The Game: Downhill Biking Simulator

You’re high in the mountains, surrounded by centenarian cedars. Ahead of you is a winding dirt trial and your faithful companion, a border collie named Sam. You take a deep breath, kick off, and descend as fast as you can atop your Trek mountain bike. Concentrating, you zig and zag through trees towards the foot of the mountain.

Hypothesis 1: “Sales Hypothesis”

10,000 Steam gamers will pay $10 for a first-person, realistic game about downhill mountain biking.

Supporting Evidence

Google Keyword Planner

Each month thousands of people search for mountain biking games on Google. An order of magnitude more people search for biking games in general. These keywords have very low competition with suggested bids around 30¢. While these searches by no means establish demand for our game specifically, they tell us there’s latent interest in the idea.

Keyword Average Monthly Searches
Mountain bike games 10,000-100,000
Downhill bike game 100-1,000
3D bike games 1,000-10,000
Bike racing games 100,000-1,000,000
Mountain bike racing games 100-1,000

Reddit

In the same vein, we can check Reddit for interest in mountain biking games. Searching Reddit for “biking game” reveals several recent threads. Each of these threads received many upvotes and spurred active conversation about mountain biking games, further confirmation that there’s interest in the idea.

Thread Upvotes Comments URL
Mountain biking video game! 131 58 Link
Mountain Biking Video Game! 61 91 Link
So I’m developing a downhill / free-ride Mountain Biking game for the PC. Who’s interested? 31 25 Link
I would buy this game if it was just a biking simulator 415 55 Link

Crowdfunding and Greenlight

I could only find one biking game in the crowdfunding space. “Stoked!” – which failed to meet its goal. The lack of biking games and apparent lack of interest in Stoked is a potential red flag for our game idea. Stoked eventually went on to be released despite its Kickstarter performance, but more on that later.

Greenlight tells a slightly different story. Two biking games were accepted and have subsequently launched. A third, despite being the most popular, appears to have been abandoned by its developer who now works for a hardware/VR/biking company. The existence of these games and their success on Greenlight is additional evidence that Steam customers are interested in a biking game.

Title Date Published Number of Comments Status URL
MTBFreeride 6/1/2013 589 Abandoned Link
Shred! Downhill Mountain Biking 4/20/2015 119 Accepted Link
MTB Downhill Simulator 1/29/2016 165 Accepted Link

Steam and Steam Spy

Looking at the Steam marketplace there are already two games that are comparable to the one being pitched. “MTB Downhill Simulator” and “Shred! Downhill Mountain Biking” (formerly known as Stoked!). Both games have sales well below the 10,000 target. They also have “very negative” and “mixed” reviews, respectively. At a minimum, these games establish that there is a limited market for downhill biking games. Their mixed performance, however, does require a new hypothesis from us.

Hypothesis 1.1

A well-executed, bug-free downhill biking game can achieve sales greatly in excess of a poorly executed, buggy game.

Title MTB Downhill Simulator
Estimated owners 3,128
Price $7.99
Release date 5/27/16
Number of reviews 78
Review score Very negative (10% positive)
Steam Link
Title Shred! Downhill Mountain Biking
Estimated owners 5,152
Price $5.99
Release date 7/8/16
Number of reviews 67
Review score Mixed (55% positive)
Steam Link

Note the data above was collected in January 2017 and may no longer be accurate following changes to the review system by Steam.

Conclusion

So far, we’ve evaluated four types of evidence for our bike game. Taken individually no single piece of evidence can tell us whether our idea is viable. In fact, I would go one step further and claim that it’s impossible to find evidence which affirmatively tells us to make this game. What we’re really looking for are red flags so menacing that they scare us away from our game idea.

Looking back over the data with that insight in mind I believe there are two red flags.

  1. Kickstarter has just one biking game and it failed to reach its funding goal.
  2. The two comparable games on the marketplace have performed well below our sales target.

For the first concern, I believe the absence of data is not itself cause for concern – in fact one of the reasons I like this idea is that it targets an underserved niche. Stoked’s failure is more concerning, and it would be worthwhile reaching out to its developer to try to learn more about what went wrong with the campaign. To really put this concern to rest, the best course of action would be to launch our own Kickstarter campaign.

Follow up steps:

  • E-mail Stoked’s creator and learn more about its Kickstarter campaign.
  • Research and evaluate hosting a Kickstarter campaign for this idea.

Moving on, the second concern is the one that really scares me. Is it plausible that a well-executed implementation of our game will meet with a level of success not seen in the current crop of competitors? And how can we confirm this hypothesis short of building and releasing a fully functional game?

Here are some ideas:

  • Look for games in adjacent genres (e.g. snowboarding, moto racing, skiing, etc.) and measure the performance of their well-executed games. It would be a red flag if we can’t find successes in plausibly similar genres.
  • Confirm Steam indie game sales data supports the sales hypothesis. For example, it would be a red flag if the median game sells 1,000 copies over its lifetime.
  • Run a Kickstarter campaign and reach out to the game’s target audience. If a well-run Kickstarter fails then interest is tepid. On the flip side, you can estimate first week sales from pre-order numbers – Yacht Club Games pegged the ratio between 200-400% – so, working backwards, if we want to sell 10,000 $10 copies then we need to raise $25,000.

Closing Thoughts

And there you have it. I’ve tried to lay out the case for Downhill Biking Simulator drawing on as much data and analytical reasoning as I could muster. I hope you’ve enjoyed the analysis, and please share your reactions with me via e-mail or in person.

Based on the above I would rate our game idea as plausible and worthy of further investigation. I would have liked to have seen much better sales estimates for the existing Steam games, which would alleviate the need for hypothesis 1.1 – my biggest concern. Then again, this is likely what an underserved niche market looks like. Next step, determining if the market is underserved or non-existent.

Continue reading my series analyzing the business prospects of different game ideas:
  1. Downhill Biking Simulator: Race mountain bikes down mountains.
  2. Letter Flipping Word Game: Spell words by swapping letters left and right.