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Game discoverability: to demo, or not to demo? 2

How should you position your game demo on Steam? We look at a couple of options, as well as a whole bunch of other news around game discoverability - how people find and play your game.

[This piece was originally published as part of the Game Discoverability Now! newsletter, which you can subscribe to now for free.]

Despite being a stressful time in the world, there’s a lot of people at home looking for things to occupy their time. And guess what? Video games can be good for that! If they can find yours. So let’s see what’s new…

The ‘separate Steam demo’ explosion continues!

As I noted on Twitter the other day with regard to this interesting new trend - "The 'free demo as separate Steam entry' boom is definitely taking off - two of them (West Of Dead, Drug Dealer Simulator) in U.S. New & Trending charts right now."

And there have been success stories. As the Backbone game crew reminded me when replying to my Tweet: “check out Backbone: Prologue, it amassed 150k downloads and 95k wishlists on the [Backbone game’s] main Steam page in a year since release. most of it is just internal Steam traffic.” Looks like Stoneshard has been another similar triumph.

But this does feel like a bit of a weird hack, yep. The SMG Studios crew asked me why people were doing this vs. a demo on the actual product page, which they are doing for Moving Out with Team 17, and my 2c was: “You can get separate publicity and positive public reviews/hype as a ‘released’ demo. Vs. a lower-profile demo attached to the main product, which could mess with the Steam algorithm on it - I believe?”

On the other hand, Moving Out seems to have 5,300 followers, so probably ~35,000 wishlists already by my rough estimates. (It’s out on April 28th!) So… I don’t know that they’re doing that badly, haha. I think jury is out on ‘demo on game’s page’, like Yes, Your Grace also tried, though. Some positives and some negatives?

One silver lining: any kind of demo - standalone page or not - does allow streamers to easily play early versions of your game. I think this is a big missed opportunity for most devs nowadays. (There’s no reason not to get streamers playing your game at ANY point in its development that it’s fun and playable. Being precious just limits your early reach.)

To round out the discussion on ‘separate store page for your demo’, here’s where I am. With just a few people doing it, it’s a clever hack that can boost visibility for your game ahead of its release. It effectively gives you two chances to get on New & Trending (demo, then game) & nurture a Steam community while your game is still unreleased. And people do seem to click across and wishlist the main game.

But if almost everybody starts doing it, it’ll clutter up Steam and it’s an unintended use of the platform that may eventually be changed. (The embedded demo on your game page is the intended use case!) In the meantime, demo while the demo-ing is good?

Steam Game Festival - a stats follow-up.

It was generally agreed that being in the Steam Game Festival (free demos/publicity for games originally showing at GDC!) was good news, as showcased by a recent newsletter. I also noted another dev releasing explicit stats, as follows:

These numbers are even better than the ones revealed by Hyperparasite’s devs. But it looks like Hundred Days was already doing decently, with 11,000 wishlists (significantly above average) before the Festival.

But a doubling of Steam wishlists to 23,000 - whoa, that’s good going! (As is 25,000 demo downloads.) Also something neat we can do with this announcement - we can look at the number of public Steam followers this game has, to compare follower to wishlist ratio.

Right now, the game has 3,600 followers and 23,000 wishlists - so wishlists are 6.4x followers for Hundred Days. (I’ve seen various projected multiples for this. But this is ballpark what I would expect, which is somewhere between 5x and 8x followers. We need more data for this, though! I’ll be asking for it soon…)

Short takes, short takes, short takes!

And there are so many other neat stats and factoids out there on the Internet that I’m going to try to deal with them one paragraph at a time:

  • To help make up for missing publicity from GDC & other physical events, Xbox has launched the online [email protected] Spotlight, with lots of videos from interesting indies: “You’ll hear from the developers themselves as they walk you through some of the exciting titles coming to Xbox.” Spend some time checking them out - they’re your competition! (Or you, I guess.)

  • Just noticed that Garry’s Mod/Rust dev Facepunch added stats to its end-of-2019 overview, including FULL sales/wishlist transparency. “Rust has sold 9,015,476 copies… To date Rust has grossed $142,393,014 (including VAT, DLC, bundles, in-game sales).” Bonus: there’s 42k buyers for its amazingly surreal ‘play music in Rust via MIDI’ DLC?!

  • The latest of Ryan Clark’s ‘Clark Tank’ streams has been edited down for YouTube, and it has all kinds of amazing data analysis re: Steam, Switch & others in video form, from the Necrodancer dev. And you can watch it live on Twitch if you watch for Ryan’s reminders on Twitter.

  • Bonus highlighted on the Clark Tank video: I didn’t realize that @harborpirate is still updating his # of games released on Steam graph (as a two-week moving average.) across multiple years. Spoiler: 2020 is more than 2019 and less than 2018 right now.

  • Lottie Bevan from Cultist Simulator has done a super-deep dive in the game’s mobile sales over on Gamasutra blogs. 422k Euros net revenue in the first year is pretty good going - helped by a reliable partner, efficiently converted game & well-respected IP. Also interesting that they’re trying to do DLC as IAP!

Shorter takes, shorter takes, shorter takes!

Oh no, I’ve got more! One word takes are probably next up after this. But let’s try one sentence takes to end off this piece:

So that’s where we’re at, folks. Keep on keeping on, and I’ll be back soon with more statistically minded looks at how you can make your game sell good. Real, real good.

[Hi, I’m Simon Carless, and you’ve been reading the Game Discoverability Now! newsletter, a regular look at how people find - and buy - your video games. Or don’t. You may know me from advising indie publisher No More Robots, from my other newsletter Video Game Deep Cuts (now redesigned!), or from my 15+ years of work on GDC & the Independent Games Festival.]

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