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week 1 numbers for A YEAR OF SPRINGS & how i did (& didn't do) promotion for the game
hi! it's been one week since i released A YEAR OF SPRINGS so i'm going to talk about how i did (or rather, didn't really do) promotion for the release and what effects that may have had. i also want to share numbers for how the game is doing. (spoiler alert: in my opinion, it's doing ok, but numbers-wise, it's probably pretty bad!)
about the game & some background info
as a quick summary, A YEAR OF SPRINGS is a remastered visual novel trilogy of three free visual novels that were originally made for various game jams. i (npckc) did the story, code, and art, while sdhizumi did the music (with a couple of tunes from me too). the remastered version upgrades the games from 720p to 1080p, have reworked art and music along with other additional features, plus an all-new epilogue.
i am not a professional dev by any means - i have a day job and freelance projects which pay the bills. any money made from games is just going back into my games, through me buying software/assets, paying translators, &c. similarly, sdhizumi composes music and sells it independently on bandcamp but has a separate day job too. as such, i don't really have a proper budget for this game outside of the time i put into dev and sdhizumi put into music. there are general living costs but those would exist with or without this game.
i haven't really released a paid digital game before (i have, however, released a paid zine and a physical card game) so i wanted to talk about the stuff that crossed my mind as i tried doing all this for the first time.
general costs from creating the game
with that in mind, here is a summary of costs. for simplicity's sake i'm going to be talking about everything in USD since that's the currency i accept on itch.io, but most of my purchases are in JPY.
for the game itself, there were one-time costs for the additional translations required for german and korean. (i did the english and japanese texts myself.) however, this was just something i wanted to do - to be frank, judging from the regions of sales, having the game in german and korean has not really boosted sales much. as such, i'm not including the costs here.
most of the tools i used to make the game were open source and/or free. the game engine i used is ren'py, which is open source and free, and i used vs code (also freeware) for the actual coding. for editing sound effects, i used audacity (also open source and free, though i think there was a bit of hubbub about google analytics in a pull request recently). i made the main font for languages that use the latin alphabet, but the other fonts are ones licensed under the sil open font license. i have made some donations for the free tools used but i am not including them in the costs here either since that would have been done whether or not i made this game.
the following costs aren't for this game specifically but for my game dev in general: i make art in clip studio paint ex, which is a one-time purchase usually at 219 USD, but i bought it at half off. i work on a surface pro with keyboard and use the touchscreen and pen to draw and that cost about 1830 USD. sdhizumi mainly uses fl studio and a number of assets for music for creating music, but most of these were purchased a long time ago so they don't have the exact costs for each.
the numbers! (& some other numbers)
A YEAR OF SPRINGS:
458 downloads / 324 payments
(release date: 2021/05/14)
in the first week, i've sold 324 copies with 458 downloads in total. i know this is not a lot, but it's something i'm personally fairly happy with. it has sold more than most of the other stuff i have up on itch.io. (there could be an argument here that since the first three games are still available for free online, there isn't much of an incentive to buy the remastered trilogy, but i think that without the first three games being available for free, i never would have even gotten enough attention to reach this number of sales anyway. i also have no intention of removing the original free games from itch.io at this time.)
for comparison, these are the numbers of downloads vs payments for the first three games at this point of time:
one night, hot springs:
50600 downloads / 991 payments
(release date: 2018/02/27)
last day of spring:
23844 downloads / 583 payments
(release date: 2019/04/30)
spring leaves no flowers:
16148 downloads / 372 payments
(release date: 2019/11/30)
you can see that the first game in the trilogy has far more downloads/payments than the other two, and that's mostly because i have been very bad at promoting the other two games (not that i have been particularly good about promoting the first one either). a lot of people will comment saying they didn't know one night, hot springs had a sequel (let alone two sequels) and i'm sure a lot of people still don't know about last day of spring and spring leaves no flowers.
also, here is the breakdown of A YEAR OF SPRINGS copies sold by region.
as i've pretty much only tweeted about the game in english, it makes sense that most sales are from english-speaking areas. over half of the total sales at this point are from the united states. i imagine that the itch.io userbase is also mostly from the united states as well.
platform-wise, the game is available for windows, linux and mac, and the split for that is about what you'd expect, i think.
the engine i use (ren'py) lets me easily build for linux and mac so i did, but the bulk of downloads are on windows.
what i did (or didn't do) for promotion
since i honestly just don't know much about marketing and promotion and how to do releases, i did not make any posts about A YEAR OF SPRINGS until twelve hours before the release. i don't know if this was a bad idea. (i feel like it probably was? there must be a reason people post screenshots and stuff about their game beforehand - probably to make sure people know about their game and can follow if they want to.)
for me though, my logic was that the original games were already out, and even if i posted about it early, i didn't really have anywhere to direct people (a homepage, a steam wishlist...). i do have a website up on carrd but i don't think many people have actually seen it, though i have it linked on the itch page.
i briefly considered having the game up a week before release on itch.io and accepting preorders since i found out that itch does have a preorder function, but i've never done anything like that before and i hadn't really seen people doing preorders on itch before either, so i didn't know if it would be a good idea. would people really preorder the game? would they just go to the page and then think, the game's not out yet, let's check back later, and then never come back to check again?
i would love to see what would have happened in a parallel world where i posted lots of screenshots of my progress putting the trilogy together way beforehand to see if it would have garnered more interest, but unfortunately i only exist in this world and a surprise launch is the path i chose to take.
i also didn't try sending any codes to media/streamers/&c. one thing was that i kind of wasn't sure if i wanted more attention... i know this is probably very dumb for a small dev who would benefit from more eyes, but i was worried that having more people cursorily hear about my game might bring harassment because of the topics my game covers. (while most of the reviews on steam, a game platform much bigger than itch is, are very kind, i've had some very transphobic ones as well, and every once in a while people will stream the game with the explicit intention of being transphobic too. i get hateful dms and emails every so often too.)
probably because of this though, to my knowledge the game hasn't been featured anywhere in particular haha (gaming websites, itch.io's homepage, &c.). most of the referrals are just from links i posted myself. while itch.io does show up on referrals, i think that's mostly from people who are already following me on itch.io jumping to the game page, but i might be wrong.
what was helpful for views was posting a devlog on each of the previous games to let people know about the new remastered trilogy. in particular, i've released the first game (and the first game only) on steam, and posting an announcement about A YEAR OF SPRINGS there got a number of people to come check the itch page out.
most of the traffic outside of itch was from my own twitter (included with ~analytics~ for those of you who like them!)
here is the pre-release tweet:
529 total engagements
and the release tweet itself:
12326 media views
re: tweet post times, i don't know if it is good or not but i usually post at 8 or 9 pm jst when i release a game since most of my players are in the us and that's a time when a fair number of them are awake or will be awake soon enough... more importantly, i am also awake so i can actually post stuff. this time i posted the pre-release tweet at 8 am jst (equivalent to 7 pm edt / 4 pm pdt) and the release tweet at 8 pm jst (7 am edt / 4 am pdt).
i don't know how helpful it was, but i also decided to make a very short trailer for the game. i was worried that if i just put screenshots, people might think it was just me posting about the games i'd already released, and not a new remastered trilogy! i'm happy with how the trailer turned out though, and i've put it on the itch.io page as well. there were a couple of referrals from youtube, so i'm assuming they came from the trailer there.
(after finishing most of this post, i just remembered that i also wrote an announcement post on itch's release announcements forum because it was one of the things recommended on itch's releasing a game page if i remember correctly, but i think this didn't do much at all and i don't think that i'll be doing it in the future. currently it has had 54 views and 0 comments. i also have a release devlog tied directly to this post which currently has 339 views, 30 likes and 0 comments..)
why this game is only on itch.io right now
also, i've received a few comments already asking me to consider putting the game on steam and android, but i have no plans for that at this time.
(2021/9/1 update: while i didn't originally plan on releasing on steam, A YEAR OF SPRINGS was accepted to TOKYO GAME SHOW 2021 & to participate in the online demo selection a steam demo was necessary, so A YEAR OF SPRINGS was made available on steam here. we'll see how it goes.)
for reference, i have one night, hot springs on steam and google play. there are a lot of downloads on both platforms, which is great! but in comparison to itch, the number of payments on steam and android is lower. (for reference, the art collection is sold for 3 USD on itch and steam, while android only has a 1 USD tip option.)
here are the player-to-payment ratios for each platform:
50600 downloads / 991 payments
~51 downloads per payment
108,230 lifetime free licenses / 662 lifetime total dlc units
~163 downloads per payment*
279010 user acquisitions / 89 in-app purchases
~3135 downloads per payment**
*note that steam also has a 100 USD fee for steam direct which is recoupable after reaching 1000 USD in sales but i have not reached this amount yet. also steam only allows bank transfers for payment which really sucks for me outside of the us because the transaction fees are really high hahaha...
**google play has a one-time 25 USD registration fee but i think this is very reasonable since you only play it once and then can continue releasing games on google play for as long as you want.
as you can see, itch has the best ratio out of the three. on top of that, i have only received transphobic comments on itch once or twice! meanwhile, i have had too many to remember on steam and android. i also have no recourse on steam or android to remove reviews that have transphobic content - i can report them to steam/google respectively, but from my experience it doesn't usually do anything and it just tires me out going through the whole process with nothing to show for it.
for sheer numbers of downloads, steam and android are going to be better. steam is definitely more viable for a dev that has more resources. (i can't say for android because i really don't see many paid games on google play.) however, for somebody like me who does not have the energy to deal with a whole different platform which has not been very kind to me at this point, i am happy with staying on itch at the moment.
(for iphone's app store i am not on there because i can't afford the yearly membership fee of 99 USD.)
free codes and community copies
you might have noticed that there are quite a few more downloads than copies sold for A YEAR OF SPRINGS, and that's because of two things.
one, i gave out free codes to each of my supporters on patreon and other people who helped me during the process of making the game. i could only work on this game because i had their help, so i wanted to thank them.
two, i have community copies for the game that are available for free to people who are in need and cannot afford it. i was inspired by a lot of ttrpgs on itch.io who have this as an option and i knew ever since seeing it that it was something i wanted to do for my own games if i ever released a paid one. normally, i have all my games available for free but with an extra bonus for people who donate, so i wanted to have community copies as an option.
i don't think that not having these would have made the game sell more though. (i actually received a donation on ko-fi specifically asking that the donation be put towards 3 additional community copies for the game! thank you to the person who did that.)
in short (not that short though sorry)
i don't really have a conclusion to this where i can say, 'i should have done xxx and stuff would have gone better'. since i haven't seen many raw numbers shared for small games like this, i don't have a good way of gauging whether x number of copies sold for a paid game on itch is absolutely completely terrible or actually fairly ok.
all i see online is news about how indie devs are selling tens of thousands of copies of their games (or even more!). but those are the success stories (and usually about sales numbers on steam - i have no idea what numbers are considered good for itch). i don't see much info shared about the games that don't sell that well, like mine, so i thought it could help if i shared this info as a data point for other small devs.
i do know that for the amount of time i put into the game, it is definitely not a good return financially. it is over a year of work at what calculates to be far under minimum wage! i'm fortunate that i have my day job and other freelance projects to actually pay the bills, because game dev certainly does not for me. i'm also very thankful to everyone who supports me on patreon and ko-fi and who donates for my free games. i wouldn't be able to keep making games without their support.
in any case, i'm still very happy i made this game and i'm personally satisfied with the results. i think i've done fairly well for something that i haven't done much to promote and i know this is kind of a niche game. for the whole day or so before releasing i was really nervous because i thought nobody at all would buy it.
i do think the game might sell better if i were more active in promoting it, but to be very honest, as somebody working on this mostly on my own on top of a regular day job, i don't have the energy and this is all i can spare for something i do on the side! of course i'd like it if my games sold more so i could afford to put more into them, but i'm already putting in more than i should - i have been close to burnout a couple of times (approaching the point where game dev is no longer fun for me and feels more like work), so i'm trying to be more careful about it. for now, i am treating game dev as a hobby that makes enough money to cover its own costs, which is more than can be said for most hobbies!
anyway, in conclusion - this is me trying to wrap this rambly post up - i hope seeing these numbers can help other small devs gauge how others around them are faring and might also prove useful for ideas on what to do (or what not to do) when promoting a small game.
thank you to everyone who's played A YEAR OF SPRINGS so far!
Get A YEAR OF SPRINGS
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Thank you for taking the time to write this! It was very insightful to read and really useful as a resource.
This is a great resourse for small devs, thank you so much. Im a young trans men and Im waiting for my birthay for buy your game uwu Thanks for make so cute characters
Thank you for sharing! We don't usually see these figures for small games on itch.
Extremely enlightening. Thank you for taking the time to share this in such detail!
Interesting - how can I donate community copies?
i'm adding them based on sales currently so the more sales there are the more community copies i will add (but i'm doing this at set intervals so i don't have to keep checking sales numbers).
but if you want to only donate community copies, you can also leave a tip on my ko-fi at the price of however many copies you want to donate and specify in the comment that it's for community copies!
Done. Please register it as German sales - those numbers are depressingly low... ;-)
I'll try to spread the word. Have you ever considered promoting your games directly to organizations advocating LGBTQ rights and support? If it starts circulating more, sales might finally take off by word of mouth alone.
thank you very much! your community copies have been added (+ i updated to match current sales)
for organisations, to be honest, i wouldn't know where to start! i wrote about it above, but i don't know much about marketing. it's mostly just me here putting the games together and that takes up most of the time/energy i have already. i think it's an avenue worth considering though.
I think there are wiki lists of similar games, having the game(s) on these might help more than writing to dozens, hundreds or more national or even smaller organisations.
But i think looking at the biggest organizations for the regions you have the game translated for might be a good thing, often smaller organisations use their information too.
Hi, I discovered your games as I was taking part to the Nanoreno (the year of Tomato Clinic). For sales comparison, have you discussed with other Visual Novel developers? There are all sorts of size and scope for VN and you’ll probably find similar titles to compare with.
If you’re a hobbyist, your objectives may differ from professional teams though, so you must also set your own target figures… or not set them, it depends. I have a few ideas for “games d’auteur” (sorry for the Frenglish) to make and will probably be less concerned by their sales number than with my other games targeting a broader audience. At the same time, if it’s your main type of work, it makes sense to care about how many people you reach… And those willing to pay are probably reached deeply enough that it matters.
FYI, I ended up on this post because I got an itch mailer to notify me of updates to games and assets I am following and at the bottom this post was one of the three (random?) posts that gets highlighted from other game devs that I don't follow. I don't know how much of that mechanism usually sends traffic and I also don't know how you get a post featured in the emails but it got my attention. (I suspect it is random because I've never given the system any indication that I'm interested in visual novels as they aren't really my thing.)
From what I know of itch sales (by those who aren't high-profile developers) I think you've actually done quite well, especially with very little promotion, but I don't have a lot of data to go on (a few established developers from my country).
I really appreciate you sharing this data and your experience. Thank you.
Thanks for sharing your experiences! I was surprised that Linux, compared to Mac is very strong. (I think Mac has about 15% Market share in the US and Linux about 2 or 3%)
so i went back and checked since this got me curious, but for my other games where i support both linux & mac, the ratio seems to vary from almost 1:1 to 1:4 linux to mac downloads. even at 1:4, that would still have the linux rate higher than expected for the 2/3% to 15%. (i don't have any conclusions that i can draw from this though!)
aw, i’m really sorry to see people not being kind to you in the reviews v.v
i know you don’t want to release this on google play, but have you considered just compiling the game for android and then release it here?
If spring trilogy somehow got a Switch release, I would buy that too, always love playing your games no matter which platform! There aren't enough transstories like Haru's and the spring trilogy holds special place for me in my heart, so thanks for your passionate work as usual! I will enjoy the epilogue and the three games (again)!
Thank you for taking the time to write this! This was a very interesting and informative read!