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Which time of year should you release your game?

We bring some data to the table, handily.

[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 Wednesday, game discovery crew. Many of you may still be wandering around Cologne, while sampling the delights of many tiny glasses of Kolsch. So we hope you catch up with this fair newsletter on your return!

Did you catch the One Night Live showcase at Gamescom, btw? Here’s all of the announcements, if you didn’t. We speculated on lots of metaverse-adjacent announces, but besides Everywhere (from L.Benzies & friends), maybe not so much?

Data dive: the best times of year to release games!

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(Trying to pick a date to release your game? Definitely a ‘Safety Last!’ problem.)

In this increasingly crowded market, release timing for your PC or console game is increasingly ‘a thing’. And at GameDiscoverCo, where we’ve been monitoring the Steam game ecosystem for 12 months+, we finally have data to talk cogently about it.

The background? Via our GameDiscoverCo Plus-exclusive data set, we assign pre-release rankings for all of the 1,000-ish Steam games released every month (‘Hype’ - based on Steam followers, wishlist ranks & more), and post-release performance (# of Steam reviews in Week 1) - and then compare them.

So we can now show a full Jan-Dec year - some in 2021, some in 2022 - of conversion rates for Steam games that debuted with a Hype score of 500 or more. (Very roughly? Games with >10-15,000 Steam wishlists at launch.)

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(Thanks to GameDiscoverCo’s Alejandro for number crunchin’ on this!)

The median & average is 0.14. (This number doesn’t ‘mean’ anything - we’re looking at how it varies up or down. Although it’s close to the ‘first week sales/wishlists on launch’ ratio we often talk about. So perhaps it could be used as a proxy for that.)

Anyhow, there’s only really one time of the year when conversion seems to dip significantly - that’s Q4, where median games convert 20-28% worse than average. And January to April sees titles convert 7-20% better than average. It’s what you might expect with a crowded holiday season, but interesting to see some ‘proof’.

There are also outlying months, like June 2022, which converted at 0.20, 42% better than average (!) But we think that’s potentially a one-off due to the quality and type of games that did well in the month - June 2021 was only 0.16, as a comparison.

We also mapped the ‘busy’ weeks on Steam, based on the cumulative score for the Top 10 most-Hyped games releasing from August 2021 to July 2022:

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(Sometimes, ‘massively Hyped’ games skew weeks or entire months. For example, Elden Ring was 93,000 of the 272,000 Hype points for all of February 2022! So just bear that in mind…)

And here’s the ‘cumulative # of Week 1 reviews’ for the top 10 Steam games in that same time frame. The more reviews, the more copies of new games sold that week:

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Again, you’ll see some anomalies based on break-out hits (Elden Ring, and others.) But overall, you’ll see that Q1 and Q2 were quieter, and Q3 & Q4 quite a bit busier.

However, please remember - conversion rates ‘only’ went down by ~22% in most of Q4 - when volume of both Hype and reviews was up as much as 300% or more from earlier in the year. So a busy month doesn’t appear to affect things as much as you might expect.

And that’s honestly the biggest takeaway we have. We’re planning a follow-up to see if launching the same week as a massive game is empirically ‘bad’. But in our view, it’s not possible to tank your game’s release by putting it out at the wrong time*. (*But don’t release them during the big Steam sales!)

If anything, it’s just a minor nudge one way or the other - selling 8k or 11k copies in the first week, vs. 10k. Other things affect success a lot more. (And of course, the variations we’re seeing could be caused by the type of game that chooses to release in Q4, not the actual time of year itself - it’s difficult to A/B test for this.)

Follow the videos, find the gamers: UK version!

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Following the U.S. Pew Research survey on teens and social media, we have another broad, public social media survey to peruse. The UK communication regulator OFCOM’s has its brand new ‘Media Nations’ report, which focuses on how British folks watch ‘video content’.

Since watching videos is a key part of how people discover video games, we thought we’d better dig into it. The above chart - showing video watching on various standalone social media platforms by age - is a good example of the longitudinal goodness on display.

As OFCOM explains: “Short-form video was watched by a third (32%) of online adults in Great Britain aged 15+ daily in Q1 2022, with viewing skewing more to younger audiences; 69% of 15-17-year-olds and 65% of 18- 24-year-olds watched short-form videos daily, compared to 12% of those aged 65+.”

So yes, YouTube is pretty dominant. But the rise of TikTok in particular is well shown-off here, with 73% of ‘online’ 15-17 year olds in the UK using the platform. Which is, uh, a lot, given the relative youth of the social platform itself.

Finally, the report referred back to OFCOM’s ‘Online Nation’ .PDF report from a couple of months back, which has over 20 pages on video games. It’s well worth poking at, & includes great quality data such as which devices the UK plays games on:

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(Data compiled by Ipsos, though OFCOM also uses Ampere in the report.)

For a staid government entity, there’s a lot of nuance in these reports. For example, on the redeeming power of games: “UK Safer Internet Centre’s research in 2021 found that 70% of parents think online games have helped their child connect with their friends, and 60% of children aged 8-17 years old said that playing online games made them feel less lonely.”

[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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