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!]