Monday, September 10, 2012

The Effects of Desura and Steam Greenlight

It's been about 5 months since I last spoke about NEO Scavenger sales. The playable demo and beta are both pretty advanced, compared to the game that released in March. And with its recent debut on Desura and Steam Greenlight, it's starting to get a lot more attention.

Since I've seen some folks discussing the impact of Greenlight on indie games, I thought I might share some (thinly veiled) data to illustrate my experiences.

How is NEO Scavenger Doing?

First up, how is NEO Scavenger doing? And for that matter, Blue Bottle Games in general?

NEO Scavenger development started way back in May 2011. It was almost a year before I was able to launch the beta, opening it up for pre-sale. Here's a snapshot of what that means, in terms of finances:

Figure 1: Daily gross revenue in USD since development started.
There are some interesting spikes in there, but the large majority of the past year and a half are low-to-zero income. That purple line represents my cost of living: paying rent, buying groceries, utilities, etc. It's missing a few spikes of its own, for things like software licenses, service fees, hardware, and such, so the cost is slightly higher than depicted. But it's good enough for comparison.

How do the peaks and troughs compare?

Figure 2: Revenue vs. Cost to-date
Unfavorably, I guess you'd say. We're still a long way from recovering our investment. However, NEO Scavenger has been selling more than cost of living during the past week. And while it's likely to be a spike similar to the first one (visible in Figure 1, around March 2012), it's possible that the additional sales channel of Desura means the subsequent trough may be closer to break-even cost of living per day.

Did Greenlight Affect NEO Scavenger Sales?

Yes. However, it's hard to say by how much. Here's a better look at the lead-up to Greenlight launch:

Figure 3: Daily gross revenue in USD since August 16, 2012
Prior to August 16th, I hadn't done too much to promote NEO Scavenger. I primarily published news on bluebottlegames.com, which folks either followed directly, or read about on their forum of choice (primarily Something Awful forums).

However, on August 16th, I started integrating with IndieDB and ModDB, and publishing news there as well. Here are some details on the lettered annotations in Figure 3:

A - Launched on IndieDB.com/ModDB.com. First news item published, and product page started.
B - Launched on Steam Greenlight.
C - Launched on Desura, and offered for sale.

As you can see, the IndieDB news was a pretty subtle effect. There were a few postings in the following days, and it started to create momentum, but it was hard to distinguish from the regular sales behavior.

Steam Greenlight caused a pretty significant surge, however. Over that whole weekend, awareness increased, and sales with it. It was a welcome financial shot in the arm.

Desura also caused a boost in awareness and sales. It's hard to tell if it's as great as Greenlight was, but it definitely caused its own spike. And what's more, Desura sales seem to have surpassed my own website's performance.

What's the Big Picture?

Figure 3 shows us some interesting data points, but what do they mean? Well, look back at Figure 1. Better yet, here's a zoomed-in version of it:

Figure 4: Daily gross revenue in USD since launch.
Greenlight was good, but take a look at that spike in March. What was that? Looking over Google Analytics, that month's biggest contributors were:

Figure 5: Top referrers to bluebottlegames.com in March 2012
Rock Paper Shotgun was the leader by far, followed by Something Awful forums, YouTube, and IndieGames.com. Of course, not all of these referrers were definite sales, and as you can see by the gray portion of the pie chart, a large number of folks arrived via no referrer (i.e. direct URL).

That month was also the world's first taste of NEO Scavenger, so it likely had a larger proportion of visitors who were not yet customers.

Conclusion

So far, Greenlight has proven to be a valuable marketing tool, if nothing else. It drove a significant number of sales on its own, and the comments on the Greenlight page have served as a welcome ego boost. What's more, calculated approval rates appear to be growing slowly. They're only at 2% now, but it's good to see them grow over time. Perhaps once NEO Scavenger is ready for prime time, the votes will be nearing critical mass.

One unfortunate downside to Greenlight, however, is the lack of direct linking to my product page. I had to present a link to my demo as plain text in my Greenlight page, which means users must type the link manually to see it. I'm betting a significant number of users are lost to this barrier, despite their interest.

Additionally, Greenlight is still sorting out discoverability issues. People need to be led directly to my NEO Scavenger page there to know it exists. There are a few brave souls who browse the games, page-by-page, rating them all. But I suspect most are too tired to slog through the hundreds that are presented.

Desura has also proven to be a valuable partner. As a sales channel, it may even surpass my own website's. No doubt this is due, in large part, to the existing customer base and ease of reaching them/deploying builds. I'm very interested to see how it's sales performance changes over time. Will it prove to be another flash in the pan? Or, fingers crossed, will the additional sales channel help push NEO Scavenger daily revenue up to sustainable levels?

Finally, don't underestimate traditional coverage. RPS, Something Awful, and the other major players can really help to get the word out. In fact, this most recent surge in traffic is also largely driven by non-Steam sources, such as PC Gamer, The Indie Stone (Project Zomboid forums), Reddit, and RPGCodex. There's definitely a synergy effect going on, too.

It's a ton of work keeping up with the various sites that mention your game, but it's totally worth it. Show them you appreciate them, and they'll do the same!

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