Microsoft's rival console experiments & discovery!

What's been going on with Microsoft and the Switch?

[The GameDiscoverCo game discovery newsletter is written by ‘how people find your game’ expert Simon Carless, and is a regular look at how people discover and buy video games in the 2020s.]

Another week in game platform paradise, and we’re starting out this time with an interesting area of research. What? How Microsoft playing nice with other platforms (particularly the Switch) looks to have been an attempt to extend the Xbox ecosystem to those very platforms….

Microsoft’s discovery strategy on ‘rival platforms’

It may not have escaped your knowledge that - besides Minecraft, which already had a multiplatform strategy and roll-out when Microsoft bought the game back in 2014 - other Xbox Game Studios games have been popping up on other console platforms.

It’s not surprising that Minecraft continues to get updated for pretty much all platforms. And it’s also not incredibly eye-opening that franchise extensions like Minecraft Dungeons end up debuting on PlayStation 4 and Switch as well as Xbox and PC.

But I was legitimately surprised when the Microsoft Game Studios-published Cuphead (which was funded extensively to completion by Xbox) ended up getting released on Nintendo Switch in April 2019. And then came Ori & The Blind Forest, announced in August 2019 and debuting in September 2019. These are Xbox-exclusive portfolio titles - why would Microsoft do this?

But now it’s late 2020, and this excellent Kotaku interview with Xbox head honcho Phil Spencer added a little flavor to the current state of the Microsoft/Switch crossover:

So that seems to be an indication that this strategy is coming to an end. But why did it start in the first place? Well, one intriguing clue I found was this March 2019 announcement that Xbox Live features were going to be patched into Cuphead on Switch after release.

Specifically, the GDC 2019-themed announce said that “fans will now have the opportunity to experience StudioMDHR’s award-winning debut game on Nintendo Switch with Xbox Live! We’ll be working with StudioMDHR to implement Xbox Live features into Cuphead on the Nintendo Switch in the coming months.”

And guess what - this Xbox Live patch for Cuphead never happened. (Though it’s a little unclear if this is to do with the long-delayed Cuphead DLC, or something else.) Nonetheless, Ori & The Blind Forest did launch with Xbox Achievements baked into the Switch version, if you logged onto your Microsoft account.

However, as Kotaku’s Mike Fahey commented at the time of release: “Though it does connect to my Microsoft account, Ori Switch achievements don’t show up on my feed... It feels very cosmetic, just Microsoft Studios making sure I don’t forget where the game came from, as if I could forget.” (And the cross-platform achievements later broke/got flaky.)

So this is a little piecemeal and, as noted, ‘cosmetic’. And perhaps Microsoft was hoping or was even promised that Nintendo would open up its platform even further, maybe even to xCloud or Game Pass. But it didn’t happen, and now Microsoft is backing away. (Actually makes me wonder if the Switch port of the Ori sequel, which just got published via iam8bit, was originally asked for at one point by Microsoft.)

What’s interesting here is that Microsoft is clearly now open to unconventional ‘ecosystem partners’. A good example is them signing with physical/digital retailer GameStop to “share in the lifetime digital sales revenue - including for full game downloads, DLC, and subscription plans - for any Xbox console sold through its stores.”

And when it comes to Steam on PC, Xbox Game Studios has started publishing even more content there recently - partly because people can subscribe to PC Game Pass (or Game Pass Ultimate) using the same computer. So you can clearly see the advantages of getting 6 months of ‘Xbox Game Pass for PC’ for the cost of buying Microsoft Flight Simulator on Steam. (Though that hasn’t stopped hundreds of thousands of people from buying it on Steam!)

But clearly, although Nintendo has come along for part of the ride, (requiring a Microsoft logon for multiplayer on Minecraft Dungeons on Switch, for example, with Xbox achievements working), full Xbox ecosystem integration isn’t happening on Switch in the near - or even far - future.

After all, this cross-OS stuff just turns into UI/code spaghetti with multiple partners. For example: “Nintendo Switch uses a player’s Nintendo Nickname before they link their Microsoft account. After linking with their Microsoft account, the players in-game name will be their chosen Xbox Live Gamertag (note: You must link your Nintendo account with a Microsoft account if you wish to play online).” Argh…

In conclusion, it seems unlikely we’ll see more non-Minecraft titles from Microsoft on Switch. (Or Sony platforms, haha. Although Cuphead just turned up on PlayStation in July, so I don’t know what to think about that!) Actually, the Kotaku interview digs into this idea of not needing multiple platforms with regard to Xbox’s recent Bethesda acquisition, with Spencer commenting: “I don’t have to go ship those games on any other platform other than the platforms that we support in order to kind of make the deal work for us.”

And in general, all Microsoft roads now lead to Game Pass. But the detour along the way was an intriguing one?

More Steam insights? More Steam insights…

Although this is the second time we’ve returned to this (sorry!), a recent Gamasutra blog from Mason Remaley delves into the recent GamePlaySpace Q&A with the Steam team.

Although we previously covered this Q&A in some detail, the notes here are additionally useful in a couple of places I’d like to highlight, as follows:

  • With the exception of the Steam Game Festivals and other Valve-run events, the team commented that “which games are featured [in specific third-party organized Steam showcases] is up to the event organizers”. I’ll also add that the amount of featuring on Steam’s front page can vary for each of these events, depending on what they’ve negotiated with Steam. So def. ask your showcase partner about that before signing up!

  • There’s a section on whether you can predict sales from wishlists, which I find extremely interesting: “Valve doesn't think you can predict things using wishlist data since it's extremely noisy… Every game is different, people wishlist games for different reasons.” As you may recall, I did a survey on this in June, discovering a massive disparity in possible outcomes, even for games with a similar amount of wishlists. In addition, I think the rise of pre-release featuring via showcases is driving wishlist-to-sale ratios rapidly down. Time for another survey soon?

  • Finally, an interesting note on whether Steam had considered ‘abandoned cart’ reminders if people had added a game, but then not followed through and bought it. “Customer privacy is important, feels like an invasion to comment on the fact that they left stuff on their cart… Not spamming players is important… They thought about this and decided against it.” This is in line with Valve tending to resist things such as referral codes which ‘clutter’ the experience.

Anyway, lots more there. But the general point is - data is indicative and somewhat directional. A lot is dependent on the quality of your game, wishlists, and who actually wants to play your game when it comes out. Yet the platform and your actions still matter - otherwise you wouldn’t be reading this newsletter, right?

The game discovery news round-up..

There’s a lot going on this week, so let’s get to it. What else is there out there in game discovery land which you might all care about? Well for starters, this stuff:

  • Game developer PSA: Did you have a demo in the 2020 Steam Game Festival: Autumn Edition? If so, Chris Zukowski is conducting a survey about your demo's wishlists/results & will compile the results for all. (Here’s his survey results for the Summer Game Festival.)

  • Unity has announced the Game Growth Program - funding user acquisition and helping with monetization, specifically for F2P indies. Good metacommentary via the Master The Meta newsletter: “With this move, Unity is following in the footsteps of AppLovin and ironSource, who not only own ad networks but also help publish games through Lion Studios and Supersonic Games… [and] throwing its hat in the competitive ring of notable mobile gaming UA partners, such as Tilting Point, N3twork, and SuperScale.” If you can get empirically profitable via ads on F2P, the sky’s the limit scalewise, so I get it.

  • This week (starting on Wednesday the 23rd!) is the Steam Digital Tabletop sale/fest, one of the more comprehensive/organized themed Steam sales of the year, with lots of good streamed video panels. It includes this one on card games including the folks from Slay The Spire, Floppy Knights, Shadow Hand, No More Robots’ Nowhere Prophet, & more. Anyway, worth keeping an eye on.

  • Denny Unger at Cloudhead Games notes that “we've seen a 10X increase in Pistol Whip sales since the launch of [Oculus] Quest 2. This is an incredible sign for the VR industry in general!” Given the complexity of the games and the fragmented/low user base, most VR games have been a lousy ROI to date. So perhaps things are improving, at least for the top games? I see the Oculus Store has a real-time top selling chart here - Pistol Whip (pictured) at #8 with almost 5,000 reviews to date.

  • Flexing another of the muscles it has to promote Apple Arcade, Apple is “offering anyone who buys a new iPhone, iPad, Mac, iPod touch, or Apple TV after October 22nd a free three-month trial of Apple Arcade.” I recently got a new iPhone and got a free year of Apple TV+ - these tasters are a good way to get people interested. Will they keep paying (or remembering they signed up!) after the free trial? Apple will see, I guess!

  • Looks like ‘daily deal site’ Chrono.gg - intended to be streamer-promoted - is closing down in favor of the team continuing to develop ‘custom streamer storefront’ Nexus.gg, which we talked about a while back. Given where Chrono ended up, seems to makes sense?

  • For those keeping up with hypercasual (free, ad-supported mobile games), here’s the latest market share rundown via Apptopia.data, and the amount of games downloaded in this space is insane: “Across its games library, Voodoo racked up 529 million downloads in Q3, which is 105 per cent more than that of the second-place publisher, Lion Studios, who hit 258 million installs.” Hoping those dev payment ethics issues are still being worked on over there..

  • An interesting Steam tidbit via Jake Birkett, and also confirmed by Valve’s Alden Kroll (and NMR’s Mike Rose): “We just published a game and it sent quite a lot more emails than pre-launch wishlists… does it also email publisher page followers?” (It does.) You may have been aware. But if not, all the more reason to keep pushing people to follow your dev/publisher page in addition to your game pages.

  • Microlinks: 19 lessons from a record label owner that might be thought-provoking for game publishers/devs; GameClub for iOS adds brand new subscription-exclusive content to Breach & Clear; latest Steam top 10 topped by Phasmophobia.

Finally, Mat Piscatella from NPD has a lengthy chart-filled Twitter thread about the September 2020 U.S. console hardware and console/PC software charts that you might want to check out. For example, here’s their take on the top-selling large scale games of the year so far:

Sure, NPD still runs a permission-based digital element to their charts, making digital download coverage patchwork quilt-esque and major legacy publisher-centric. But there’s still some neat indicative data in here, and there’s even a free 6-minute YouTube presentation compiling the free information.

[This newsletter is handcrafted by GameDiscoverCo, a new agency based around one simple issue: how do players find, buy and enjoy your premium PC or console game? We’ll be launching a ‘Plus’ paid newsletter tier with lots of extra info/data - watch out for it soon.]

Switch game discovery - look on the bright side?

A series of more positive angles for Switch devs.

[The GameDiscoverCo game discovery newsletter is written by ‘how people find your game’ expert Simon Carless, and is a regular look at how people discover and buy video games in the 2020s.]

It’s the last game discovery update of the week! And since we talk about ‘hooks’ a lot at GameDiscoverCo, today’s newsletter is brought to you by this inexplicable mashup of ‘Pen Pineapple Apple Pen’ and Harold Faltermeyer’s ‘Axel F’. Our four-year-old is currently obsessed with it, and it’s as hooky as get-out. You’re welcome.

Nintendo Switch & the dev upside!

You may have noted that I’m a pessimist-realist(TM) when it comes to a lot of this game discovery goodness. IMO, you need to come in with eyes open that this is not a business where everybody makes a profit.

However, when it comes to Switch - and please read the ‘state of discoverability for Switch’ article I wrote in May, if you haven’t - it occurs to me that perhaps my pessimist side has been over-exposed. Especially given some recent changes.

In particular, I just noticed Mikael Forslind’s Tweet that: “In little more than one week Alwa's Legacy [pictured above] has sold more copies on Nintendo Switch than on Steam since the launch 4 months ago. Switch is still a great platform for indies!”

And yep, Alwa’s Legacy seems to be a very ‘Switch-compatible’ game - a well-designed cute pixel art 2D Metroidvania which got a 9/10 score from NintendoLife, a key review outlet for ‘core’ Switch players. Now, looking at the Steam review count for Alwa’s Legacy, you’ll see that based on GameDiscoverCo estimates, it’s been a bit slow - perhaps a high range of 4,000 copies on Steam so far.

Nonetheless, for smaller devs, decent initial Switch sales can make all the difference. And if you follow the ICO Partners Switch newsletter, you’ll know there are between 30 and 40 games released weekly on Switch eShop in the West. That’s so much more pleasant than the 180-200 titles that debut on Steam every week. So you just have less titles to break through.

(The same is true on Xbox and PlayStation, if you feel like your game works with those audiences, and if conversion is inexpensive! It is a little mysterious to me why we don’t talk about regular Xbox/PlayStation discovery more - may be an issue with indie game fit on them, NDAs & transparency of companies who target the ‘bigger’ consoles.)

Anyhow, yes, Switch unit sales can nowadays be very discount-centric. But I realized - of course, that’s true for Steam and other consoles too. Discounts work as a discovery mechanism. And Nintendo has added a ‘X days left on sale’ note on eShop items, which we’ve seen does now spike revenues at the end of sales.

Since Nintendo may have tightened up discounting in some territories, it could mean that the extreme-discounted games we see in top charts will be higher quality ones, like Gonner at 90% off.or like Killer Queen Black at 90%. I personally think this is preferable to some of the borderline shovelware often atop Switch discount charts, which may get players’ $, but turn them off playing longer-term.

Also: many people are spending Nintendo Points for these heavily discounted games, so it’s not always coming from the same conceptual money bucket. (Of course, less extreme discounts can also move many games’ sales by 10x, too! Overall, devaluing games is still blah. But who doesn’t love a very temporary bargain?)

So that’s the ‘glass half full’ version of the Switch discoverability conundrum. Does anyone feel better already?

Short/tiny games & discoverability issues

So from time to time, I’m going to be doing full-length interviews that won’t be included in full in this newsletter, but will be excerpted in it. And the first one of those is ‘10mg: invading Steam with microgames to make a point’, currently available over on my Gamasutra blog.

As my intro explains: “As games continue to flood onto platforms like Steam, many developers are trying to make their games look even more expansive, complex and replayable to justify people buying them. Not so the 10mg (Ten Minute Games) project, which is a series of 10 microgames from different teams that each take 10 minutes to play.”

The games launched yesterday (Thursday) for PC on Steam, and you can see the full collection for purchase here. It’s a really interesting thought experiment which tries to get round a simple issue - depth and replayability is (generally) how value is assigned by video game players nowadays.

Excerpting from my chat with 10mg organizer Stuffed Woombat, particularly on why he got this concept going: “10mg is a psyop. The goal is not to make money, or to immediately convince people that short, experimental games are worthwhile. It would be great if that happened, but 10mg is primarily about shifting the Overton window of the game length discussion.

There is a lot of amazing, groundbreaking work being done by game developers, but we are encouraged to hide that work, serving it up very slowly over long playtimes. If a game is less than two hours long, people can refund it.

From a consumer perspective, this is amazing, but for developers it means that the two hour mark is something sacred, something that has to be crossed to have a shot at the ever elusive sustainability. And beyond that, games are often treated merely as entertainment, competing to provide ever-lower cost-per-hours-entertained.

If we can sell 10 minute long games on Steam, maybe other developers will be less scared about their game’s length. Maybe they will refrain from padding their game’s playtime with repetitive gameplay. If people enjoy some of our games, maybe they will give other short games a shot.”

Anyhow, I like their chutzpah, and 10mg contributor Droqen (Starseed Pilgrim) wrote something called ‘Videogames Are Too Long’, inspired by the concept. So read the interview, then stick it in your pipe and smoke it - as a discovery thought experiment, if nothing else.

The game discovery news round-up..

In the ‘there’s something for everyone’ department, here’s a whole bunch of useful links about game platforms, discoverability and trends to end out this cycle. Wake me up before you go go:

  • The crew at Future Friends have done a wonderful thing by creating an indie game Discord kit, given that a Discord is a pretty invaluable marketing tool for studios of all sizes nowadays: “Kickstart your community in just 2 clicks using this ready-made server template + guide. Made exclusively with indies in mind.” Thanks, crew!

  • So you’ve probably seen the PlayStation 5 UI by now - Digital Foundry has a good analysis of it. Some interesting accessibility/discovery things in here: “Activity cards take the form of curated entry points into the game, authored by the developer - 'ready to wear' challenges that get you straight into the action with specific objectives highlighted - and even an estimate on play time offered.” Great idea! This also adds quite a lot of dev work and localization, so will be interesting to see how it plays out for the average dev, since it seems fairly high-end focused.

  • More Steam data goodness from Lars at GameDataCrunch - the latest update includes new ‘power tools’ on the right of the screen in desktop mode, as well as better overlap stats (“find the game that has the largest proportion of its own reviewers in common with the Target Game”), and all kinds of other crunchy stuff. (Can’t wait to show you all the things I’m cooking up with Lars exclusively for the GameDiscoverCo Plus paid newsletter/data tier that is launching soon, too!)

  • Another Genshin Impact analysis, this time from Jeff Witt of GGDigest, and some interesting points in here on its weird crossplatform nature: “Genshin Impact doesn’t care about mobile session length. Just like 5 minutes of playing Breath of the Wild would be virtually pointless, so too would playing Genshin Impact for just a few minutes at a time. This is because Genshin Impact is meant to be played more like a console/PC game than like a mobile game.”

  • Ryan Clark’s latest voluminous Clark Tank game sales/discovery video stream is now up on YouTube - use the chapter markings to navigate. In this edition, I liked Ryan’s commentary on the Microsoft/Bethesda acquisition and the need to “be visible” in the industry to better protect yourself against major business model changes.

  • For anyone keeping up on the state of game streaming, Streamhatchet has its quarterly report for Q3 out [PDF link], and plenty of interesting stuff in there: “League of Legends was the most watched game of Q3 with a sizeable portion of the viewership coming from its esports leagues… Mobile games continue to grow each quarter as PUBG Mobile and Garena Free Fire secured the third and fourth spots on the list.” But yes, both Among Us and Fall Guys are also in the Top 10.

Finally, sometimes a game comes out of nowhere that has spectacular virality but breaks a lot of rules. A LOT of rules. That game is Blaseball, here’s a written ‘explainer’ from back in August, and below is (the very British) Quinns from one of my favorite YouTube channels, People Make Games, putting it all in perspective for you:

[This newsletter is handcrafted by GameDiscoverCo, a new agency based around one simple issue: how do players find, buy and enjoy your premium PC or console game? We’ll be launching a ‘Plus’ paid newsletter tier with lots of extra info/data - watch out for it soon.]

How to get on the good side of media & streamers

Some things NOT to do - and one you should definitely do.

[The GameDiscoverCo game discovery newsletter is written by ‘how people find your game’ expert Simon Carless, and is a regular look at how people discover and buy video games in the 2020s.]

Welcome back, and to kick off this newsletter, thought I’d try to switch over to the marketing, outreach and PR side of discoverability for a change. (There’s only a certain amount of hard data we can all take before we melt into an Excel-based sludge.)

Game creators, streamers & the media - make ‘em happy!

Just spotted that Evolve’s Tom Ohle has a very interesting Twitter thread asking ‘content creators’ (streamers & YouTubers) and media folks about the game promo-related practices that devs and publishers should stop doing.

All kinds of good stuff in here. But picking out highlights, GI.biz’s Rebekah Valentine notes on the media side, correctly: No staggered embargos. I hate embargos where someone else has three hours exclusive on me, because every outlet that wasn't offered the news up front will just write the news based on the original story and beat me to it.”

And streamer-wise, the massive YouTuber BRKsEDU (8.6 million subs!) suggests that having media embargos ahead of streamer ones can also cause a lot of friction. (He didn’t put this, but sometimes the media will stream the game as well, right?) So in general - think carefully about who gets to see the game when.

Elsewhere, streaming music rights also came up a lot in the replies. Streamer ecosystem person RedEyedMonster noted: “Stop putting licensed music in games if you want streamers and Youtubers to play them. With the current state of DMCA and [copyright] strikes, putting music you don't own in your game will only lead to fewer people being able to see it.” Being able to turn off third-party music in your game’s options is another suggestion made elsewhere in the thread.

I don’t know that you need to just stop putting all licensed music in your game. But understand your audio rights issues for YouTubers/streamers. One ‘failsafe’ dev trick is to upload gameplay footage to YouTube privately before release. You can see who tries to share ad revenue or even copyright strike the video, and why. (Hopefully you know the rights situation with your own music, but sometimes you might be surprised!)

Finally, here’s a good ‘start doing’. Twitch streamer/ex dev Ellie Joy Panic notes that “Having a set of gifs for social media is something I’ve seen more places doing and wish I got more! Trying to do a mini review thread on Twitter is dull as heck using the same four images and gifs.” Agree with this - GIF creation should be a part of everyone’s arsenal.

(Found this thread via Lizzie Killian’s video game PR newsletter, which is super handy!)

A call for your (wishlist? sales? other?) data!

Haven’t done this for a while, but I wanted to ask this newsletter’s readership if they’d be willing to share more sales/wishlist data with the community for your particular game.

Over the last few months, we’ve had some standout examples, including Academia: School Simulator being super transparent with its Steam sales:

…and more recently, detailing the pre-release wishlists for Riftbreaker on Steam:

(We also looked at Golf Peaks and the games of Bad Logic Studios, examples of other titles where we got full - or almost full - transparency into revenues. Doesn’t have to be a game that’s sold massively, either.)

We’re also just fine with partial transparency, especially if you can talk about relative percentages of total sales across various PC, console, and mobile platforms - as The Gardens Between did with us recently. (This doesn’t break rules on specific sales numbers, but gives everyone a general idea.)

Anyhow, if you’re into the idea, please reach out and we’ll talk about the best format to present it. (You’ll get to see the newsletter before it goes out.) The more people get to see data, the more they can understand what’s expected… or unexpected!

The game discovery news round-up..

There’s a lot of other things going on in the world of platforms and discovery. And I am a sworn member of The Video Game Discovery Society of New York (est. 1884, we have a private club and everything.) So I am duty bound to bring you these extra notes:

Finally, I applaud Fall Guys for continuing to understand that borderline troll marketing can be the most effective marketing (this time for the new Sonic the Hedgehog in-game costume):

[This newsletter is handcrafted by GameDiscoverCo, a new agency based around one simple issue: how do players find, buy and enjoy your premium PC or console game? We’ll be launching a ‘Plus’ paid newsletter tier with lots of extra info/data - watch out for it soon.]

Steam refund messages: the silly & the sensible

We're a serious newsletter, got to mix it up here.

[The GameDiscoverCo game discovery newsletter is written by ‘how people find your game’ expert Simon Carless, and is a regular look at how people discover and buy video games in the 2020s.]

Welcome to another week of game platform and discovery goodness, from your friends at GameDiscoverCo. Hope you had a happy and healthy weekend - and here we go again!

Steam, (funny) refund messages and you

If you remember, I recently asked devs to go digging around in their Steam user refund comments, to see what amusing things turned up. This was inspired by this Jake Birkett Tweet which surfaced the following refund reason for RPG card battler Ancient Enemy:

Well, thanks to everyone who replied to the GameDiscoverCo Tweet on the topic - here’s some of the best replies. Probably the randomest was this one from Jens Bahr for a player of Awake, cos, uhh, yeah:

Next, here’s one from Alva Majo, whose Golfing Over It with Alva Majo is a kinda popular spoof/enhancement of Getting Over It with Bennett Foddy (it’s meant to be evil):

The folks from great Peggle x RPG mashup Roundguard sent over this one, which just seems to be an existential critique of playing video games:

Then there’s this from ‘I Can’t Believe It’s Not Gambling’, which the dev says “plasters "lootbox simulator" and use a snarky tone like everywhere on the store page”, but:

Finally, if you like the ‘referencing other games’ method for refunding, the Tangle Tower devs sent over this one:

…to which Frog Detective creator Grace Bruxner said ‘owned’, lol. To be fair, I think this was related to a Ludonarracon bundle that had both games in it - but still funny.

And here’s the final, basically default Steam refund reason from Daniel Gubala:

Now we’ve done the silly, here’s the sensible part of this section. Yes, a lot of Steam refund messages are ‘something I thought I had to type in order to get my money back’. A lot of people go through the motions, and don’t really contribute anything that you might usefully use to improve your game.

But there are a few things I would look at. Firstly, just check your overall Steam refund rate, which can vary from 4% to over 20%, in my experience (and averages 8-9%, I believe.) If yours is above average, are there any themes that stand out? There’s additional (slight) color you can glean on overall gameplay frustrations, if you trudge through enough of these dispiriting messages.

Secondly, ‘casual’ player technical support issues sometimes come out more strongly via refund requests than in reviews or via Discord bug report channels. For example, one of the games I can see requests for has issues with game controller support. We see those weakly via official channels, but more strongly via refund requests. YMMV, but it’s worth poking around in there.

(Final dev reminder: refund data is on Steamworks Sales & Activations site, click on ‘Steam packages’ - the game’s ‘home’ page - go to ‘Refund Data’ link on the right.)

Who makes the top games on Steam?

So, Richie de Wit from Dutch Game Garden made a long, interesting Twitter thread with his examinations into the backgrounds of the top-selling games on Steam from January to June, 2020.

His estimates (guesstimates!) are that 84 out of the 3821 non-F2P games launched in the first half of 2020 are projected to make more than $1 million net in the first year. And moreover: “these 3821 titles combined will earn $1,027,495,076. The 84 top performers will earn a combined revenue of $991,571,151. That's 96% of the total combined revenue.”

You can certainly quibble with specifics on this. And probably should, given that the revenue estimates were done fairly simply via review counts, without discounts or regional variations (so e.g. China may be over-represented.) But I think the general point still stands - success on these platforms is always top heavy.

But one thing I found fascinating. Success is not, in his estimation, overwhelmingly based on the size of your team or where you are located. Specifically:

And then, here’s those 84 games divided by their apparent country of developer. (Sorry to whoever complained recently about pie charts being difficult to read, here’s another one not made by me!)

So this doesn’t surprise me. I think location and team size is relatively unimportant in having hit games. And in fact, countries with low cost of living and decent national healthcare/social services actually advantage you as a global dev. If you can make the right game.

Heyo, it’s Party Animals!

Over to Al/Morwull on Twitter, who tagged me at the end of the thread referencing Party Animals (above):

We’ve already talked about Among Us and about Fall Guys on this very newsletter, and I mentioned Phasmophobia in passing in the last newsletter as being a co-op horror thing that’s doing super well in pandemic times. But I didn’t talk about Party Animals, which is, well - Valve’s Alden Kroll, take it away:

Crazy! Who knows how well it’s going to do when it comes out, but probably… good? The interesting thing about Party Animals to me is that it’s made by a professional-looking Chinese dev studio called Recreate Games. And I’m not sure if they’re called that because they… recreate other people’s games?

(Joke, kinda, but Party Animals [gameplay video] sure is almost exactly Gang Beasts, but with cute animals and a bunch of other upgrades. It’s not a super easy game to ‘clone’ because of the complex physics and multiplayer. And sure, they’re bringing a few new things to the table. Still… thought-provoking re: the ‘clone vs. inspiration’ line in the sand, huh?)

That’s all, folks!

I was originally going to do a link round-up here, but Substack is telling me I’m about to blow past the limit for the newsletter to display properly in Gmail (!) So let’s end it here for now.

But before I do, a correction! In the last newsletter, I originally said that devs couldn’t have a demo both in the last and the current Steam Game Festival, because Valve had limited that. Thanks to Jonatan Van Hove (Nuts) for reminding me that the policy kicks in after the current festival: “Games may only participate in one of the next three game festivals: Autumn 2020, February 2021, or June 2021.” Oops/thanks. More anon.

[This newsletter is handcrafted by GameDiscoverCo, a new agency based around one simple issue: how do players find, buy and enjoy your premium PC or console game? We’ll be launching a ‘Plus’ paid newsletter tier with lots of extra info/data - watch out for it soon.]

Steam Game Festival kicks into high gear

Hundreds of demos, hundreds of choices.

[The GameDiscoverCo game discovery newsletter is written by ‘how people find your game’ expert Simon Carless, and is a regular look at how people discover and buy video games in the 2020s.]

Finishing out the week, here’s the final game discovery newsletter for your eyeballs. And only your eyeballs. (Fine, also the eyeballs of the other people also reading the GameDiscoverCo newsletter avidly.) Let’s hit it:

Steam Game Festival - Autumn’s changes?

OK, so with the Steam Game Festival - Autumn Edition now running (until October 13th), I thought it was worth peeking into changes for this edition and how it’s being received on ‘the Internet’ so far. (Actual game/wishlist results will come later.)

Reminder: the Steam Game Festival is a pre-release only, ‘you need to provide a playable demo’ showcase for your game. And as you can see above, there’s a special Game Fest ‘banner’ on Steam’s front page, so the Festival gets constant, good placement for the whole week.

(Also, you can now only be in one Steam Game Festival before your game’s release, starting with this one. So choose your favored Festival carefully - perhaps closer to release is better?)

Once again, there’s been some Valve editorial selection of games to be featured in special interview videos on the ‘official’ front page stream, which has 20k viewers right now. You can check them out via this Steam item - use the Autumn 2020 tab - and also via a high profile ‘Interviews & Commentary’ feature box on the Festival page.

Another interesting change is that there’s been an attempt to create a more dynamic chart of the top Festival games, with ‘Trending Now’ added (which is ‘games sorted by recent wishlist counts’, according to the mouseover.)

Unfortunately right now, the games adding the most recent wishlists are - by and large - also the most wishlisted and downloaded. (I think ‘Most Downloaded’, which is looking at all-time player count, and ‘Most Played’, current player count, are also new/tweaked for this sale?) But it’s good to see more dynamic options out there!

So, as a dev, you really want to get in the Featured section of the Festival (which is about 125 games, and randomizes!) These games are individually selected by Steam due to (I presume?) some kind of largely editorial method. Featured games also seem to show up strongly in the ‘Recommended For You’ box you get on the sale page when logged in.

There are also many, many hundreds of other games in the Festival, like the Summer Festival before it. It’s become popular very quickly, due to it being one of the few ways to get front-page Steam notice before a game’s release. I see some interesting experiments from individual devs, too, such as the Undying devs making an in-game game (!) in realtime on stream during the Festival.

So, yep! If you remember that wishlists received during demo events or features might convert at lower rates of more organic wishlists, I think it’s fair to say that all wishlists are good wishlists. Therefore Steam demo events are worth participating in if you make a demo with the right blend of ‘tease’ in it. They’re fun, positive events and the goodwill is strong around them.

(I was speculating with someone about whether Festivals could be creating ‘demo backlogs’ that stop people buying regular games. But I suspect that only a small subset of Steam players try out games in Festivals anyhow, so it’s probably not a big deal.)

Platform lessons from other creative industries?

Sometimes I enjoy looking away from the ‘video game industry’ to look at things like platform costs or publisher cuts for other adjacent creative industries.

Which is why I was pleased to see a Kickstarter update from author Cory Doctorow where he lists - very transparently - the current revenue splits he’s getting for his popular audiobooks. (The now- concluded Kickstarter campaign was an attempt to sidestep Amazon’s Audible, which mandates DRM on audiobooks on its platform.) Here we go:

  • If you are in an English-speaking country and you bought an ebook, 70% of the money goes to one of my publishers, while I keep 30% (that's the retailer's cut). The publishers then send me back 25% of that (the author's cut), for a net 47.5% to me.

  • If you are in a non-English-speaking country and you bought an ebook, I get 100% of the money!

  • If you bought the Little Brother audiobook, I take 20% off the top (the retailer's cut) and send the rest to Random House Audio. They send me back 20% of the remainder as my royalty - overall I get 36% of that money.

  • If you bought the Homeland or Attack Surface audiobook, I'm the publisher, and I get 100% of the money.

  • And one more wrinkle: my agent takes 15% out of the money my publishers send to me, as his cut for negotiating the deals.

So, guessing the first thing you’re going to say is - that’s pretty damn complicated! And I agree. And also: woo, 70-80% publisher cut on the DRM-free audiobooks if you’re not also selling it as a ‘retailer’. (Cory is acting as a ‘retailer’ by running the Kickstarter.)

Then I looked around and found this piece on audiobook platform cuts, where the author notes that distro company ACX (which is owned by Audible, gets you on iTunes and Amazon, etc) pushes an exclusive arrangement in exchange for “royalties of 40%, in contrast with 25% under a non-exclusive contract. But you are not permitted to distribute your Audiobook outside of Audible, Amazon and iTunes. And that rules out libraries, which are an important channel for small publishers.”

It gets more complex from there. But it turns out you have a bunch of platform choices for audiobooks as an audiobook publisher (or if you self-publish!), and that ecosystem also has issues around monopolies, DRM, and exclusivity. And in many cases, a 70% cut to the ‘creator’ looks relatively pleasant. Not surprising, but interesting.

Other stuff…

Finishing up here, here’s a number of other notable article and/or links that you might care about, if you’re in the business of making or selling video games:

  • The folks at Glitch are just setting up an archive of game pitch decks/emails, including the outcome of each. Personally, I was impressed by the concept and the layout, but the actual content is still a work in progress, with older pitches & detail-light ones included. This is to be expected, as people are sometimes nervous about sharing! So - can some of you send ‘em more preferred-format decks? Ta!

  • Some good insight on cloud gaming skepticism from Joost van Dreunen (former Superdata founder) over at the latest issue of his Superjoost newsletter. “The cynic in me is expecting cloud gaming to become the latest iteration of a large scale effort where consumers are just a financial servomechanism. I’ve written before about how recurrent revenue fetches a higher multiple on Wall Street…” So yes, major platforms may be incented to ‘seek rent’ rather than ‘add value’, as he notes. Sigh.

  • Evolve PR is still cranking through a series of free checklist documents which are on the one hand very list-like, but on the other hand exactly the right kind of list-like, if you actually need to run tings efficiently. The latest is “a checklist of things to check when you have announcements, news beats, or game launches”, and that seems like something most people need to do!

  • Saw Larian Studios noting that Keymailer is letting streamers apply for Baldur’s Gate 3 keys, even though Larian isn’t signed with them. Keymailer apologized (of course). Keymailer is important and can work well (as can other services like Woovit, which says they don’t do ‘ghost campaigns’.) But if ‘get streamer key requests which can’t immediately be fulfilled, then use it to upsell your services’ is something Keymailer still does post-release… they should either cut it out, or change their UI to make it more clear which devs are signed with them.

  • Microlinks: PlayStation is changing up the ‘meta’ for its trophy leveling, the U.S. House Of Representatives is making noises about big tech and platform $ cuts (more pressure on these semi-monopolies?), how somebody made $100k selling iPhone icons - a good pricing study for me, cos he was aggressive and it worked.

Finally for this week, SteamDB owner Pavel Djundik pointed out the post-COVID ‘concurrent player’ graph for all Steam games, and how the lockdown made it look very different:

So basically, ‘[Steam gamers] want to party all the time’, then? Looks like it! Until next week…

[This newsletter is handcrafted by GameDiscoverCo, a new agency based around one simple issue: how do players find, buy and enjoy your premium PC or console game? We’ll be launching a ‘Plus’ paid newsletter tier with lots of extra info/data - watch out for it soon!]

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