Case study: Steam's 'Deal Of The Day' & DLC attach

Thanks to our friendly Twitter feeds!

[Hi, I’m Simon Carless, and you’re reading Game Discoverability Weekly, a regular look at how people find - and buy - your video games. Or don’t. You may know me from helping to run GDC & the Independent Games Festival, and advising indie publisher No More Robots, or from my other newsletter Video Game Deep Cuts.]

Sorry for the slight delay in newsletters - I had to travel to Canada for business (eh!), and was also busy doing my other newsletter and my, uh, actual day job, haha.

But service is now resumed, and I thought we’d start off with some real-world data posted on Twitter by David Leon, the lead creator of shadow-based stealth action game Aragami.

As you may (or may not?) know, Valve/Steam does permit developers to screenshot and release sales numbers and wishlist data using the Steam back end. So this excellent recent Twitter thread by David showcases the power of Steam featuring, and includes real numbers.

(Side note: Steam is relatively permissive compared to most console companies, who do not generally allow this, and in some cases actively crack down on the sharing of real sales data, boo.)

The occasion was a 48 hour Steam Daily Deal - which has pretty major featuring at the top of the Steam front page. Offworld Trading Company is the game featured in the below (real-time!) screenshot, for example:

So, as David notes of this special sale:

And I have to say - wow, that’s impressive, 50,000 copies just from a Daily Deal (albeit at 80% discount). It shows the power of featuring, but also of high discounting if you have a lot of people on your wishlist.

And Aragami is definitely an outlier in terms of wishlist balance, as David showcases below (again, fairly rare to see people being this transparent!)

Couple of notes there - that’s 393,000 wishlist balance for Aragami even now (!), which is incredibly high for an independently made game and massively helped sales, although not unprecedented. (David later notes that the game has sold 500,000 copies total, so that probably explains it!)

Quick context here: most games that do decently nowadays - grossing hundreds of thousands of dollars in their first year - have 5-10,000 Steam wishlists before release, and then rise and top out to have a stable number between 50-100,000 in terms of wishlist balance. So this is way past the top end of this.

Another point which David is right to point out - it’s really true that being featured very prominently in general on Steam or having a Daily Deal gets you more wishlists overall! It just goes to show how many regular Steam users have no idea that certain games exist.

Cross-referencing with some data I was given access to, a moderately popular Steam game that recently did a Deal of The Day at 15% off added 10,000 wishlists for the duration of the sale (!), and also sold nearly 2,000 copies.

So it turns out Deals Of The Day may be as good for visibility as they are for actual sales. But you can pretty much guarantee both - and the more you discount, the more copies you are likely to sell. Higher discounts can be good or not, depending on where you think you are in the game’s lifecycle.

(BTW, you may be asking - how do I get a Deal Of The Day slot? I believe it’s ‘your game has to be reasonably successful and also you need to talk to your Valve rep about it’, but don’t quote me on this. I know, access/privilege, ugh.)

DLC Sale Misconceptions?

As for the second point - David added a final note about the game’s DLC which I thought was interesting:

The reason I say it’s interesting is that David has a perception that 4% sales for a DLC (before the Daily Deal for the bundled version) is ‘a total failure’, but I’m really not sure that it is in relative terms.

Back in 2017, some devs revealed their attach rates via Ryan Clark’s ‘Clark Tank’ stream, and as noted at the time:

“[The] Amplified prequel DLC Brace Yourself Games released this year for its 2015 hit Crypt of the NecroDancer currently has an attach rate of ~6 percent, a bit higher than the 5 percent he'd predicted…

Matt Viglione of SomaSim estimated that the studio's first expansion for its Project Highrise skyscraper sim, Project Highrise: Las Vegas, had a roughly 7 percent attach rate after its release earlier this year. By comparison, Tyler Sigman popped into the same stream chat to say Red Hook's more recently-released Crimson Court DLC for its 2016 hit Darkest Dungeon had seen an attach rate of about 15 percent.”

So I definitely think Crimson Court was on the high end - because of the high profile and oft-played nature of the game - and the fact that Steam was less crowded in 2017.

But some stats I’ve seen privately for another game that sold ‘in the mid ten thousands of copies’ showed its DLC attach rate - launching in 2019 - at... 5.5%. So there you go.

Thus, this is kinda important - if you want to do ‘must have the game to buy it’ DLC for your game on Steam, expect it to sell 5-8% of the copies of the original game. Which might be a lower number than you were expecting? (Ping me if you thnk differently!)

DLC strategy is probably a whole other can of worms, but here’s some random thoughts on it in lieu of a full column:

  • A lot of people just put their ‘DLC’ in the game itself as free updates - nothing standalone. That way you can just boost sales of your game by introducing it to new people.

  • This especially works for repromoting if some of the new content is streamer friendly - my buddies as No More Robots & Ragesquid just did this well with the Bike Out mod course for Descenders, as played by Drae to 1.9 million YouTube subscribers.

  • I know a few games dabble in free DLC. But I’m not quite sure what the point of that is, besides alerting people to the fact that you also have paid DLC.

  • However, there’s clearly a business model in getting DLC strategy right, if you can build up enough content to have a more expensive ‘Collector’s Edition’, like Armello has done on Steam.

  • Their core game is only $19.99 in the U.S., but the Collector’s Edition is $59.99. (And referring back to the earlier Tweet, Aragami’s ‘core game and DLC’ bundle may have also helped the Daily Deal sell on Steam too - more perceived value!)

  • Another advantage of the ‘adding DLC on the PC version’ strategy is that if you are launching console versions later, you can pitch them as ‘GAME NAME: Deluxe Edition’ or whatever subtitle you need.

  • That way, if you have PC players who are on the fence about ‘double dipping’, and need something to tip them over, there’s clearly fresh content for them. (If they haven’t bought the DLC on PC, and apparently 95% of them haven’t!)

Anyhow, I admit I don’t know as much about DLC as I would like, besides ‘the attach rate is lower than you think’. So if anyone else has tips or comments, feel free to ping me!

But it may be in today’s crowded market, you want to skip DLC - especially given these slightly dismal attach rates - and just concentrate on giving your core game frequent (& standout/viral!) updates.

Until next time, take care!
Simon

PS - Bonus Tweets from David that were also transparent, interesting, and fairly reflective of trends that appear to generally exist for regional sales (China, if localized for!), PC vs. Mac vs. Linux, refund rates for average games, etc, etc:

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