Developer Interview: “Steam Is Nothing But Hot Air.”

Steam is nothing but Hot Air

We interviewed Pepijn Rijnders from Sakari Games, and he had some opinions to share about the state of the videogame industry, the state of indie games and Steam as a platform to sell them on.

Having just released two games back-to-back on Steam & Nintendo Switch, we asked them how the platform sales compared to each other, which marketing efforts had been made and how the cost of development in a small yet expensive country like Belgium could possible be made profitable.

Why did you choose Steam and Nintendo Switch as the only two platforms to release on?

P: We went for the Switch mostly because it’s the most recent console platform and we heard of other indies doing pretty well on it. If you optimise your game for it, it’s also pretty much guaranteed to run on all the other platforms. Steam on the other hand is more like a given: you’re developing the game on a PC anyway, so why not release it on there.

Why did you skip on Xbox One & PS4?

P: They weren’t a priority yet because those markets are also saturated and we simply didn’t get the paperwork done, there is quite some work involved in getting your game present on each storefront and we wanted our focus to be on the Switch. Rest assured, we’re looking into bring Trailer Trashers & Rover Wars to those platforms as well and possibly on mobile as well.

How did the release go for both games and how did the platforms compare?

P: We didn’t put our expectations too high to start with, but even those turned out to be too optimistic. It’s really hard to release an indie game these days and get noticed.

As for comparing the two platforms: we sold about 1000% more copies on Nintendo Switch than we did on Steam, and that was after we’d been asking people to Steam-wishlist the game on social media and through influencers on streaming platforms.

So you went through extra effort to promote the Steam store yet it paid off less than the storefront you weren’t talking about?

P: Exactly. We were actively trying to bring people to the Steam store as you at least have the option to wishlist games there long before they release. Other indie game developers we talked to also kept raising the importance of that wishlist number for Steam’s algorithms and how it impacted how often Steam might be showing your game to their customers. Without a high enough number, you might as well not exist.

To give us the best possible shot at doing well on it, we spent time on making visual elements specifically for the store, implement features into the game like achievements and more. Yet on the Switch all we had to do for it to perform better was to release the game on the Nintendo eShop.

Editor’s Note: Indie Steam sales seem to be on the decline across the board:

“Usually a well-known formula is (first week sales x 5 = first year sales) but that formula is now more like (first week sales x 2.5 = first year sales)

Elsewhere, you usually find that (wishlists at launch / 2 = roughly first week of sales) but quite a number of devs have recently been publicly sharing that they’ve had a little as 3% of their launch wishlists converting to first week sales

In other words, where it used to essentially be (launch wishlists x 2.5 = very roughly year one sales) it’s now more like (launch wishlists x 0.75 = extremely roughly year one sales)”

Mike Rose, May 14th, Twitter

If you got a do-over, would you do things differently?

P: Yes. I would have saved my team the effort of developing for the PC platform. Marketing wise, I’d have invested more on raising awareness for the Switch launch. Change our single Call To Action of “Wishlist on Steam” to “coming soon to Nintendo Switch”, as we may have missed a lot of potential customers who simply don’t play this type of game on PC.

The genre also played a role?

P: We think so. Both Trailer Trashers and Rover Wars are couch multiplayers at heart and you simply don’t see PC gamers gather together as often to play games in the same room. Steam’s Remote Play feature helps somewhat (and one of our devs even made a video explaining how it works) but it’s not as easy as simply taking the second JoyCon and playing against your friends & family in front of the TV.

While both games also have the possibility to play solo versus the AI, it’s really not the optimal experience and would skew review scores if that’s the only way anyone tries to play. Steam players can then even refund the game, which is a great feature for the players, but a pretty big risk for developers of short games.

Did the current Corona situation have an impact on that as well?

P: Without a doubt. It’s kind of a hard sell to pitch a couch-multiplayer game in a time where everyone is stuck in a quarantine lockdown and forbidden to meet with friends.

In short: You regret the time invested in pushing Steam as THE platform to buy the game on?

P: Yes, it’s been a total waste of effort and resources. Steam is nothing but hot air. We feel the PC market is simply oversaturated with dozens of games releasing almost every day and it would take too much of a marketing budget to even get noticed. At that point, you’re only spending time & money to grow Gabe’s wallet 😀

Any closing advice to give other indie game developers?

P: Yes, know your audience: First figure out what kind of game people actually want to play, then cater to that audience by bringing the game to the platform they play on.

Thank you! We wish you all the best with your future game releases!

*If you want to help support this indie studio, be sure to check out their games on sakarigames.com/

Written by
Belgian, male, born in 1987 I love videogames (mostly RPGs), anime, movies and Magic The Gathering.

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