On December 28, 2021 we released Elements of Dreams for free into 5 different app stores: Steam, Itch.io, Apple App Store, Google Play, and the Amazon App Store. We previously covered the varied degree of developer experience for each store. This post will cover how much impressions, traffic, and downloads or plays we got for each one. Let’s dive in:
Originally we were going to launch Elements of Dreams into only 4 marketplaces as Itch.io had the ability to upload for computer play, but after talking with some other members of the gamedev community, who mentioned that traffic for their game on Steam was 10x that of Itch.io, it seemed like a must have. In some ways this turned out to be true, but in other ways not.
Steam had massive impressions with over 700,000 in the first month. These translated into over 22,000 store page views. I’ll pause here to say this was an order of magnitude larger than any of the other marketplaces. Unfortunately though, despite having a free game, the impressions and visits did not translate into game plays. Of the 22,000+ store views we had a measly 33 people download and play the game. This amounted to a terrible 0.15% conversion rate from visits to plays.
Steam is a very unique beast, and many indie game developers have been very successful with them as they provide a lot of marketing included. However if you don’t make the game the way that Steam likes to market it, it is unlikely to be successful in their store.
With Steam charging $100 per game, having a below par publishing experience, and not providing a mechanism to change a free game into a paid game this is a marketplace we would not recommend for other game developers who are initially thinking of offering there game for free and do not have amazing visuals, as we could have put those $100 toward advertising one of our other storefronts and probably had a better return than the 33 players we had with Steam.
Amazon App Store:
As covered previously, the Amazon Appstore is a relatively easy marketplace to publish to that doesn’t cost anything to join. The store seemed like an obvious go to for us as we did our Android testing during development on a Kindle Fire. The traffic that it provided for the game was pretty low though.
Amazon was the one store where you had to pay extra for analytics. As we hadn’t worked that into our budget we ended up not spending extra for it. This gave us zero visibility into the impressions or store views. The one metric that Amazon did provide is downloads, to which we had 5 (the lowest of any store).
The Amazon Appstore is a pretty painless publishing experience, that doesn’t cost anything to join. That being said you need to allocate funds for your own marketing of it in addition to purchasing additional analytics as the store itself doesn’t seem to do that well. Also the reach of it for Android is a fraction of what you get at the Goolge Play store.
Despite being free, the fact that it has limited reach and doesn’t provide much in the way of analytics (that you don’t have to pay for), we wouldn’t recommend spending the time publishing a game here, with the one exception of if you have a large Android app, since they don’t have a limit on the size currently in their store.
The Play Store was an obvious destination for us, as Android is the most prevalent mobile operating system outside the US. This meant that if we wanted anyone to be able to play it on their phones in another country, this would be their obvious go to. The traffic breakdown was slightly mixed.
Despite being fairly data driven, Google doesn’t provide impressions so we had no way to know that for our store. That being said they did provide store page views which were 78, so we knew there were at least that many impressions (though likely more). That being said the page store views converted into 11 downloads for the game, which came to a 14% store view to download conversation. Much better than Steam but not as good as the last two stores.
While the Google Play Store isn’t the worst publishing experience it does have some downsides (as mentioned previously) in that it is not completely straight forward to setup, it does have a cost of $25 (lifetime), and the tech support is sub par. That being said it is a must have if you are planning to release on mobile outside the U.S.
If you’re planning on releasing your game on mobile and outside the U.S. this is a definite yes. If not, it probably isn’t worth the $25.
Apple App Store:
The Apple ecosystem is its own beast, and while it has some oddities to it (for instance publishing through Xcode), from a consumer standpoint it is well known and well respected. It is also the only way to get a game onto iOS, so if you are planning to release for the iPhone or iPad it is a must (if you are just releasing on Mac you have multiple other options).
The Apple App store has great analytic support and not only do you get to see store views, and downloads, you also get things like plays per day and impressions, all included. Additionally Apple invests in making app developers successful by providing documentation on marketing and business models (things that you may not always have front of mind as an indie developer). For us they turned out to be the best mobile store. Impressions were over 4000 in the first month, which translated to 185 store views (twice as many as Google Play), and 38 downloads. This equated to a little over a 20% conversion rate from store view to download. I’ll make a note here that we shot ourselves in the foot a little for downloads as 4 days before the end of the release month we updated the game for a speed run competition and increased the price to $0.99. That effectively killed downloads over that time, and we’ve since made the game free again to bring bring that back up (fortunately Apple makes it so you can change the price of the app without having to republish, unlike some other stores).
Apple provides excellent support for developers through their marketing documentation, tech support, and analytics. That being said they are one of the more expensive marketplaces to publish to coming in at $100 a year, so if you are only planning on publishing 1 game a year or less you may want to think twice before using them.
If you plan on releasing on mobile in the U.S. they are an absolute must have, otherwise weigh the cost to exposure (which from our experience was quite good).
Itch.io is a great marketplace that is very indie friendly with lots of exposure and many features that others just don’t have. They turned out to be one of our best marketplaces.
While not having the most impressions or store page views, itch.io turned out to be our best performing marketplace for plays. From being listed in the new releases the store had over 10,000+ impressions in the first week, from there it tapered off and unfortunately there isn’t a good way to check total impressions via their analytics (one of their downsides). From those impressions we had 685 store views. This translated to 167 browser plays and 10 downloads. This made itch the best performing store with a 25% conversion rate of store views to plays.
There are very few bad things to say about itch.io from a indie developer perspective. For releasing a free game they are one of the best ways to go, especially if you can release a version that is playable in the browser (since they are the only store that supports that). Their analytics are one of the better marketplaces as it updates in real time (where as most other stores you have to wait at least a day). For us when sharing the game through links, social media, or our website we almost always shared the itch store first as it’s conversion rate was so much better than any of the others and it was able to host more versions of the game or provide a way for users to play without having to download anything.
We would absolutely recommend Itch.io. It is free, it provides great additional exposure, it has great conversion rates, and provides a friendly publishing experience.