What could game publishers be doing better?

There's gold in them thar threads!

[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, hasn’t it been an entertaining week in politics? Partly as a result of this, there will only be two GameDiscoverCo newsletters this week - of which this is the second. So get your reading in, while the reading is good!

Before we get started, a final reminder: we have almost 90 data points so far (yay!) But the deadline is Friday, November 6th to submit your (anonymous and abstracted) Steam revenue data. We’ll crunch trends on revenue scaling/’long tail’ over time. If you can help (submit data on one or multiple games?), please fill out this survey now.

I said ‘publishers’… you said what?

Sorry, I seem to be referencing this ridiculous Captain Sensible song in the headline here. But there’s a non-silly (haha!) reason to ask - what could all sensible video game publishers be doing better?

It was good of game scout Johan Toresson of Raw Fury to ask this precise question on Twitter a few days ago. And with over 50 threaded replies, answers came thick and fast. Since I presume most of you don’t have time to check the entire thread, I’ll try to sum up some of the major themes.

  • (Lack of) prototype funding came up a LOT. Justin Berenbaum of Xsolla summed it up: “Agreed that seed/prototype funding is probably the hardest part. So many devs take this risk… if you’re a dev that can’t afford to, it puts you at a disadvantage.” Didn’t see a clear consensus on a fix - though to my knowledge, a small minority of publishers have done prototype funding from time to time.

  • I’ve heard this one a lot, and Izzy Gramp notes it: “talking to devs and having that limbo period [when it’s unclear if the publisher will sign the game]… what I love is publishers who tell you how long the process takes.” I suspect that the supply of devs is very high, and a lot of publishers are juggling lots of possible projects. But improvement is needed. Related point from Forrest Dowling: “I'd love more fast ‘no’ answers, with clear reasons why. I don't need a detailed analysis, but even just "nah, too expensive. Also the demo wasn't super fun" or similar.”

  • A perception of publishers not being open to signing games from all geographies, cultures, and languages: “Not being biased towards developers from [developing world] countries. Not to say I've met some personally but I've had friends ghosted just because English wasn't their native language.”

  • One interesting angle noted by Martin Greip of Eat Sleep Play: “Some pub[lishers] feel it's weird with studios having investors and economic partners… Normalise that, we gotta get to alpha somehow.” It’s true that many game publishers don’t want - or even know - how to deal with entities who invested before the publishing deal is signed. But it seems like there should be variant deal structures for this.

Finally, describing ‘what do you, the publisher, actually want in a pitch?’ was also mentioned. Raw Fury does this very well and also provides a pitch template. (I personally think all publishers should try to be this specific about it, though most want similar pitches, in my view.)

Anyhow, I appreciate Johan being so open about this, especially since I think the winds are shifting a little bit. The top publishers - even indie publishers - are gaining power in the market again.

Nowadays, game platforms often prefer dealing with well-organized entities that have portfolios of games. Otherwise, dealing with cloud streaming rights, Game Pass deals, and promotional sales can get overwhelming for them. So publishers - wield your subtly increasing power responsibly, and listen to the devs!

(SIDE NOTE: there was also some interesting chatter on publisher revenue cut in the thread. Well, Kellen Voyer did an excellent survey I’ve linked to before, surveying the state of pub/dev $ cuts in 2020. Devs should feel free to take that info and run with it/try to improve on it, eh?)

BONUS: A good new game publisher list!

The other great thing about Johan’s Twitter thread was that it introduced me to this public list of current video game publishers, as compiled by Genvid’s Alan Dang (Skullgirls Mobile & Killer Queen):

It’s actually surprisingly difficult to survey the landscape of ‘people who publish games’ if you’re an indie. While there are other resources like Liam Twose’s Global Games Guide - which also has a good list, but is a wider directory - this Google Doc goes deep on over 220 publishers.

Alan’s list is updated fairly often (right now), and also has some nascent localization and porting company tabs that could probably be expanded with help. So hit up Alan on Twitter if you have missing entries or can aid him.

The game discovery news round-up..

Coming into the home stretch here. But before we sleep, sweet child, we have to hit you with a few other notable video game platform and discovery announcements. Let’s get down with it:

  • ICO’s Thomas Bidaux has helpfully charted the fact that almost 200 games launched on Nintendo Switch in October, up 17% year on year (see above). And the last week of October on its own had 50 Switch games debut. So there’s definitely a creeping increase going on here, yipes.

  • Chris Zukowski continues to rock it with excellent analysis articles, getting deeper into visual aspects of marketing than I dare to tread. His latest is about trends in Steam image capsule design, and makes a good point: “I don’t think you should make your capsule so unique that nobody has seen anything like it. Instead, you must be in dialog with the best selling game in your genre, because chances are the people who buy your game also bought that game.”

  • There are more PlayStation 5 interviews and articles coming out concentrating on its tech. I thought this Mark Cerny-focused hardware overview in the Washington Post was particularly interesting. The innovation focus for Sony, as echoed by Jim Ryan, are the SSD, haptics in the controller and 3D audio, though the WaPo writer concludes that some of the PS4 sizzle didn’t translate: “A lot of these ideas [in launch tech presentations] didn’t really catch on.” These features look great, but I quibble with the idea of hardware as chief differentiator. We’ll see?

  • To underscore the move towards video game spending happening during COVID quarantine, I was pointed to this recent RoosterMoney survey around kids’ pocket money. The little tykes apparently get $8.91 to spend per week on average, and earlier this year, 3 of the top 5 spending areas were specific games (Roblox, then Fortnite, then Minecraft.) Interesting.

  • Steam has officially rolled out its Steam Playtest feature (previously in beta), which, as Gamasutra says, “allows developers to run playtests directly through the platform without needing to juggle external participant lists or game keys.” There’s more info over in Steamworks documentation, but it seems very useful: “…a free, low-risk way to get playtesting data for their game without stressing out about Steam keys, user reviews, or wishlists… by using a separate “child” appID.”

  • Microlinks: Lars Doucet still rolling out innovative deep analysis on GameDataCrunch, this time overlapping audience including Steam genre tags; Twitch-tracking don SullyGnome showed the long-term post-COVID ‘hours watched’ increase in a handy graph; for anyone looking for a FUN video game console to develop for, the Playdate is getting close to done.

GameDiscoverCo’s Steam Hype chart… hype?

Finally, in replying to a Tweet about my prediction of Teardown’s success, I may have ‘accidentally’ leaked the first screenshot of the GameDiscoverCo Steam Hype Chart, as created by myself and Lars ‘GameDataCrunch’ Doucet:

This one was from October 29th, for games debuting on Steam the next 7 days. But there are also 30-day and 90-day charts, and the back end is algorithmically updated daily with brand new charts and trends per game.

We’re still building data history. But full access to this tool and analysis around it will be part of the - reasonably priced - paid newsletter tier GameDiscoverCo will launch… eventually. (Patience, patience.) And have a great rest of your 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.]