Casual/Indie game developers closely monitor two numbers:
The # of downloads (how many people have downloaded your game from all possible locations)
The conversion rate (the percentage of people who download the game who then go on to purchase it)
Your gross profits (excluding development costs) are roughly:
# of downloads
revenue per sale
Revenue per sale will be ~$18 for a typical $19.95 game sold off your own site (the $2 covers order processing fees), and about $6-7 for a typical $19.95 game sold off a portal/3rd party site (the portal keeps the bulk of the revenue)
There’s not a lot you can do to alter revenue per sale – customers won’t buy a $150 downloadable game, and you can’t squeeze the order processor or the portal much – trust me that many have tried…
So developers focus on # of downloads and conversion rate.
Typically, casual game developers expect a 1% conversion rate and are elated if they get to 1.5 or even 2%. But that’s for standard match-3 games, word games and the like. Specialist indie-game makers can see MUCH higher conversion rates, because often they’re the only one making a game of a particular style. Thomas Warfield, makes the game Pretty Good Solitaire. Yes, there are various other solitaire games out there, but his has 640 variants – it’s the definitive solitaire game for afficianados. He has claimed on public forums to get conversion rates well above 5%, and I don’t doubt him.
There’s a great post on GameProducer.net with a breakdown of downloads and sales for a game called Democracy, which is a unique political strategy game. The data shows the developer has a 13.7% conversion rate – better than 10 times the typical casual game conversion rate.
But there’s a trade-off. Both of these developers have specialty products, that don’t get wide distribution. As far as I know, the products are sold almost entirely on the developer’s website, and nowhere else. As niche products, with niche distribution, they get far fewer downloads – Democracy had 1,300 downloads in the month of June – a hit casual game can get 250,000 to 1 million+ downloads in it’s launch month.
Counter-balancing that, a niche game like Democracy may sell well for 5+ years. Warfield has been selling Pretty Good Solitaire for 10 years. At my previous company, one of our products, Railroad Tycoon 2, stayed on retail store shelves off and on for 7 years, even as typical FPS’s lasted 6 months or less on the shelf.
Pretty Good Solitaire and Democracy represent one end of the spectrum – limited distribution, long shelf life, high conversion rates, but low download rates. Match-3 style casual games are on the other end. For now, I’m working in the casual game space rather than the niche indie game space, but it’s interesting to get a glimpse of the other side…