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When Your Wishlists Don't Convert

So your game has a lot of Steam wishlists, but then it launches... and it doesn't sell many copies! What happened? We try to delve into it within..

[Hi, I’m Simon Carless, and you’re reading the Game Discoverability Now! newsletter, a regular look at how people find - and buy - your video games. Or don’t.]

Welcome to the latest Tales From Discoverabilityland (phew, that’s a long, invented word!), the latest in a series of posts that round up interesting data or trends around the game discovery space.

There’s a lot going on right now (in terms of devs being honest about their numbers!), so I’m going to blast through a whole bunch of notable data dumps or announcements in a short space! Let’s go!

Great wishlists = poor sales?

While we’ve been discussing how you can hopefully sell 0.5 x your launch number of wishlists in your launch week on Steam, recent days have sadly brought up an exception, in the form of the 2D action platformer WarriOrb, whose devs posted a sad thread on Reddit. In brief:

“Before release we had a free prologue released on Steam, which was "bought" by 80k people and had a very positive review (90% positive, over 200 reviews).. over 16k wishlists, we were listed in Popular Upcoming… [but] we sold 357 copies so far [in 3 days], and 178 of that came from the wishlists.”

So in the end, this is probably going to be <0.05 x launch wishlists in total 1-week sales, rather than 0.5 x. Certainly quite different! This prompted a flood of dev comments on Reddit, some focusing on the game’s quality or the platform’s issues - neither of which I think are directly the problem in hand. I thought Jake Birkett’s comment is particularly worth reading for its logic.

I did comment on the thread, too, & here’s the pertinent part: “If you combine crowded genre, very generous demo [including Achievements], and tonnes of Chinese demo downloads and wishlists... that's probably a chunk of it. Plus the weaker nature of demo-related wishlists, which is universal.”

I’ve slightly been second-guessing myself, though. All of the above is true, but what’s REALLY the most important? At first I thought it was having a Chinese-language demo (rare!) that WarriOrb’s Asian players treated as a ‘free game’ - over 70% of the reviews for the Prologue are in Chinese language.

But now I’m wondering whether Steam’s easily accessible UI is also fooling us more universally on ‘wishlists from demos’ - because it’s so easy to wishlist. See below for a screenshot of the Steam page for a current Prologue (for Zoria):

So, I think in everyone’s mind, players would play your demo, enjoy it, and then hit the wishlist button. But since you can one-click wishlist from the demo page, perhaps a lot of people are doing so before even downloading the demo, more as a reminder?

If so, that’s going to be a significantly worse-quality wishlist, and if your game also isn’t that much expanded from the demo or people are happy with just playing the demo…

But then again, does the added discoverability boost make up for that? Here’s my conclusion:

But we definitely need more data here. Is 0.5x even a fair median number OVERALL for wishlists to first week sales for Steam games? (I just went and looked at Yes, Your Grace - which didn’t have a demo - and it’s a bit >0.5x, but that doesn’t mean it’s representative of non-demo versions either.)

Anyhow, I’m looking forward to more games launching after adding a lot of wishlists using prologues, and hearing the result. You WILL tell us, right?

Steam Prologues Went A Bit Cray-Cray

On a related note, as I noted on Twitter: "OK, I think the 'free Steam prologue as separate game' trend is now out of control, 4 of the latest 8 'New and Trending' games on Steam are free prologues. (It's starting to crowd out discovery mechanisms for paid launches?)."

So yep, people are really getting into the Prologue thing. And there are definitely great alleged success stories too, such as this example from Fly Punch Boom! (Jollypunch Games):

“1 week of demo launch in numbers: - 20K+ unique players - 100+ good reviews - thousands of wishlists on full game - 5K peak daily players - quickplay always full.”

It seems like the positivity on the demo should boost the full version - but then, have you given away too much of the game? Jake Birkett just commented about this exact issue with an alleged success story (Core Defense: Prologue) on Steam:

“I just read that blog, and it says "you can only play 20 of the 50 total waves." That sounds like giving too much away to me. The game isn't on sale yet as far as I can see, so they'll find out how wish demo wishlists convert. Perhaps my formula should be 0.05 for demo WLs.”

I feel like there’s a whole previous set of devs who used to do demos on Xbox Live Arcade and PC shareware who have lessons on how to do good demos, and we’ve probably forgotten all about it. (If you are one of those devs, ping me, I’ll interview you!)

Other… Goodness?

OK, after all the Steam demo farrago, there’s barely enough space to run down other stuff. But we really must, otherwise it’s just all drama and no llama (?!):

  • Look, I made a rare podcast appearance with Thomas Reisenegger & buddies on their Future Friends podcast, talking about game discoverability. Check it out!

  • Steam’s top-selling releases for March were announced by them - congrats to my friends/colleagues at No More Robots & Brave At Night for Yes, Your Grace’s appearance on said list.

  • Logan at Indie Wolverine (I just realized he just named his company after his actual name!) sent me a link to his longform ‘how to get Steam wishlists’ guide, which I’d recommend for some of the streaming outreach info alone.

  • Here’s a very handy numbers thread on Twitter for Endzone: A World Apart, which sold 51,500 copies in its first month! They had a super successful closed beta (from 40k to 120k wishlists) due to a lot of streamers showcasing the beta. Wishlists to sales was 0.28x in first week and 0.43x in first month. Also, sales are 55x number of reviews. Stats over - but click through for more graphs!

  • GOG-related Endzone: A World Apart-related bonus: the devs also revealed that it’s sold 1,800 copies on that platform in the same time, which is… 3.4% of total sales. So maybe my market share estimate the other day wasn’t so tragic.

  • Some more game discovery optimization from the Valve crew? Yep, it’s smarter tag-based searches for games on Steam

  • Kris from Toge Productions has made a small web-based tool “to see the number of [Steam] reviews broken down by language.” Here’s the results for Darkest Dungeon, as an example.

  • I promise that future newsletters won’t talk relentlessly about Steam and nothing else. (It’s rough, though, when I hear that regular indie game sales outside of Switch are generally a smaller fraction of Steam, and no console platforms allow public sales numbers.)

Until next time, enjoy the silence (of no more newsletters until the next time!),

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