Estimating platform revenues - a discovery conundrum!

Which one's going to be hottest? It's tricky

[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.]

Well, back to another week in game platform & discovery-land. Would it make me blush to admit that I was lying in bed this morning, thinking about which exciting game discovery topics I was going to write up first?

Well, slightly - but I guess passion for one’s subject matter is probably a net positive in the end, right? It’s not like this newsletter is full of dry pie charts or anything. *looks below & spit-takes*

Platform revenue splits? Models using The Gardens Between

Recently, I’ve been chatting with Simon Joslin from The Voxel Agents, the talented Australian devs behind time-manipulation puzzle action game The Gardens Between, which came out back in 2018 for most platforms (and for iOS in 2019.)

One particular subject that came up is predicting revenue split for each platform, and how difficult that can be. Simon was kind enough to let me share the ‘net revenue received by The Voxel Agents’ split for The Gardens Between, lifetime to date:

As you can see, it’s super interesting! (Those tiny unmarked pie chart slices are the Android version, and some other miscellaneous store & partner income, by the way.)

You rarely hear of games that have done pretty well, but only have 10% of their net revenue on Steam. And it got me thinking about how developers and publishers try to predict their revenue per platform.

In the end, I believe a lot of it is down to platform suitability & first-party relationships - some of which can’t be guessed at ahead of time. But here’s my ‘monday morning quarterback’ version of how The Gardens Between got to its intriguing revenue split, using a base % and a modifier for each platform:

Base: 10% of total revenue. (You could use a $ figure, if you’re doing this yourself!)
Steam - 1x base: The Gardens Between isn’t very ‘hook-first’ in terms of mechanics and look for the core Steam audience, imo. (Though it’s a good game.)
Xbox One - 2.5 x base: The game got onto Xbox Game Pass, thanks to a first-party relationship and its unique premise (and has not yet left it!)
PlayStation 4 - 0.5x base: Audience and discovery mechanisms for artier indie games on PS4 can be rough, due to store layout and ‘core’ console audiences.
Nintendo Switch - 3x base: the game’s art style and gameplay jibes well with a Switch audience, and 2018 was a great time to be on Switch, with less games being released.
iOS/Mac - 2.5x base: the rare premium iOS game that’s done super well - a $5 price point, an Apple Design Award win, plus lots of store features helped a lot here.

So - why don’t you try a similar exercise with this ‘base/modifier’ idea for the unreleased games that you work on? I don’t know that just ‘looking up popular games and their owners’ is a good way to estimate. (Spoiler: it’s not.) Your breakdown probably won’t look like this one. But it’s a good way to think deeply about platforms.

Steam refund comments - got any good ones?

So in order to get your money refunded on Steam, players have to select a category from a dropdown (‘Performance issues’, ‘Not fun’, ‘Other issues’, etc) and make a written comment. And it’s not completely clear to me that players understand that devs can read their comments - but they certainly can!

Many refund comments are legitimate, and definitely worth reading to give you an idea of sentiments around the game or technical issues. But a lot are very ‘the dog ate my homework’-esque, lol.

The other day, Jake Birkett (Ancient Enemy) posted something on Twitter about a funny refund notice that he spotted:

Anyway, this tickled me, so we’re going to put out a call for refund comments, to see if anyone else has cute ones. Here’s the Tweet - either reply to it, or email me with a screenshot and I’ll put it in an upcoming newsletter:

Looking around a bit more, there are also a startlingly large amount of ‘MY LITTEL BROTHER GOT ON HERE AND BOUGHT THIS GAME’-type refund comments for popular titles. Always a good idea to blame your siblings, hm?

Oh, and bonus example to get you going:

Other stuff…

So let’s end up this newsletter with a few extra dispatches from the Internet of the many updated things:

  • Some interesting rumors that the Apple TV hardware is finally getting upgraded, since higher-spec Apple Arcade games are coming. And yup, the last Apple TV hardware upgrade was all the way back in 2017 (!) It’s true that some Apple Arcade games can look less than impressive on Apple TV, so… watch this space, eh?

  • Want to know how to broadcast a streaming video of your game onto your Steam page during events? It appears to be non-straightforward, unfortunately, but luckily Chris Zukowski has put together a how-to.

  • Wired has a piece talking to the Xbox team about their ‘holistic strategy’ for next-gen. “After landing on Game Pass, [Sarah Bond] says, Grounded reached a million players in 48 hours. Microsoft-owned Minecraft’s user base has ballooned to 132 million.” Yep, Game Pass gives you excellent scale in terms of lots of people being able to play your game straight away.

  • A long/complex thinkpiece on persistence and gaming by VC Michael Dempsey has some interesting stuff in it, particularly the claim: “We last saw the rise of Battle Royale as a gaming format take hold, birthing multiple major game successes. Persistence could birth the next wave of social + gaming networks.” There’s certainly a lot of VC $ going into ‘worlds where you can create worlds or hang with friends’, if nothing else. [via The Pause Button newsletter.]

  • I find the Switch Weekly newsletter very handy, since it lists the eShop games coming out the following week. And yep, as the latest shows, there’s 23 titles out this Thursday alone (!) That’s a lot. And I see a fair amount of older games getting backported to Switch still - wonder how the economics of that are working out.

  • Thought this Ubisoft update on its battle royale title Hyper Scape was interesting, in that it honestly addresses discoverability & accessibility for a large GaaS title, and how it needs improving. For example: “We always intended for Hyper Scape to have a high skill ceiling, but it is clear from our data that the floor is also too high. This results in a difficult experience for new players.”

Finally, here’s the top sellers on Steam for the most recent week (Spelunky 2 & Hades are also in the Top 10, but didn’t fit in this SteamDB Tweet):

SteamDB Patch notes @SteamDB_Patches
#SteamTopSellers for week ending 4 October 2020:
steamdb.info/topsellers/202… #1 - Among Us #2 - STAR WARS™: Squadrons Pre-order Edition #3 - Phasmophobia #4 - Valve Index VR Kit #5 - STAR WARS™: Squadrons #6 - Fall Guys: Ultimate Knockout #7 - Red Dead Redemption 2

Interesting to see Phasmophobia in here, since it’s a co-op ghost hunting game that is massive with streamers and doesn’t seem to have been on the mainstream game discussion radar much. (Another ‘lockdown special’, where in-game social interaction is helping it go big? And it looks like a great spooky game/series of interactions, too.)

[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!]