Let’s just cut to the chase: In 1 week the small team at Red Nexus Games (2 coders, an artist, and a musician) sold 80204 units of their self-published game Peglin on Steam at $17.99 each. Before Steam’s cut that is $1,049,413.
Here are the details for their first week
- 80204 units sold
- 1,071 reviews which gives it a boxleiter number of 74 sales / review
- 66,000 Wishlists 1 week before launch
- 76,000 Wishlists on launch day (the extra 10K wishlist came from being in popular upcoming and early streamer coverage)
- 28,419 of their wishlists converted to sales
- 580 wishlistees were gifted the game by a friend
- A wishlist conversion rate of 38%
- 8,263 wishlist deletes
- 51,205 people purchased it without even wishlisting it.
- At launch they had 4000 followers which is a 16.5 wishlists per 1 follower (this is a bt high compared to the average (Simon Carless article) but will get to that)
- At one time 3,764 people were simultaneously playing peglin.
Here is the TL:DR of what the team did
- Built up game-making skills by spending almost a decade making games for themselves and as an employee of other games companies
- Made a very addicting game in a genre (rogue-lite) that is very popular on Steam and with Streamers
- Publish a coming soon Steam page 2 years before launch
- Entered as many festivals as possible
- Created a great demo and kept it up continuously
- Polished and polished and polished the game (and demo) based on feedback from players and by watching streamers.
- Build up about 76,000 wishlists at launch.
- Release into early access with a high price ($20 with at 10% discount)
This quote from Dylan perfectly summarizes how the marketing and development of Peglin went down
Our inclusion in PAX festival and then especially with Tiny Teams Festival, it was all just kind of adding, adding stuff to this very small fire and then eventually it all just took off.Dylan (Red Nexus Games)
I have been following the development of Peglin for quite a while. Dylan has been a trusted member of the HowToMarketAGame.com discord (he helps moderate it) and I even got a shout out in the Special Thanks section. That shout out does not cloud my judgment though! Let’s look at what really made this game sell 1 million dollars worth of orbs.
Any profile of an “out of nowhere” success always has this glossy amnesia about the team behind it. Journalists love to tell stories about a “regular everyday guy just working out of his basement with a dream, a bit of luck, and a shoulder pressed to the grindstone.” These profiles always make it seem like it was the developer’s first game and just by pure luck, and they willed the game into success from nowhere.
Dylan is a very humble guy but in reality, he has worked in the games industry for almost a decade. Look at this pedigree:
- He was a full time engineer at multiple free to play game companies in British Columbia.
- He has published 10 games on his itch.io page.
- He released a game 5 years ago on Steam called Friday Night Bullet Arena. It did not sell well but still a wealth of experience.
Chris Zukowski Analysis
75% of indie studios on Steam release 1 and only 1 game. It is so sad. I think there is an expectation that if your first game fails then you failed. So people get discouraged and they never make another game. That is just wrong. Your first game is supposed to fail.
Please, any time you hear about a huge success, always dig into the background of the people on the team and see where they came from. How many games did they make before their big hit? It usually is that they have at least a decade of experience making games.
Expect your first game to fail. But dust yourself off and make another (if you still like to make games.) Success rarely comes from nowhere.
Community included development
Peglin was developed very publicly with a long marketing period. The Steam page was created 2 years before launch and the demo was up continuously for at least a year of that time.
Here is the general timeline of development and marketing
The Peglin concept was developed during a 48 game jam in 2019. It was originally called Goblin Drop and you can play the original here.
There was definitely a few months period there where the game was just kind of on the back burner. I already had a different side project that I was working on but it was kind of gloomy and wasn’t really sticking with any of our play testers. Whereas people kept on asking me when new levels were going to be added to Goblin Drop. “Are you gonna be adding more content to this? I really like the idea of this.”
So that kind of proved itself.
So I started jumping over to it and then when the pandemic set in and we were all stuck in our homes, that was the big kicker, all right, let’s get a steam page up, let’s focus on making this a real game. It’ll give us something to do for the six to 12 months that we’re all stuck inside or whatever it’s gonna be.Dylan (Red Nexus Games)
Dylan and team created a coming soon page on May 1, 2020 and … nobody cared. Here is their follower chart from the moment they published their Steam page until they launched. It is almost exactly a 2 year period. You can see the full interactive chart on the Peglin steamdb page
October 8, 2020:
It is almost imperceptible but the first slight increase in traffic started in October 7, 2020. It was because Peglin was part of the Autumn Steam Game Festival.
From the launch of the coming soon steam page until that first Steam Autumn Festival Peglin earned 485 Wishlists (a six-month period).
During the one week Steam festival Peglin earned 384 wishlists. The festival basically doubled their wishlist total.
He did get a tiny bit of coverage by Clemmy here:
After the first Steam Festival Dylan kept the demo up. Some pretty small streamers started finding it. Very slowly word got out. Here is one such small stream 5 months after the Steam Festival.
One interesting side note is that the Streamer mentioned that Peglin’s cute capsule is what made him check it out. I always say a professionally drawn capsule is the most important marketing asset. Streamers look at your capsules judging whether it will make a great Youtube thumbnail. Spend money to make your capsules professional and interesting. Here is a blog on how Streamers NEED your capsule in various formats because it hurts their clickthrough rate if you have bad capsule art.
If you see the full graph of followers, in July there is an ever so slight weekly increase in the number of wishlists earned. It was a very small organic build.
We did start adding in closed beta testers and they had access to the game the entire time and that was before we had started keeping the demo up publicly. But yeah, those were people that we had found like from these steam festivals and from posting on Reddit and, and other other developer friends as well.
We just found that we were getting so much value out of having [the demo] up. The feedback that we were getting at the time was just really, really good and still manageable. If we’re gonna have this demo going and, and keep showing it at all these [online] events, we need to start dealing with a lot of the friction points that people are hitting in demo.Dylan (Red Nexus Games)
July 7th, 2021 was a big turning point for the visibility of Peglin. The game was part of Pax East virtual online festival. On the official Pax East page you can see Peglin listed under the heading “Camp Kawaii”
After Pax East you can see a dramatic increase in daily wishlists. The game takes off from there.
Streamers really started to take note and start adding the game to regular rotations and checking in at any time there was an update and stuff like that. That’s where things really started to hit the ground running a bit more.Dylan (Red Nexus Games)
Dylan just kept the demo up from here until launch. Every week streamers (like Sifd linked below) would play the game. No video of Sifd got more than 10,000 views but it yielded a constant source of high-quality wishlists every week
Look at how many times Sifd played Peglin.
During this period Dylan entered a lot of online festivals. On the HowToMarketAGame.com discord we have a channel dedicated to discussing and finding new festivals to enter. Each festival brought in thousands of wishlists and exposed it to more streamers. It is during this period where you see the ratio of wishlists to followers increase (16.5 wishlists per 1 follower). This high ratio is not necessarily bad. It is just that it can trick you into thinking your game is more popular than it is.
However the constant Streamers coverage that Peglin was getting was a good sign that support was not soft for his game.
Peglin’s demo played a huge role in his wishlist growth from July 2021 to the April 2022 launch. During this period I ran a survey of developers to ask them what their demo’s median playtimes were. 80 game developers (along with Dylan) submitted their data. Peglin was one of the top 5 with a median demo play time of 67 minutes. Each bar in the following chart is the median play time for a different game in my survey; I highlighted Peglin in red.
The median game on that chart had a demo playtime of 25 minutes. Steam shoppers were playing Peglin nearly 3 times as long as they were other games.
Similarly, fans were going CRAZY for new content. They modded Peglin! They modded a DEMO! That is a sign of desire.
Chris Zukowski Analysis
I write about marketing a lot and talk about these little things like changing tags and how to do TikTok and hashtags on Twitter but none of that stuff really matters as much as having a good game. That is the most important thing.
If your game isn’t interesting to people, no marketing trickery can get around it. People have to WANT to play your game so bad they mod in more content.
Peglin inspired REAL desire in people. Streamers were playing Peglin week after week. Fans were begging for Peglin. You can’t do marketing tricks to make that happen. It is the game.
The number 1 focus you and your team should have is how to make your game interesting and easy to play. Dylan and his team constantly improved his game based on feedback from players.
Similarly your genre is so important. I can’t stress that enough. I covered this in a previous blog but the genre you pick is the most important marketing decision you will make. Streamers love roguelikes / lites. They love long games that they can play over and over and over. I know not all genres have this luxury. Walking simulators are usually over in an hour or two so they won’t have those high median play times. Streamers just don’t play puzzle platformers as much.
Making a game in a genre that the market wants is the most important determinant of financial success for your game. It isn’t just a little easier to market a game that has found product market fit, it is exponentially easier.
Dylan’s previous game Friday Night Bullet Arena didn’t have this magic market fit that Peglin did. It was a local coop. Even today, it only has 7 reviews on Steam.
My advice is to really truly look at the important metrics like how long strangers you never met are playing your game. Do Streamers pick it up and play it over and over without you even contacting them. Do people email you out of the blue asking you when you are going to add more content. Those are real signs that you have something.
And don’t be afraid to abandon a project if it seems like people don’t care about it. Dylan mentioned he abandoned an in-progress project to focus full time on Peglin
“I already had a different side project that I was working on but it was kind of gloomy and wasn’t really sticking with any of our play testers. Whereas people kept on asking me when new levels were going to be added to Goblin Drop.”Dylan (Red Nexus Games)
No marketing trickery can make up for a game that people are “gloomy” about. Really focus on the games people are begging you for and continuously improve to make it interesting for them.
Peglin is self published.
After we decided to make it a full game (2020) we talked to about a dozen publishers and nobody was interested.Dylan (Red Nexus Games)
Here is one rejection letter that Dylan shared with me. The publisher name has been redacted.
Many thanks for submitting Peglin to [redacted] for review.
Unfortunately at this point we’re going to politely decline the opportunity to partner with you on Peglin.
I know this is probably not the outcome you wanted but I can assure you we haven’t taken the decision lightly.
We think you have a really interesting game but at this time Peglin isn’t lining up with our product focus which is the primary reason.
This doesn’t mean that the door is closed though, should you still require publishing help when you’re further down the line or you have any future projects then you have my email address and we’ll always be happy to look at what you’re working on.
Good luck with the rest of development and we look forward to seeing Peglin in stores in the near future.“
Let’s just take a moment to take a look at the number again….in the first week Peglin has earned $1,049,413. I don’t know what the “product focus” at that publisher is but I have a feeling it has room for a game with $1,049,413 in gross earnings….
To be fair, they were nice and said “This doesn’t mean that the door is closed though.” In fact at least this publisher wrote back to say they were not interested. Most of the time the publisherspublisheres just never responded to Dylan.
Then Dylan said things changed:
“after the game started getting all this traction, now some of those publishers were starting to come back and knock on our door and show some interest. I thought that was very interesting.”
Here is one such publisher who never sent them a rejection letter but came crawling back to them…
“On Tue, Aug 24, 2021 at 11:38 AM [redacted] wrote:
I apologize for the very delayed response! We realized there was an issue with our website game submission form (which we’ve thankfully resolved), and I’m not in the process of reaching out to folks.
Peglin looks great and we think we could help a lot here! Is there a good time for you to set up a chat”
Ultimately the team at Red Nexus Gaming decided not to get a publisher for the western territories. They did partner with IndieArk for publishing and localization support in Japan, Korea, and China. Regarding IndieArk, Dylan says “that’s been working out pretty dang well so far, so I’m pretty happy about that decision. “
Chris Zukowski Analysis
Alright yes let’s just talk about those publishers who rejected Peglin…
We can laugh at publishers for a second here. But I do sympathize with them. Nobody knows anything about what a game will do upon launch. No matter the prestige of the team or the quality of the graphics, it is impossible to tell what will happen. Only the market forces and the opinion of thousands of individual gamers can determine whether a game is a hit or not.
Here are the lessons you can take away in regards to publishers:
1) If you shopped around and got rejected by a dozen publishers: don’t take it personally. It is not a statement about you as a developer or as a human. Nobody knows anything and if you do feel bad, just go back and reread that Peglin rejection letter again and think about how many hundreds of thousands of dollars those publishers missed out on. Remember that almost everyone rejected Star Wars when Lucas was looking for a studio.
2) If you are pitching to publishers, tell them about external validation such as a viral reddit posts, any featuring you got at a huge festival, coverage by a big streamer, or the fact that you have earned over 30,000 wishlists. Those things are data points that speak louder than your pitch deck and your graphics and your trailer.
3) It is ok to publish a Steam page and start marketing a game before you talk to publishers. I have explicitly asked scouts at the biggest publishers if it is a deal breaker if a game already has a Steam page. They said it is not a deal breaker. They will still consider you for publishing. I repeat: they do not care if you have a Steam page or not. They actually are more likely to sign you if you have already done some marketing and shown that there is early interest in your game by the general gaming public.
4) However, if you are shopping to get a publisher, DO NOT release your game even to Early Access. That is a deal breaker. Publishers only want you before your game is available for sale. That is partially because most of your sales come during your launch and so they just missed out on most of the earning potential.
There were three big decisions that the team at Red Nexus team made leading into launch.
The first was to go into Early Access. Roguelites with lots of replayable content are perfect for Early Access. Peglin also had a ton of wishlists leading into the launch. Too many indies make the mistake of thinking EA is a soft launch and go in with only a few hundred wishlists. In many ways EA is your launch. You can’t take it back. So treat it like you are releasing your game.
The second is the price. They went with a rather high $19.99 and only a 10% discount. Dylan said this was because they wanted to keep the Early Access for the die hards and filter out anyone who wasn’t totally excited about the game. However, the incredible pent up demand (did I mention they were modding his demo?) didn’t matter. People bought it regardless of the price and the lack of levels.
The third big move was to keep his demo up even during launch. I typically advise and most indies will pull the demo because they fear the free demo will steal from your sales. But Dylan was brave and kept it up. It is still up! Doesn’t seem to have hurt things.
Peglin does have a considerable number of negative reviews about the price and the only 3 environments. But Streamers are still spending HOURS playing. I think this goes to the old marketing saying “if you don’t have people complain about your price, you made it too cheap.”
For the actual launch promotion, most of the marketing work was actually done while the Red Nexus team was improving the demo and entering online festivals. Keeping the demo up and the endless replaying by Streamers was what got them the 60,000 wishlists pre launch.
I always like to see how teams send outreach letters to Streamers / Press. So here is one example of that letter. I love how simple it is:
I read your article on Roundguard and I wanted to share my team’s upcoming Early Access game with you. Peglin was developed almost entirely during the pandemic, and that cheer and approachability of Peggle was really what we’re aiming for with Peglin*, even if the difficulty isn’t too far away from other Roguelites.
* This is directly referencing a quote about what he enjoyed about Roundguard & Peggle
Peglin is a Pachinko Roguelike – Fight enemies by collecting special orbs and popping pegs to deal damage. Acquire special relics that radically change the game and ensure no two runs are the same. Aim carefully to survive in this unique turn-based RPG!
Peglin Key Points:
Launching into Early Access on April 25th, 1.0 release planned for 2023 with plans to launch on all major consoles.
Currently localized into 14 different languages
Winner of Best Game Design at the Taipei Game Show 2022, Selected for the Tokyo Game Show “Sense of Wonder Night” 2021 and the PAX 10 at PAX East 2021
Over 65K wishlists on Steam, with over 75K lifetime demo players
The Peglin demo has consistently been in the top 20 Popular Demos on Steam (ranked by concurrent users) since August 2021
Made by a team of just 4 people, with only one working full-time on the game.
Steam Page: https://store.steampowered.com/app/1296610/Peglin/
Promo Assets: https://drive.google.com/drive/folders/1KBATyGWXR6f7Kn2HyKi9ONn-ndxmsUHZ?usp=sharing
Changes planned before EA launch:
April 18th: Art pass for 3rd Area (Mines), most importantly the world map
April 21st: Cruciball (unlockable difficulty ladder) implementation, first 8 levels available
Thanks for your time! Please feel free to email me if you have any questions 🙂
Things that didn’t really matter to Peglin’s success
The basic strategy of Peglin was to have a really good demo and then use Festivals and Streamers to drive traffic to the demo and then drive them to wishlist the game. It was a virtuous circle that spun up 75,000 wishlists before launch. There were a number of things that didn’t have much effect though.
Social media (aka Twitter) – The official Red Nexus twitter account only has 1126 followers and Dylan’s personal account only has 810. Even after this million dollar launch his social following didn’t improve much. The official Peglin launch tweet only got 67 retweets. Peglin didn’t go viral because of social media. So don’t fret if you aren’t getting much traction on Twitter, it isn’t necessary for success. Social media is kind of overrated.
Dylan said the only time social media kind of worked was when this Kotaku writer asked on Twitter for game recommendations and then wrote this article where Peglin was featured. That brought in about 200 wishlists.
The press – At launch, only PC Gamer wrote an article about Peglin. It is hard to tell the effect of it but the article has 0 comments and is completely dwarfed by the amount of Streamer content. Red Nexus didn’t hire a PR company. When your game is played every week by streamers you probably don’t need to.
A clever description of the game – A lot of indie marketing advice is “Don’t be so basic and say your game is a cross between <genre x> and <genre y>. That is lame! You need to talk about the feeling in your heart you get when you experience your game.” But Dylan had this line on the Peglin Steam page:
“Peglin plays like a combination of Peggle and Slay the Spire.”
Guess what the first paragraph of the PC Gamer article was?
“Peglin plays like a combination of Peggle and Slay the Spire,” say the developers, and from some time with the game that’s… completely correct.” – PC GAMER
So I guess that X+Y description of the game worked!
In person festivals – Most of this game was developed and marketed during a global pandemic! There were no physical shows. However online shows were HUGE for the success of Peglin.
Dylan’s previous game “Friday Night Bullet Arena” was part of a few in-person shows and he said “we really got tricked by all of the vanity metrics like taking it to conventions and you’ve got a four player, local game, everyone loves it. But just not able to really convert any of that excitement into actual sales on the day of.”
So if you are an organizer of a game show PLEASE PLEASE PLEASE have an online version of it on Steam. I know it is so fun to do in person shows but they just don’t work as well as an online show. Let’s just stick with the online stuff and not make us schlep out there onto a show floor.
Summary my advice
Peglin is an excellent example of one way to market a successful game. It isn’t the only way and won’t work for all genres; but I think it provides an excellent case study for how a small team, without many resources can self publish and sell a ton. The following advice doesn’t necessarily apply if you are making a game for the art of it and don’t care about sales or you are a hobbyist making it for fun. But, if you want to find some modicum of financial stability, here are my recommendations (not Dylan’s specifically but I think he would agree with many of the points) based on the Peglin launch.
- Your game is the most important thing in determining the success you will have. Build a game in a genre that Steam and Streamers are interested in, play a bunch, and absolutely thirsting after. Steam gamers mostly want deep, systems-driven sandboxes that are highly replayable. These genres are typically 4X, Strategy, Roguelites, Open World Survival Craft, and City Builders. For more on genres see my recent post on genres that are popular on Steam
- Playtest often. Give it to friends and family for feedback. Put your game out publicly on the internet so that strangers can give you their honest opinion. Adjust adjust adjust. Make thousands of improvements based on their feedback. Don’t just look at their feedback as validation, you look at how to fix their softly spoken criticisms.
- Look for indications that people desire your game. Look at anonymous analytics such as how long the median play time is. How often they come back to play another round. Are they beg you for more levels and wondering when the next patch is coming out? Are they modding your game? Do streamers play it multiple times? These are all metrics that indicate people want your game. Dylan started seeing this behavior when Peglin was just a game jam game. He saw more of these moments within the first 6 months of the game being on Steam coming-soon.
- If you are not seeing any indication of desire despite doing all of the typical steam marketing tricks, it could indicate a lack of interest in your game. Consider shipping faster and moving on to your next project. There is no shame in that. Remember Dylan has released 10 games before Peglin. None of them reached this level of success or “thirst.” The longer you are working on a game that people aren’t interested in, the longer you are delaying the work on one that people do want.
- Enter online festivals to get tons of visibility. This is how Streamers find games. This is where fans play your demo.
- Build up thousands of wishlists before launching. I recommend at least 7000. If you reach out to Streamers and they just don’t play your game despite a year of diligent marketing, it could indicate soft support. See point #4.