Conversion Rate Inversely Related To Download Rate

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
TIMES
conversion rate
TIMES
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…

7 Responses to “Conversion Rate Inversely Related To Download Rate”

  1. GBGames Says:

    As I understand it, Pretty Good Solitaire has retail versions available, but I do think the majority of his sales come from downloads. Also, I wouldn’t call it limited distribution. It’s solitaire, which everyone understands how to play.

    Naturally, if you’re dealing with shelf-life, your game better be great so that it stays on the front page of a portal. If it is your own game, you give it the best shelf space. If it were to remain this way, I imagine that the portals would just develop another hit-driven subsection of the game industry.

  2. the2bears.com » So You Want… Says:

    [...] …to be an Independent games writer? Here’s an interesting post from PhilSteinmeyer.com on conversion rates, download rates and that elusive dollar. It gives a nice perspective on at least part of being your own boss. [...]

  3. Mike Rozak Says:

    These are interesting numbers. Is there anywhere I can find out more? I’m particularly interested in typical conversion rates for CRPGs and graphical adventure games, and more specifically, multiplayer (MMORPG).

  4. Phil Steinmeyer Says:

    Mike – dig through the forums at indiegamer.com, and/or ask around there.

  5. Winter Wolves Games Says:

    I think CR for CRPG or MMORPG are even higher. If I remember correctly Spidweb author Jeff was talking about an incredibly high CR (something like over > 30% even!). Of course that doesn’t mean more sales, you can have 30% CR but just 50 download a day or less… :)

  6. Game Fools Says:

    It doesn’t seem that the shareware game industry has a real standard by which downloads are measured (for the purposes of computing conversion rates, that is). They could, for example, be measured by unique or raw completed downloads, or possibly even just initiated downloads… which I believe is how CNET reports their download numbers (or at least they used to).

    We’ve also dealt with software developers who have reported conversion rates to us based on their ability to track completed installations. My point is that depending on how these download numbers are tracked, the related conversion rates can vary and we may not always be comparing apples to apples.

    Then again, feel free to correct me if you know of a standard that exists. I could just be out of the loop as usual. :)

  7. Phil Steinmeyer Says:

    I think for the most part people measure it as a fraction of completed downloads. But I’m not sure there’s 100% consistency there.

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