Two years on from the release of Retro City Rampage and with 400,000 sales behind it, the game's developer Brian Provinciano explains what he's learned as an indie dev. The short version: prominent store placement is vital, and Xbox is bad news.
Here's the breakdown from sales across all 8 platforms:
- PC (direct, Steam, GOG, Humble Store)
- Mac (direct, Steam, GOG, Humble Store, Mac App Store)
- PS4 (digital, limited edition retail blu-ray)
- PS3, PS VITA, Xbox 360, Wii, Nintendo 3DS (digital)
Note that bit about Wii revenue being zero due to "threshold policy". This is a policy that saw indies only get paid if a certain amount of sales were reached on WiiWare titles. It's one of the reasons behind the lack of a Wii U version, although the policy's not in place any more, hence the 3DS profit.
Overall, however, his main takeaway points are:
Press coverage is vital to building a fanbase and hype leading up to launch.
Store placement and store promotions are the most important factor during and post launch.
Looking into each individual platform he has this to say:
"Steam has become a discount-driven ecosystem. However, despite a devaluation of game prices, revenue is still high. The ecosystem is still at risk if developers continue to do deeper and deeper discounts, but at the moment it's still healthy. A stark contrast shown in the chart above: the revenue is lower than PlayStation but the actual units significantly higher, clearly demonstrating just how much of a discount-driven market it is."
"Steam competition is tighter now than when RCR originally launched in 2012 and the average discounts developers place on games during holiday sales are trending much deeper than in the past. It's a double edged sword -- in the past, many developers raised issue that it was difficult to get a game onto Steam, but now that it's much easier, there aren't enough store placement opportunities for every game. Without solid store promotion at launch, you will sell a fraction of the potential units that you could otherwise which significantly jeopardizes recouping development costs."
"PS VITA has been a very healthy market which is completely counter to the misappropriated console's stigma as a failure. With less AAA competition, it's easier to get store placement and store placement is what sells games. Over the past two years, sales on PS VITA have become proportionately higher than PS3. PS4 proves healthy as well. PlayStation developers releasing games in 2015 should prioritize PS4 followed by PS VITA."
"The experiment releasing the limited edition PS4 blu-ray disc was a huge success. It was sold out the day after sales opened despite receiving no major coverage. Word spread primarily through the PlayStation Blog, social media and forums such as reddit. In the future, it will be interesting to see how large the market is for a console retail indie release with proper press coverage."
"Nintendo 3DS has the healthiest tail of all platforms. Released nearly 10 months ago, it has never been discounted and still boasts a strong weekly tail. It was a great fit for the platform and market and received great promotion from Nintendo at launch."
"Xbox 360 was a prime example of how important store placement and promotion is. It's one of the weakest platforms sales-wise. Comparing it to its direct competitor (PS3), it's clear that the placement and repeated promotions on PS3 and lack thereof on Xbox 360 made all the difference. The potential for success existed on Xbox 360, but it's no joke that Mountain Dew is a direct competitor on there. Getting featured on Xbox is far more difficult than on other platforms (unless you're willing to pay for advertising in hard cash)."
"At the end of the day the lack of store promotions on Xbox were the root of its lower sales."
Overall Brian warns "developers should be cautious of uncompensated platform exclusivity and release parity bottlenecks" and, speaking about the poor Xbox sales says "luckily I didn't have all my eggs in one basket."