Most games on Steam will make less than minimum wage

The average game on Valve’s PC gaming service makes about $30,000 in sales in its first year. Sales decline from then on.

This is a companion discussion topic for the original entry at


That makes me so sad.


Steam needs better discovery. Algorithms and outsourcing to curators aren’t cutting it.

They should do editorial pieces focusing on specific genres or themes on a daily basis, like the Apple iOS Appstore, pointing out high-quality yet unappreciated titles. I’d tie that daily editorial piece with the titles in question being 50% off, for that day only.

They should also do some sort of affiliate program, where links to Steam from curators get them a kickback, with the kickback percentage increasing for titles with lower tier sales.


Better discovery would help to some extent but when there are that many games coming out the market’s still gonna end up spread thin.


Don’t worry, they’re angling to put it on the backs of users and curators.


Well yeah, but like I just said, that is not sufficient.


I disagree with the notion that more games reduce overall sales for each game.

Sure there are a lot of games now out there which are not going to be bought or sell more than a hundred or so copies. But I claim that was going to be the case anyway regardless of whether they were the only game on Steam or one of a billion. Just go take a look at those games. They are not going to be big sellers whether they have have their own store to themselves or are buried deep somewhere.

Steam has a lot of problems , but too many games is not one of them. In fact its one of its strengths.

I do agree though that better discovery would improve everyones lot.


No, it’s not, but they’re not gonna do any curating themselves, so…yeah…


Yeah, but they should. That was the point of my post. Hiring 3-4 guys to post daily “Hey, have you heard about Philippine Penis Pirates?” articles would be a revenue-positive investment for Valve.


I’m not disagreeing with you. Of course they should. They’re just not gonna.


If I bought one game a day all year, that’s 365 games. Out of 6000 released, apparently. If we apply Sturgeon’s law that 90% of everything is crap, that’s still 600 games that potentially deserve success. And I don’t know about you, but I can’t afford to buy a game a day unless their individual price is low enough that the devs would have to sell millions to make any real money. To say nothing of having the time to play them. So i think the volume of output is going to be a problem even with better discovery.


If those 6000 games released are AAA+ quality big releases like Assassins Creed or a new Half Life. Sure, MAYBE we might have a problem. But they are not. In fact the vast majority of those 6000 games are ones you would never consider buying anyway. So sure it brings down the “average” revenue, but thats meaningless. Its like me saying my daughters lemonade stand outside my house is bringing down the average retail revenue for lemonade in the United States. Maybe technically true but not a very useful data point for measuring the soft drink business.


Of course they aren’t. But like I say, even if only a tenth of those games are serious competition for dollars they’re still outweighing most people’s ability and appetite for game purchases by a substantial amount. And really, most people don’t buy 50 games in a year, let alone 365. Or 600.


Fair points.

I guess backing up to a personal data point of one, I buy a LOT of games. But my problem is never that there are too many great games I want to buy, its “well I guess this is on sale so I will give it a go” kind of purchases.

I would love it if there were too many great games I wanted to play in genres I love but I am no where near that right now. if anything I am buying games out of desperation and rolling the dice a little hoping for something good.

Interestingly boardgames/wargames are probably closer to market saturation for my gaming tastes than pc games but there the limiting factor is my personal time rather than money.


I mean, I think that the really spectacular games are mostly doing at least ok, because they tend to get noticed and celebrated for such. But if the concern is people making merely good solid games being able to make a living, there’s a volume problem, imo. At the very least, I have a wishlist on Steam of over 300 titles that I am at least conceptually interested in but haven’t yet felt willing to buy, and more going on all the time. And I think I buy more games than the vast majority of this forum, let alone the general public. (I will probably hit 3000 Steam games this year, next at the latest.) I am probably missing stuff due to poor discoverability but finding it wouldn’t make it a lot more likely to earn substantial money from me.


As someone who hopes to actually release a game on Steam some day, this trend terrifies me. Really makes me unlikely to be willing to make the jump to full time game development unless I actually have enough success to feel comfortable doing that.


The games market has always been terrifying, at least for the 30 odd years I have been doing it.
Dont let the market dynamics of any given year discourage you from making a game.

Arguably now is the best time ever to become an indie game developer, particularly on the distribution & creation tools side.

There will never be a time and never has been a time where you are guaranteed a hit as a new game developer. May as well take the plunge now. “yolo” as the kids say…


The actual problem is that the harsh reality is that not every game will sell millions of copies, or perhaps even thousands. Sizing up the potential audience for a game I think it is very hard in general, unless you have marketing muscle ramping up promotion. Which nowadays can be both algorithmic and driven by “reviews”. And even with marketing muscle, there’s stuff which will be always catering to a minority.

That fact of reality is exacerbated, in my opinion, by the devaluation in the price of games. Lower prices obviously mean that you need to increase volume to make up for the revenue which isn’t coming in. The “lower the price, increase your reach” canard didn’t work for most developers in the Apple App Store, but worked very well for Apple. Same thing for Steam.

I think gaming communities need to think really hard whether they are paying a fair price for what they get or not. Very much as when you pay 1 dollar for a liter of milk and think of all the work that goes into getting that milk from the cow to the supermarket shelf.

Offering games in Early Access at very low prices hasn’t really helped at all with this. Probably does more harm than good to niche games, which have probably done most of the sales they will ever do at a ridiculous low price.

The indie game scene needs to look at the indie music scene and realise that doing the stuff one loves probably means it will not be producing a steady income stream… and the realistic thing is to organise your life around that.

Very few indie musicians ever break into the mainstream, and very few indie game developers will ever become millionaires. There will be always winners and losers. So the smart thing is to hope for the former and plan for the latter, and keep the dream alive with whatever your day job (and family if one goes down that path) allows to.

The big difference is that the skills to make games translate much better into $$$ than the skills required to craft catchy pop tunes, and the day job will typically suck out all your creative energies. Therefore, there’s a huge FOMO factor pulling the developers that aren’t “winners” away. Most people eventually move on and forget about the dream.

Better discovery, or “fishing diamonds from the long tail”, has been touted for over 15 years as the “saviour” of the indie creatives. I think that in 2018 we’re well past the late 1990s early 2000s naivety that recommender engines are the saviours of anyone. It has become quite blatant that they ultimately become aggressive marketing devices that are designed to maximise the revenue of the company operating the platform and service.


Meanwhile, outside the US, $30.000 in a year sounds fucking amazing. I know it’s not profit, but still, not bad at all.

On a similar note, I’d assume there can only be so many games (outside of scams) because, to some extent (but far from all), some developers don’t need to sell as many copies to make it worthwhile.


The guys from Asymmetric talk about this a lot on their podcast (Video Games Hot Dog), not as a main topic but just in passing. They reflect on how there are a lot of really outstanding designers who sell simply depressing numbers of copies for really very good games. Now, this is mostly in their niche area of interest (puzzle games), but still, the numbers they drop occasionally are quite sobering.