critic 2 years ago
According to studies by Alexa Internet around 18 percent of the users who are visiting Steam’s homepage are female and the actual number of female gamers on Steam might be even smaller.
Can someone explain this to me? I must be dumb or something, because I don't quite get how this is anything approaching solid data.
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Ruben Monteiro Engineer 2 years ago
I wish my game would sell "only" 32000 units...
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Paul Johnson Managing Director / Lead code monkey, Rubicon Development2 years ago
Shit, I still have to find another 31,500 installs then. You'd think being free would at least help.
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Ron Dippold Software/Firmware Engineer 2 years ago
Paul, I know that was at least partly rhetorical, but I think Steam is one of the places where being 'free' is an active detriment to installs because the immediate reaction is 'So what's wrong with it?' (and this is often a cogent question with unfortunate answers). Unless you're already well known outside of Steam and it's just another install option, like Path of Exile. Just a different audience from mobile stores - they already have an un-played backlog of 100 games they paid for, for instance.

Edit: bujt -> but

Edited 1 times. Last edit by Ron Dippold on 20th June 2015 12:12am

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Klaus Preisinger Freelance Writing 2 years ago
On Steam there is little need for games with microtransactions. Half the time, the game is the microtransaction.

In your typical f2p you pay money to get past a time-gated thing, or some fashion extra. Something that makes you happy when continuing to play. In Steam, one should abandon any notion of ever playing all the games one owns. They are like packs of cigarettes you buy at a kiosk and forget on the table in the next cafe.
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Eyal Teler Programmer 2 years ago
The average person uses averages even when they're a bad measure. Suppose for example that there are 1000 RPG's on Steam, 10 of them sell 5m copies and the other 990 don't sell a thing. Total is 50m copies divided by 1000 or 50,000 copies per game. Yay, we now have a meaningless value which we can bandy around in articles.

The worst use of "average" in this report was the claim that games make $2,800 on average on iOS, but the average game makes no money. Which of course may be true when using various definitions of "average", but sounds rather silly.

I hope someone who has access to the data will produce a more meaningful article with some useful figures.
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Morville O'Driscoll Blogger & Critic 2 years ago
*nods* Yeah... I'm very specifically not ranting at my (maths teacher) wife about this, because she'd just go nuts. :p

Edited 1 times. Last edit by Morville O'Driscoll on 20th June 2015 12:30pm

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Jim Webb Executive Editor/Community Director, E-mpire Ltd. Co.2 years ago
Median is the metric that would better represent sales.
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Hi, I checked with Sergey and he said it actually is median and not average:
https://twitter.com/steam_spy/status/612984869736591360

Edited 1 times. Last edit by Tobias Sjögren on 22nd June 2015 4:57pm

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Craig Page El Presidente, Awesome Enterprises2 years ago
Median FTW!!
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