Three years ago in February 2019, the System Era team had just pressed the live button on the 1.0 version of Astroneer, our chill space sandbox adventure, and the first game of our new studio. Jumping forward to 2022, Astroneer has grossed over 75 million dollars in revenue, is posting its best player numbers since that launch day, and has been played by 8 million people across the world.
The road to this point has been really interesting to watch play out, so I want to break down some of the key points that we took away from the marketing and communications perspective over three years of active development.
If you just want to see the numbers: we made a big infographic that breaks down in detail things like overall revenue, user split between platforms, revenue from our in-game store and more.
Before I get into takeaways, some context: When early access ended, we knew we wanted to put out the 1.0 version of the game and continue to support it over multiple years with free content. That meant we would be focusing on new sales for revenue, so we had to keep existing players happy to create an environment where new players felt comfortable buying in.
Here are some of the things that stuck with us after doing our best to market a live product for three years post 1.0.
PLATFORM EXPOSURE IS #1
Actually that isn’t true – making a solid game is – but let’s pretend you have a good game with a good plan for adding content over time. As a marketing or comms person, your best and most consistent path to selling copies of your game is support and exposure from the platforms that sell the game.
It may sound obvious, but it wasn’t to us for a long time. We spent time doing weekly dev vlogs, streaming, press outreach…. we LITERALLY launched an Xbox into space!!! (link) Throughout it all, running a sale at the right time, driving wishlists on Steam, or getting Xbox dashboard exposure have been the most impactful path to getting eyeballs on Astroneer.
For reference: Astroneer’s Steam store page has been visited 33 million times since 1.0. Over 70% of those visits come solely from the Steam ecosystem (e.g., home page exposure, discovery queue, more like this, seasonal sale pages, etc.). All our marketing - ads, social media, influencer videos, streams, press outreach - accounted for around 15% percent of those visits.
That means all the platform-specific things:
- Great key art and screenshots
- Thoughtful trailers
- A solid sales pitch
- Careful platform tagging
- Translating store pages to other languages
- Having a well thought out plan for discounts
- Launch visibility
….became a huge focus for us as a team. This isn’t an exhaustive list, and I could do an entire talk on just platform-specific marketing (I have before actually!!!), but I implore you to be thinking about your store page and platform presence early and often. A good conversion rate and review score can pay dividends for months as they mean you will likely see more page traffic from the platform as you get highlighted in suggested featuring for other similar titles or feeds.
To be clear, that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t take other marketing avenues seriously. Ahead of launching your title, you should be doing things like refining your value proposition (read Victoria Tran’s great breakdown about this), doing market research (I love this really great talk from Steve Filby about Dead Cells), and starting to build an audience on social media. Astroneer would not be a success without Twitter: we originally created an audience mostly from strategic reveals of the unreleased project. Once the game was out, our marketing efforts during live development got us millions of store page hits across all platforms which certainly led to lots of unit sales, but through it all the exposure from the platform ecosystems we sold on got us more traffic than any of the BANGER memes we posted on Twitter.
GAMES ARE GLOBAL
Astroneer is a unique case because by design, the game is built using lots of visual communication. That results in a game we can sell in tons of different places without having to overcome as many cultural/language barriers. Astroneer is available in 13 different languages, and nearly 20% of our revenue on Steam comes from Asia. Here is a look at some of our top-performing countries, as well as platform split just for fun.
Our data lines up mostly with Steam’s own communications on regional sales: In 2018, revenue on Steam from Asia and Western Europe combined for around 50% of all sales on the platform.
That means if you aren’t translating to as many languages as you can, you are leaving out huge audience groups for your title. Additionally, if you can, spend time translating your store page for each language with trusted translation services who can contextualize your pitch for a local audience. Focus on ways you can make each language page unique for the potential players that will be reading it.
We also found success making content for specific regional audiences! We do some of our best sales in November and December, but we also take time to consider how we can include other regional events as well.
YOU CANNOT BE EVERYTHING TO EVERYONE
As a comms person, you must be two voices at once: The one that brings the words of the team to players and prospective buyers, and the one that distills all the things players say into things the team can action on. How do you execute on the vision the team has while also bringing in new audiences and giving players what they want?
After 1.0 launched, we focused on clarifying our message for the future of the game by being direct with what we were going to do (and, perhaps as importantly, what we weren’t) and why. Early Access was filled with lots of big dreams about what we could do, but it was time to be more disciplined. We looked at the 1.0 product, did market research, made a detailed go to market plan, and got the whole team on board.
We could stop trying to be everything to everyone and focus on efforts that would make us money.
Here is a visual that helps illustrate how buttoned up our external comms became:
Roadmap at 1.0
Roadmap post 1.0
I am not knocking Trello roadmaps, but we used them to track way too many things publicly. Dozens of cards were just ideas that we MIGHT do even though internally the team had all but written them off. From the marketing team’s perspective, we didn’t want to lose potential customers! But externally, stringing people along with features that might never ship was a bad strategy that distracted the team and confused players. Also, our new roadmap was just way prettier and much easier for more people to understand.
Coincidentally, the above Trello screengrab is from a stream where we let the community know that mod support was just not going to ever come to Astroneer. It was a tough conversation and I thank our producer Veronica for helping navigate it, but in the end, it was so beneficial to the team to just rip the band aid off. That was the main idea: Give the comms team space to focus on things that sold the game, and let the development team focus resources on making content that would keep bringing in new players.
Overall, live development of Astroneer has far surpassed expectations. Our Nintendo Switch launch in January contributed to an amazing month where Astroneer sold over 220,000 units on all platforms. We still have a healthy community, our monthly player numbers are some of the best we have ever seen, and we have fun plans for content in the coming year. Astroneer has been extremely lucky, but I am hoping that some of the data we shared and these insights other teams can be slightly more informed when making decisions. We will keep going (about our in-game store, how we zeroed in on our messaging, to discuss the best flavor of lacroix), but for now feel free to peruse our full info graphic and don’t hesitate to ask us questions about things that interest you.
You can find me on Twitter at @staymighty, or drop me a line at [email protected]t.