I recently wrote a blog about what genres sell well on Steam. It centered on some basic research I did where I looked at the total number of games released per genre graphed against the median income of them. This was the result:
The findings were that the top sellers with little competition were mostly strategy, simulation, builder, crafting, rogue games. Meanwhile there were lots of games with lots of competition but lower sales: Puzzle, Platformer, Match 3, and VR.
For years the general advice to indies was “make a game that you would love and good things will follow.” I generally agree with this but the result is a lot of indies make platformers and they just don’t sell well. I don’t want indies to spend years on something that won’t sell. That is why I made this chart.
But my analysis touched a bit of a nerve among game devs. One guy on twitter called the graph “hot garbage.” I checked and he was making a platformer.
In general I don’t like to use just one data point (this genre / income graph) to assume any one thing (such as that it’s risky to make puzzle platformers.) Instead I like to check my hypothesis from several different angles.
So in today’s post I am going to look at several other sources that point out how (in general) Steam players really really like long strategic games with endless content that can be played over and over again.
Youtube views per genre
As part of each official Steam Next Fests, Valve creates these “sizzle reels” of some of the best looking games in each of the primary genres. Here is the platformer one in 2021:
Each of these videos are hosted on youtube which means the view count is public. So let’s compare the relative popularity of each sizzle reel:
As you can see Steam Next Fest shoppers were much more likely to watch Strategy and RPG videos. Puzzle and Platformer Videos were among the least viewed.
Most played demos
Speaking of Next Fest, in the Winter 2022 edition, they added this widget that ranked the most played demos in the Festival. All demos are free so there is no price here influencing them.
I looked at the top 12 games in the list:
- 7 of the top 12 were some combination of Strategy / Builder / Simulator.
- 4 of the top 12 were horror games
- 1 was an action adventure game.
- 0 of the top 12 were platformers
Now you might think this was because there was an over-abundance of Strategy / Simulation games in the festival. Luckily the festival navigation had a list of the top level genres and the number of games in each. As you can see in the following screenshot, the genres with the most games were Adventure (291) and Action (290) and casual (178). Simulation (137) and Strategy (153) are in the middle of the pack.
Top Releases Per Month
Every month, Valve releases this blog post about the top 20 games released every month. Here is the one for April 2022. I went through and made a list of every game in the top 20 for the last 6 months. Then I added the primary 2 genres I felt best represented that game. Then I counted up how many games per genre appeared in the Top 20. Here is that graph:
Full data list
|Hack and Slash||9|
|Twin Stick Shooter||1|
If you look at the top 10 genres in the chart you will see the familiar popular ones: RPG, Building, Rogue, Strategy, Simulation.
Similarly, the latter end of the graph contains what I consider the difficult to market genres of VR, Twin Stick Shooter, Match 3.
Now you might point out that yes, 4X is on the lower end of the graph but remember that not many 4X games are released every year. So this also shows how low the competition is for this type of game.
Now I often call out Platformers as a hard-to market genre. But there are a few that made the top 20, so lets look at them:
- Rogue Legacy 2 (Rogue + Platformer)
- Have a Nice Death (Rogue + Platformer)
- Infernax (Metroidvania + Platformer)
- OlliOlli World (Sports + Platformer)
- Hidden Deep (Horror + Platformer)
- Supraland Six Inches Under (Metroidvania + Platformer)
In general, even the platformers that do well are because they were paired with Metroidvania and Rogues which add that deep complexity that Steam shoppers love. In the last 6 months, not a single game in Top 20 were Puzzle Platformers.
The biggest marketing decision you made was the moment you said “We are going to make a game that is <genre X> mixed with <genre y>.” Steam definitely has genre preferences and it manifests itself in so many different ways
I don’t think you can market test your way to success. I am not arguing that. But be sure you understand the risks behind your genre selection before you spend years making it.
Now don’t get me wrong, the genre you select isn’t important if you are doing this as a hobby or if you or you are doing this for artistic reasons. Also, if you are already deep in a project in a genre that isn’t one that Steam loves, please finish it. I just want you to go into this endeavor understanding the odds. For instance, please be careful about extending the scope of your project or sinking more of your own money into the project. You should understand the odds before you do anything like that and that is what I hope this post can help you do.