The Game: Letter Flipping Word Game

You have a board filled with letters. Move letters left and right to spell words down or across. Keep the letters from reaching the top of the board. Words are collected in real-time as you form them, triggering chain reactions.

Hypothesis 1: “Sales Hypothesis”

5,000 Steam players will pay $5 for a fast-paced, letter-flipping word game.

Supporting Evidence

Google Keyword Planner

For this analysis, I’m going to skip Google Keyword Planner. Why? Because word games are not a niche genre. We know that word games are popular, at least on some platforms, because there are many examples we can point to. From yesteryear’s Bookworm Adventures to today’s Letterpress.

Crowdfunding and Greenlight

Kickstarter has several successfully funded word games. The most successful was launched in 2012 and is likely an outlier. The two more recent ones earned $30,000 and $5,000 respectively. Taking a closer look, the more successful project is part of the popular “Jackbox” series and as such is likely not indicative of an ordinary word game would fair. On the other hand, the second project, Paladium (launched in 2014), is a more typical word game and a reasonable starting point for discussion. While it succeeded, raising $5,000, its success doesn’t support our hypothesis. Projecting final sales based on pre-orders, we can stretch the numbers to predict $20,000 in sales upon release – short of our target.

Looking at failed Kickstarters, the picture becomes clearer. “Spellcaster Adventures” (launched 2016) is comparable to the Paladium but failed to reach its $5,000 target. As did Switch Words. Both these titles are moderately well put together and feature a blend of word and RPG gameplay – likely more palatable to core gamers. Taken together, the evidence suggests that Kickstarter patrons are not very interested in word games nor likely to open their wallets very wide.

Title Year Target Actual Results Link
Word Realms 2012 $100,000 $120,000 Success Link
Quiplash 2015 $15,000 $30,000 Success Link
Paladium 2014 $5,000 $5,600 Success Link
Spellcaster Adventures 2016 $5,000 $1,634 Failed Link
Switch Words 2016 €40,000 €334 Failed Link

Steam and Steam Spy

Turning to Steam, there is good news and bad news. The good news is there aren’t many word games. Only eleven launched in 2015 and 2016. The bad news is Steam players are not avid word gamers. With two exceptions, every game launched in the last two years has fifty or fewer reviews. Assuming one in a hundred owners leaves a review, few games support our hypothesis.

Granted word games struggle on Steam, but is our game more like the winners or the losers? At least as pitched, our game is not an ideal fit. Steam’s popular word games blend aspects of core gaming with word gameplay. Our game needs some progression mechanics, a light story, and possibly 3D artwork if it hopes to find an audience.

Before we continue, I want to draw attention to one game in particular: Highrise Heroes. This title has been on the market since January 2016 and is the closest match to our game. So, does Highrise Heroes’ performance engender confidence? Not especially. SteamSpy estimates that Highrise Heroes has 12,000 owners – which puts it well above our target. Estimating owners by number of reviews tells a different story, however. With thirty-eight reviews, and assuming 100 owners for each review, Highrise Heroes has 3,800 owners. So, Highrise Heroes supports our hypothesis, but just barely. The absence of several titles to resoundingly support our hypothesis, including a title so similar to ours, is a red flag that demand doesn’t exist.

Title Number of Reviews Review Sentiment Release Date Price Number of Owners Steam
Epistory 427 Very Positive 3/30/2016 $14.99 95,241 Link
Letter Quest: Remastered 143 Very Positive 8/5/2015 $7.99 67,699 Link
Typoman 56 Very Positive 8/15/2016 $12.99 4,087 Link
Stop Battle of Words 56 Mixed 1/15/2016 $4.99 22,033 Link
Highrise Heroes 38 Positive 1/8/2016 $4.99 12,261 Link
God of Word 24 Positive 9/28/2016 $4.99 1,066 Link
Scrabble 17 Mostly Positive 12/18/2015 $6.99 2,488 Link
Ace of Words 15 Mixed 5/13/2016 $4.99 133,622 Link
Phrase Shift 6 Positive 11/30/2016 $2.99 1,077 Link
Alphabeats 5 Positive 3/7/2016 $7.99 3,021 Link
Word Wonders 5 Positive 5/8/2015 $4.99 1,955 Link

Conclusion

We’ve evaluated two sources of evidence and found the results lacking. Word games don’t excite PC gamers on Kickstarter or Steam. Because the market is tepid, success hinges on launching a top title. It must be at least as successful as Highrise Heroes. While doing so is plausible – there are few competitors, after all, and they generally are of low quality – it seems like a high risk, low reward situation when the payout is measured in low thousands of copies sold.

For the sake of clarity, here are the red flags that I’ve identified:

  1. Kickstarter has several failed word games, and the successes are very modest. This implies that gamers on Kickstarter are not interested in word games and that the funding ceiling is low.
  2. There are many word games on Steam but almost none have more than fifty reviews. It’s not a niche, undiscovered market, yet recent well put together titles have struggled to gain a footing. This suggests that even if we release a top game it still won’t sell many copies.
  3. Highrise Heroes is a reasonable proxy for our game, but it hasn’t blown away our target. We don’t want to make games with a so-so chance of success. We want to make games with a high chance of success. It’s a red flag when the best evidence available to us is mixed.

Putting all three together and our original hypothesis no longer seems very plausible. Sure, we can imagine a world where our game succeeds, but it’s a world where we release a top-performing title and tap into new demand – that’s a tall order.

Closing Thoughts

Following this analysis, it doesn’t seem that our word game is a very compelling business proposition. The odds are too long and the payoff too low. But perhaps the problem isn’t with the game so much as the market? After all Steam gamers are “hardcore gamers” who want to shoot things and collect crafting materials. It’s mobile gamers who likely inherited the mantel from yesteryear’s Text Twisters and Bookworms, so how would our game fair in that market?

That’s a very good question for a follow up analysis. But for now, we’re out of space. I hope you’ve enjoyed reading along as I worked through the pros and cons of making a word game for Steam. As always please share your reactions with me via e-mail or in person.

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.
  3. Fifteen Questsions for a New Game: A framework to determine whether a game worth making.