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Steam's marketing tracking, Epic's exclusivity data & more 2

The latest game discovery round-up looks at Steam's new UTM tracking solution, an Epic Game Store exclusivity database, and lots more besides.

Simon Carless, Blogger

April 7, 2021

7 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.]

Sending the second free GameDiscoverCo newsletter of the week out a little early, since there’s some time-embargoed Steam news from the Valve crew that we wanted to share in real-time, as it was announced.

So let’s get to it. And we’ll have room for plenty of other game discovery news after this (actually fairly exciting!) reveal.

Steamworks reveals UTM Analytics for devs

As you read this newsletter, Steam is announcing a new (privacy-friendly) way to track how people find, wishlist, or buy your game. As the official announce (there’s also a very helpful YouTube video!) reveals:

“Today we’re updating Steam and Steamworks with a new set of analytics to help developers measure the effectiveness of marketing efforts that direct players toward their games on Steam. This new service is able to describe which marketing campaigns are resulting in purchases, wishlists, and/or product activations, and it is built with players' identity and privacy in mind.”

Interestingly, this system is using UTM tracking - the acronym standing for ‘Urchin Tracking Module’, which this page on UTMs notes was “a web analytics software that served as the base for Google Analytics.” It seems like a fairly transparent system.

It’s not ‘secret’ tracking on a grand scale, or building lots of player behavior data linked to a consumer’s Steam account. If a player goes to a Steam page from one of your emails (say: ?utm_source=email), it takes that referral as an abstracted user event. It then sees if anything happens to that user following the referral, and adds it to an anonymized mass of data about conversions.

In fact, Steam particularly notes in their announce: “We take customer privacy very seriously and do not share personal data in the UTM Analytics report…

  • The report never includes Steam ID's or any other info about individual users

  • The report only provides visit and conversion data in total numbers

  • The report excludes showing data for unique UTM combinations if a minimum threshold for visits is not met.”

My 2c: perhaps UTM tracking is not the all-in-one panopticon that some high-end game marketing folks were looking for. (It’s not using super complex tracking, or allowing third-party tracking systems to be embedded onto Steam. Which is good from a privacy point of view for users.)

But for a ‘regular dev’ on Steam who uses multiple promotion methods (Twitter, email, own website), it’s great. And even for tracking paid ads, it should be a super useful way to get an idea of where wishlists and purchases are coming from. Very happy about this, because we can finally get real data on paid ads and Steam.

Bonus: practical answers from Valve

So, I’m a discovery guy, and not an expert marketer. But I had a chance to ask Valve a couple of specific questions that sprang into my head, ahead of this announce. And here’s what they said:

Q: If someone comes to your page via a specific UTM link (let's say an email!), doesn't wishlist then, but goes back 7 days later and wishlists - would that wishlist still be attached to that UTM?

A: Conversions (wishlist, purchase, activation) are counted if they occur within 3 days of the UTM visit.  So, in your seven-day example the wishlist would not be attached to that UTM visit, since the wishlist happened outside the 3 day window.

Q: If a user eventually has multiple UTMs attached to its IP address, would a wishlist or purchase be attached to the last UTM accessed, or all of them?

A: Only one of the UTM visits will be counted as a conversion (potentially one wishlist and one purchase conversion).  Additional UTM visits by the same customer will not increase the conversion number for that UTM.

Q: Is there a possibility that post-release Steam wishlist emails could have a UTM attached to them in the future, or have you considered that? (Although I think there's already another system that does this.)

A: It’s possible wishlist emails will have UTM attached to them in the future, but we don’t have immediate plans to do this.

Epic Games Store exclusives - what happened to them?

Seems to us like Epic is dialing back the scale of its ‘timed exclusive’ deals for the Epic Games Store, where it would offer creators a guaranteed advance against sales to be exclusively on EGS for 12 months.

This comes as a lot of mid-sized publishers and devs get free access to EGS’ back end, in order to add multiple non-exclusive games and launch them. So EGS is ‘filling out’ with catalog, as exclusive games become a smaller % of line-up. (More on actual sales for non-exclusive games on EGS soon: current anecdotal data is ‘non-spectacular’.)

But which games debuted on EGS, how long were they exclusive for, and what happened to them afterwards? My video game data buddy Al (Morwull on Twitter) has kindly shared with us his Google Drive spreadsheet with a trove of information on Epic exclusives.

It tracks days of exclusivity, shows if a game was released on Steam or GOG after exclusivity ends, and divides games into various categories - including which titles are currently confirmed for other PC storefronts, and which aren’t. Read it and thank him!

And Epic is still going after select high-profile games for exclusives - see the recent announce of Sifu as an Epic Games Store and PlayStation Store exclusive. (I think Epic has been happy with the PS5/Epic overlap on titles like Bugsnax and Godfall, which both sold well on EGS.) So it’s good to be cogniscent of what’s happening in this space.

The game discovery news round-up..

It’s time to hit up the miscellanous discovery and biz links this week - still trying to tease out what works best in this section. For example, many of you don’t do lootboxes, but I think what’s happening to them is still super relevant to the biz as a whole. So it’s in there:

  • Just finishing up the ‘what E3 really is this year’ discussion: it’s an all-digital event with a lot of big publisher participants, but not Sony, EA, Activision Blizzard and others. And as GI.biz notes: “E3 was under pressure even before the pandemic, with long-term supporter Sony announcing it wouldn't be attending the show last year (prior to its COVID-related cancellation).” We’ll see where it goes in the long-term, eh?

  • Have been meaning to bust this quote out for a while. When discussing Steam wishlists, I liked this Iain Lobb comment on Twitter a few weeks back: “I have heard lots of people talk about "wishlist quality". Probably one of those Goodhart's law things - ‘When a measure becomes a target, it ceases to be a good measure.’” Definitely happening to some extent - which is why I dig Steam followers as a metric.

  • The continued ‘government regulation vs. loot boxes’ controversy continues, with Brazil potentially opening a process to ban them. And in the UK, GambleAware put out a report saying “around 5% of loot box purchasers perhaps generate around half of industry loot box revenue, with almost a third of them falling into the ‘problem gambler’ (PGSI 8+) category.” UK gov review into its Gambling Act coming soon, too.

  • There were a few good variety streamers pointed out after the ‘which YouTubers are right for you?’ piece. But particularly wanted to highlight Nookrium, who does videos on a large variety of new games, and also recently conducted a chat with Gamerzakh, himself and Colonel Failure about the state of YouTube for Let’s Play-ers like them - pretty interesting stuff.

  • Drawing your attention to a survey that is being conducted by Game Conference Guide with a goal to discern how industry professionals have been attending events during the pandemic, and if our habits will change in the near future when live events are reintroduced to the calendar.” We’re not affiliated, but fill it out, and we’ll link to the results here.

And that’s it for this week’s free newsletters. Remember, you can support us on GameDiscoverCo Plus to say thanks for our output, and get lots of extra neat stuff. And we’ll see non-Plus subscribers on Monday!

[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, interactive daily rankings of every unreleased Steam game, and lots more besides.]

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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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