Monetizing Your Indie Game Back Catalog
April 27, 2020

It’s almost inevitable that sales for many of your games will eventually dry up. Your core audience has already purchased, played, and moved on, and new customers are few and far between. It seems like your only option is to archive the classics and start something new.

That isn’t necessarily the case, however. You can still earn a surprising amount of revenue from your back catalog, even if those games have long been forgotten. Monetizing old titles doesn’t cost you anything, and you may get a lot back in return.

Below, we talk about some of the best strategies for monetizing your indie game back catalog. It’s time to dust off those early releases and give them new life.

Refine Your Store Offerings

The store where you publish your games is the best place to start monetizing older titles. There are plenty of sales, discounts, bundles, and other mechanisms in place that will help you effortlessly offer back catalog games alongside your newer releases. 

Offer Sales and Discounts

Steam is by far the most popular platform for selling commercial indie titles, so that’s what we’ll focus on. Steam hosts regular sales events that generate a lot of buzz. Sometimes they’re seasonal, such as the Spring Cleaning Event, other times they’re related to gaming events, cultural milestones, or just weekend deals.

No matter the reason, getting in on these Steam sales can be a powerful boost for your older titles. You can participate in daily, midweek, and weekend deals, the latter of which you can even combine with free weekends. This gives users a chance to try your game for a few days at no charge, then wishlist or buy it afterward.

Developers and publishers can also set individual discounts, such as launch and pre-order price cuts, weeklong discounts, or custom deals. Keep in mind that it might be more effective to tie discounts to important events such as updates or anniversaries.

Steam has limitations on how often a game can receive a discount, so it’s best to plan your activity around seasonal and other sales. Failing to do so could result in your custom discount preventing you from participating in a seasonal event. To know when to put your game on discount, keep an eye on sales figures, then run a promotion when they start to decline.

It’s important to remember to keep your discount rates relatively steady, otherwise, you risk upsetting customers. A 20% sale one month followed by a 35% sale the next might make buyers at the 20% level feel frustrated. When Shadow of the Tomb Raider received a 34% discount for the base game and 47% cut for Croft Edition only a month after its release, users were not happy.

 

Bundles

Bundles are a relatively new method of selling games at a discount. Players see them as especially valuable since they can pick up multiple games for a low price. Developers can use this as a chance to show off old work to get more users interested in their brand.

It’s usually best to tie your bundle to an event. Freebird Games made a bundle to celebrate the To the Moon series’ 5th anniversary, for example. The bundle included games and additional materials like comics and soundtracks, all for an attractive price.

If you’re worried your older games won’t be attractive as a standalone bundle, consider partnering with another developer or publisher whose catalog can add value. Find a good reason to make this bundle happen so it’s not just arbitrary. Both teams may be from the same country, for example, or there may be genre, artwork, or writing similarities.

You have to pitch bundles to a Steam sales manager, but for other stories like itch.io, you can do everything on your own. Humble Bundles can even give you a boost in profits during your game’s release year.

Retooling the Game

You can drag old games out of the closet and put them up at a discount, but sometimes, this just isn’t enough. Old games can show their age, and they can struggle to find the audience years or decades outside of their release.

It might be a good idea to retool your game before releasing it. Consider how much work it would take to update/modernize your old titles, then look at the market to see if you think it’s worth the effort. A couple of tweaks might be a game-changer, but sometimes an HD remaster is the only way to go.

When releasing an update, either technical or content-based, you can get a feature on Steam that brings up to 500K views. This will work better if the game has been wish-listed a lot, of course. Also, adding Steam collectible cards or mod support won’t do much good unless you present it as an actual update, such as when a modder created a COVID-19 scenario for Plague Inc.

Target New Stores and Regions

Simply releasing your back catalog on a new store can bring in plenty of new sales. You can opt for GOG or the Epic Games Store, for example, but keep in mind their audiences are smaller than Steam and may not bring much in the way of revenue.

You could also go regional and release your games in local stores. Steam, Epic, and other digital storefronts reach a worldwide audience. If you localize your title for a certain region, you can target them and gain a number of sales with very little effort.

If you opt to target new regions, do your homework first. See what’s popular in these countries and how difficult the market is to access it. Asian stores, for instance, might welcome role-playing games, MOBA, or eSports titles but shy away from platformers and adventure games.

Porting

Another low cost, high reward strategy is to release your old games on a new platform. Porting classic titles to mobile from PC or vice versa can instantly tap into a rich new audience. Depending on your development process, releasing these ports might be as easy as clicking a few buttons, too.

Keep in mind that the game should be welcomed on a new target platform. You can’t just slap a touch screen interface over a classic strategy game and assume it will sell thousands of copies. Consider the costs involved in porting, look at your target audience, and shape your efforts based on this research.

Conclusion

Even if a game is several years old, that doesn’t mean it’s no longer useful. There are ways to make money from it, including taking part in sales, running discounts, bundling it with other games, and porting it to new platforms or regions.

Remember that these efforts alone aren’t always enough to attract buyers. The quality of the game itself is still important. If you re-release an old game that didn’t sell well in the first place, don’t expect it to be an instant hit this time around.

Monetizing your indie game back catalog can be both fun and rewarding. Use the methods best suited for your titles and look for every opportunity you can seize. With the right efforts, you can breathe new life into your old games.

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