Steam is the obvious first choice for selling a game on the market, and you’re probably doing so already. In 2018, Steam hit an impressive 90 million monthly active users. They also host approximately 36,000 titles as of 2020, and increasing numbers of games are hitting the platform each year.
The flood of releases means it’s more difficult than ever to get your game noticed on Steam. This has led a number of developers to seek supplemental channels to release their games on. Selling on multiple platforms — including Steam — will maximize your game’s visibility and boost your chances of success.
To fill the gaps you might have missed with your Steam release, look at the other popular digital stores. Their audience may be smaller than Steam’s, but selling on these channels means accessing new players and increasing your game’s visibility.
There’s a lot less competition on EGS compared to Steam. The store currently has just over 250 titles for sale, orders of magnitude less than Steam’s store. Keep in mind that with a reduced number of games there is a reduced number of users and even fewer that are interested in indie titles on the platform. To give you an idea of the difference in user base, the EGS has 108 million users while Steam has an estimated 1 billion.
The EGS’s smaller cut of the revenue is an unignorable perk. You keep 88% of your profits compared to Steam’s 70%.
While the EGS sells non-exclusives, they are known to hand out handsome sums of money to projects they deem worthy of exclusivity deals. These agreements are hard to obtain, but not impossible. Even if you aren’t contacted for an exclusivity deal, the EGS is still an option to chase traditional sales.
There is potential to earn big payouts from Epic’s exclusivity deals, but the odds are slim. If your studio and game have the reach, popularity, and a following that excites Epic, it’s worth it to pursue one of these arrangements. Otherwise, you’ll simply need to rely on traditional sales from the Epic Games Store.
A good example of the EGS working out for someone is Gwen Frey and her game Kine. Having received the Unreal Engine Dev Grant, the launch of her game coincided with the launch of Epic’s store. Unsurprisingly, she was offered an EGS exclusivity deal. This deal allowed her to sail all the way to a successful launch with an even better game than when she started out.
The opposite can also happen, of course. You’ll want to avoid potentially costly publicity nightmares if you sign an exclusivity deal, especially if this happens later in development.
In any case, exclusivity deals are a black box. No one other than the parties involved knows the details. It’s also unknown just how long these offers will be on the table.
If you do choose to publish on the EGS, check out our guide to releasing games on the Epic store to increase your odds of success.
Other stores like itch.io, GOG, GameJolt, and Humble have smaller audiences and vary in the amount of competition you’ll face, but they are definitely worth considering.
For example, itch.io is a store specifically for indie games. There are no AAA titles present, and that’s the whole point. The people browsing Itch are entirely supportive of indie game culture. They know not to expect grandiose production value and understand the difficulties of releasing a game as an individual or small studio.
Itch’s cut is only 10% by default, which is three times lower than Steam’s take. But even this is adjustable as you can set it to 0% or 100%. The website also features a donation section, where buyers can, and often do, donate more money than the game is priced at. While the donations are often volatile and not to be relied on, you have the potential to make even more money than you do from sales.
A developer of Rhythm Doctor defended the platform’s perks. They made four figures on the store and noted that it’s much easier to upload games to itch.io as compared to larger platforms such as Steam. There’s plenty of competition on itch.io, but there’s still money to be made.
It doesn’t hurt to upload your game to other channels, especially if this is early in your studio’s life span. With smaller stores, you’re often given the benefits of a more indie-friendly environment, a larger share of the revenue, and a supportive community.
Covering your domestic market with a release is as simple as publishing your game in your local language. To reach a global market, make sure you have an English language option — 37.46% of Steam accounts use English as of April 2020.
What other regional markets should you consider? There are some massive, untapped and underserved audiences in the world. You can reach them by releasing on the right platform and with the right language options.
Localization, genre, and content of your game are very important aspects to consider before going global. It’s crucial to research what is popular, where it is popular, and where games similar to yours have succeeded in the past. Localization is important as it allows more people to be able to understand your game. However, culture, genre, game settings, and style can matter just as much for expansion into a new market. Some regions even have their own stores.
Historical or cultural references can also make or break your foreign campaign. Many countries are still sensitive to certain historical figures or events, and even how your game portrays certain events or countries can matter.
This might discourage you from considering regions outside of your own, but there’s no need to worry. Plenty of countries are opening up to foreign media, with little to no need for translation, and the cultural boundaries are softening. However, censorship in some countries is still a huge roadblock. For example, nudity was censored out of Assassin’s Creed Odyssey for Arabic releases. Make sure that you are absolutely certain nothing in your game or translation comes across as offensive in your new target area.
These undersaturated markets can be gold mines for developers. You just need to know where to look, what to plan for, and what you’re getting yourself into. If all goes well, you might start climbing the charts in a country you haven’t considered before.
Nuuvem, a Brazilian storefront, began as a service that sold PC games only in Brazil. Over time, they expanded to include the entire continent of South America. They focus on selling games at a discounted price within the region and have built up a large South American user base with over 1.6 million users. Although they have now expanded to the worldwide market, Nuuvem is still a great avenue to tap into South America.
South American countries have a ton of PC players. Of the 75.7 million gamers recorded in 2018, around 40% played PC games. The country’s preferred genres currently are strategy, adventure, and racing.
Data via Steam’s Download Stats
While language localization would certainly help across South America, there is still a large audience that can speak English. For example, around 5% of the population in Brazil, which accounts for 10 million people, speaks English.
Argentina is another big player in the gaming industry. In 2017, they were projected to become the 25th largest games market in the world. Mexico has risen in recent years to 12th place in the world, beating out Brazil to become the largest gaming market in all of Latin America. Regional stores, namely Nuuvem, sell to the entire region.
Europe has a huge English speaking population and a Western-leaning attitude towards media. They largely browse the same sites North Americans browse when searching for games, so selling to Europe really comes down to localization and marketing.
Certain genres are preferred in different countries, so focus your efforts on the markets that are interested in your type of game. Be sure to research what currency your country of interest uses. Some websites take care of the exchange rates, while others don’t. Make sure you aren’t overcharging or undercharging because of a difference in currency value.
You’ll also have to take cultural differences into consideration. Will your game’s subject matter or humor be appreciated in France as much as it is in Germany?
While a successful European launch is a massive endeavor, marketing your game to the European audience can be lucrative. Just bear in mind that while the PC games market is huge in Europe, it isn’t consistent across the board, and the many cultural differences can get in your way. Aim for the bigger countries with a large PC gaming market. While there is less competition in smaller markets, the smaller payoff might not be worth the effort.
Asia, in general, is tricky. China is almost impossible for indies to penetrate due to the Great Firewall of China, the term for the country’s strictly policed internet ecosystem. Countries like Japan and Korea have such strong cultural ties with the media they consume that western-appealing games with western subject matter might fall flat. Unless your game is a popular eSports title, it likely won’t generate much buzz in the Asian PC games market.
However, there are certain countries and companies more receptive to foreign media. Playism in Japan, for example, is interested in localizing and distributing indie titles to its Japanese user base. They have a modest 10,000 estimated users a month. While not an instant cash grab, it can be useful for your game to be hosted in as many places as possible, and 10,000 people who you had no chance of reaching before is enticing. Less traffic means less competition and your game is more likely to be noticed on the store page. If getting on Playism’s store turns out to be an easy process for your game, then it can be worth the effort.
While considerably more difficult to find a foothold than other regions, Asia is still a viable location to market and release your game. As long as you avoid embarrassing translation errors or cultural differences, an Asian release could be profitable, especially in the years to come as more indie-friendly distribution platforms emerge.
Aside from local stores abroad, you can very well sell your game through Steam while targeting different countries. Make sure you’re releasing your game at the same time, on the same day, to every region to avoid piracy and complaints. Steam handles regional pricing, but consider the benefit of adjusting your price according to particular regions. In short, you shouldn’t be charging US prices everywhere in the world.
Localization matters as well. It’s beneficial to localize your game to the specific regions you’re targeting, but it’s up to you to balance this with your budget. For example, if you find through research that your genre won’t do well in India, it wouldn’t be economical to localize or market your game to India, despite the country’s large market of PC players.
Localization can also present a great marketing avenue after launch. If you translate your game into a popular language, you can announce this update and put the game on sale. Those with your game on their wishlist are likely to be interested and purchase it.
Local influencers are a great way to break into foreign markets. They understand the culture and reach a specific audience. They know what their followers like, and can pad out the cultural differences that might be present in your game. Your mileage may vary, but this avenue is not something to ignore.
Traditional avenues aren’t the only places you should look to release your game. More indie-friendly channels, both domestic and abroad, can bring in a few extra sales or explode with popularity if things work out. Remember, marketing is crucial when branching out, especially for lower traffic sites. You’ll need marketing to compensate for the smaller user bases.
Consider the subject matter, target audience, language and genre of your game, and find the places that fit. You might be surprised to find how well your game can sell on a smaller platform or a different country.