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Steam gets 'experimental' with discovery 2

Valve has rolled out its latest Steam Labs experimental feature, which "aims to increase the surface area of the store by introducing a broader set of ways to browse Steam’s catalog of games from the outset." So what's it like?

Simon Carless, Blogger

December 14, 2020

9 Min Read

[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.]

So… we’re back! Hope you missed us lots, free newsletter crew, while we were whipping up the latest exclusive Steam Hype analysis (didn’t Project Wingman do well?) and that Apple Arcade deep dive for those lucky, lucky GameDiscoverCo Plus subscribers.

Anyhow, time to crack on with multiple newsletters this week, rounding up a whoole bunch of news in the space. And where better to start than the latest Steam Labs Experiment?

Steam Labs - new ways to browse Steam!

In news that we definitely care about at GameDiscoverCo, Valve has rolled out its latest Steam Labs experimental feature. And its overview is pretty much exactly like this:

“We aim to increase the surface area of the store by introducing a broader set of ways to browse Steam’s catalog of games from the outset - no login or complex searching required. Our new views provide greater exposure to the breadth of games available on Steam through new useful points of entry such as sub-genres, themes, and player modes.”

In order to check this out, you have to go to the Steam Labs section of Steam and click ‘Try the Store Navigation Experiment’. You’ll get a new set of dropdown menus, and Lars Doucet, who was a key co-creator of this feature when contracting at Valve, has some additional comments on Twitter.

He notes: “What this feature does is give a dedicated "home" to just about every sizeable niche on steam. These pages have all the stuff - carousels, recommended new releases, and individual charts (New & Trending, Top Sellers, What's Popular, Top Rated, Upcoming).”

Some of this already existed for individual Steam tags - which can be way too granular, actually. But these are now far more intelligent hybrids - landing pages that can also be subdivided by tag, and are more better categorized than just the micro (tag) or the macro (massive genre). Here’s an example:

The Steam Labs blog post - which has a ton more detail - notes that overall, there are “48 genre categories, 8 theme categories, and 7 player mode categories, for a total of 63 new categories. Clicking on any of these will take you to a dedicated content hub, a landing page dedicated to that kind of game.”

Anyhow, we think this is great, because… of course we would. It’s the kind of encyclopedic subcategorization that most other stores that can only aspire to. There’s always the question of whether most Steam users (or users in general) actually navigate via detailed subcategories, vs. going straight to specific pages, or just searching, though.

But more ways to surface games is always good. And I for one hope that this Labs experiment graduates to the full site. It seems genuinely handy…

What are indie game player numbers on PlayStation and Xbox?

We’ve been waiting to talk about this, because we wanted to see if the folks at GamStat.com would carry on updating their site. But it looks like they are finished, sadly. So we’d like to talk about their metrics before it’s too late (the site froze its stats in mid-November and bowed out! So it’s getting rapidly out of date…)

Basically, GamStat uses achievement sampling and other APIs (explanation!) to sample and estimate total player numbers for Xbox One and PlayStation 4 games. And in our view, it’s ‘not inaccurate’ - i.e. not exact, but also somewhat indicative. And don’t forget - player numbers aren’t sales (giveaways, Game Pass, all kinds of other one-offs.)

But in the meantime, let’s highlight a couple of random/interesting examples in there.

  • Look at the difference between ‘just launching’ on PlayStation 4, as excellent puzzle adventure Carto did (1,000 players from October 27th to November 19th), or launching onto Game Pass on Xbox (84,000 players across Xbox and PC Game Pass). Of course, funding and long-term prospects are quite different between those release methods too…

  • We haven’t seen that many ‘regular indie folks’ talking about well-done Dark Souls-a-like Mortal Shell, which also debuted on Epic Games Store (lower-profile stats wise!) But heck, 75,000 Xbox players and 200,000 PlayStation 4 players up to November 19th since its August relesae date indicate that it’s doing rather well for a game that doesn’t get hella Twitter love.

  • Were you to believe the overall stats for new releases, you’d see that around 65 of the 140 new PlayStation 4 games have more than 1,000 players in the first month of monitoring* (*remember, that may not be a full month on sale), and around 85 of the 120 new Xbox One/Windows Games Store games* (*previous caveat, also some games launching straight into Game Pass!) Interesting theoretical numbers, anyhow.

  • Overall, it’s interesting to look at some of the outliers for players in both directions. For example, Sakuna: Of Rice & Ruin, which is a smash hit in Japan and doing pretty well elsewhere, has 43,000 players in just a week on PS4 (as of Nov. 19th.) On the other hand, Ray’s The Dead has just a couple of hundred players on PS4, and has a few days more on sale. I guess there was an article about that? Aw.

Anyhow, there’s lots more fun data to poke around, if you take it with a grain of salt. And we’re hoping another site will come along and carry on GamStat’s good work. (We’d be happy to fund someone to do it as part of GameDiscoverCo - ping us if you’re interested!)

The game discovery news round-up..

As always, there’s a whole crazy amount of other stuff going on. So here’s our attempt to encapsulate it in just, uhh, seven or eight bullet points. That isn’t too many, right? (Don’t worry, you can skip at least 50 percent of them if you want.)

  • An update to the last free newsletter on PC/console platform share: I did get some (justifiable!) pushback from a couple of devs/funders who noted that - even now - Switch is the best-selling platform for their often Nintendo fan-friendly (2D? family-centric?) titles. My impression is that this is generally a ‘sell kinda poorly on Steam and OK/good on Switch’ situation, rather than ‘sells good on Steam & spectacular on Switch’? But YMMV!

  • Cloud gaming news: Microsoft has confirmed that, if you have Xbox Game Pass Ultimate, it will be “embracing multiple devices and providing a consistent Xbox experience wherever you log in, whether that’s on your Xbox Series X|S, PC, Xbox One, Android device or – starting in Spring 2021 – your Windows PC and iOS device from the cloud.” Not a surprise, but interesting to see it officially ‘on the record’.

  • Now that the 2021 Independent Games Festival is open for entries (disclaimer: I used to help run the IGF!), judge Moomanibe has a Twitter thread talking about how and why you should enter, from her perspective: “My feeling here has always been: It's a way to get your game in front of devs and press who can become your advocates… The judge and jury pools have indie veterans, press, etc, who have signal-boosting and deal-making power.” And you might even surprise yourself and get a nom! There’s also practical tips on the best ways to present your submission.

  • In ‘Steam is big’ news, the Cyberpunk 2077 launch created two notable new milestones“Steam is once again breaking concurrently logged in users records, this time hitting 24.8 milllion. Previous record was 24.5mil back in April when COVID lockdowns and work-from-home started… And for the first time ever, there are currently two games on Steam which have one million concurrent players each simultaneously.” (That’s Cyberpunk and Counter-Strike GO!)

  • Over on YouTube, Ashley Gwinnell of Force Of Habit has put out a video discussing all-time sales for his indie game Toast Time over a lot of platforms (iOS, Android, Steam, Switch) and many years - 2013 to 2018. Always great to see transparency, and particularly intriguing to see its Nintendo Switch launch in November 2018 go pretty slowly, with about $2,700 lifetime revenue. (It’s a particularly lo fi pixel-y effort, likely why. But it did better on iOS and Android & made its lifetime costs back!)

  • Of interest to you lucky folks who read our deep-dive Apple Arcade subscriber-only article, Josh Burns compiled a survey of Apple game players and Apple Arcade subscribers, with some intriguing data. One to highlight: “it seems like Screen Time/parental controls are an underestimated feature of Arcade, as the proportion of subscribers considering it a key driver of subscribing is more than double that of “trial-ers.”” (More credence that Apple Arcade is more of a family service than anything else right now.)

  • Microlinks: great to see Humble’s Black Game Developer Fund making its first 5 investments; Xbox & friends Game Pass blasting out another 10+ games for the rest of December, including Among Us (PC), after 10 in the first half; Nintendo Switch has turned on notifications for individual game news channels, making updates slightly higher-profile!

  • Bonus microlinks: NPD’s November U.S. game hardware/software results show that everything went up a lot in revenue (duh!); PlayStation 5 downloads in U.S./Canada launch month topped by Miles Morales, Call Of Duty, and Demon’s Souls (also now available for your delectation: European PS5 and U.S./Europe PS4 charts!)

Finally for this newsletter, not content with analyzing platform and discovery problems for the current millennium, I have a significant interest in game history. (I’m on the board of the Video Game History Foundation & help run their Twitter feed!)

So I was delighted to combine my interests and unearth this behind-the-scenes data point from the ‘90s about… arcade game $ breakeven stats, at $20k per San Francisco Rush arcade machine:

[This newsletter is handcrafted by GameDiscoverCo, a new agency based around one simple issue: how do players find, buy and enjoy your premium PC or console game. You can now subscribe to GameDiscoverCo Plus to get access to exclusive newsletters, interactive daily rankings of every unreleased Steam game, and lots more besides!]

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About the Author(s)

Simon Carless


Simon Carless is the founder of the GameDiscoverCo agency and creator of the popular GameDiscoverCo game discoverability newsletter. He consults with a number of PC/console publishers and developers, and was previously most known for his role helping to shape the Independent Games Festival and Game Developers Conference for many years.

He is also an investor and advisor to UK indie game publisher No More Robots (Descenders, Hypnospace Outlaw), a previous publisher and editor-in-chief at both Gamasutra and Game Developer magazine, and sits on the board of the Video Game History Foundation.

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