Sunless Sea Sales and Funding Deep Dive, Part II: Greenlight
The thoughts and opinions expressed are those of the writer and not Gamasutra or its parent company.
In this post, we'll be talking about our Greenlight campaign and pre-orders. In part I, we covered our Kickstarter.
Once our Kickstarter ended, we started taking pre-orders. We never made pre-orders available on any store – we just sold them on our website through a Humble Widget, at a 15% discount on the full retail price. Here's a graph showing pre-orders from the end of the Kickstarter to the start of our Greenlight campaign.
It's pretty noisy because of the low volumes – there were just 314 copies in this period, or about 1.4 a day. The spike in late April is due to our closed Kickstarter backers' beta. The smaller one in February coincided with the announcement that we were working on a project with Bioware.
We launched our Greenlight campaign on 13th May 2014. Sunless Sea was approved 15 days later. Here's a graph of our traffic and vote breakdown during the campaign.
This was our first Greenlight campaign so we decided to soft-launch it, in case we ran into any issues. We only publicised it on the 15th, which is why there's a traffic spike on that day.
Greenlight campaigns aren't newsworthy, so we knew we'd have to combine it with something else to get any media coverage. We released a new trailer with the first in-game footage; journalists who covered it generally included a link to the campaign page.
Most visitors to the page voted, and (fortunately for us) most voters said they would buy the game. Here are the lifetime stats. (This screenshot is actually from a few months later -- most of the numbers are unchanged, but unique visitors would have been a little under 20,000 during the actual campaign.)
Greenlight has a pretty mixed reputation, partly because of the early days when even really excellent games struggled to get approved. That's now changed: around the time we were on Greenlight, Valve were approving 75 games every two weeks.
Our experience on Greenlight was really good, and if we're given the choice we'll almost certainly do it again. Here are the main benefits.
- We got to try out our pitch on Steam users while we still had time to make changes. As an example, we included the words 'Lose your mind' and 'Eat your crew' in the feature list. This was so popular that we started using them as a tagline for the game.
- We were able to re-use most of the assets on our store page. We did this with the trailer, screenshots, and some of the copy. Since we needed to produce these anyway, we'd have needed to set aside time for them anyway.
- Most importantly, it's an amazingly good free marketing opportunity – we got to present Sunless Sea to an audience of tens of thousands of dedicated Steam users with an interest in indie games.
In support of that last point, here's some more sales data from the Humble Widget on our website. Everything up to the early access soft launch is a pre-order; after that, these are sales.
Over the two weeks immediately before our Greenlight campaign, we received 21 pre-orders, or 1.5 a day. In the 16 days were were on Greenlight, there were 125. And there were another 142 over the following 19 days (before we actually made Sunless Sea available for sale).
Allowing for a baseline of 1.5 pre-orders per day, that's an extra 214 at $16 each, or $3,424 in total.
We didn't actually mention pre-orders on our Greenlight page. The increase is from people who visited our website and found the widget there. We'd probably have seen a much higher conversion rate if, for example, we'd linked to a Kickstarter that was running at the same time.
- We gained 1,352 followers, who were notified once Sunless Sea became available on Steam. Some of them probably backed or pre-ordered the game; some of them would have bought it anyway; and, almost certainly, many of them never will. But if as a result of our Greenlight campaign even 10% of them went on to buy the game at the launch price of $17, that's another $2,295. (I think this estimate is pretty reasonable: for most of our first few months in early access, non-unique visits to our store page converted to sales at a rate of 3-4%.)
- 10,140 visitors answered yes to 'Would you buy this game if it were available in Steam?' Many of these voters discovered the game as a result of Greenlight. And there's a lot of evidence that responses like these increase the likelihood that a person will buy something later. If they were even 1% more likely to buy the game at launch, that's another $1,717.
- Our Greenlight page received about 12,000 visits in Sunless Sea's first month on Steam. An overlay on our Greenlight page links to the store page. If they were half as likely to buy it as direct visitors, that would be another $3,570. (The page is still live and redirecting a steady trickle of visitors to our store page.)
Altogether, that's $11,000 in sales – a solid return on the time invested, much of which we would have had to do anyway. Of course, the real number could be lower. But the pre-orders, at least, can't have come from anywhere else. (For what it's worth, I actually think these estimates are quite conservative.)
To make the most of a Greenlight campaign, we'd recommend making sure it's possible for people to help fund it. That could be through crowdfunding, or pre-orders, or a purchase option if the game is already available elsewhere.
In part III, we'll cover our sales figures from early access and the first month after launch.