How a pixel art shooter achieved a million dollar launch (the ZERO Sievert story)


On November 15, 2022, ZERO Sievert Launched into Early Access with over 277,966 wishlists. By the first day 4485 Steam users were playing it simultaneously. And by the end of the week it earned $1,380,963.

It seems like such a simple 2D, pixel art shooter? How did this game achieve such success?

In today’s blog I want to break down the steps Luca Carbonera (the solo Italian developer behind the game) took to achieve this, as well as the incredibly talented publishing team at Modern Wolf who managed this project to launch.

Side note: This one is also a special post for me because I consulted on the launch strategy for the title. In my next blog post I will show you some of the tactics I recommended which helped this title take advantage of every opportunity Steam gives games in this position.

But today, I will be walking through the entire marketing campaign to point out key inflection points and how that translated into sales.

High Level Numbers:

  • Launch Day: Nov 15, 2022
  • Early Access Launch Date: Nov 15, 2022
  • Wishilsts at launch: 277,966
  • Followers at launch: 23,189
  • Wishlist / Follower ratio: 12


  • Revenue after 1 week = $1,380,963
  • Revenue after 1 month = $2,437,901
  • Revenue after 2 month = $3,134,665

Review ratios:

  • Units sold as of January: 184,862
  • Reviews: 4895
  • Sales to Review ratio = 37 sales per review

But why this game?

Before we get too deep into the launch strategy let’s talk about the game itself. As you have probably say before in some of my talks, 90% of the success of a game comes from the type of game it is. The genre, the graphics, the gameplay, the quality of the interaction, and how stable the code is, all determine the majority of the success of a game.

If you try to breeze by this “make a good game that people want” step and try to implement these tactics, you will find that things will not have same effect. Your game might get covered by the same streamers, or have entered the same festivals, but if the product isn’t something steam shoppers are interested in, they will not wishlist it or buy it.


At first glance this top down pixel art shooter might look humble and you ask yourself, why this game?

Yes the graphics are simplistic (they are charming and not bad by any means) but it’s not the graphics that sell this game. It is the gameplay. Zero Sievert is a 2D reimagining of an Extraction Shooter. The genre is popularized by Escape from Tarkov which itself evolved from STALKER. These games are EXTREMELY popular with the core gamer that makes up a lot of the Steam audience: Here is a definition of Extraction Shooters:

But in brief, the gameplay loop involves jumping into an unknown area, using some stealth and/or direct combat to deal with enemies, and scavenging for resources that can be used in a number of ways such as improving your character’s loadout, improving your base, or selling them for money. There are also a lot of simulated status effects such as bleeding, hunger, hypothermia, radiation, stress, etc. You end each round by going to an “extraction point” which takes you back to your base. There is a huge risk reward aspect to this game and each round is very stressful.

Most Extraction Shooters are multiplayer only, 3D, and pretty intense, and require a lot of concentration. ZERO Sievert, on the other hand, took the core gameplay loop and made it accessible in the right ways. ZERO Sievert’s gameplay loop is still very deep, but is much less intense. Here is a comment I found that an excited fan left under a ZERO Sievert let’s play.

I always loved Escape from Tarkov, but my biggest problem with the game was you had to play it constantly in order to keep up with other players. With this game being single player, I get to play it at my own pace and however I like. It’s also hard enough to still be fun and not to the point of where it feels like a simulation of real life.

The developer of the game was a huge fan of Extraction Shooters. So he really truly understands the genre. This game has found such an active audience because it kept what makes Extraction Shooters work: high difficulty, deep mechanics, and discarded the stuff that some players don’t like: multiplayer-only, and the intense 3D immersion that requires more concentration.

Note that the developer didn’t make the game “casual.” ZERO Sievert is still very, very difficult and you can die with just a few hits, there is a ton of equipment you have to manage, and there is an extensive gun crafting mechanic. Remember, the comment above that says “It’s also hard enough to still be fun” The developer didn’t go all the way and make this game totally casual, he just sanded off the key features that prevented some people from enjoying the genre.


  • I see a lot of indies make the mistake of trying to make a game in a genre that just isn’t popular as it used to be (like twin stick shooter). If popularity and revenue is your goal, look for genres that are white hot (such as Extraction Shooters).
  • You must understand the genre of the game you are making and what the critical aspects of it are and what fans don’t like about it. For ZERO Sievert, the developer discovered that there is a huge population of players who don’t like the multiplayer-only aspect of most Extraction Shooters. But, be very careful what you cut from an established genre because that could be a critical aspect that players love such as high-difficulty.
  • The other trap indies fall into is they try to make a game “casual” by removing all difficulty, or simplifying away the gameplay depth and essentially making it an arcade game. ZERO Sievert didn’t remove challenge or gameplay depth, they just simplified the graphics and removed Multiplayer.

Promotion History

So ZERO Sievert is a good game and found the perfect niche of a very popular subgenre. How was it promoted? What were the big promotional beats that accelerated its promotion?

Here is the high level wishlist chart with key promotional moments highlighted.


In short, it was streamers and festivals that really did the trick.

There were 4 key phases in the marketing of ZERO Sievert

  1. Coming Soon Steam Page Launch and Kickstarter
  2. Quiet development period
  3. Modern Wolf Publisher partnership
  4. EA Launch and post launch activities

Coming Soon Steam Page Launch and Kickstarter

The ZERO Sievert Steam page was created in October 2021 in anticipation of the Kickstarter. At this point CABO Studio had not signed ZERO Sievert to a publisher.

In the first two weeks of the coming soon page being live, it yielded 625 wishlists. According to my benchmarking this is an slightly below average amount of traffic or a silver rating ( 500-1200 wishlists).

Most of the traffic came from the following sources

The Kickstarter launched on November 3rd and was funded after 31 days at a good but relatively modest €19,488. The interesting thing about the campaign was the developer posted an entirely free and fully playable early build of the game. You didn’t even have to back it to play it!

I am not an expert on Kickstarter but my hunch is that, in the short term, the free demo probably cost him some backers. HOWEVER, in the long term it was an excellent piece of marketing. The free playable version of the game convinced Splattercat and Morthland, and Nookrium to play it. This series of Streamers yielded ZERO Sievert over 7277 wishlists in just a few weeks.

Side note: in Splattercat’s video below, he praised the developer’s email in convincing him to play the game

I got Luca to send me the actual email that he sent Splattercat so you can see those very words:

Subject: A Stalker and Escape from Tarkov 2D game



I’m Luca and I’m developing a game called ZERO Sievert. It’s inspired by STALKER and Escape from Tarkov.

I’ll be honest, I’m writing to you because being covered by a YouTuber like you could make my dream of becoming a full-time indie developer come true.

Below is a link to the trailer on Youtube so you can see what kind of game it is:

The game is free for now and can be downloaded by anyone.

I don’t know if you’ll ever read this email, but in case you’re interested, I’ll leave you the download link:


As it is a direct link and you will certainly be dubious about download it, I leave you the link to the Discord channel, from which you can download the game:


In any case, thank you for your time and I sincerely hope you will be interested!

Notice how this pitch does not go into lore, it just says “Our game is like Game X or Game Y.” Zero Sievert isn’t actually a mix of genres. It is just a 2D version of a very specific one. This is great! Not all indie games have to be X meets Y they can just be “Game X but a tiny bit different”

The free playable demo was also how the game got on the radar of publisher Modern Wolf. Modern Wolf’s operations director Alex Nicholson played the public version of the game and was hooked and reached out to the developer to begin negotiations.


  • If you are going to have a Kickstarter, you should definitely have your Steam page live. Kickstarters generate visibility and sometimes potential backers aren’t ready to back your project but they are still excited and are willing to wishlist the game. Similarly, the people who wishlisted your game before the Kickstarter might be willing to back you. It goes both directions.
  • The ZERO Sievert coming-soon page launch was not spectacular and (at the time) there was no indication that it would be a million dollar seller. BUT THAT’S OK! My theory is that the simple 2D graphics and the high-level-concept (a 2D extraction shooter) alone were not enough to get people excited. But that is ok! This type of game lives or dies by how good It is when the player gets their hands on it. At the coming-soon Steam page launch, there was only video, screenshots, and the concept to sell it. The playable demo didn’t come until a few weeks later…
  • Which is why, for replayable games, once you have your demo ready, just put your game out there. Don’t be afraid. If you have a good, exciting game, people will still pay money for it eventually.
  • Publishers also want to see what you have. The confidence of just putting it out there can only help you with them. You cannot over expose yourself if you have a good game. Always be thinking of ways you can get to a stable, representative, playable version of your game as fast as possible.
  • That playable demo is what got Streamers to find it and play it. The streamers they found in the first couple months brought in over 7277 wishlists. If you have a systems-heavy game you must get a playable version of your game into streamers’ hands as soon as possible. These types of games are not sold by screenshots, they are sold by hands-on-controller time.
  • My benchmarks research indicated that ZERO Sievert had a silver-level steam page launch. But your first 2 weeks are not your destiny. There is a theory that if you have a less than explosive Steam page launch (and ZERO Sievert was not explosive) that Valve will forever “penalize” your game. But ZERO Sievert proves that this is not the case. You can always improve on a Store page launch that has softer numbers and still be a hit.

Quiet period

For everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven.

Every campaign has its highs and lows. After the exciting launch period of the Kickstarter, things just slowed from January 2022 until July 2022. There were no big festival appearances or much streamer coverage.

That is OK!

But, during this fallow period, ZERO Sievert was earning, on average, 35 wishlists a day. That is 245 per week. Based on my visibility benchmarking for resting wishlist rates, this is gold level visibility ( 100 – 700 wishlists/week ) even trending towards diamond level ( 300 – 3000 wishlists/week). You can read here about what is typical for resting rate.

How do you get 245 wishlists a week without doing anything? The top traffic sources for ZERO Sievert during this period was YouTube and search suggestions which is (typically) people searching for the game on Steam after watching those streamers on YouTube on their phone). YouTube has a long tail for visibility. All those Streamers who covered ZERO Sievert in October and November 2021 created a higher, steady baseline of visibility that carried the game through this period of low active promotion.

Note that these resting months were punctuated with some Streamers like Splattercat covering ZERO Sievert again in June 2022.

Listen to the intro of Splattercat’s video, he says that the developer gave him beta branch access and he is going to play the game every 6 months. This is a very good idea. You should be keeping in regular contact with the streamers who liked your game at the start of your development.


  • It is ok to have low periods of marketing and visibility. Valve does not penalize games if it was heavily promoted externally (streamers and Kickstarter) and then went dormant.
  • HOWEVER, if your active marketing is going to go dormant for a while you should try to have those big youtubers cover you early on. That long tail YouTube traffic will supply you with a steady stream of wishlists for months after they were originally posted and carry you through the slow times.
  • Don’t wait for the tiny window before launch to do Streamer outreach. Their coverage yields long tail viewers that builds like compound interest.

Modern Wolf: A Publisher is found

August 2022 was a major turning point for ZERO Sievert’s visibility. August marked the official announcement that the game was being published by Modern Wolf.

As you can see from the graph, the wishlists really take off in August and never slow down! That is the potential of a publisher-backed announce.

What was the source? A combination of things

  • Gamescom (Online and in person festival)
  • All those events triggering the Discovery Queue

The August activity really shows the strength of a publisher. The publisher announcing that they are publishing your game is another way to generate a marketing beat. The new trailer got 117,000 views. The publisher’s dedicated marketing team can also provide constant dedicated marketing.For instance, Modern Wolf’s social media team really did great with consistent TikTok and Twitter posts. The posts wisely latched onto the core trait which fans love which is that it is similar to Escape from Tarkov. If you look, that hashtag is used throughout their marketing.

With all this external traffic, the Discovery Queue kicked in again and brought even more wishlists. August was the return to dedicated marketing and ZERO Sievert earned 70,000 in a single month.

Then, in October, ZERO Sievert got a final blast of wishlists when it entered Steam Next Fest. The popularity from August and September earned it front page featuring and earned over 64,000 wishlists that week.

In next week’s post I will do a deep dive on how they pulled this off.

But the important takeaway is that you should always opt in for the last Steam Next Fest before you launch so you have the best chance at getting on the front page. Imagine if Luca had entered Steam Next Fest during his first week of launching his steam page when he only had 600 wishlists, ZERO Sievert would have been buried.

Early Access Launch

The day before Early Access launch, ZERO Sievert was sitting on 277,966 wishlists. When it went live on November 15th, the Steam wishlist email fired to all 277K wishlisters and the 1769 followers of Modern Wolf.

Ironically, the game never actually made it onto popular and upcoming because so many games were launching that week. HOWEVER, it did make it onto the New And Trending list within moments of its release.

The launch chapter of this post is actually quite short because the success of the launch is determined months and months before. All the work the team did getting into festivals and getting streamers to play it (multiple times) were what really set the game up for the big launch.

Post launch: Estimating campaign effectiveness

Festivals and Streamers are the two primary ways to earn visibility for your game. For instance this Splattercat video earned the game over 3000 wishlists in just a few days.

But were they good wishlists? Indie developers love looking a gift horse in the mouth and saying, “Sure, that is a lot of wishlists, but maybe it is too much? They probably are low quality.”

In this section I want to go back through the entire ZERO Sievert campaign and determine what actually generated the money.

Valve provides you the data to look back and see how each month’s wishlists converted to sales. Here is how:

If your game is available for purchase, you can find this data here

Steamworks > Wishlists > Wishlist Conversions by Cohort

Look for the little download button near the chart and you will get a CSV with the data. Import it into your favorite spreadsheet tool.

Once you clean up the data from it (some light pivot table work) you can see what percentage of people bought the game for each month that you marketed it. So if there was a month where you were featured in a bunch of festivals you can see what percentage of them went back and paid for it.

This is a chart I made by combining the monthly wishlist counts and the cohort conversion data.


It is a bit tricky to read, so let me explain:

The blue bars (and left axis) are the number of wishlists earned each month. The red bars (and right axis) show what percentage of that month’s wishlists converted to sales. So for instance, in August 2022, ZERO Sievert earned about 70,000 wishlists and about 15% of those wishlists turned into sales. Therefore 10,500 sales were from people who originally wishlisted the game in August.

Next I went back and labeled this chart with the key promotional moments. By doing this you start to see some trends about how effective various promotional activities are.


Two of the highest converting months were November and June when Splattercat played the game. His recommendations resulted in wishlists that converted at over 22%. Now if we extrapolate the conversion rate and the wishlists earned, I estimate that Splattercat’s June video earned the ZERO Sievert team $23,945.

Next, let’s look at Steam Next Fest. It resulted in 68564 wishlists. Now a lot of indies assume that earning that many wishlists must mean that the wishlists are trash. So, let’s use science to figure it out. It is true that the wishlists converted a little bit less than Splattercat’s video, but it actually isn’t that much worse. The conversion rate from that festival is almost 15%. My estimation is that participating in Steam Next Fest earned the team over $177,619.

Pay close attention to that.

Although Splattercat converted at 22% and Steam Next Fest converted at a relatively lower 15%, Steam Next fest earned them 7.4X the money. Just because the conversion rate is lower, doesn’t mean it isn’t worth it.

Now let’s look at wishlist age. I like to tell indies to get their Coming Soon Steam page up as soon as possible. The counter argument I always get is “If I post my page too early, people will get tired of my game!” or “Those wishlists are too old and are worth less” (why do we assume wishlists have the shelf-life of milk?) Well ZERO Sievert had their Coming Soon page up for over 1 year before EA launch. If we look at the oldest wishlists they are some of the highest converting ones! In fact month #2 was the source for the third highest converting wishlist cohort. The source of the wishlists seems to be a better predictor of the quality than the age of those wishlists.

If you look at the slow period in March, April, May of 2022 (when ZERO Sievert was deep in development, the Modern Wolf publishing deal hadn’t been announced and they weren’t participating in any big festivals) the game was earning its fewest number of wishlists. That fallow period was also when the wishlist conversion rate was the lowest!

This surprised me!

I would have assumed that any wishlist earned during low promotion periods would be from true fans who worked really hard to discover this game. This is usually referred to as “organic” visibility (as we know everything that is “organic” is better right? Right?) Not so! The wishlists earned during non-promotional periods were much weaker than the wishlists earned during big moments like Steam Next Fest and from Streamers.

My theory is that Streamers and Festivals act as a professional endorsement for Steam shoppers. They trust their favorite Streamer. They Trust Steam and the featuring Steam gives the game in the festival. If there is no outside entity telling shoppers “this is interesting!” then they don’t attach as much value to the game.

Final conclusions

So what did we learn?

  1. Look for genres that are white hot and make slight improvements to the genre that innovate but aren’t so drastic that they alienate the fan base.
  2. Your game doesn’t have to be “X meets Y” it can be successful being “Game X but in 2D.” or “Game Y but no toxic multiplayer” or “Game Z but the inventory system is better.”
  3. Get a playable version of your game up nice and early and give it to streamers so that their early coverage can give you that long tail of wishlist earnings during the fallow times when you don’t have time to market.
  4. When reaching out to streamers, be short, to the point, and just tell them what games are most similar to yours. Don’t do lore dumps.
  5. The wishlist conversion rate is driven more by the source, not the age of them.
  6. Streamers can offer very good wishlist conversion rates (25%-30%)
  7. Festivals conversion rates are not terrible (15%) and they bring in so many wishlists that it more than makes up for the slightly lower quality.
  8. Speaking of low quality, natural non-promotional wishlists convert at the lowest rate (but they aren’t THAT bad) (14%).
  9. Your publisher announcing your partnership can be a huge marketing beat to set you on the trajectory towards your end.