Amazon's Luna, what's on the Steam front page, & more!

This is a proper compendium, guv'nor.

[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 this week’s GameDiscoverabilityland round-up, the last post of the week from GameDiscoverCo (phew!) We’re going to whiz frantically around a whole bunch of subjects on the game platform and discovery side of things, like an overexcited sausage dog.

By the way, thanks to all for the warm welcome for my announcement of GameDiscoverCo as an actual company! I was interviewed by GamesIndustry.biz too, for anyone curious as to how many times I can use the word ‘indicative’ in a single interview. But for now - there’s work to do! So let’s get on with it:

So here’s Amazon Luna, huh?

Since this newsletter is all about platforms, it would be remiss of me not to talk about the newly launched Amazon Luna, a cloud-streaming game console service from our friends at one of the richest companies in the world.

You know, the official page’s FAQ is so good (for once!) that I’m just going to quote from that for context: “Luna is a cloud gaming service that lets you play games on.. Fire TV, PC, and Mac devices as well as through web apps on iPhones and iPads… Currently, early access to Luna is available exclusively by invitation… $5.99/month introductory pricing is only available during Luna early access... You can play with the Luna Controller, Xbox One controller, DualShock 4 controller, or use a mouse and keyboard.” 

So all games on the Luna+ service are available for unlimited cloud streaming with your monthly subscription. Some of the initial titles are from mid to large publishers and include - well, here’s the graphic with them:

Actually, that’s a pretty good line-up - well-curated, I think. There’s also going to be multiple ‘channels’, much like Amazon sells VOD video channels, with the first one besides Luna+ being confirmed as an Ubisoft channel (pricing TBC.)

I’m not going to go deep on analysis for this newsletter - and actually former Kotaku/Polygon supremo Brian Crecente just put out an issue of his newsletter with much extra analysis - including comparisons to Stadia and xCloud - for those intrigued.

But one thing I will note - large companies making services which need a mass of games don’t want to negotiate one by one with individual developers. They want a source for lots of quality games. So having a publisher - or at least being attached to a portfolio of games somehow - is seeming more and more important to me.

(Also, shouldn’t Amazon Luna sponsor Let’s Go Luna! on PBS? Or at least get the stupidly catchy theme tune out of my head? Help.)

How does ‘stuff’ get on the Steam front page?

Alden Kroll and colleagues from Valve are continuing to be admirably transparent about how the discovery mechanisms work on Steam - way more so than many other platform holders.

And their latest Steam Developers video goes into a lot of detail on what the Steam page looks like when the average use is logged in discovery-wise. Watch the whole thing, but here’s some of my takeaways:

  • When you’re logged in on Steam’s web or client version, beyond the ‘takeover’ ad and select elements of the ‘main capsule’, aka Featured /Recommended, Steam is actually incredibly dynamic. (There’s a lot of elements which are 100% customized for you, even if they may still feature slightly more popular games.)

  • As a dev, there are specific interaction points with Steam that can help devs get on the front page. These include: reaching out to Steam to be in a Daily Deal/other Special Offer, doing a Visibility Round after an update to appear in the ‘Recently Updated’ box on the front page, using Curator Connect to get more curators to talk about your games.

  • Valve is careful to note that there is no ‘magic number’ to get in important charts like ‘New & trending’ or ‘Popular upcoming’, which are slightly but not majorly personalized. It’s all about performance relative to other games on the platform in the timeframe, for post-launch sales and pre-launch wishlists. (BTW, both of these charts are time-based, with newest first, and aren’t ranked.)

  • Finally, in AI done right news - Steam is using a recommendation algorithm which is true machine learning in the ‘Players like you love..’ box on the front page, powered by the Interactive Recommender, and I think that’s great. (It looks at your Steam gameplay history and compares it to other players, so may unearth ‘deeper dives’ or different takes than some other recommendation tools.)

So that was the takeaway that I found useful. I will also note that popularity of games is still, in my view, far more driven by factors outside of storefronts than inside them. But getting boosted by a store can really help. So it’s great to understand why things appear on the front page, and how you can get there too.

Other stuff…

As per normal, plenty of stuff going on out there - I just had to ‘lift and shift’ (ugh!) some material to the next newsletter to make room for Amazon Luna. So let’s get through the miscellaneous goodness:

  • Interesting to see Epic, Spotify, Match Group and others teaming up to create the Coalition For App Fairness, aiming to “create a level playing field for app businesses and give people freedom of choice on their devices.” Not sure where this is going - and to some extent it may just be another antitrust cudgel. But (mobile?) game developers are specifically asked to join. So watch this space!

  • Look, the brand new Xbox store app - pictured - has rolled out everywhere (except China, sorry China.) More details on what has changed here, and I already see it has categories like ‘best rated’ as a top level subcategory of games, which could be.. pretty interesting. Will try to poke at more soon.

  • The latest #PitchYaGame Twitter hashtag fest is kicking off on September 29th, and I recommend checking it out when it happens, just to see the sheer variety of indie game projects out there. It can be eye-opening. And you might see something you like!

  • In the latest ‘it’s worth signing up to virtual versions of physical events to get access to their Steam sale pages’, looks like the Tokyo Game Show Steam sale page is live. Some recent virtual event pages have had variable results - it will all depend on the amount of games on the page & Steam’s featuring level. But can still be net positive!

  • There’s a new podcast interview with my No More Robots compadre Mike Rose over on Gamasutra. Though NMR is particular around desired genres, Mike’s description for how he signs games is pure A&R/gut, which I find interesting: “The reason I sign the games that I do is because the moment I see them, then my brain goes, 'Oh, what the heck is this?!’” I agree - your game has to jump out.

  • Enjoyed this wider ranging piece from Stratechery’s Ben Thompson on tech companies and bundling. It’s about media/services bundles as a whole, but has a section on Microsoft (Game Pass) vs. Sony (not Game Pass). And Ben notes: “..if Microsoft pulls this bundle off, its overall revenue and especially profit could surpass Sony’s more traditional approach, particularly in the long run.”

  • Microlinks: the (virtual) Indiecade nominated games have been revealed, VGPR talks to The Verge’s Megan Farokhmanesh on pitches that do (and don’t!) work, & this article on ‘keyword-driven media’ is about Spotify, but I shudder at a future for the game business where we’ll be exclusively using bizarre keyword smash-ups to get interest/traffic.

Finally, I’m glad to see that somebody has brought the streaming game wars to their natural conclusion:

Now Tom just needs to duct-tape together a three-screen device to add Amazon Luna, and we’ll be set! (Until we run out of bandwidth, or the computer explodes.)

[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 soon with lots of extra info/data - watch out for it!]