This post is part of my series on marketing benchmarks that will help you understand how your game is doing and what is normal. To learn more, check out the full benchmark series by clicking the button
I have been doing this Steam thing for a while, and there are 4 possible levels of success your game can have. Here are the gross, lifetime earning tiers:
🥉 Bronze: $0 – $10,000
This revenue bucket indicates that the game underperformed by most measures. I mean, if you made the game in 1 week and earned $5,000 that is pretty good, but, most indie developers don’t do that. So this result is usually a disappointment to most devs. Games in this bucket typically don’t get more than 10 reviews and the Steam algorithm will not recommend this game through the various widgets.
🥈 Silver: $10,001 – $249K
This bucket is still quite low but could be considered profitable if you are doing this part time, or as a hobby. The reason I stopped bellow $250,000 is that once you earn more than this number, Steam usually starts to give you some additional promotion. More on that in the next bucket. Games at this earning level will also not get recommend via the Steam algorithm. Games at this tier will often “stall out” at the 100-200 review range within the first 6 months and then just stop growing. For more information on why games stall out, read my blog post about the middle domino theory.
🥇 Gold (Real Steam): $250K – $999K
In my experience, the Steam algorithm is kind of tuned to promote games that earn $250,000 or more. You have made it. Why did I pick this specific number? In my experience, if your gross lifetime revenue is this amount and you ask Valve for a Daily Deal, they will usually approve you. Usually. Also it is at this level where I start to see the various widget algorithms start to show the game day in day out. That is why I call this “Real Steam.” Basically Steam starts working for you at this earnings level. You probably aren’t rich, but you and your team can start using the various Steam tools to promote your game. Also your monthly earnings are consistent and you don’t have to do much promotion to earn them.
💎 Diamond (Life Changing money): $1 Million+
This bucket is for the games that earn the real money. This is life changing money. This is the bucket that I think one indie once called “F#CK you” money. This is the bucket that every indie secretly hopes for when they launch their game. Steam is yours for the taking. If you do an update, Valve will post your game in every widget they can. Valve will start coming to you to ask if they can feature your game in one promotion or another. Valve also sends you chocolate at Christmas time. No joke.
Now, with those buckets established, let me give you my gut-check, ball-park, mental-model numbers of what weekly wishlist numbers look like for games in each of these buckets.
If you had asked me at the start of my indie career what a typical wishlist conversion rate looks like I would have said “I don’t know 75% probably, but 95% if they really like your game.”
But guess what? A really good rate for Steam is 20% of your wishlists converting to a sale. Even 15% is something to be proud of.
The numbers don’t make sense. They seem tragic!
I feel for anyone just entering this space. It is so confusing and none of this is documented anywhere. It is just word of mouth. So I decided to document it in a new page called “Benchmarks”
As I have worked on more and more games, consulted for publishers, and seen numbers shared by other developers on my Discord, I have gotten a pretty good sense of what is “normal.” But gut instinct is not enough. Therefore I have conducted a number of surveys and broad based data collection projects to get a quantitative assessment of what is typical. All the data you see on the Benchmark page are from direct surveys I or other people have done.
What is typical?
I could take all the data across all games released by indie developers on Steam and find the average. But it would be pretty bleak.
The average game on Steam will fail!
But success on Steam is possible. I have seen many developers achieve life-changing success – the type of success where you can pay off your mortgage, your mom’s mortgage and then not have to worry about money for at least another decade.
So I broke the possible outcomes into 4 buckets that represent the most typical cases. My goal here is not to call anything a failure. If you are a solo developer, working part time, and got a game out in 3 months, and you sold $10,000 worth of copies, that is a great success! Good for you!
But if you are a 7 studio working full time on a game for 3 years and sold $10,000 copies that is a very different story.
Therefore you will never see me say any of these buckets are a failure. I don’t know where you or your team is coming from.
How to use these benchmarks
You should look at these 4 buckets as descriptive not as goals. Think of them as 4 parallel tracks. When you look at the data for your own game, you should think, ah we are on course to have a Silver Tier launch. Think of them as a speedometer. They tell you how fast you are going.
They are not your destiny though. I have seen many games start out at the Bronze Tier but after getting into many festivals, putting out a demo, and having streamers go crazy for it, they quickly jumped up to Diamond Tier. That is what happened to Peglin (more information here).
Also, if you skip any of the recommended milestones, it doesn’t mean you won’t do well, it just means you don’t have data to compare against. For instance, if you never release a demo, you just don’t know if your demo has a low median playtime or a high median playtime. The creator of Vampire Survivors did almost no marketing before he launched the game so by all measure I could see, it was bronze tier. But the amazingly fun gameplay of the game made it a hit with Streamers and made it Diamond Tier. Read more about how Vampire Survivors did what it did here.
What should I do if my numbers aren’t good?
My main goal with this data is to help you make sense of what is going on with your marketing. Are you on the right track or the wrong track? If you are consistently hitting the benchmarks in the Bronze tier, it could be a warning sign that sales will not be great. So, it may be time to hedge: don’t extend development time, don’t take out a second mortgage to finish the game, just try your best to get the game out.
If this is your first game and it is looking bronze tier, don’t quit. Don’t abandon your game. You should finish it and release it. It is not a bad thing to release a game that underperforms. It is a valuable learning experience that will help you understand what the marketplace likes and what it doesn’t. It is worse if you constantly shuffle between projects without ever releasing a game.
But be warned! If you are seeing signs that your game might be Diamond Tier, don’t primitively buy a yacht or a new car. I have seen many games that looked great in screenshots but played terribly. It was a disappointment and the game sold at silver tier.
I need help getting my game up to the next tier
There are many things that could be holding your game back and keeping you from getting the visibility your game deserves. If you need to know why, I built an entire online class to help you understand how and when to market your game.
For more information, check out this link: