Although physical game copies are still sold widely, it is hard to deny that digital distribution is the way of the world right now. With the wide availability of the Internet, global audiences are at the developers’ fingertips, and the only challenge is to reach them effectively. If you don't follow the industry closely, you might think that boxed games make up a sizable portion of all games revenue, considering they tend to get big and flashy marketing campaigns, but you'd be wrong. For example, in 2020, the global boxed games revenue was only 11.8 billion USD compared to the 168.5 billion on the digital side. Granted, this is due to mobile and PC being digital-focused, but even on consoles, digital has become more popular among players yearly. It is quite safe to say that by the end of 2022 the share of boxed games will be even smaller.
These platforms usually require the developer to be a legally registered company. Communication with the platform representatives can take time, so the development schedules need to be planned with caution. Developing games for consoles is a time-consuming process, so, before going for it, make sure that your game is a good fit for this market.
There is a multitude of different app stores available for mobile, but the market is largely dominated by the Apple App Store and Google Play. If you plan on releasing a game on mobile, you should also look into other options as well as different manufacturers like Samsung, Sony, and Huawei all have their own app stores.
What makes mobile games different is that the major focus with them tends to be player retention. Most mobile games tend to be free and they bring in money through either in-app purchases or advertisements, so, instead of making the player pay right away, the goal is to keep them coming back to the game. Although there are plenty of successful premium mobile games, the platform is largely dominated by free games. You should plan your monetization strategy ahead: will you sell items inside the game, display ads, offer perks to paying players? All of these can affect gameplay in a significant way. Click the links below to access the developer documentation for each platform.
Steam is the most prominent online store for selling PC games and one of the most accessible. Selling your game on Steam is relatively easy and gives you access to 90 million active Steam users. It is, however, very competitive, requiring significant marketing effort. To keep the buyer engagement high, Steam regularly holds sales and promo events that are open for developers. Steam also offers a large amount of free documentation that developers can go through if they are planning on releasing a game there.
Epic Games Store is a relatively new but already major online video game store. Created as an attempt to give worthy competition to Steam, Epic Games Store offers more beneficial conditions to indie developers with a larger cut of sales revenue and more store visibility. The popularity of this store has been going up rapidly since it was revealed in late 2018.
GOG (Good Old Games) is a great alternative store to sell PC games, especially for older games. GOG doesn't have regional restrictions, regional pricing, DRM, or separate client, and developers can submit their games for free. However, GOG's 30% cut from sales is relatively high. Also, GOG doesn't have as many social features compared to steam and accepts only a few games per month, so rejections are quite common. Even if publishing an indie game on GOG may be tricky, it's worth a try. You can read more about GOG here:
Itch.io is smaller in scale than Steam or Epic Games Store, but what it lacks in audience size it makes up for in creator freedom. Itch.io was created to allow indie developers total control over how their games are presented and sold. In addition to premium games, there are also many free and pay-what-you-want games. Itch.io is a great entry-level platform for aspiring indie developers.
Due to having the lowest barrier for entry, PC tends to be the most popular among game developers. This especially applies to smaller indie developers, who may struggle with getting their game out on consoles, for example. However, this results in the PC market being EXTREMELY crowded, especially on Steam. It may be the biggest marketplace with the largest amount of potential customers, but the competition is fierce, and dozens upon dozens of games get released every week. This has led many developers to look for other options, such as Epic Games Store, where it's easier to find a possible audience due to having less competition. The larger revenue share is also very tempting for developers, but getting your game on the Epic game story can be quite a bit more challenging compared to Steam.
The console market is similar in many ways. You may get more spotlight compared to Steam, for example, but the process of releasing your game can be a lot more complex. As a solo/indie developer, you should always carefully research the platform you'll be targeting if you're not familiar with their release process beforehand. Sony, Microsoft, and Nintendo are all a lot more careful when it comes to picking the games that they will allow on their platforms, so for a starting game developer, these may not be the best option.
Mobile games tend to be a lot simpler mechanically, and also significantly smaller in scale. This makes them a pretty good fit for smaller development teams, due to requiring significantly fewer resources to create, yet it also means that there is a lot of competition within the different app stores. Due to the reasons, we mentioned previously, it's extremely important to choose your monetization model very early if you plan on developing a game for mobile. It may be tempting to just attach a price tag to your game so that you don’t have to worry about all these different monetization questions, but due to the majority of the games being free to download, it may be quite difficult to convince a player to spend money on your game right away.