Industry Insights – Let’s Be Realistic: A Deep Dive Into How Games Are Selling On Steam [GDC 2018]


This will be a more bite-sized entry to my Industry Insights series in which Mike Rose from More Robots goes over his own research into sales numbers and trends on Steam. The market of Steam has dramatically changed over the past years, going from a once highly-selective curate market to the current “everything goes” open market that even recently approved it’s first hardcore porn game. In this climate, it is more important than ever to get as much insight into trends as possible if you want to have any chances of succeeding as a small developer. Mike Rose does his best to do the research so you don’t have to – giving ballpark figures that should help with estimating development return on launch.

Keeping with the spirit of this series, I will do my best to be as brief and concise as possible, hard as that may be for me.

As a disclaimer –  I will inject some of my own interpretation and expansion of the ideas, as this is unavoidable. For the full picture, always refer to the sources, listed at the end.


It must be pointed out that Steam sales are notoriously obfuscated and with Valve’s new API (part of their Steam store redesign) this has further become the case (for more information, refer to the excellent NoClip interview with the creator of SteamSpy) requiring additional effort to squeeze out any hopeful bit of data that you can. Hopefully, going forward this will shift as a mentality, given that for most industries relevant numbers are widely available – from books, through records and to movies. For now, we have Mr. Roses’s estimations – as follows:

These estimates are for the “average” Steam game – eliminating outliers like the increasingly prevalent shovelware and asset flips that are drowning the platform.

In February 2018 the “average” game

  • Sells 2,000 copies
  • Has an average price of $12
  • Makes $12,500 in revenue during its first month

So as a rough revenue estimate (keep in mind this is for a successful Steam game) it’s:

  • 1st Year = (1st Month x 2.5) = (1st Week x5)
  • Or, on average, around $30,000 in first year

Now, that’s not a bad sum but considering the quality and caliber of game that must be released on Steam to have any hope of standing out, it quickly becomes a very worrying picture. For comparison, the average US salary is just under $45k. Not great.

An interesting additional insight is that, somewhat counter-intuitively, people are eager to pay more for games. Most likely, this is due to the flood of cheap, low quality games and the subconscious association with the dreaded mobile market. As a result of this, increasing the price of your game to $10 or more might actually help it sell more, due to user perception of quality.

“If they are asking this much, surely it must be better, otherwise they’d be mad?”

“Why do they think they can charge more?” etc.

In conclusion, I’d definitely recommend giving the full talk at least a quick skim, though most of the insights can be gathered from just the numbers. It is an estimate, a rough one at that, but could prove invaluable for any amateur developers out there subsisting on nothing but rationed ramen and stubbornness.



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