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The faces of 'the creator economy' for DIY games

Who are the 'creators who aren’t full-time game devs' making popular games and mods for game creation platforms? We explore game discovery by talking to them.

[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.]

Hey, crew - and welcome back. I’ve been struggling through a heavy cold here (though it’s not COVID, I checked!) But we’ve gotta make sure you keep getting access to all that sweet, sweet game discovery data - and that’s exactly what we’re going to do.

For our lead-off story this week, we’re rolling into something that not many of you play in, but many of you should think about - the ‘creators who aren’t full-time game devs’ making popular games and mods for game creation platforms.

Core, creators, and the content they make.

We’ve talked a bit in the past about new ‘metaverse’-ish platforms like Roblox and Dreams. These often allow a lot deeper user-generated content than you might be used to with ‘regular games’ - which may allow you to make new levels or small mods, but largely maintain pre-existing gameplay.

Within GameDiscoverCo’s output, ‘Should we take Roblox seriously as a game discovery platform?’ is the most direct piece we’ve had on it so far. But we’ve also spotted articles like ‘The creator economy comes for gaming’ by Joost van Dreunen, which talks about the possible paradigm shifts upcoming:

“By opening up the creative process to players and outside developers, publishers effectively outsource innovation and de-risk their business. Shifting that onus from a small team of professional designers to a huge crowd of fans and passionate players enormously scales the design process.”

But what do these games really look like, and who is making them? As it happens, some people representing Unreal Engine-based ‘Roblox for adults’ game creation/play platform Core reached out to me, as they’ve recently nabbed $100 million to further expand the platform.

So rather than talking to the CEO (too obvious!), I was able to get them to contact some of the top creators on the still-nascent Core platform, and have them answer some questions. And here’s some of the conclusions we reached:

  • Many top creators are already experienced in modding/creation: for example, French-based creator Eskil (23), who has made a host of popular Core games, including Death Run (above video), said: “After stopping my projects on Garry's Mod, I was looking for a simple way to create multiplayer games and I came across an official Core video showing a tutorial… I published my first game "Mine Core" on June 1st 2020, and then over time I created lots of other projects.”

  • Similar types of multiplayer games get popular over multiple platforms : it shouldn’t be surprising that Roblox, Fortnite, Minecraft and Core end up with lots of overlapping game types. For example, Eskil made Death Run for Core, but we found ‘death run’ gameplay in Minecraft and in Fortnite’s Creative mode. And BenEast, a 23 year old creator from Huntsville, Alabama who spoke to us, made Balloon Simulator (100,000 plays without being featured!) on Core, which looks quite similar to a Roblox game of the same name. Also big on Core: ‘Island Survival’, a survival game built on the platform - yes, survival is massive in Roblox too.

  • Use of popular (but unauthorized) IP is occasionally a big thing: one of the bigger games on Core is Eskil’s Hero Academia X2 (750,000 plays), which is clearly based on the anime/manga My Hero Academia, about “a prestigious high school for heroes in training.” It looks like the majority of Core games don’t do this, but when you’re dealing with younger creators, using IP doesn’t seem bad for them as fans. It could lead to rights complexities for the platform eventually, though.

  • Monetization is important, but a lot of top creators treat it more as a ‘side hustle’: BenEast, creator of Balloon Simulator & the Core version of Undead Defense Tycoon, says: “From the beginning, my goal has been to pay cash for a high-end Tesla with only Core profit, it's my big hairy audacious goal and in 2021 I finally made it!! I have an incredible job at a local startup so I plan on continuing to work on my Core games part-time until I would be insane to not go full-time).”

  • Depending on where you live in the world, the money can be meaningful: Sino from Singapore, who helped make Snake for Core, which is expanding on the whole Slither.io concept, and a bunch of other impressive games, says: “Before Core, I was solely working as a music producer for local artists. With the whole pandemic situation, my work suffered… with my earnings from Core (which turned out to be quite sustainable for me due to the exchange rates) I was able to… pay my monthly expenses such as utility bills, rent and other costs of living.” Creators can make games anywhere, and if you have lower GDP/costs, it might be more meaningful for you.

So, Core is early in its scale and monetization journey. It’s still exclusive to Epic Games Store on PC. And it just launched the Core Multiverse Games, as a tribute to the Olympics - but also an example of how many play styles it’s easy to cook up within Core as a platform.

A key question for the future: what’s the overlap between skillsets and personnel for games or interactive experiences that are big in Roblox, Fortnite creative mode, or Minecraft, and those of us who make games for a living?

And right now, it feels like the most popular Core games are actually not ‘adult versions of Roblox games’ - they’re pretty much the same as Roblox titles. Like the concept of playground games, maybe there’s just going to be a set of casual/fun experiences that all 3D game creation platforms are going to share?

But with some of the scaling-up of complexity and depth on top Roblox titles like Adopt Me!, I can see why eager investors see this space as tempting. Though it feels alien to regular game creators, I think we should keep monitoring it.

If nothing else, the popular tropes of multiplayer games in the space are good hints as to possible standalone games to make! And in a year or two, I think we’ll get a better idea of how the ‘pro game dev teams try to conquer Roblox’ projects end up working out, given reduced royalties to teams vs. releasing standalone. So let’s keep an eye out…

The game discovery news round-up..

Lots of sales and platform announcements this week (and you always love to see it!), so let’s get straight into these, as we round up the game discovery goodness from out there on the Interwebs:

  • Maybe you heard about the PlayStation 5 hitting 10 million hardware sales already? Fastest ever Sony console to 10 million, too. We were particularly interested in software numbers, though: “PS5 exclusives Returnal, released in April, has exceeded 560,000 copies, and Ratchet & Clank: Rift Apart, which was released last month, is already on over 1.1 million units worldwide.” 5.5% and 11% attach rates aren’t bad for those games! And Sony’s MLB The Show 21 has 2 million PlayStation sales and 2 million extra Xbox copies via that odd Game Pass deal.

  • If you dig Gabe Newell talking about Steam Deck, you can now have 27 minutes of Gabe Newell (& Pierre-Loup Griffais) talking about Steam Deck, thanks to IGN’s full interview with him. The hardware being open is stressed, vs. closed console platforms: “If there's [other] hardware [I want to use], I want to attach to it. If there's software, I want to install. I can just go and do it.” It also has shots (around the 9 minute mark) of people bringing up touchscreen menus on the Steam Deck itself. Oh, and other possible names for the handheld were Steam Buddy and Steam Pal. So there.

  • Also worth pointing out Xbox financial results, and as Stephen Totilo notes“Microsoft says Xbox content and services revenue was down in Q2 compared to a year ago due to fewer big third-party games and lockdowns ending, notes rise in Game Pass revenue.” So… is Game Pass revenue cannibalizing or shifting revenue to IAP? Maybe not yet, but we’ll find out over the next few years. Don’t see any major issues for Xbox, though - GI passes along the news that the hardware is the fastest-selling ever for Xbox, and the parent company is doing insanely well.

  • Somebody brought to our attention the Feature Upvote website/service, which is described as follows: “Fed up with feedback coming from 10 different places? Centralise your feedback in one online board. Users add and upvote feedback directly. You quickly surface the most valuable product ideas.” The creators of The Last Spell have been using it, and it looks like you need to do a lot of merging of duplicate suggestions. But for busy GaaS-y games, it might be tempting to use!

  • There’s some interesting attempts to extrapolate Oculus Quest 2 market size due to a voluntary U.S. recall for the Quest 2 foam mask, which causes skin irritation in a small minority of cases. The size of the U.S. recall is around 4 million units (plus 200,000 in Canada), which may include ‘shipped but not sold’ devices too. But various smart devs, including the VR Desktop creators, are guessing this puts Quest 2’s worldwide installed base somewhere between 6 million and 8 million units. It’s starting to get up there!

  • Microlinks: this GDC write-up from Chris Zukowski intro-ed me (via Logan Williams’ talk!) to Hunter.io for finding journalist/streamer emails; the metaverse push at Facebook now includes Crash Bandicoot’s daddy Jason Rubin; interesting to see a few Western games (Among Us, Chivalry II) on the Japanese digital console charts.

Finally, over on the GameDiscoverCo Twitter at the end of last week, we actually revealed our top ‘Steam Hype’ algorithm picks for this week’s Steam releases. It’s a particularly busy and interesting week for Steam debuts:

We don’t show this chart to you most of the time, because it’s exclusive to GameDiscoverCo Plus subscribers. (And it’s missing The Great Ace Attorney Chronicles and one other title, due to some late-breaking changes.)

But thought it was good to highlight it to all this time. You’ll see over 10 titles launching this week with more than 4,000 Steam followers - many of them very high quality. We’ll be doing a follow-up in Friday’s GameDiscoverCo Plus-exclusive newsletter, breaking down how these titles fared.

And we just wanted to say - look up all these games, understand the breadth of talent out there making games in 2021, and marvel. But also calibrate your expectations. It’s never been more possible to have a break-out hit. But it’s also never been busier out there, high quality game-wise.

[We’re GameDiscoverCo, a new agency based around one simple issue: how do players find, buy and enjoy your premium PC or console game! Hope you enjoyed this newsletter!]

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