There is something I've wanted to ask about for a while, but never asked because it's a quick way to lose friends. Plus, he who lives in glass houses shouldn't throw stones and all that. As the title suggests, I want to ask about indie sales figures, and how people seem to have unrealistic expectations.
The story is likely a familiar one to those on these forums. An indie game will come out, sell 10-20 thousand copies, but then the developers say the game was a failure. I look at those stories and wonder how that's the case, and what they were expecting sales wise.
To explain what I mean, let's look at The New York Times best seller list. Without looking it up, I want you to take a guess how many books you would have to sell to make it onto the list. Got a number in mind? Ok. The answer? From what I read online, the number varies between 5-8 ...thousand. At this point, some people get incredulous. Harry Potty or Game of Thrones sells more than that, and you'd be right. But once you move outside of household names like 50 Shades of Grey or The Martian, the numbers fall off dramatically. How many of you have read "The Nightingale" by Kristin Hannah, which is on the list at time of writing? Hell, who's even heard of it? I don't mean to knock the book, I'm sure it's great, and I don't have the raw sales numbers, but that's what I read about best sellers.
Maybe you want game specific examples. Ok. I occationally play what some would call "weeb games", Senran Kagura, Gal Gun, stuff like that. Again, I don't have the hard numbers, but it's not unusual to hear of these games having print runs as small as 50,000 to 10,000. This idea is backed up by Steam sale numbers for the PC ports selling around that many. Speaking of which, the Dark Souls esc game The Surge has 70,000 sales on Steam. Remember, these are games made by professional teams with publisher backing. The idea that 2 guys in their bedrooms can make a game that will surpass those in terms of sales is ...optimistic at best.
Which brings me to one last point. Where are they spending the money? Let's say a game costs 20 USD on Steam. It sells 10,000 copies, that's 200,000. Steam takes a 30% cut, but lets say you've got taxes and other stuff to pay, and say that you only get 50% of that money. That's still $100,000. I rarely see what it is indie games are spending the money on, because they are rarely graphically or technically impressive.
Look, I'm not a professional business man, but it takes all of 5 minutes to open up SteamSpy and look at some sales figures. It also doesn't take that long take those numbers and figure out how much money you can reasonably spend while still making a profit.
So, what am I missing? What do these indie game devs really expect sales wise, and why? The closest I can think of is that they are all expecting to be the next Five Nights at Freddy's, or Undertale, but even that seems foolish given how few games get that popular. Again, even mid level publishers with all their resources don't expect that.