In part 1 of this post, we looked at the popularity of indie genres based on number of games and Steam owners. In this, the final part, we build on that to identify the genres presenting the best opportunity for indie developers.
Indie games by revenue
Revenue, simply put, is the number of owners of a game multiplied by the price they paid for it. However, owning a game – i.e. having it your Steam library – doesn’t mean that you paid full price for it. You may have picked it up at a discount, as part of a bundle, or even for free. There’s also the fact that we’re using estimates for the owners, so there will be a margin of error in those numbers too.
We opted to look initially at the maximum revenue a game would generate if every copy had been sold at the full price. Yes, this shoots for the moon, but we’re more interested in the relative comparison across genres rather than absolutes, and it’s easy to adjust the absolute numbers to ‘fairer’ estimates (as you’ll see in a bit!).
We’ve kept the maximum revenue estimates in the order of most popular genres by game. The chart below demonstrates that being in a popular genre does not necessarily equate to maximum revenue opportunities. The “Action, Indie” genre still takes first place, but the maximum revenue on our second most popular game by genre type, “Casual, Indie” is much lower, coming 20th overall.
Reordering this same chart in order of maximum revenue shows that while action and adventure categories perform well, we see the emergence of RPG, simulation and strategy components in the top 10. “Action, Adventure, Indie, RPG” ranks 3rd and combinations of simulation, strategy and RPG appear in positions 5 to 10.
We examined prices to understand how much these are a factor in maximum revenue estimates. The prices by genre are below. One clear take-away is that casual games carry a lower average initial price, with “casual, indie” having an average initial price of £3.43. This explains why casual games have a lower maximum revenue on average versus other genres with high numbers of owners. Games with RPG, simulation or strategy genres carry a slightly higher average initial price.
By best opportunity, we want to identify a genre, or set of genres, where they have a high number of owners, good maximum revenue potential, but are not in a space overcrowded by games. With the exception of the casual genre, price does not appear to be a significant factor in maximum sales estimates, so we largely discount this aspect. Instead we focus on a measure of average maximum revenue per game and distribution of revenue within each genre – is it concentrated in a few big titles or more evenly distributed?
Looking at average maximum revenue per game, it is the “indie, simulation” game, followed by “action, adventure, casual, indie, RPG” and “adventure, indie, RPG, strategy” that come out on top. Games including RPG, simulation and strategy coupled with either action or adventure genres make up 80% of the top 10 genres. The overall revenue per game is relatively high, ranging from £4.5m to 1.6m for the top 10. At the other end of the scale, casual and sports games have the lowest maximum revenue per game (around £55,000).
These numbers may be skewed by a small number of out-performers, so the below table shows the % of revenue accounted for by the top 5%, 10% and 25% of games by revenue in each genre. It also shows the average revenue per game excluding the top 5%, 10%, and 25% per genre.
This reveals the concentration of revenue. In the “indie, simulation” genre, while it holds the highest average revenue across all games, the top 25% of games by revenue account for 98.3% of all revenue in the genre. With such a high concentration, the average revenue per game for those outside the top 25% is £105,321 – a mere shadow of the headline average of £4.5m
Concentration is relatively high across all genres, with the top 25% accounting for at least 93.3% of total genre revenue, meaning the average revenue of the games outside this sub-group is far lower. In the case of “action, adventure, indie, simulation”, this is as low as £71,570 per game.
Some genres do have a lower concentration than others. The “adventure, indie, RPG, strategy” genre has a concentration of 60.9% in the top 5% and 76.2% in the top 10%, but concentration at 25% is still high at 96.2%. That said, the average revenue outside the top 25% is relatively high at £191,229.
The “indie, simulation, strategy” has a concentration of 67.9% in the top 5%, 80.1% in the top 10% and 93.8% in the top 25%. This genre has the highest average revenue outside the top 25% at £199,779.
The “Indie, RPG, strategy” genre has a concentration of 64% in the top 5%, 77.1% in the top 10% and 93.3% in the top 25%. The genre has the third highest average revenue outside the top 25% at £143,648.
These three low concentration genres represent the best opportunity from the point of view that breaking into the top 25% of games in a genre is unlikely for most of us, and they carry the highest average revenue outside this segment.
Wait a minute…
We said earlier that the revenue estimates are the maximum revenue we believe could have been attained in perfect conditions (i.e. all owners bough their games at full initial price). The actual sales figures are clearly going to be lower once the effects of discounted or free sales are considered.
How much lower is unknown. We took the view a fairer estimate of actual revenue would be 50% of maximum potential, and the resultant revenue estimates for our three ‘preferred’ genres are as below. We’ve also shown the same statistics for the full sample as a control to help show the preferred genres have a far higher average revenue than the full sample set, regardless of whether we consider the maximum potential or the ‘fairer’ revenue estimates.
From our analysis, taking into account the limitations of the data and the concentration of revenue in more successful titles, three genres stand out: ‘indie, simulation, strategy’, ‘adventure, indie, RPG, strategy’ and ‘indie, RPG, strategy’. These look like they present the best revenue opportunity for indie developers. If you’re lucky enough to want to make these games and have the time, budget and technical skills to do so, then you’re in a pretty good place.
For Sepia Cowboys, we’re not too sure that we fit that mould. But we have used some of our findings in our market research for our next project. More on that in due course!