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Essays 17 August 2021, 16:20

author: Paul Musiolik

10 Indie Games That Outsold AAA Hits

AAA games aren't the only ones selling millions of copies. The list of indie games that have achieved huge success shows that a good idea and a pinch of luck can make your game a smash hit, regardless of the budget.

Table of Contents

If you're not very interested in the video game market, you may believe that only AAA titles achieve dizzying sales results counted in millions. But such impression is mostly due to fact that major publishers and developers are more willing to brag about their success. And no wonder, too – selling 150 million copies of GTA 5 is quite the feat.

But using the SteamSpy, we can take a peek behind the scenes of the Steam store. The following list of top 10 best-selling indie games was based on the data available there. And there are some real surprises here. There's also a shortlist of games that didn't make it into here, and it's quite impressive as well:

  1. Factorio – 4.25 million;
  2. No Man's Sky – 6.22 million;
  3. 7 Days to Die – 8.21 million;
  4. Mount & Blade II: Bannerlord – 8.24 million;
  5. Grim Dawn – 8.44 million.

Of course, this data reflects only the sales figures on Steam, while many of these games are also available on other stores, as well as consoles, which certainly means that the actual sales are actually higher, and the order may be different. Unfortunately, since the developers are not sharing these results, we have to settle for the available information.

How did we chose the games?

Preparing such a list is never an easy task. So, we decided to stick to a fairly strict set of rules. We chose only the titles developed and published by independent companies without any connection to AAA publishers. That's why you will find neither Minecraft, which is undoubtedly the best-selling ex-indie, nor Rocket League here. I also excluded games that are based on a F2P model or had free weekends, because this significantly distorts the actual number of their purchases. And, of course, we're limiting the scope to Steam sales only.

10. The Forest – 9.35 million

Release Date: April 30, 2018

Platforms: PC, PS4

Developer: Endnight Games

Publisher: Endnight Games

The list opens with... a survival game, which is a combination of sandbox and horror. It's not an obvious mix, but everything in The Forest has been perfectly balanced. Thanks to the ongoing boom in all sorts of survivals, the Endnight Games team has reached the mainstream. There's no denying the merits of the streamers who allowed this title to become more widely known.

Here, we find ourselves in the title forest, where we try to survive. We gather resources, create basic tools and try to build our first shelter. Gradually, we are attacked by forest-dwelling mutants, cannibals, and their assaults become increasingly fierce. The dynamic weather system and the day-and-night cycle add to the drama. As you can see, the game is perfectly tailored for co-op and Twitch streams.

  1. The Forest in our encyclopedia

9. Phasmophobia – 9.47 million

Release date: September 18, 2020

Platform: PC

Developer: Kinetic Games

Publisher: Kinetic Games

This game is still in early access, but is slowly moving towards a finished version. We're talking about Phasmophobia – an unusual horror game focused on four-person cooperation, with optional virtual reality support. This is the debut of Kinetic Games and it owes a good part of the popularity to Twitch (which is commonly the case in this list).

The main objective of the game is to explore abandoned places, collect evidence of ghosts and possibly catch them. Indie Ghostbusters? Yea, pretty much. With the right approach and affordability when it comes to broadcasting gameplay online, Phasmophobia instantly gained popularity in streaming environment, which translated to high sales.

  1. Phasmophobia in our encyclopedia

8. Ark: Survival Evolved – 9.65 million

Release Date: August 29, 2017

Platforms: PC, PS4, Xbox One, Switch

Developer: Studio Wildcard

Publisher: Studio Wildcard

Although Ark: Survival Evolved is not the oldest game on this list, I have the impression that its prime time has long passed. I remember the first trailers that promised a sandbox with prehistoric creatures and dinosaurs, seasoned with survival and crafting. Despite the lengthy development, the end result never came close to the promises from the trailers. This, however, did not stop the production from reaching almost 10 million copies sold on Steam, and since it was also released on last-generation consoles, this figure was surely exceeded.

This success can be attributed to two major factors – the boom in survival games, spurred by the success of DayZ and... dinosaurs. Because who doesn't like dinosaurs!? So, Ark: Survival Evolved managed not only to tap into current trends, but also brought something that fascinates people. The success warranted more games in the series – ARK: Survival of the Fittest, ARK Park, and the upcoming sequel starring Vin Diesel – ARK II.

  1. Ark: Survival Evolved in our encyclopedia

7. Don't Starve Together – 10.22 million

Release Date: April 21, 2016

Platforms: PC, PS4, Xbox One

Developer: Klei Entertainment

Publisher: Klei Entertainment

Don't Starve achieved considerable success already in its primary version. This game, which debuted on PC in 2013 (and on PS4 shortly thereafter), showed that interesting design can go hand in hand with addictive gameplay. I wouldn't call the game by Klei Entertainment the progenitor of survival games, but it undoubtedly left its mark on the genre. Don't Starve Together was released in 2016 and it added a key element to the extensive survival: the multiplayer. This absolutely skyrocketed the number of players, who are still playing it today.

My adventure with Don't Starve was limited to a few hours of play shortly after the release of the PS4 version. Although I'm not very fond of this genre, the well-balanced difficulty level (quite beginner-friendly) made me remember this adventure fondly. I suspect that people who managed to cross a certain threshold became trully addicted to the game, especially when they had the opportunity to play with friends, which is always a big incentive in these games.

  1. Don't Starve Together in our encyclopedia

Paul Musiolik

Paul Musiolik

Started writing about games on the SquareZone website. Later, he wrote and managed the non-existent PSSite.com, and currently runs his own blog about games. He hasn't yet written a text that he would be 100% satisfied with. He started his adventure with games at the age of 3, when he managed to convince his father to buy a C64 computer. The love for electronic entertainment awakened by Flimbo's Quest blossomed during the first adventures with Heroes of Might & Magic, reaching its peak after purchasing the first PlayStation. As he grew older, he had more encounters with Nintendo portable consoles, and also returned to the PC as an additional gaming platform. He collects games and is a fan of emulation.




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