Sales figures on a per-platform basis for "premium" games from independent developers (indies) have emerged, by way of a GDC (Game Developers' Conference) panel given by TinyBuild's Mike Rose.
View PlayStation and Xbox One figures here
Steam, Wii U, 3DS, mobile figures are here
Despite coming off a couple of slides, the figures still have an awful lot to tell us. Split into low, medium and upper bounds per platform, we now have a rough guide to how games from independent developers perform on a platform-by-platform, category-by-category basis.
Note: PC sales here are based solely on Steam figures, which makes sense given Steam is estimated to account for around 70 to 75 percent of the PC gaming market.
Interestingly but perhaps unsurprisingly, Valve's Steam and Mobile App Stores played host to the biggest hitters. Software on Valve's platform racked up to 3 million units, and independent games on mobile attained up to 2.5 million sales (that's almost certainly Monument Valley
at the top). When games on these platforms go big, they really go big.
Sales at the lower bound on mobile are as low as you'd expect, however, bringing in a tiny 0-2,000 units. This perhaps brings into focus the importance of exposure and discovery for even the smallest selling indie titles. Nintendo's Wii U aside, every other platforms' lower bound guarantees 1000 sales, regardless of the software's perceived quality or promotion.
Indie titles performed similarly between both Microsoft and Sony platforms, though it must be noted that the PlayStation breakdown includes games which are on both PS4 and PS Vita, with figures on Microsoft platforms being Xbox One-only. Producing a PS Vita port is said to be fairly low cost, so assuming an availability of a Vita port increases sales this could be one of many reasons behind the difference in figures. It's too hard to tell without more details.
As for Nintendo's Wii U, independent games didn't perform so well compared with its direct competitors above. The difference is likely to be more pronounced given that the majority of Wii U indie titles are also ports which are available elsewhere, which also performed better elsewhere. The slide itself notes that the games in question saw "massive success on other platforms".
The good news is that porting to Wii U tends to be cheap, especially if it's built using an engine that supports several platforms, so developers still stand a good chance at recouping their investment. But it's going to hamper the chances of the system attracting unique titles that really take advantage of the two-screen setup provided by the Wii U GamePad, like the upcoming Affordable Space Adventures
By contrast, independent games on Nintendo 3DS saw much healthier sales across the board, with 3DS eShop titles shifting up to five times as many units than those on the Wii U eShop at each sales tier.
There's a dilemma behind this, though. While it's relatively low cost to port to Wii U, the same cannot be said for its younger brother, the 3DS, given its specialised hardware specifications and dual screens. In most cases, developers targeting the platform need to commit to a bespoke version of their game, which consumes more time, money and resources.
Indeed, it's likely that the majority of games in the upper bound of sales (50,000 to 200,000) were highly tailored to the platform and its audience: Shovel Knight and Retro City Rampage DX were both releases last year which spring to mind.
Sadly we don't have a percentage breakdown for the proportion of titles that make up the lower, medium and upper ends of the sales spectrums.
On mobile, the proportion of titles which become breakout hits is bound to be more skewed than other platforms. The situation on 3DS is likely to be similar, with output from a few teams potentially making up the bulk of the higher sales boundary alone -- 3DS indie success stories do happen, but they are few and far between.
Being able to compare these figures to equivalent ones from years' past would also tell us a lot more. Valve has done a lot to lower its barriers to entry for its Steam platform, for example, and changes like these change the dynamics of where users its users spend their money. But we cannot tell whether it's had a sizeable effect without data from prior years. Hopefully Mike Rose will publish more detailed findings once GDC is over.