Switch cracks down (further) on extreme discounting

Well, depends on your definition of extreme?

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

There’s a lot happening this week. So it looks like there will be three (3! count ‘em!) free GameDiscoverCo newsletters, of which this is the second. We’ll end up the week with another proprietary Steam Hype sales and rankings newsletter. (That’s for anyone taking advantage of the many GameDiscoverCo Plus-exclusive newsletters and features, wooo.)

But we start off this newsletter with a look at how Nintendo is dealing with eShop chart marauders in a slightly more proactive fashion:

Nintendo (apparently?) closes ranking loophole for ‘100% off’ games

So, somebody passed us along info that Nintendo may have further clamped down on loopholes - little tricks that have made the Switch eShop particularly prone to heavily discounted games.

You may recall that the Switch eShop chart ranks by number of sales over 14 days, no matter how much the game costs. So heavy discounts - sometimes of average or even dubious quality games - have been rife.

But Nintendo has made some effort to fix this. For those who aren’t aware, some of the historical changes include:

  • Games that cost 1c were explicitly excluded from the eShop North American charts at some point. (The game popped back into the charts at full price after the discount was done, often high up it, which was a bit odd.)

  • More recently, the North American discount rules were shifted. Details aren’t public. But it looks like there aren’t any games for sale for less than $1.99 any more, if you check the U.S. eShop today. So, guessing it’s that!

  • That change got rid of the first ‘1c sales problem’ too! (BTW, Switch has different rules/timings for Nintendo of Europe sales, which is why there are still slightly cheaper games there.)

In addition to this, a particularly exotic loophole has been plugged - the ‘100% owner discount’ loophole. Basically, as carried out by QubicGames last Christmas, the fact that you can assign discounts to games if you own another game was ‘constructively’ used to vault many of the publisher’s games into the charts.

Here’s how it went down last holidays: “Ten games will be up for grabs to all Nintendo Switch owners from now until 24th December, and they'll be available as part of what QubicGames is calling a 'chain reaction' system.” Essentially, each game was discounted 100% if you ‘bought’ the previous game, which was also 100% discounted… wow.

And of course: “Each game in the giveaway will be "vastly discounted" for around three weeks after it was free, so you'll have a chance to pick up any that you missed.” So, after all these games got high up the charts with free giveaways, they stayed there for their 99c sale, which is where Qubic picked up their actual revenue.

We’ve seen this loophole used on more isolated occasions by other devs this year too. But no more. It looks like you can’t use ‘100% discount’ to get the games into the charts any more. Or at least, Qubic’s promotion this holiday is a fair more normal ‘lots of games are discounted, but the cheapest is $1.99’ type affair.

So what does this actually mean? Well, Switch can still be quite a discount-centric platform - especially for games that cost $20-$25 on launch. Even with these new rules, you can still do 80% and 90% off sales and sell games for $2 or more.

You may remember our recent newsletter with the example from my compadres at No More Robots, using gross revenue for Not Tonight (90% off sale) and Yes, Your Grace (40% off sale.) As seen below, you can see Not Tonight’s sales curve is helped by hitting the charts:

These two games won’t be affected by these changes, even after the shift, since Not Tonight was still $2.49. But some of the more exotic ‘these games are free if you buy other games’ or ‘games are only 9c!’ promotions are no longer going to be eligible for the top charts for eShop. Which is… good, right?

(Long-term, it would make more sense for the eShop to be ranked by revenue in real-time, as Steam is. This would also stop the ‘buying small games with leftover Gold Points and then having them chart’ issues that also contribute. Still hoping for that!)

The revamped Steam news section debuts!

The second notable Steam roll-out of the week is upon us. And it’s the new Steam news section! All Steam devs should have got an email from Valve about this, pointing to this Steamworks post. There’s also a public post for all regular Steam players.

But, excerpting from the dev post: “Your events and announcements are already showing up to players in the Steam Library, Steam Community, and on your store page itself. But now those posts will automatically also appear in the News Hub as well—where they’ll be shown to owners, wishlisters and followers of your game. The Steam News Hub also includes posts from recommended games to help your game get discovered by brand new players, too.”

So this is a really solid addition that helps discovery and consolidates useful game updates in one place. Players can also add a number of officially approved press sites to their Steam news page, if they want to keep up on game news that way!

The news page is also a good way to advertise upcoming events for your game, both in-game and otherwise. Here’s an example for Destiny 2, I wonder if you could use this to advertise big update/patch releases, too?

There’s still things to explore here. For example, I’m actually not sure how the ‘posts from recommended games’ feature works, since most of the news I see in my own news feed are from games that are already in my Steam Library. But if anyone knows, maybe drop us a note here at GameDiscoverCo?

One additional clarification from Steam, which I 100% agree with: “We frequently hear reports of confusion from players when they see Steam download an update for a game in their Steam Library, and find no recent news posted about the game. With that in mind, the Steamworks tools include a specific category for "Small Update / Patch Notes".

You can use this category to post information about even the smallest update that you are making to your game and it will appear in appropriate locations without getting in the way of your bigger updates or news.”

This is a good bandaid for situations where the dev doesn’t want to bomb their news pages with tiny bug fixes, but had actually pushed a new build. So hopefully lots more people use it.

The game discovery news round-up..

Finishing up here, there’s a whole bunch of other platform news happening, including the latest moves to make the $7 billion-dollar valued Discord into an effective revenue generator (don’t get me started on valuations for tech companies, haha), plus a bunch of other neat news you might have missed:

  • So, Discord as a game platform? I didn’t realize that the near ubiquitous (originally game-centric) group messaging platform is working on multiplayer games that run within Discord. The beta screenshot linked is poker, including video chat. But I’m sure there are a whole bunch of other possibilities. (Today’s tech mantra: get the users, THEN build the business model.)

  • There was a new Nintendo Indie World showcase (YouTube archive) since we last talked. And here’s a round-up from The Verge - there’s Among Us and Grindstone insta-launching, Spelunky 1 and 2 and Alba: A Wildlife Adventure coming in 2021. Also: a bunch of other singularly Switch-looking games, & Super Meat Boy Forever, which is as ‘raw steak’-styled as ever. Always interesting to see what gets highlighted indie-wise by the big N!

  • Ex-Steam contractor (and the person who engineered the GameDiscoverCo Plus data back end!) Lars Doucet has a Gamasutra blog post about the new ‘Steam browser’ Labs experiment with some good extra detail on the philosophy behind the concept: “So far the approach to discovery has mostly been oriented around showing the right individual titles to players… [but is now] properly highlighting the categories themselves. The average Steam player might not even know that "City Builders" or "Automated Factory sims" are a "thing" on Steam.”

  • The three main console platform manufacturers (that’d be Nintendo, Sony, and Microsoft!) have jointly announced a ‘shared commitment to safer gaming’ in a blog post. Their pledge: “We continually inform our parents and players through our codes of conduct, terms of use, and our enforcement practices… We invest in technology to help thwart improper conduct and content before a player is subject to harm.” I’m guessing this is a reaction to attacks on Section 230 in the U.S. But adding resources to help with this type of thing is - obviously - appreciated.

  • Ubisoft Plus ($15 a month for lots of Ubi’s games!) has now gone live within Google Stadia. The really interesting part for me is this: “[Ubisoft Plus] subscribers will not be required to also purchase Google’s Stadia Pro subscription; because Stadia has a free tier, that’s all you’ll need to stream Ubisoft games, though Stadia Pro does provide 4K streaming while the free tier caps at 1080p.” Wonder if Ubisoft is paying Google for this (like streaming apps have to pay Roku)?

  • Microlinks: Really enjoyed Polygon’s Top 50 games of the year, lots of interesting alternative (& conventional!) picks; the nascent #MissedThisIndie hashtag on Twitter is an attempt to showcase some great underdiscussed titles; EA Play as part of Xbox Game Pass on PC & Game Pass Ultimate got delayed into 2021, I’m presuming due to technical integration issues.

Until next time, thanks for reading, and I hope you found something new or useful to speed your day along as a video game creator - or creator-adjacent person!

[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. You can now subscribe to GameDiscoverCo Plus to get access to exclusive newsletters, interactive daily rankings of every unreleased Steam game, and lots more besides!]