How much should someone expect to make from their visual novel?

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traineroflegend
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How much should someone expect to make from their visual novel?

#1 Post by traineroflegend » Fri May 04, 2018 10:51 am

Hello everyone,

I know that the question was vague, but I'm interested in hearing more about what people earn from their visual novels. For reference, I recently got into self-publishing novels. There is a very big community of self-published writers out there that share strategies to maximize your chances of success on Amazon and its Kindle Unlimited platform. There's loads of Facebook groups and other forums that detail how much authors are earning from their books. A book written to market (meaning that it belongs to a popular genre with story beats and a cover that match it) can expect to make $100+ a month, with much more money potential if it's written as a series or if the author has a following. We also know that most novels, no matter how short, are priced at $2.99 to $9.99 to maximize royalties (70% as opposed to 35%) with the only exception being the first entry in a series (which is given away free or for $0.99 to entice readers to pick the rest of the books).

Revenue breakdowns seem to be nonexistent in the visual novel scene. If we take Steam or itch.io to be the Amazon equivalents (although that's being generous) of the novel self-publishing world, are there any communities out there where users share revenue figures? I understand that visual novels have more moving pieces and thus are harder to compare, but I think that having some sort of earning estimates or sales figures for visual novels would demistify aspects of VN publishing and make it easier for newcomers to join in.

To be clear, I understand that VN development is arduous work. What I'm trying to do is understand what a VN developer is getting into. How much would a short VN on Steam, self-published by newcomers with appropriate art and 2-5 endings that each take 2-5 hours to complete, make? How much do longer works make? What should I price my VN on Steam?

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Re: How much should someone expect to make from their visual novel?

#2 Post by Mutive » Fri May 04, 2018 12:47 pm

I'm curious as to the responses you get.

My guess, though, judging on my knowledge of the self pub novel market is that it's highly variable, but generally pretty low. (I think the average self pub novel makes <$500 according to an article I read recently. But of course a few do fantastically - think Wool or The Martian - while many do far worse. Of course, a lot of factors play in, including the number of novels published, genre (erotica tends to do better than science fiction), marketing, cover art, quality, etc.)

This article (https://www.gamesindustry.biz/articles/ ... -steam-spy) has noted that the average number of copies of a game sold on Steam has been plummeting (it's noted at a bit over 7,000 per game, but the article is a few years old). It's also buffered by A list titles that are expected to sell millions of copies, so I'd imagine that an indie VN would be substantially lower, particularly if it was the first release for a studio. (So expected to have less name recognition/no fan base to buy up copies.)

Deeceptor did a great post mortem over on the forums that is probably also worth checking out (viewtopic.php?f=11&t=49932) describing ~1K sales (which falls in line with my guess that most VNs would have that many or fewer sales based on the article above).

So my estimated guess would be "not much". There's a very small chance that your game will become a super success and make a lot, but a much higher probability that it will barely make up expenses (or not make them up at all).
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Re: How much should someone expect to make from their visual novel?

#3 Post by traineroflegend » Fri May 04, 2018 2:28 pm

Reading through, it's interesting how they mention advertising. Self-publishing authors are very adamant about setting up mailing lists and spending at least 10% of the writing time on advertising. Amazon Marketing Services makes this particularly easy, and it's how I suspect I've gotten most of my reads. Posting on forums and sending to news outlets is necessary, but for self-publishing you definitely need to be more proactive. Doing targeted ads (on Facebook, for example) that cost you per click might seem like a bad idea, but if you choose your keywords right you might end up attracting a lot of sales. I mean, if you have never published anything before, how can you expect to have any sort of organic sales?

Does Steam allow some form of cost-per-click advertisement?

Mutive wrote:
Fri May 04, 2018 12:47 pm
I'm curious as to the responses you get.

My guess, though, judging on my knowledge of the self pub novel market is that it's highly variable, but generally pretty low. (I think the average self pub novel makes <$500 according to an article I read recently. But of course a few do fantastically - think Wool or The Martian - while many do far worse. Of course, a lot of factors play in, including the number of novels published, genre (erotica tends to do better than science fiction), marketing, cover art, quality, etc.)

This article (https://www.gamesindustry.biz/articles/ ... -steam-spy) has noted that the average number of copies of a game sold on Steam has been plummeting (it's noted at a bit over 7,000 per game, but the article is a few years old). It's also buffered by A list titles that are expected to sell millions of copies, so I'd imagine that an indie VN would be substantially lower, particularly if it was the first release for a studio. (So expected to have less name recognition/no fan base to buy up copies.)

Deeceptor did a great post mortem over on the forums that is probably also worth checking out (viewtopic.php?f=11&t=49932) describing ~1K sales (which falls in line with my guess that most VNs would have that many or fewer sales based on the article above).

So my estimated guess would be "not much". There's a very small chance that your game will become a super success and make a lot, but a much higher probability that it will barely make up expenses (or not make them up at all).

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Re: How much should someone expect to make from their visual novel?

#4 Post by Empish » Fri May 04, 2018 2:41 pm

Hmm, I think you're conflating advertising with marketing? I'm no expert on either, but something where you have a lead magnet and get emails without having to pay a company to display your content sounds more like marketing, as does any emails you send out once you have a list. iirc, advertising is a separate beast when you are paying someone to display marketing for you and put it in the way of someone's gaze.

In any case, Visual Novels, or at least non-JVNs are FAR more niche than self-publishing books, and though I don't have any numbers or studies to back it up, for now at least I'd say it's significantly harder to earn a living only on that. In other words, don't go into Visual Novels with the idea of making money, with the possible exception of eroges. Do it if you have a passion for it and want to tell your stories in that format.

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Re: How much should someone expect to make from their visual novel?

#5 Post by Mutive » Fri May 04, 2018 3:48 pm

Empish wrote:
Fri May 04, 2018 2:41 pm
Hmm, I think you're conflating advertising with marketing?
Advertising is a type of marketing. :) (I work in marketing.)

It tends to (and I speak *very* generally here) be the least effective form of marketing. Word of Mouth tends to be the best, but getting Word of Mouth can be exceedingly difficult. (Of course, running a successful advertising campaign is also not easy, either.)
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Re: How much should someone expect to make from their visual novel?

#6 Post by Empish » Fri May 04, 2018 3:59 pm

I stand corrected. :P

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Re: How much should someone expect to make from their visual novel?

#7 Post by Aviala » Fri May 04, 2018 4:04 pm

I can't share exact sales figures since I'm pretty sure it's against Steam's contracts, but Your Royal Gayness has sold around 10k euros worth of copies in about 3 months. It's a visual novel/management game hybrid priced at 14.99 and one playthrough lasts like 2 hours but there is replay value. 10k may sound like a decent-ish amount for a first game release, but after taxes, Steam's cut (30%) and revenue sharing with teammates it's considerably less than 10k. Long story short, it does make some money but I still need to do some freelance work on the side if I want to earn a living (hit me up if you need art or design for your game :'D). We had an active facebook page and other social media pages and a decent amount of websites and newspapers/magazines wrote articles about the game (including Rock, Paper, Shotgun and national newspapers here in Finland), but our visibility in media didn't translate directly into sales. We also sent game keys to youtubers and got a decent amount of let's plays of our game.

I probably should have done more to market the game but it's really difficult. Does anyone have experience with Facebook ads etc? We've done a few small trial runs of ads but it's hard to tell if it's worth it, I think I gotta try again and see if it affects the sales figures positively...

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Re: How much should someone expect to make from their visual novel?

#8 Post by traineroflegend » Fri May 04, 2018 4:04 pm

Empish wrote:
Fri May 04, 2018 2:41 pm
Hmm, I think you're conflating advertising with marketing? I'm no expert on either, but something where you have a lead magnet and get emails without having to pay a company to display your content sounds more like marketing, as does any emails you send out once you have a list. iirc, advertising is a separate beast when you are paying someone to display marketing for you and put it in the way of someone's gaze.

In any case, Visual Novels, or at least non-JVNs are FAR more niche than self-publishing books, and though I don't have any numbers or studies to back it up, for now at least I'd say it's significantly harder to earn a living only on that. In other words, don't go into Visual Novels with the idea of making money, with the possible exception of eroges. Do it if you have a passion for it and want to tell your stories in that format.
I can't speak to the difference between advertising and marketing, and anything I say about it is just parroting what has been written hundreds of times in self-publishing forums. That said, anecdotal observations lead me to believe that VN devs spend far less effort on marketing their work than comparable self-publishing authors. The fact that VNs are still niche justifies spending even more time on marketing.

Obviously one can't come into VN development expecting to make a sizable amount of money (or any money at all), but an "I do it because I like it, then maybe I'll make money as an afterthought" approach is also not ideal. A team can make a game because they like it and put effort into making sure it sells. I'm just curious as to what a focused team like that could expect to make from VN development, and what they can do to maximize it. You mention eroges as ways of making money, but do we know that eroges tend to outsell their competitors? I know that eroge Patreons tend to earn more than non-eroge ones, but I wouldn't know if that trend extended to selling VNs as a whole.

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Re: How much should someone expect to make from their visual novel?

#9 Post by mikolajspy » Fri May 04, 2018 5:03 pm

TL;DR - if anyone expects to make a living out of creating VNs, better prepare for few years of creating several titles.

It's not just VNs, but entire gamedev industry, especially for independend developers, that is hard today.
You will find people, whose game was sudden success, as well as you can find games, you never heard about (ironically, you won't find them, of course...)
With the opening of Steam Direct, there is now literal flood of games. And VNs, OELVNs are niche of niche currently, I guess.

Day after day, there are thousands of games being released, and even more start production.
How to survive in this? Create a game that will stand out somehow.

From my experience, I can say that even without marketing, but if the game is good, you can earn some additional cash, but it won't be enough for living.
I admit, I messed up marketing of my first game (link in signature), but I also believed it was not worth marketing, since it was full of mistakes etc. at the release day.

Answering the question from first post:
The length and number of endings doesn't really matter. What's more important is the appropriately priced, quality content.
I've seen short games that are popular and long games that are not (judging at number of reviews).
I've seen high-quality games for cents, and poor (not say worse) quality games for as high as $9.99.
Once again I use my game as an example - it has 9 endings, but takes about 1 hour of gameplay first time. When I set price to be more "accessible" for that amount of content, the sales stabilized, but still - it's not much.

About eroges... Well, the truth is, that in most cases, they have nothing to offer, it's pretty cheap tactic, similar to base the game on other controversial content.
But with 18+ subjects you have problem of marketing - your audience is way, way smaller, because of nature of the project. You can't run around and market adult-only games in mainstream mendia, and Steam even won't allow to release it. And it's similar to other games - some are successful, but most of them not.

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Re: How much should someone expect to make from their visual novel?

#10 Post by Mutive » Fri May 04, 2018 7:03 pm

mikolajspy wrote:
Fri May 04, 2018 5:03 pm
About eroges... Well, the truth is, that in most cases, they have nothing to offer, it's pretty cheap tactic, similar to base the game on other controversial content.
Eh, I'd disagree with this. Plenty of people like erotic art (and erotic writing). There's nothing more wrong about this than liking a good adventure game or a great point and click.

I suspect they sell better, weirdly enough, because they're often *more* niche than standard games. If you want a fun science fiction story, there are literally thousands of places to find one (including an awful lot of free places, like free to play games, the library, etc.) If you want a very specific fetish, you're more likely to have to pay.
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