A lot of indie developers still scoff at the portals and sell their games primarily or exclusively from their own websites.
Some developers have had success with this, including Thomas Warfield, who sells Solitaire games, Positech, maker of detailed strategy sims like Democracy. Other casual developers, like PopCap and Retro64, derive a lot of their revenue from their own sites.
Still, I was skeptical that my own site would be much of a revenue driver, and, after a bit of data gathering in the last couple months, I’m now even more convinced.
On the surface, selling from your own site looks great. You have complete control over the marketing experience, get to capture nearly 100% of the revenue (minus maybe 10% for order processing and 1-2% for bandwidth costs), and you get to ‘own’ the customer relationship.
But the problem is volume. When you start your superfragilistic game company, nobod knows you exist. They’re not googling for your game. 100% of $0 is still $0.
Yes, others have drawn some traffic to their web sites and built a business. But they were generally pioneers of their genre, and have been going for 5-15 years. The half dozen-ish indies that can make a living this way are dwarfed by the hundreds who try to sell their game from their web site and fail (see some of the examples I posted yesterday).
I wouldn’t recommend (or try myself), to sell a game on your own, without external distribution (portals or otherwise). But assuming you are going the portal route, can you capture extra revenue on your own website?
I do have a website for my company, New Crayon Games, which sells my own game, and a few others. But it took a bit of effort to set up.
To sell my own game, I first had to make sure that in my negotiations with my publisher (PopCap), I carved out a right to do so. Fortunately, they went along with this readily (they probably knew my own site’s sales would be a flyspeck). Then I had to buy a copy protection system (Software Passport), for about $300, then set up an account with Plimus (an order processor), then set up a website with Dreamhost, and design a website with Dreamweaver. I would probably have done the website even if I wasn’t selling, but I certainly spent more time on it because I was selling from it.
All told, I spent at least 2-3 days of effort, plus a few hundred dollars, on my website.
Results so far? Well, relative to sales through my publisher’s site, my own site has generated less than 1% of the sales (in units and dollars) that my publisher has generated (and paid me for). And that’s not counting sales through 3rd party portals (I haven’t gotten those reports yet). So bottom line, my own site hasn’t paid off.
About a month ago, I signed up with Reflexive Arcade, which allows you to sell other people’s games from your website, earning about a 30% commission. It’s somewhat easy to use, though probably not as easy as it should be (and their documentation is poor). Because I’m only earning 30% of sales, rather than the ~90% I earn from selling my own game, the sales are certainly going to be less valuable. But will it generate any sales volume?
It’s been weak so far. For every unique visitor to my company web page, I generate 0.23 downloads of Bonnie’s Bookstore, and 0.08 downloads of all the other games combined (originally I had 2 Reflexive games up there, now I’ve got 3). The volumes are too low to make really firm statements about conversion rates, but assuming they hold at about industry standards, I’ll generate about 10% as much money from the 3rd party games as I generate from selling Bonnie’s Bookstore on my site. And as I said, I’m not generating much selling BB. Perhaps the 3rd party game sales will grow, and I admit I could probably invest more time and do a better job selling the 3rd party games, but there’s just not enough value there to justify it for me.
Some may point out that my site only has 3 3rd party games, and I’m not hooking to the whole Reflexive library, as some sites do. Perhaps more revenue is possible that way, but running a site that clones Reflexive’s own site, but with smaller margins and much less traffic than Reflexive own site, just doesn’t seem like a great business model to me.
The one thing I do consider valuable from the 3rd party games is the opportunity to gather a bit of data. Once you get a handle on it, Reflexive has a decent data reporting system, and I’ll be able to see which of my hosted games draw the most downloads, the most completed downloads, the most sales, and so on. This data is rarely disclosed for front line titles, so there is some useful information value there.