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What can we be taught from the 1,600 highest incomes indie builders on Steam?

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Solely 10% of Steam builders have ever made greater than $100k in gross income. This text explores what they’re doing that different builders aren’t. It covers self-publishing, style focus, variety of video games developed and extra.

50 shades of indie builders

The final article I revealed lined the entire 44,000 builders on Steam. It confirmed what number of video games they publish, how a lot cash they make, what genres they concentrate on and so forth. It is an attention-grabbing place to begin, however what actually me was to see if the highest builders stand out in any means.

This text buckets Steam builders into 5 classes primarily based on their lifetime earnings on Steam:

  • <$1k – The Learner – Builders who’ve usually launched just one sport and it is… umm… not good.
  • $1-10k – The Hobbyist – Builders whose video games have bought some models, however have by no means accomplished very properly.
  • $10-100k – The Indie – That is the core of indies – they’ve made some cash out of their video games, however usually not sufficient to make this a full-time profession.
  • $100k-1m – The Full-timer – These indies have made sufficient with their sport(s) that they will make it as a full-time indie developer.
  • >$1m – The Success Story – These indies have accomplished it. They’ve remodeled $1m in gross income. They’re usually a workforce, not a solo dev. Life’s good. That is till you’re taking off the Steam minimize, the returns, the taxes, the 12 months(s) it took to develop the sport… Nonetheless, this group of builders has accomplished properly they usually’re undoubtedly within the minority.

We have additionally excluded the couple of hundred AAA and AA builders – the Ubisofts, SEGAs and THQ Nordics.

1,600 builders have made greater than $1m in gross income on Steam

To set the scene, let’s cowl what number of builders of every bucket do we now have.


Sure, solely 3% of indie builders ever make greater than $1m, however that is nonetheless over 1,500 indies who’ve accomplished so. Let’s examine what they try this others do not.

High builders do not hand over and preserve publishing video games

The Success Story’s common income per sport is rather a lot larger than that of smaller or much less profitable builders. That is not essentially huge information. The success tales, on common, have remodeled $3m ​​per sport.

Rather more importantly, although, profitable builders additionally make extra video games.

The learners and hobbyists have usually made 1-2 video games on Steam. And that does not essentially lead to prompt success, so plenty of new builders find yourself giving up.

The Success Tales have, on common, launched 4-5 video games, a lot of them way more than that. Not all of their video games find yourself being profitable.


Take Reiza Studios, for instance. They seem to be a Brazilian sport improvement studio specializing in making reasonable racing video games. Their first sport, System Truck 2013, was launched in 2013 and made <$100k. Since then, every sport they've launched has made extra money than the earlier. Automobilista 2, launched in 2020, has made thousands and thousands.

Sadly, this additionally typically works the opposite means round. Recreation builders with preliminary success find yourself releasing new video games that do not attain almost the identical stage of success. Key take-away? You do not at all times know what finally ends up a success, particularly with restricted advertising budgets. Profitable builders preserve making video games to extend the prospect of constructing a profitable launch.

High builders usually tend to go away publishing for another person

Know what you are good at and go away the remaining to others. That is what the highest indies appear to have realized.


Small indies appear to principally self-publish video games (c. 70-75% in-house).
The extra profitable indies appear fairly evenly cut up between releasing their very own sport vs going with a writer.

After all, this works each methods. Good indie builders usually tend to concentrate on improvement and attain out to a writer AND good video games usually tend to get publishers’ consideration.

There’s undoubtedly worth that good publishers with the correct match can convey to indie builders, particularly if the indie developer has restricted advertising expertise themselves.

High builders specializing

There are robust synergies in making video games in comparable genres.

  1. Construct-up of belongings – Builders can use components of earlier video games, whether or not it is code or artwork base, to considerably simplify the event course of going ahead. It is much less relevant if the sport is in a distinct style, and even in a distinct model. Going from 3rd individual to 1st individual is usually a vital effort alone.
  2. Construct-up of data – The studios that specialize simply be taught extra in regards to the explicit style’s particulars. You understand how Malcom Gladwell advised you it takes 10,000 hours to grasp one thing?
  3. Construct-up of connections – Specializing in a selected sort of video games permits you to construct up a community of assist in that house – from aligned publishers to likeminded builders.
  4. Construct-up of followers – Your gamers know what they get. That is a large bonus. At any time when Paradox Growth Studios releases a brand new sport, I do know I will love no matter grand technique they’re popping out with this time.

High builders perceive that. Have a look at any high indie studio on the market and you will see a powerful signature and magnificence that’s constant throughout video games – from style to artwork model to camerawork.

On the opposite excessive you have got the Learners and Hobbyists who’re nonetheless creating their model. They discover many genres and varieties of video games earlier than they choose the one which fits them properly.

High builders choose the correct genres

High builders are likely to make 2D platformers. Oh wait. No, they do not.

High builders have discovered that Steam gamers like technique, sim and possibly typically FPS video games. You will see extra high builders concentrate on these genres.


Observe that these bar charts do not add as much as 100% for the developer sort as some video games fall below a number of genres. Every % signifies what % of builders’ video games, on common, fall below that specific style.

The Success Tales are more likely to develop technique and simulation video games (c. 50% of video games by the Success Tales being of those genres vs solely 36% for The Learners and The Hobbyists). The Success Tales are additionally considerably much less more likely to develop informal video games (17% vs 38% of Hobbyists).

Because of this market analysis earlier than making a sport is vital. Understanding that your sub-genre is well-liked upfront makes a distinction.

High builders adapt to altering participant preferences

When taking a look at well-liked genres and sub-genres, it is also vital to think about the present Steam high charts. 2022 high grossing video games as of March for instance, we are able to see that motion video games have been extremely profitable – 7-10 of the highest promoting indie video games have motion components. Numerous them even have co-op / multiplayer components.

On high of basic platform style preferences, latest developments have to be thought-about.


Observe that this does not imply that the highest builders at all times make no matter they assume goes to be the subsequent sizzling style. Specialization stays vital. However they will modify some components of the sport to suit the gamers’ expectations.


What have we realized from wanting on the high builders in an analytical means?

There is not any magic formulation to being a profitable developer, however the developments are fairly clear.

  1. Profitable builders make plenty of video games
  2. Profitable builders discover publishers, to allow them to concentrate on what they’re good at
  3. Profitable builders specialize
  4. Profitable builders concentrate on genres that do properly
  5. Profitable builders adapt to altering participant preferences

This text was initially revealed on the Video Recreation Insights weblog. VG Insights is a Steam market analysis platform specializing in serving to indie builders make higher selections. We now have lately launched a Steam high charts web page, exhibiting which video games are most performed or generate the very best income.