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Is your game built for 'main'-ing, trending, or sampling?

What is your game for? Absolutely something.

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

Welcome to mid-week, via the GameDiscoverCo newsletter. We were originally going to go VERY data-heavy with this edition. But we veered sideways into an important philosophical discussion - how do you expect players to consume your game(s)?

Oh, and thanks to all the new subscribers recently. We’re hustlin’ real hard - via our two weekly free newsletters and our Plus subscription-exclusive ‘which games are actually popular?’ newsletter - to bring you the right info. We’re enjoying it a lot.

Your game: for ‘main’-ing, trending, or sampling?


You may be familiar with someone saying they are ‘main’-ing a certain video game. At least in the U.S., this means that it’s the game they are spending most of their gaming time playing. (A similar phrase exists for playing specific fighting game characters.)

And we were looking at Take-Two’s softer financial results this week, we were reminded that a lot of the major PC/console game publishers have shifted their product mix to rely on games that are intended to be your main squeeze.

As TweakTown’s Derek Strickland points out on Twitter, the Grand Theft Auto franchise dipped to pre-pandemic levels in the latest Take-Two quarter. But it still grossed over $200 million in just three months. Here’s his LTD quarterly graph, wow:

A graph showing different revenue levels of the Grand Theft Auto franchise.

Obviously, a lot of this is recurring revenue related to the Grand Theft Auto Online portion of the game (latest trailer above!), given the Megalodon Shark Cash Cards you can buy for $99.99 for in-game redemption. (Though much is also base game sales!)

The point here is not the short-term slowdown in the game biz after these COVID lockdown-era highs - which we’re seeing industry-wide. The point is how consumers see your games, and how the make-up of total PC/console revenue is changing.

So when Electronic Arts’s CEO says that single-player games are "really, really important", but then EA’s CFO “also followed up noting that live service games account for over 70 percent of the total [EA] business”, you’re seeing economics dictating content. And it’s changing the mix of successful titles.

So, splitting PC/console games up in a possibly over-facile way, here’s how we see the landscape:

  • Games built for ‘main’-ing: deep, often co-op or multiplayer games that you can play many hours per week, perhaps on voice chat with your friends. You buy these games with the intent you’ll be playing them 3-6 months from now (whether you do or not!) And you spend extra money in them via IAP or DLC. An increasing percentage of the market, but super high barrier to entry.
  • Games built for trending: the latest big thing - an idea that’s so strong that people rush and buy your title, even if it’s single player and non-replayable. And the discounts and long tail can carry you through. Stray is an obvious recent example of this, and I’d also cite Devolver’s upcoming Terra Nil and, hilariously, Turnip Boy Commits Tax Evasion. The flavor of the week/month.
  • Game built for sampling: a good-looking game that’s - hopefully - well made. Some people will buy it. Maybe some streamers will check it out and make it popular. (Especially if it has replayability, at which point you might graduate to ‘trending’.) In general, a few players will be enthused, and everybody else will put on their ‘need to try eventually’ list. So it’s a great prospect for Xbox/PC Game Pass, as an ‘incremental subscription value’ point.

So, I’d argue that not all games fit clearly on this continuum. But you can give all PC/console titles a score for each factor. Let’s do that for a sampling of most-reviewed new games of August 2022 on Steam so far, according to our Plus post-release data:

  • Hooked on You: A Dead by Daylight Dating Sim - ‘main’-ing = 0/10, trending = 9/10, sampling = 3/10. (IP is a 9/10 ‘main’-ing franchise, though!)
  • The Mortuary Assistant - ‘main’-ing = 1/10, trending = 7/10, sampling = 5/10. (Just a very well made jumpscare game.)
  • Farthest Frontier - ‘main’-ing = 8/10, trending = 5/10, sampling = 5/10. (Not multiplayer, but scores high on ‘will I be playing it in 6 months?’ and likely GaaS-style updates.)

The trend of what dominates overall sales and revenue - not just new games - is clear. We recently instituted a new Plus-exclusive data point, ‘monthly most-reviewed Steam games’. Here’s the top non-F2P titles for July 2022. It’s filled with ‘main’-worthy games, many ancient (release date is 1.0 in some cases), but almost all GaaS and multiplayer:

A chart showing the most-reviewed steam games
(If we had included F2P games, you’d see even more ‘main’-style titles!)

So long-term, I think indie game devs/pubs can entirely survive on a diet of ‘games built for trending’. But the danger is that more and more of your titles will slip into the ‘games built for sampling’ tier. (Perhaps those are money-losing as a standalone title.)

At this point, you may be reliant on Game Pass - or other subscription services - for your profitability or reach. And this trend may accelerate, as players rely on subscription services to try sample-worthy games, instead of just buying them.

So maybe you need to scope up and try to construct ‘games built for ‘main’-ing’. But this means you need to make games that people will still be playing many months later?

Games will need to be very complex, deep, and well-maintained in order to do that. And you may need to displace another ‘main’-ed title, in order to make yourself into one, sometimes a perilous proposition. Which is not easy, and a larger risk. Hm.

[We’re GameDiscoverCo, an 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.]

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