[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.]
It’s a brand new week here on the Internet. And we’re delighted to be back, offering all kinds of trends on game platforms, discovery and exactly how people find your game(s).
The Epic/Apple trial will have kicked off by the time you read this, there’s bonus platform lawsuits galore, and… well, it just feels like a dynamic time for the game biz in general. So let’s look at STUFF…
(BTW, paid subscribers to the GameDiscoverCo Plus newsletter got this very helpful newsletter on Friday analyzing the big game hits & trends on Twitch, Steam, and Switch - games like Naraka Bladepoint, The Game Of Life 2, Trials Of Fire & more. Don’t know ‘em? Support us and find out more.)
Dev thoughts on sub services, platform cut, more!
We’re leading off this newsletter with the publishing of Game Developers Conference’s 2021 ‘State Of The Game Industry’ survey, which talked to over 3,000 developers about platforms, trends and more.
Now I’m a little biased, since I worked at GDC’s parent company for 15 years (until 2020) and collab-ed with current GDC showrunner/content lead Katie Stern & Kris Graft to help hone this survey in previous years. And unsurprisingly, there’s some things in here that are of interest to us. Let’s look at ‘em:
Paid subscriptions & game price devaluation?
Starting out, here was the interesting response when asked about subscription services and if they would affect game prices. Perhaps this is one part of a multi-faceted answer - it could be that demand is affected for games, but not price?
Anyhow, you basically see an equally split range of responses here. But looks like devs are more comfortable with these services, not less, since GDC’s survey notes: “That’s a meaningful shift from the previous year when 27% said “Yes,” 26% said “No,” and 46% said “Maybe” or “Not Sure.””
I still think that the gradual shift to a subscription model - especially from Microsoft - will have a material effect on many dev and publisher business models over the next 3-5 years. Which leads us to another indication that things might change…
What percentage cut should platform holders take?
Having originated this question in previous GDC surveys, pleased to see this continue, since it provides very interesting data. As you can see, 43% of respondents think the platform cut should be somewhere between 10-15%. (And 63% of devs think it should be 15% or less.)
The GDC folks also note: “In our previous survey from 2020, when asked a similar question specifically about Steam’s standard cut, 6% of respondents said 30% was justifiable.” So it seems like opinion is shifting here.
Of course, this is perfect timing to introduce some of the other notable news since last week - with Microsoft announcing a 12% platform cut for its PC/Windows game store. And there’s an unredacted Epic/Apple lawsuit document indicating there were - at one point - plans to shift to 12% cut on the Xbox. (BTW, the difference between an 88% cut and a 70% platform is actually 25% more money in dev pockets, so it is fairly meaningful.)
Piers Harding-Rolls from Ampere has a great Twitter thread on this, noting: “Extending the 12% rev share for MS Store from PC to console is, IMO, more likely than not & probably a question of timing. A move like this will be highly disruptive to the other console platform companies.”
Microsoft is cushioned as part of a gigantic tech company with plenty of money in the bank. And as Piers notes: “Commercially, MS can absorb the implications of shifting to a 12% share without breaking a sweat. According to our data, that would have cost MS less than $1.5bn in 'lost' revenue in 2020.”
We believe that the eventual PC/console game biz model will be one where replayable and sometimes persistent Games As A Service-y titles are the ‘normal’ commercial alternative to playing one-off games via subscription services. (And these GaaS-y titles may also be bundled on those subscription services - often just the base game, though.)
It really benefits Microsoft - who has the most developed subscription service - to be an early mover in platform cut reduction. It looks great, it’s not the final direction of their business plans, and they can try to get additional rights using it. The lawsuit document notes the proposed change on PC was “in exchange for the grant of [game] streaming rights to Microsoft.”
And then there’s Epic, who believes a lower percentage cut is simply fair, and is - as we speak - battling Apple in U.S. court about it. It’s an exciting, but complicated time for game platforms, folks!
Bonus: dev platforms of interest
Finally, you should go grab the whole GDC survey for a whole bunch of extra stats on current ‘who is developing for which platform?’ share, plus great info on crunch, pandemic working, diversity & more.
But we thought this graph on ‘platforms that interest developers’ is intriguing. (This doesn’t mean that the highest-rated platforms will sell the most - just that devs are excited about making games for them, or getting to grips with them!)
PC is king, but the PlayStation 5’s high-end use of tech and ‘we want PS5-only games’ attitude has devs a bit hyped, as opposed to Xbox’s incrementalism. And the ever-durable Switch is also the recipient of a lot of interest.
The game discovery news round-up..
It’s becoming clear that the Epic vs. Apple antitrust lawsuit is going to be just a giant sideshow for the next few days/weeks. We’ll cover more later this week, and there’s an official public Box drive with all the exhibits, for the nosy.
But it looks like the court put up all of the first day’s documents early, and then pulled them down, for some reason. (Thanks to the SteamDB Discord for spotting this - court is now gradually re-introducing them.)
Which is where this list of every Epic Games Store free title in its first 9 months - with how much Epic paid up front, and the number of downloads - came from. Wow. Here’s the other news:
An obvious starting point is developer Wolfire (Overgrowth, Receiver) filing its own antitrust suit against Valve. As Ars Technica notes, a chunk of the suit relates to Steam keys: “Valve places significant limits on this feature, which "[rigs] the Steam Keys program so that it serves as a tool to maintain Valve’s dominance," according to the lawsuit.” Wolfire is the dev studio that Humble span out of more than a decade ago. So the question of whether Steam key restrictions are anticompetitive is particularly interesting to them. (Steam allows you to sell your actual game elsewhere for a price of your choice.)
Halfway down the latest Master The Meta newsletter is a very interesting note on the new Chinese government approval processes for games: “On average, foreign games ISBN will take 18-24 months and only 150-200 foreign games will receive ISBN every year.” There’s now scoring based on “value system,” “originality,” quality,” “cultural,” and “development progress” - “score of 4+ will be expedited. Scores of 2 and below will be rejected”, and you get rejected if any category scores 0! Wow - if China ever shuts down current ‘unofficial’ routes to market…
There was another recent Valve Q&A - with 5 members of the Steam staff, no less - as part of an online events series, and here’s the write-up from Off The Beaten Track. Good stuff here on planning for events, the Steam algorithm ‘not having a lot of magic’ and being real-time interest and traffic-led, and lots more besides.
Microlinks: Sony confirming its minority investment in Discord and a deeper hookup between PlayStation Network & Discord in 2022; the Game Production Discord is hosting a chat with [email protected]’s Agostino Simonetta on May 14th; GOG has a refund rate of 1.39% after adopting a more permissive return policy last February.
Worth keeping an eye on - the European Commission has a ‘preliminary view’ that “Apple's rules distort competition in the market for music streaming services by raising the costs of competing music streaming app developers.” Surely this might also later apply to other media such as… video games? We’re not quite there yet, but the government-platform war is only going to get stronger in the near future.
I think most (?) people agree that open platforms for publishing games are good now, But streamer CaseyExplosion expands on this in a Twitter thread inspired by Dusk dev David Szymanski praising Cruelty Squad (what is this game?!) as a great example of a title that’s selling great, is fascinating and might not pass ‘traditional’ curation bars.
Casey notes: “Where platforms had more curation, it resulted in excellent games being rejected.. The rush for curation is a terrible idea, because not only has it proven to hurt indies, you know it'd disproportionately hit LGBT games and devs. And I've complained before about Steam's algorithms recommending hentai puzzle games, but I'll take that over the alternative.”
Josh Hills has a new website called Steam Review Explorer, which allows you to look at games - for example Total War: Rome Remastered - and analyze various fun things, including a tab for ‘highlighted’ which has things like ‘Highest playtime at review time’, ‘Most funny’, and ‘Most helpful’ reviews. Steam Scout has some similar features, but not 100% the same!
We like seeing sales milestones and gutchecking review numbers. So hurrah for the Record of Lodoss War Metroidvania for announcing 100,000 copies sold at the same time it reached 2,900 Steam reviews. That’s 34.4 reviews per copy sold - every so slightly on the low side of the normal 20-60 range, but comfortably within it.
Microlinks 2: Stadia is adding upgrades including new UI layout, but unfortunately led with ‘new search bar’, leading to ridicule; social media sass from Tim Sweeney about why Roblox is allowed to have ‘games within games’ on the iOS App Store; here’s how Amazon book discovery recommendations work, if anyone wants to understand ‘More Like This’ but for novels!
[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.]