A new statistical application is being developed by Sergey Galyonkin to help in what is becoming a global mission to better understand the Steam Empire. SteamSpy is still in the early alpha stage, but has gotten many game sites interested in its potential. We here at VNs Now embrace all the new data that we can get as we hope to build statistics for the EVN community at large. And, despite its young age, there is a lot of interesting data we can pull from SteamSpy to help us better understand the platform many developers are rushing to get onto.
Now, there are a few things to get out of the way before we begin our analysis. The first is that these numbers are not perfect figures, but rather estimates. This was inspired by Ars Technica’s ‘Steam Gauge’: an algorithm they used for similar purposes. We covered Ars Technica’s algorithm in a report last month, and I encourage anyone who hasn’t read that to do so before reading this one as it helps add perspective. This means we are looking for ‘ballpark figures’. For example, Ars Technica’s Most Downloaded of 2014 list had Rising Angels: Reborn listed at 75,059 owners for 2014. SteamSpy has Reborn’s ownership currently at 82,570 with a large enough margin of error to cover 2014. Therefore, it’s safe to assume that while neither may be 100% accurate, Reborn’s actual ownership numbers falls somewhere on that margin since both sites are similar.
That is what I mean by ‘ballpark figures’ and that is how I will be making my analysis on these numbers. By the way, these margins are represented as ‘plus or minus a number’ by each figure, so please remember that as we get into the numbers.
The second is that this report isn’t set in stone. There is a good chance that the numbers will become more accurate as SteamSpy goes into beta and, barring action from Valve, becomes a public statistical database. We here at VNs Now will be keeping track of each release and how the numbers fall. While I believe they will be similar, this is also a great way to track a game’s growth or stagnation. So, this isn’t final by any means. This is just one more stop in the long journey of getting a better picture of the audience many developers are trying to reach.
Next, we will again be looking at ownership numbers rather than player numbers. This, to me, is the best possible statistic for us to follow since it denotes a definite transaction at some point. In other words, it leaves a better paper trail we can learn from. Finally, all of the games listed here were released for an English audience first: after all, English Visual Novels are a prime focus for the site. Whether or not I do a separate list or full list for every game under the ‘Visual Novel’ tag for Steam remains to be seen. But, for now, this gives us a great place to continue our discussion from last month.
So, with all of that said, let’s get to the numbers! Here is what the EVN community looks like on Steam according to SteamSpy:
- Sunrider: 263,944 ± 21,651
- Long Live the Queen: 254,203 ± 21,248
- Depression Quest: 180,911 ± 17,928
- Sakura Spirit: 133,596 ± 15,408
- Analogue: A Hate Story: 132,204 ± 15,327
- Without Within: 94,884 ± 15,220
- Rising Angels: Reborn: 82,570 ± 12,114
- Hate Plus: 76,075 ± 11,628
- Magical Diary: 64,478 ± 10,706
- Invisible Apartment: 60,304 ± 10,353
- Huniepop: 58,912 ± 10,233
- Loren the Amazon Princess: 44,996 ± 8,943
- Cinders: 44,068 ± 8,851
- Dysfunctional Systems Episode 1: 41,749 ± 8,615
- Roommates: 32,007 ± 7,543
- Sakura Angels: 19,483 ± 5,885
- The Sword of Asumi: 18,555 ± 5,743
- Heileen 3: New Horizons: 18,091 ± 5,671
- Heileen: 17,163 ± 5,524
- Fading Hearts: 15,772 ± 5,295
- Bionic Heart: 14,844 ± 5,137
- Heileen 2: The Hands of Fate: 14,380 ± 5,056
- Leviathan: The Last Day of the Decade: 13,452 ± 4,890
- Train of Afterlife: 13,137 ± 6,240
- Nicole: 12,988 ± 4,805
- Always Remember Me: 12,525 ± 4,719
- Voices from the Sea: 11,133 ± 4,449
- X-Note: 9,277 ± 4,061
- Snow Light: 6,958 ± 3,517
- Pyrite Heart: 6,958 ± 3,517
- Bionic Heart 2: 6,494 ± 3,398
- Gender Bender DNA Twister Extreme: 2,319 ± 2,030
- Infinite Game Works:1,378 ± 2,700
There is a lot to consume here and even more we can take away. However, there is something in particular the numbers tell us and it deals with our niche genre in particular. I want to focus on that for now because for those of you looking to put their games on Steam, I think it will be enlightening!
While it was originally released in 2012, Long Live The Queen made its way onto Steam in 2013 and has spent the last eighteen months being passed around by some of the more notable names in gaming commentary; including one John Bain AKA Totalbiscuit. The constant, favorable word of mouth it has received in lieu of an expansive multimedia campaign has worked in its favor as it is currently the most successful commercial EVN on Steam. The Sunrider argument is similar, yet with a key difference. Sunrider has a loyal fan base that markets the game well through word of mouth. However, since it is free it becomes a win-win proposition for anyone who hasn’t tried it and that has been a giant positive on its behalf.
Sunrider and LLTQ lead the top five English Visual Novels owned on Steam and they have little in common when it comes to plot or tone. What they do have in common is the fact that they were unique enough to reach difference audiences without a coordinated marketing campaign. I do strongly believe that is an aspect EVNs, as a whole, need to begin to learn marketing moving forward, these numbers help dispense with the current devotion to ‘ genre trends’.
‘Wait, JP you incredibly handsome Southern devil. What are genre trends?’
Well my highly intelligent Anon, it is exactly what it sounds like. Developers are inspired by a certain genre of entertainment, usually in anime, which gets attention and downloads from EVN fans, which causes more developers to put out more projects in that genre until another genre becomes popular. This has been used to explain the recent trend of romantic EVNs, since many developers are fans of the otome genre, and being used to try and predict a turn towards more ecchi/fanservice works; due to the success of Sakura Spirit. Unfortunately, much like an ouroboros, genre trends only work when the circle closes around a single sector of the EVN community and instead of being used to promote growth; it usually leads to stagnation.
I don’t fault anyone for following this particular idea. Due to the lack of data, fans needed something to try and quantify the EVN community not only to understand where it’s been, but to try and understand where it’s going. However, once you step outside of the circle and look onto the platforms developers want to go on like Steam, you realize that the majority of gamers are more interested in a unique experience rather than a familiar genre without any particular devotion to otome, ecchi, etc. For evidence of this, I point you to the spiritual successor of Sakura Spirit: Sakura Angels.
If you follow this corner of the Internet during 2014, you would think that ecchi and fanservice dominated 2014. And, to be fair, it nearly did. Sakura Spirit was wildly successful, but unlike Long Live the Queen, it’s success didn’t come from positive word of mouth. Winged Cloud’s headliner was routinely mocked and served up as a side show by several gaming sites and YouTube channels, so it isn’t too surprising anyone who saw that would want to be a part of ‘the fun’ themselves and get a copy. That didn’t make them true fans of Sakura Spirit or WC: it made them circus patrons interested in an attraction.
This is vital to understand. If the people who owned Sakura Spirit in 2014 were true fans of their work and not just in it for a cheap thrill, WC would be successful in their apparent goal of building an international fanservice franchise with Sekai Project using their connections to spread Sakura spin-offs and spiritual successors across the four corners of the world. It is a goal they are still attempting to pursue as they rush out Sakura Fantasy in a few months. However, that isn’t because Sakura Angels was just as successful as its predecessor. It’s because Sakura Angels bombed and they’re scrambling. As Sakura Angels has only been out for a few months now, it can very well have more owners before year’s end and earn a reasonable profit: ‘reasonable’ being relative. However, in the shadow of the 133,000 (estimated) owners Sakura Spirit have, it would have to have a strong public push from WC to come anywhere close to that mark and WC has already lost interest in Sakura Angels in favor of the new yuri successor.
Ironically, WC only has itself to blame for Sakura Angels’ performance. If you recall, WC and Sekai Project surprised us by releasing it in January: just a few days before Huniepop’s release in fact. I believe this was calculated by both WC and SP to try and keep as many people under their fanservice tent as possible; since Huniepop was clearly more willing to push past the ecchi line and go straight into flat-out pornography. Unfortunately, the early release backfired thanks to Huniepop being more of a side show thrill. The same sites that gawked at Sakura Spirit were now riled in debate over the brazen lewdness of Huniepop and left Sakura Angels in the dust by doing so.
It won’t last however, and the statistics show this to be true. Without the controversy Sakura Spirit and Huniepop had behind them, fanservice sells to a niche within a niche. So, what can we extrapolate from all of this this? Well, while it’s nice and it does sell, word of mouth isn’t anything to build a studio on. Eventually, people will either stop talking about your or maintain focus on one particular project while you’re trying to make more. In the end, it’s just one tool in the box all developers need to start using and that box is Marketing. The positives that the numbers show us is that gamers as a whole are curious about this particular side of gaming and do not mind playing EVNs, regardless of their genre to. Developers just have to shift from creation to exposition and giving gamers a reasonto try your work out. This has been successfully done by getting EVNs to popular YouTube Lets Players and larger gaming sites, but traditional methods of advertising shouldn’t be avoided in favor of free word-of-mouth. I wish I had an easier answer than that, but since one of the point of this post is that tracking genres doesn’t work on Steam, it’s up to the developers to do the polls, make the questionnaires and test the ads that will draw gamers to their works.
‘JP, I don’t think that should be necessary for my work to go on Steam.’
Then don’t put your projects on Steam.
I’m sorry to be the rain cloud on the drive to get EVNs more recognition on Steam, but another point of this post is to realize you’re not shooting fish in a barrel. If you don’t go in with the right bait and at the right time of day, you’ll be stuck wondering why the fish aren’t biting and leave blaming the pond you decided to go fishing in instead of recognize you were unprepared and it cost you a lunch. Strategic thinking is something that is lost on many EVN developers and it’s because they haven’t had to think about it. But now, if this is a step you as a developer want to take, then SteamSpy, Arc Technica and your own personal research are the best tools at your disposal.
Despite the mixed reaction from some developers and fans, EVNs have done well over the last two years on Steam. Cinders should be owned by more people, but the best sellers are varied enough to where the platform is still an open field. Everyone has a chance; they just have to go in prepared. Hopefully, this article and the previous one on the subject will be a part of the homework EVN developers are doing as their prep their games for Steam launch. Until that time, JP3: OUT.