DriveThruRPG and Itch, A Publisher's Thoughts, Take 2

I've been doing more analysis of sales on DriveThruRPG and itch.io, and I decided that it was finally time to make sure that the catalogs are as equal as possible between the two platforms.

An Announcement

Now, you can get everything except the Hammercalled Quick-Start on itch.io, and you can get everything except Mercury Synthetic on DriveThruRPG!

Some of the point of this is to get a chance to maximize our audience, since I'm not sure if there's overlap or not between itch.io customers and DriveThruRPG customers, but there's also the added element of an experiment here. I've had some stuff on both platforms and I've been comparing it, and now we'll have the joy of a larger data-set.

The Overview

One thing that I've learned since I last came here is that there is a way to check the number of views that a product has gotten on both DriveThruRPG and itch.io, though DriveThruRPG's purchase tracking system (as opposed to itch.io's download tracking system) means that we're still not going to be able to make a perfect apples to apples comparison of results.

I'm also not going to post data super-directly and instead summarize it, in part because I don't want to accidentally divulge anything confidential (Itch in particular puts customer emails in some places that might accidentally get captured in screen-grabs), and in part because I've seen a lot shifting over just the last couple days on both platforms.

I'm going back to August last year, which I believe is shortly before my itch.io debut, and looking at statistics.

Itch

One thing that really helped itch is that I was going to run The Missive for GaryCon. It fell through (though I did get to meet one person who was interested in the game, so that's a win!), and it quickly took off there. Mercury Synthetic has enjoyed a bit of humble success as well.

Also, it's worth noting that the downloads on itch.io are tracked per item. I uploaded Segira there, and it's going to bloat the numbers like nobody's business because it has six PDFs, while DriveThruRPG counts it as one sale regardless of how many associated PDFs get downloaded.

Overall

One thing that I've noticed on itch.io is that the promotion is a lot lower. Physical games, as roleplaying games are described, only seem to be uploaded at a rate of a few dozen a week, while DriveThruRPG sees a few dozen titles a day. This is a Very Scientific Metric, but given that newest discovery was a major factor in The Missive's traffic, itch.io has an advantage here.

Another thing to consider is that because itch.io shows video games before physical games, you don't have nearly as much random exposure as you'd get on DriveThruRPG. One of my theories going into this was that DriveThruRPG may have a fraction of itch's overall user-base, but even if that's the case itch.io has only a fraction of its user-base exposed to tabletop content.

The Missive (March 15 on itch.io)

The Missive did really well compared to everything else, but here's what went into promoting it on itch.io:

  • Customary announcement post here.
  • Tweet on Twitter
  • GaryCon convention listing and actual game setup (that fell through, but still required a lot of effort)
  • Standard spamming in the communities I'm in that don't frown on that

I had a couple donations, which is nice, and the marketing seems to have helped draw attention to other games.

Mercury Synthetic (April 29 on itch.io)

Compare this to The Missive, and you get an opposite story. Really low traffic, and not a lot of correlation to other games.

  • Customary announcement post here.
  • Tweet on Twitter
  • Standard spamming in the communities I'm in that don't frown on that.

I haven't moved Mercury Synthetic over because I'm kind of afraid there's some breaking bug and DriveThruRPG's update process is a lot heftier than itch's. However, as far as "have a back-catalog and attract customers" this has been something of a flop.

DriveThruRPG

I've been lazy about DriveThruRPG because it was a little more of a hassle to upload stuff, but it's gotten better since I last used it (or else the hassle feels less painful).

One thing to note about DriveThruRPG: they take a pretty big cut of everything. Every 5 sales on itch.io will be about equal to 7 on DriveThruRPG if you have a flat price-tag on things, so keep that in mind.

The Missive (May 5 on DriveThruRPG)

I put The Missive up on DriveThruRPG with a tweet. That's it.

In the ~48 hours since release, it has had more sales on DriveThruRPG than downloads on itch.io (and bear in mind that The Missive is available in both a regular and print-friendly version, so there have probably been duplicate downloads).

Only one very small donation, which flies in the face of my initial expectations regarding DriveThruRPG and PWYW being more prevalent than freeloading there, but that could be a difference in culture regarding paying for smaller games.

The Missive didn't trigger any notable sales increase on my previous games over the past couple days, which was a little surprising given past experience on DriveThruRPG. It hasn't flopped, so I don't think that's to blame.

Take-Aways

DriveThruRPG is still a much better option for most creators than itch.io, I think. It's especially true if you're a fire-and-forget type, like I am, and don't have the time or money to do marketing.

PWYW on DriveThruRPG is immensely more high-yield than Itch, even if The Missive doesn't bear that out.

Itch seems to do well for a lot of people, and I wonder how it would go for a game with an actual price-tag attached to it.

One thing that I'm very curious about is this:

A lot of the traditional wisdom about success in the creative field is getting cool and popular. You need one or two big hits, and then if the quality of your back-catalog is good you'll see people look for your other stuff and go through it.

Either that's not the case in tabletop RPGs like it is in books (which I doubt), or there are some factors holding me back.

One could be that I'm not very fond of sticking to one wheelhouse. I vary a lot in genre, style, and even how experimental or traditional my games are from title to title. None of the games I have are like each other except in the fact that a few are very weird and a couple are very traditional.

Another thing I've noticed is that I don't have any product line alignments, and I might try to do more games in series or games with supplements to try and boost that.

DriveThruRPG supports that very well, itch.io doesn't seem to, though I believe it does have some way to do it that I'll have to look into (intended for DLC for video games, IIRC, so it might not be fully analogous in the tabletop field).