[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.]
Greetings, my lovelies, and welcome back to a brand new week of informational goodness from this here GameDiscoverCo newsletter. And it’s been a delight to see feedback from the latest newsletter about Steam wishlists and sales predictability.
As it happens, a recent newsletter dealt with a ‘high Y1 multiplier’ Steam game that had done well in part because a couple of videos from the notable ‘variety’ YouTuber SplatterCat. And as we said at that time:
“We’ve talked about SplatterCat before, since he plays new games all the time - very rare for a YouTuber. In addition, he has 669k loyal YouTube subscribers, is a fan of systemic & replayable games, and has been a positive factor in success stories for games we’ve covered like Nova Drift.”
Coincidentally, we’d just been introduced to Matt/SplatterCat by a mutual acquaintance, and he was kind enough to answer a bunch of ecosystem and dev-centric questions via Discord DM. Given that all of his videos get 50k-100k views or more from highly engaged players, it’s worth hearing how he sees games - and deals with the Herculean task of releasing a video on a brand new game every day:
You are rare as a YouTuber with a large following who doesn't (often) make multiple videos on the same game, and deliberately favors new games. Why don't many others follow your path? Is it because familiarizing yourself with games takes time, streamers find it difficult to work out which games to play, or other reasons?
I think it's a bit of a case of ‘big fish -> small pond’ in this case. I was an early adopter with indie games back in 2012, where I really fell in love with the creativity of the genre. I noticed that indie games were really breaking away from the tired AAA standard of mass appeal, and focusing on very niche gameplay ideas - because they lacked the massive overhead recoup that AAA development requires.
That being said, indie games are still very much just hitting their stride as a medium, and becoming more popular by the day. Despite that, it's still quite new as a genre and I think the consumer audience is smaller because of that. If you had told me an indie game video on a niche ‘castle defender’ game would pull 100k views 10 years ago, I wouldn't have believed it.
In those days, anything that wasn't Spelunky / Minecraft / Binding of Isaac wasn't really putting up views, because the general public awareness hadn't crystalized yet - so they weren't looking for it. I'm approaching ten years doing this job next year, and it's important to note that I started very small. I was doing Let's Plays which were very much a trend at the time, and that allowed me to gather a solid following that were consuming my content.
Around 2017, YouTube made some fairly sweeping changes to the way the algorithm and site functioned, swapping from a browse / search placement priority to a system which favored highly viewed and highly clicked on content by users. Let's Plays thrived very specifically because of the prior algorithm. So if you could get your content placed high in search by being the first to post, you were gravy and you could finish out the series - while coasting on the views from the first video to pay the bills.
I was warned about this happening through peers and felt this happening, so I pivoted my content to something fresh - which was ‘indie impressions’ videos. My pre-existing audience dissipated a little bit with the swap, but I still had enough left over to get this content pushed to the greater site through the sidebar. It took a long time to pick up speed, and I think that 4-5 year [growth] runway is really what scares a lot of new channels off or burns them out outright.
Indies as a genre are still pretty small compared to the rest of the gaming world, so there's a limited audience searching for it. It's hitting its stride much more expediently nowadays but there's sorta still a lack of viewers to go around. What spaces exist have been filled up until there's another influx of people interested in indies.
So to answer your question I think it's that:
A) it takes a ton of time to get established in any type of content creation. The growth is very slow with variety content, unless you have either stunning critique or a welcoming charismatic presence. I started out with a pre-existing audience from my previous content type. So that helped move the channel strategically to where it is now. Smaller content creators or new ones won't have that initial boost to become visible. It's a very slow burn that tends to gas people out when coupled with the time commitment.
B) On the YouTube half of the business, scouting out games takes a good chunk of my time, and that's with all the connections I've developed over the years. Scrolling lists on Steam and Itch.io can be very daunting. I keep a sticky note on my desktop with dozens and dozens of candidates updated weekly. My Steam wishlist has roughly 150 games on it too. It's a big process. Then you've gotta learn the game and think about what observations / critiques to make before recording and editing, which is more time down.
How about YouTube vs. Twitch for game visibility and how indie games get seen on them? Is there a big difference between the two mediums, and how do you treat them differently?
When it comes to streaming [platforms like Twitch], the issue becomes one of visibility. Because of how Twitch works everything is ‘bubble sorted’ by total viewer count, and the top slots are almost universally taken up by the titans of the gaming industry - Grand Theft Auto, Call of Duty, World of Warcraft et al. Streamers tend to avoid playing the smaller indie titles (in my opinion) because doing so is going to put you waaaay down list and you're not going to have any viewer flowthrough.
There are rare titles like Darkest Dungeon that escape the atmosphere and break into the big leagues but those are… a rarity on Twitch. YouTube is much easier to push niche content on by far. I structure it such that I play a game on my YouTube and if I feel like the 30 minutes didn't fully flesh out the game for the user, it pipelines them to my [Twitch] stream, where I'll play the game for like 4 hours.
That way I can guarantee some viewer flowthrough, making the time expenditure worth it. It has the added benefit of supplementing my coverage on YouTube for those that want a lengthier, beefier chunk of gameplay to make up their minds whether or not a game is for them.
Larger streamers with a 4-5k [regular CCU] viewer audience can hit the smaller games too, because they're large enough to boost the game into the top 25 while they're live which will also guarantee some traffic. But since I'm smaller, it's more feasible to use YouTube as the seeding ground for my stream.
Once again, this is another breaking point where I'll point out that life is pretty unfair when you're a small content creator. Without that oomph it's gonna be tough to push content in a way that both grows your channel AND generates exposure for the title in question. That unfairness I think when it comes to sorting methods and algorithms creates a barrier for entry… [so] the big get bigger and the small sorta burn out, unless they're really in it for the long haul - on top of being incredibly talented.
When devs send you information and keys for a new game or demo, what are the top things they can get right in terms of how they send or present info to you? And what are some things that devs do that you don't find helpful?
So the first big thing is to have a banger presskit with all the materials needed for making thumbnails: HD wallpapers, key art, and logos in various sizes. Screenshots I usually don't use at all, but those are useful for people doing formal journalist articles. Since YouTube functions almost entirely on Clickthrough Rate in the sidebar, having a few keyart pieces that really show action, mystery, and vaguely ask a visual question with the layout are all key.
Thumbnails are incredibly underrated, but 90% of making a video stick is having a rad piece of art to show off. It can mean the difference between 15k views and the algorithm picking it up due to high clickthrough and pushing it out to hundreds of thousands. It really is that impactful.
On the ‘not helpful’ side I'd keep the emails brief, a couple sentences of introduction of both yourself and the game coupled with some teaser images, a link to the presskit, and a Steam link. I can usually eyeball and tell if the game is a good fit from just the trailer + thumbnails / art.
When an email pitching a game becomes overly verbose and takes a long time to read, I usually find myself just scanning for the requisite links/materials, because your game will absolutely speak for itself through the trailers and materials. I'd also urge people to be patient with coverage / followup emails etc. Most YouTubers are getting carpet bombed with emails 24/7.
Having the time to actually formally respond to each and every one is an impossibility while still getting the actual coverage itself finished off. We do our best to get back to you, but if we don't it's absolutely not personal. There's just a ton of stuff going on with our operation at any given time.
You explain your channel in your pinned YouTube video: "I rarely do negative impressions... I filter out the games I wasn't especially stoked about." How do you do filter, practically? How many games do you play for each one you feature, and what are a few of the things you look for?
After doing this for so long, I can do it visually pretty quickly. There are some games that creep on me and surprise me outta nowhere. But from gameplay footage you can usually get a solid feel for what care has been put into a game. I'm typically looking for a unified art direction, [including] animations that don't look stiff and have a fluidity or natural flow to them.
I usually avoid anything monochrome as a stylistic choice, just because a lack of color doesn't fly on youtube both in video and thumbnail format, regardless of the game's quality. I usually pause videos and look at the screenshots to quickly appraise the UI and figure out if they're going for something more artistic or minimalist. If I feel like I can't get a good feel from the assets, we go hands on for 30 minutes to an hour.
I look at every single Steam link that I get, and I've got it optimized fairly well at this point to get rid of wasted time picking through things that are clearly lacking in various regards. I probably play about 3:1 not picked vs picked on a normal week, and for a really busy week like a festival on Steam it probably swings up to 5:1.
The whole thing is a very delicate act of finding A) something that matches what my audience wants to see B) something that I think is high quality and needs the attention C) something that works for propagation / pushing out on YouTube (Note that this one I wish was not a factor, but the platform demands what it demands - despite our displeasure) and D) something that I personally find really fun. This listing isn't in any particular order. All those criteria are really important, and you've gotta have that right mix. Every choice is a pragmatic one trying to balance all the factors.
What trends in games have you seen recently that you like? Are there particular genres that are 'coming back', are some styles of game massively oversupplied, and are there any genres/subgenres of games you would like to see more of? What do you find most rewarding about taking an 'all new games, all the time' approach, and what is most draining or stressful about it?
I'm really into anything with carried progression. I like the idea of the actual game completion being locked behind skills that you slowly accumulate through failure. I think it provides a nice ramp for accessibility as well, since eventually you'll be able to stomp regardless of skill.
There's a ton of card games right now. I think in general most of us are feeling some level of card game fatigue lately. RTSes are on a big comeback, as well as Stronghold-style castle builder / defenders which I’m very excited about, since that's a genre that always gripped me and has been sorely lacking lately.
As far ‘as new games all the time’, it keeps things fresh. Work is never boring, and I never get trapped in that loop of playing a "main game" all the time that burns so many folks out. What I do is really a blast and I really look forward to going to work most days - which is a blessing.
Are there any other messages you'd like to give to developers (or publishers) about how they should interact with or treat their friends, the streamers?
Hang in there. In a lot of ways, content creators for YouTube / Twitch and developers have a ton in common. We're both ruled by algorithms we have no control over and sink or swim a lot of the time through forces largely out of our control.
As far as interactions go, I like to keep it professional, I can be stand-offish in a lot of ways through interactions just because, in the past, you get really close with a developer and it comes back to bite you in terms of favors asked, etc. I usually prefer to keep things strictly business-like nowadays, to avoid awkward conversations later on down the line.
The vast majority of developers I interact with are very kind and easy going people. Don't be worried about approaching for coverage - we're just normal folks. It never really set in that my channel had gotten larger for me mentally. I still do things simply like I did in the early days, and after I get done I'm probably gonna go take out the trash and do some dishes just like everybody else.
[We’re GameDiscoverCo, a new agency based around one simple issue: how do players find, buy and enjoy your premium PC or console game? We run the newsletter you’re reading, and provide consulting services for publishers, funds, and other smart game industry folks.]