Is it harder to sell games on steam in 2023? I had a chat today with a very knowledgeable fellow indie game dev. He asserts that it is way harder for a game dev to sell a game on steam in 2023 than it was in the past. My gut feeling was that he was wrong, but who needs guts when you have data and analysis? lets find out. I dug around to find out what I could. There are various sites listing the number of games on steam, but the most interesting data I found was listing the games released on steam, but also breaking down the more recent years into games that have certain community features enabled, and games that did not. Steam requires a certain amount of sales and interest in a game before you can do things like have trading cards. I suspect this is a good proxy for what games are serious commercial releases as compared to student games, hobby games, and the sort of games that are made part-time on a low budget. The question I am interested in was whether or not there is more ‘genuine competition’ for full time indie game devs now. With this is mind, I think its far to ignore games that don’t meet the trading card threshold. This required some stats mangling by me, because it took a while for steam to realize it needed to introduce this measure, so unless you fade-in the effect of the threshold sensibly, there would be a sudden peak and then dip. I did my best, and ended up with a chart that looks like this, for games released: This goes from 2006 to 2023. I’m too useless on a laptop with office365 to get the horizontal axis right :D. This definitely shows a huge jump in the number of games, but this is clearly not the whole story. Steam launched just in English, with just valves own games. It took a while to add ANY new games, and in that time the number of users shot up. People might not remember but I recall how much everyone HATED steam initially. People really resented having to install it. Over time, obviously steam has become huge, and more global. I dug out some stats that gave me the peak concurrent users for each year. Not perfect, but an interesting proxy for steam usage, and must be vaguely related to how many active users the platform had… Anyway, adding that to my chart allows me to then calculate the ratio of peak concurrent users to games released, which gave me a new chart: I think this is more interesting. That peak is around 2012, and the low point to the right is 2017-2019. This data is far from perfect, because obviously people can continue to play games from previous years, and the accumulation of games is definitely a factor. However, I would argue that the tendency for people to buy games released a few years ago is also good news for developers, as it means your game will have a long tail and continue to generate revenue. So a very rough hacky analysis suggests that peak-time to release a game on steam may have been 2012. It got a fair bit harder since then, but has been getting easier for the last few years. Obviously this is only a tiny bit of the picture though, as there is so much more to consider. Steam sales changed a few years ago, due to laws regarding refunds. Because steam was forced to offer a refund in the event that a recently purchased game was suddenly cheaper, the whole concept of flash-sales and one-day spikes during steam sales became history. Gone are the days where you would have your game 90% off just for one day. That may have influenced how gamers value and buy games. I do wonder if the average price of ‘professional’ games has gone up since those days? Gamers like the refund policy, but it also made steam sales more muted, and more predictable, with less crazy discounting. I do think its VASTLY easier to make games now. There is Unity and Unreal. There is also Twitch, Twitter and YouTube. Streaming is a huge promotional opportunity for game devs, Steam now has reviews, and video uploads, and trading cards and achievements. These have not been around for ever! Plus steam supports a ton of languages, payment providers and currencies. The available market for your PC indie game is now colossal. Big hits are now HUGE hits, because there are just so many more people available to see your game if it is good. I do not have concrete data for just how much money the first 100 indie games on steam made, but I’d wager its not much by modern standards. I’m guessing Factorio made a LOT more than Rag Doll Kung Fu. Ditto Dyson Sphere Program, Prison Architect and RimWorld. It may seem insane that there was a time when just releasing a game on steam got you front page coverage for DAYS, but there actually were not that many people seeing that page! For one thing, not everyone had broadband, and certainly not uncapped broadband. On balance, I think making a game in 2024 is hilariously easier than making a game in 2008, because of the tech, the price of tools, the ubiquity of tutorials and communities. When I started, I had to buy physical books about C++ and game engines. I followed the blogs of every indie game dev online, because there were really not that many of us. The flip-side is that it is much harder to get noticed as a developer in 2024. I accept that. But this is just a change, not a deterioration. All that time you save not having to work out how to code a particle system in 2024 needs to be put into promoting your game to people. Its the same amount of hours for the same reward, you just have to work differently. Maybe. YMMV. Some food for thought: 14.43% of Steam users are from the United States. There are more than 30 million Steam users in China. If you are making a puzzle-platform game or visual novel, and its only in English, then yes, you might struggle a bit. I find that ‘indie dev twitter’ (which I mostly ignore because its all identity politics), is overwhelmingly made up of US or UK game devs making a small unity game in English. They generalize massively from that experience, but I don’t think its the whole story.