Although it had been claimed in over 16,000 wishlists on Steam, and its free prologue had been claimed by over 80,000 people, WarriOrb released to such quiet reception that it’s sold almost 400 copies after 3 days, a developer has revealed.
WarriOrb is a 2D adventure platformer that was released on Steam on April 28. The game’s description on the Steam store states that you, “play as a mighty demon trapped in an unlikely body. The path ahead is not an easy one. Will you do whatever it takes to regain your freedom?” As of the writing of this article, it has 17 reviews, all of which are positive — but the muted response to the game, especially in contrast to some pre-launch statistics, has taken its developers aback.
In a Reddit post, a developer from Not Yet, a small international indie game development team located in Europe, takes an open look at the numbers, highlighting the difficulties of indie game development and marketing in the process. They share the details not only to try to make sense of how the numbers came to be but also to hopefully help other fellow indie developers in the process. Through their post, it’s clear that launching, promoting, and selling your game is much more complicated than a few positive statistics that serve as the basis for predictions.
El4th, the creator of the thread, points to all the signs that indicated to the team that their game would potentially be a success. They state WarriOrb‘s free prologue was released on Steam and bought by 80,000 people, going as far as to garner a 90% positive rating throughout 200 reviews. WarriOrb was also added to over 16,000 wishlists and listed in the “Popular Upcoming” section of the Steam store. And despite it being the team’s first game, it was translated to Chinese, Russian, Spanish, French, Hungarian, and Romanian.
The team even followed a study conducted by Grey Alien Games developer Jake Birkett based on the correlation between wishlists and sales at launch in order to estimate first-week sales. In his research, Birkett found that, in a 2018 meeting with developers and a Valve representative at GDC, a good figure for wishlists would be around 50,000. Your game being included in 10,000 wishlists is hard enough to accomplish, but WarriOrb had succeeded in passing that mark… yet, its numbers so far are nowhere close to breaking even, let alone making a profit.
“So in ideal case 20% of our sales would come from the wishlists, and the other 80% would come from other places – either from people who hear about our game outside of steam or from people who find us on the platform,” states El4th. “We did not manage to get significant traffic to our steam page at launch, and our WL conversion rate was a disaster – we failed to get into the New&Trending list, which had a huge impact on the organic traffic we could have.” The wishlist conversion rate for WarriOrb is approximately 1.1%, with 357 copies being sold; only about half, 178 copies, came from wishlists.
This brings the developer to explore the possible reasons for the disparity in numbers between the game’s development and launch. Among the ideas are a high price and low discount percentage; the free prologue, which contributed to at least 33% of the game’s wishlist numbers, being possibly largely played by people who only play free titles they find at the front page of Steam’s free to play hub; releasing the day on a non-ideal day of the week; and the possible lack of appeal of a slow-paced platformer with one unique bounce mechanic but much to prove to potential buyers in an oversaturated market. El4th states in their various replies in the thread that the team tried marketing it to YouTubers who could give it some spotlight, but there are “too many games out there for them.”
The post has received much attention — including that of Birkett, who has written a detailed response. One of the most interesting points he presents is the possibility that launching the game at the end of the month was a wrong move for the studio. After all, it’s at the end of the month that many are gearing up to pay rent (especially under the circumstances of the COVID-19 pandemic) and are thus less likely to spend their income — or haven’t even received it. Other developers and consumers have responded to the thread with ideas and suggestions. With almost 3,000 upvotes on r/gamedev and almost 5,000 on r/Games by the time of this article’s writing, it’s one of the most popular threads of both subreddits.
It’s an illuminating and frank look at the harsh realities of being an indie developer. In a statement in GamesIndustry. biz‘s extensive report on indie developers at the 2018 EGX Rezzed, Table Flip Games co-founder Tommy Thompson said that, “The era of ‘break-out indie success’ is long dead and developers entering the market need to consider long-term strategy, distribution and funding from the get-go.” In 2019, The Verge published a report on the incredibly wide spectrum of how much money developers can make from indie games, as well as the sacrifices involved in the mere possibility of making that profit.
It’s transparency like this that can foster more openness in what is an often secretive industry, as well as some guidance for developers who are currently in similar positions — or will one day find themselves in.