The independent game designer Jason Rohrer has made more money in one week than he did in 11 months with his last game - and he did so while avoiding Steam altogether.
Rohrer launched his new game, One Hour One Life, last week. Despite having released his PC games via Steam in the past, however, he elected not to do do on this occasion.
In a post on his personal blog, Rohrer noted that his 2011 game, Inside a Star-Filled Sky, was the only game released on Steam on the day it came out - a level of exposure that led to sales that, "were huge and career changing."
"Fast-forward almost seven years. On Tuesday, February 27, 2018, I counted 83 games launching on Steam that day, the same day that I launched One Hour One Life off Steam," Rohrer wrote.
Rohrer notes the benefits of Steam's huge audience, review system, and customer loyalty, but he questioned the notion that PC games that shirk Steam are somehow "doomed to failure." Minecraft, League of Legends, Overwatch and Hearthstone have all built their success outside of Steam, he argued, and the goal should be, "to make a game that's so good that it won't matter."
In the years since Inside a Star-Filled Sky, Rohrer observed, Steam has become very crowded and "the game press essentially vanished" - in terms of well-staffed websites that reliably cover new releases, at least.
"The new world of video game success seems to be happening mostly outside the game press and independently from the impact of Steam's crowded new release list"
"The new world of video game success seems to be happening mostly outside the game press and independently from the impact of Steam's crowded new release list," he added. "I designed One Hour One Life intentionally to operate well in this new paradigm. It is, hopefully, a unique-situation-generator, down to its core, and it's endlessly replayable."
Specifically, Rohrer created a concept that he believed would resonate with the YouTube community, and naturally spark conversation. In One Hour One Life, each new user enters the game as a baby, and in the space of one hour progresses through an entire human life. Infant players need care from others, all players need to eat and drink to survive, and care when they get older.
"It also generates unique situations at a kind of meta level, because civilization collectively advances even when you're not playing," Rohrer added. "If you make another video next week, it will show something quite different from the video that you made last week."
While One Hour One Life's early sales showed the classic trend of "exponential decay" following its day of release, its performance grew in strength. As Rohrer noted, while the games press and Steam used to allow for virality in short bursts around launch, on YouTube "these things take time to cook and build... YouTube videos take time to make."
March 9 was the game's best day for sales by a significant distance, more than a week after it was first released. Rohrer's last game to launch on Steam, The Castle Doctrine, made $70,000 in 11 months, and One Hour One Life has already eclipsed that total - without the necessity of paying a 30 per cent cut to Valve.
I realized today that in just over a week, One Hour One Life has brought in nearly as much as what The Castle Doctrine brought in over 44 weeks. And The Castle Doctrine's graphs, both on and off Steam, always had the classic exponential fall-off after the launch spike.
"Given that I've been working on this game for three years already and have at least two more years of work to go, the revenue generated by this game during launch week has not come at all close to making it a financial success," Rohrer said. "However, it does look like it might be operating in a new paradigm of public interest in games, which is a slow build up to steady growth over the long haul."
There is a lot more detail in Jason Rohrer's original blog post, which is well worth your time.