[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.]
It’s a brand new week in the neighborhood, game discovery fam. So let’s fire up the shoesaw and embark on a journey into the soul of humanity, as depicted by what video games they happen to play on a weekly basis.
We had a super busy release week for Steam last week - fully analyzed in our Plus-exclusive newsletter. And while it was a bit overwhelming, it was great to see titles like Eastward, Deathloop, and Timberborn - the last of which was made by one of our newsletter subscribers - kick off in a really positive way. It warms the heart? Onwards!
[Once again, smoochies to new members of our GameDiscoverCo Plus paid sub - only $12 a month if you sign up for a year, and includes an exclusive weekly newsletter, an info-filled Discord, a data-exportable Steam Hype back-end, our new eBook, & lots more - join them!]
Switch eShop’s discovery - what the players want
In researching a recent Switch story, we were looking for fan reaction to console UIs/discoverability. We happened to run into this recent Reddit r/Switch post, titled “Nintendo really needs some sort of quality control for the eShop”.
It starts with the following statement, which elicited nearly 700 comments (!): “Just browsing the eShop to discover titles that you may find appealing is such a chore, as you have to dig through an endless landfill of trash for the mere possibility of finding something of interest.
Also, unlike other consoles/PC online shops which always seem to have a good amount of games that people actually want to play for sale at reasonable prices… the eShop's sales mostly consist of shovelware with a small minority of games that might be of interest, but rarely any that people will most definitely be interested in, like any flagship Nintendo titles.”
In general, I fundamentally dislike the phrase ‘shovelware’. But luckily, this isn’t where the thread went. There’s some ‘trying to define shovelware’, but here’s the major points made:
- How the eShop ranks games is bad: even players now understand this is an issue: “Nintendo's sh*tty interface specifically draws extra attention to lower-effort games; OP notes that it's especially apparent in the 'sale' section, and that's because games are ordered by raw quantity of sales. If you discount your game to $0.01 and sell a thousand copies (people were collectively willing to spend $10), you'll rank higher than a game selling 900 copies at $30 (that people were collectively willing to spend $27,000 on).” Nintendo’s stopped discounts to $0.01 - after ‘vanishing’ them from the chart - but there’s still plenty of $2 games taking up a lot of space.
- User ratings for games need adding: as mentioned in the thread: “I feel like a simple user rating system would solve a lot of the issues with trying to find decent games and filtering out the garbage.” We’ve referenced this before, but there were ratings, tags and review comments on the web page of the eShop briefly in 2018, but they were almost immediately pulled and have never returned.
- Navigating the eShop is slow - here’s a brutal comment: “I used to think it was just my internet and that made the eShop so slow. Then I got the fastest internet available in my area, and nothing changed. That’s when I realized it’s a poorly optimized piece of garbage.” But it’s true - on the eShop scrolling up and down a long list of games or switching panes is, indeed slow and suboptimal, and disincentivizes browsing.
- More ways to browse the eShop are vital: look, we have a winner here: “I don't think they need quality control, they just need better filters, searches, sorting, categories, and suggestions.” And here’s another point: “The bigger issue is that I see way, way less of it on PC. My Steam recommended [game list] is actually insanely good and even just exploring I hardly see [shovelware] - it isnt thrown in my face nearly as much due to all the great info Steam has.”
Of the above solutions: I think number/star rating of reviews would be a bit helpful, although somebody claims in the thread that the star ratings system on 3DS “was heavily gamed”. (But I look at both amount of ratings and positivity rating when I eval Steam or some console games, which I don’t think 3DS had.)
However, by far the most important improvement even Switch players concur on would be moving away from eShop rankings of games by unit. This really makes the ‘Deals’ section favor drastically discounted games that aren’t always the best quality. (I also wonder, though nobody suggested it for obvious reasons, whether removing Nintendo Gold Points - which can encourage impulsive, inexpensive purchases - would help.)
There’s also no doubt that the current rules encourage devs to release larger amounts of marginal games on Switch, so they can put all of them on sale a lot. A correspondent pointed me to devs like EpiXR who - well, they’ve been banned from Steam before, and now keep adding similar games on Switch and then 50% discounting them.
Unfortunately, it seems that Nintendo’s eShop discovery strategy emanates from deep within its Japanese HQ, and no amount of articles or forum threads like this will make them shift - especially not since Switch fundamentals are positive, and Nintendo’s share price recently hit their highest for almost 15 years.
But I wanted to highlight this thread because it seems like players are also united that there’s a discovery problem here. And when I see threads like one from Canadian dev MisterBigPants (!), rounding up ‘weird but interesting Switch games’, I think: ‘These games probably wouldn’t succeed on Steam either, but I might at least get recommended some of them at some point. C’mon, Nintendo!’ That’s all.
Replayable games & ‘staying power’ - the stats?
After researching a recent piece we did about great auto-battler roguelite SNKRX, we checked back and spotted that the pseudonymous dev (a327ex) had been compiling info on Twitter about long-term replayability for roguelites.
We believe this started after he read the Shapez.io postmortem that GameDiscoverCo ran a few weeks back. But he’s managed to gather some great info on the granular ‘time played’ Steam stats for a number of big games with random/replayable elements, including Slay The Spire, Nova Drift, and more.
As he comments: “I sort of intuitively understood that for roguelites, retention mattered a lot but I never got to see it clearly laid out like this. Very cool. Devs of other genres should probably try doing this as well to see how much retention matters for that genre, since it could vary.”
You may want to zoom in to read this in its entirity, but here’s the detailed breakdowns of each game, with some eye-opening stats (each number is the percentage of users who’ve played that long in the game):
In particular, we’d like to highlight the following:
- Those stats for Slay The Spire are out of control. 40% of players have more than 50 hours in the game, and 22% have played for more than 100 hours? Good gravy. It’s not completely surprising, but it’s incredibly impressive all the same.
- It’s also interesting to see Project Wingman - which is a combat flight sim with a campaign but also a roguelite mode - in here as a comparison point. (Its stats are closer to what I’d expect for a conventional game, especially its median playtime of 2.9 hours.)
- Don’t be intimidated if you see these stats, compare them to your own game, and yours comes up short. (You can see similar Steam stats for your own game by going to https://partner.steampowered.com/app/playtime/??????/ in Steamworks, where ?????? is your Steam ID, in case you didn’t know.) Roguelites have epic replay times - which is often why they sell well.
- That final stat above - ‘1 hour averageness’ refers to a comment Steam makes in the back end on your game’s 1-hour retention compared to other Steam games. Choices include ‘below average, ‘average’, ‘above average’ and ‘well above average’. Looks like ‘average’ goes as high as 85% - and you need way into the 90%s to get ‘well above average’, which only Slay The Spire manages here!
You can also deduce interesting things by looking at these charts for your own game. For example, some games in portfolios I have access to do worse for 2-hour or 5-hour retention than others, but have better 10 or 20-hour retention than their peers. Why might that be? What can you do about it? It’s all good food for thought…
Finishing up with a few links of note here, at the start of what seems to be a relatively quiet week in news-land (but we all know that can turn around swiftly!) So let’s see what we’ve got, shall we?
- Things are ramping up for Steam Next Fest, October edition, which kicks off on October 1st, and Valve just released a cool little trailer for it featuring some ‘confirmed for Next Fest’ demos. The Verge lists some of the titles in the trailer: “Airhead from Octato Games, Unexplored 2… from Ludomotion, ANNO:Mutationem from Thinking Stars… Starship Troopers - Terran Command fromThe Artistocrats.” And a few more - will we hit 1,000 different demos for this Next Fest? (June’s was >700.)
- It’s worth perusing NPD’s August 2021 sales data on U.S. retail hardware & select retail/digital sales, including Sensor Tower mobile estimates. In particular: “Hardware was a primary driver of spending gains in August. Led by PS5, hardware dollar sales gained 45% when compared to August 2020.” And as we all know, PS5 is still supply-constrained. Lots more charts/graphs in that Twitter thread.
- After we featured the Naavik/Bitkraft ‘total game market estimates’, Superdata founder Joost van Dreunen came out with a corkingly aggressive newsletterpointing out some sourcing is dubious, adding: “Contemporary market research is so seemingly abundant and accessible that making any effort becomes meaningless.” The horrible thing is that I both a) agree with him and b) kinda don’t regret posting the piece, since everything at that size is so handwave-y. (I am now training myself to care incrementally more.)
- A couple of interesting Steam news posts with data in them? Firstly, the Killsquad devs have an Early Access postmortem which reveals 110k units sold, despite a slow start on review positivity & chides Steam for “averaging all Steam reviews equally.. we feel this is unfair.” For some titles that have changed a lot like No Man’s Sky, it does seem a bit rough. But not sure I love the alternatives.
- Secondly, this Sweet Surrender VR news post has wishlist graphs & analysis for the game in the last Steam Next Fest, including upside on an UploadVR article and front-page streams. They point out: “Alas there's not much data out there for VR games in particular, so hopefully other developers will find this section interesting.”Thumbs up!
- Microlinks: EA now letting players peek inside FIFA card packs before you decide to buy, as an attempt to defang loot box complaints; an infographic-y dive into millennial gamers (above) from Newzoo; why’s Facebook so excited about Oculus? ‘Apple and Facebook are coming for your face next’ is why; another good event tracking site is EventsForGamers.com, I was just reminded.
Finally, yes, Steam Deck devkits are appearing in the wild and being Tweeted about, and in addition to videos of Unity demos in action on the Deck, I’m very proud that I captioned this Tweet: “Testing A Steam Deck with Bennett Foddy.” (Get it?)
[We’re GameDiscoverCo, a new agency based around one simple issue: how do players find, buy and enjoy your premium PC or console game? You can subscribe to GameDiscoverCo Plus to get access to exclusive newsletters, eBook and a Discord, plus interactive daily rankings of every unreleased Steam game, and more besides.]