Welcome to another week in game discovery, kind subscribers! We’re excited to kick it off with data and insight from the folks at Sokpop Collective: a young group of devs with a unique biz model - and a recent breakout Steam hit, to boot.
Sokpop, Stacklands & the ‘vibe shift’ made real!
Adopting our semi-dispassionate, Watcher-like stance over the video game biz, sometimes we like to joke that there’s a ‘vibe shift’ coming. (Will anyone survive it, etc?) And there are certainly models of making games that make us feel, well, a bit old.
And the Sokpop Collective are definitely one of them! These four devs from the Netherlands have been written about quite a bit, thanks to their unique trick. They run a Patreon that you can sign up to for $3 a month, and get two games created by them to play, monthly. (They’re shipping ‘just’ 12 games per year nowadays - the other 12 are now games from their back catalog.)
Their Patreon is actually up to $8,500 per month now, from about $5k-$6k per month in the pandemic times. And that’s down to the smash Steam success of Stacklands (above), which we saw on our Plus ‘most reviewed Steam games for the month’ data back in May (#93 for the month!) - and is also in the Top 100 (out of 75,000+ games!) in July.
So we reached out to Aran Koning at Sokpop, and he spilled the numbers: “Currently Stacklands has sold about 450k copies on Steam. We also sold about 50k copies of our ‘card-based village builder’ bundle including Stacklands & Simmiland, another popular game of ours.” Here’s the Stacklands graph since its April launch - check the sales curve:
And below is how Stacklands - “a village builder where you stack cards to collect food, build structures, and fight creatures”, made by Aran, with art by Lisa Mantel, has done so far, revenue & refund/DAU wise:
Looking at country base, China is the biggest single market for Stacklands, with 32% of the units sold there! This is followed by the U.S. (24%), France and Germany (5%) each, the UK (4%), and then Canada, Australia, Korea, and downwards from there.
Aran just posted a short video on Stacklands’ success, which talks about the design and psychology of making the title, why he thinks it hit big, as well as localization (“especially Chinese was really important”) - well worth 5 minutes of your time!
Stacklands is a $4.99 USD title to buy on Steam, and all of Sokpop’s games are between $3 and $5 USD. And it turns out a game going viral can have unexpected effects for others, according to Aran: “We also have a bundle that has every single Sokpop game in it, which is normally about $200. That one actually sold about 1,200 copies. We never really expected anyone to buy that, haha.”
Are there takeaways from Stacklands’ success?
So, you conventional game industry folks probably have a few questions about this. Like.. what the heck? If you’ve been struggling to ship a game in 2-3 years, how are these folks shipping 12 per year and getting big hits? Here’s some takeaways:
- One small trick to ship so many games - Aran says: “Our 'secret' is that everyone in the collective makes their game completely on their own, so that essentially each of us has to make a new game every 4 months. That still isn't a lot of time, but it is a lot more do-able than having to ship every month.”
- Steam was an important amplifier - For the first two years or so, Sokpop games weren’t on Steam: “We weren't sure if the hardcore Steam audience would be interested in our small games. There was also the issue of having to make a new Steam page every 2 weeks, and the annoyance of having to pay 100 bucks for every release. That held us back for a long time.” But after talking to Valve about it and setting up 70 Steam pages (!) for their back catalog, the team now near simul-ship to Itch and Steam - with Steam keys for Patreon subscribers.
- Turns out Steam catalog revenue was worthwhile - Aran notes: “Since we started releasing our games on Steam [and before the Stacklands release] we've been earning about 50/50 between Steam and Patreon. So it essentially doubled our revenue.” So the cross-promotion and discovery boost was worth it, even before the hit happened. (Not to mention the Steam key ‘perceived value’ on Patreon.)
- Sokpop takes the ‘one-concept game jam’ idea to extremes: this model is somewhat ‘commercialized game jam’, and all the Sokpop devs are both stylish and talented. So they get to try ideas - ‘turn-based tower defence with dice’, Souls-like starring bugs, solar system terraformer - in microcosm, show them to the Steam audience, and see what ‘sticks’. Fascinating.
Concluding, I will say that the tension between Sokpop’s ‘ship a game a month’ model and the necessity to spend longer on games might be increasing a bit. According to Patreon, several collective members have been delaying releases to improve them recently.
And Stacklands itself was a game that was put on the shelf for a while - until there was time to do it ‘properly’. Now it got popular? Aran says: “We're currently working on some free content updates, and after that we might release DLC.” And Sokpop’s Patreon supporters are fine with some deviation from the norm, like a Stacklands update instead of a new game - Aran says: “I like to think they're proud of us, haha.”
And I had one final question for the Sokpop Collective. Given it was Aran’s game that hit it big, how is the revenue apportioned? Well, like… a collective: “We split it evenly between the 4 of us. We've agreed to do this from the start, because we always felt like any of us could make a game that would randomly take off. This way we would increase our chances of earning enough to keep making games.”
So if there’s anything that makes you feel like a ‘vibe shift’ is in process, it’d be this: collective makes (almost) 100 games via crowdfunding, with equal founder pay. One of the creators makes a $5 game that starts grossing millions of dollars. The result? Still equal pay. We dig it, and it doesn’t feel much like the traditional game biz.
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