[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.]
Well, we’re back for the second time this week. And it looks like there’s a bumper crop of game discovery news to get to, further down this here GameDiscoverCo newsletter. (None of this news is about this terrible Among Us pastiche called Among Ass that I found on Steam. But perhaps it should have been?)
In the meantime, let’s lead off with a useful chart or two that we don’t see very often - and a call for more data on the matter:
Per-platform week 1 revenue - some new data!
So, it’s great to see people being very transparent with what is going right - or wrong, haha - with their Steam PC game launches. That’s half the point, right? The more of this information that can get out the better…
But you see relatively little discussion of multi-platform revenue, including console. So I was delighted when The First Tree dev David Wehle went public with the following week 1 revenue percentages for his third-person exploration game starring a fox:
How did The First Tree do on all six platforms? Well this should give you an idea. Some notes: I released on Switch in 2018, and it's a different beast now. I also received front-page features by Steam, Switch, Xbox, and Apple. #gamedev pic.twitter.com/mqopHdVsQU— David Wehle (@DavidWehle) November 27, 2020
It’s important to remember that all these versions launched at different times. (Looks like the Steam version debuted in September 2017, the console versions in November 2018, and the iOS/Android versions in late 2020.)
Additional salient points: as David notes, Switch’s release schedule got way more crowded since late 2018 (though his game is good & Switch-friendly, and would have done at least 2x as good as Xbox or PS4 even today, in our view.) Also, The First Tree got an iOS launch feature from Apple, and elsewhere in mobile, David says “Not sure what happened with Android... I got countless requests and no one bought it.”
I was originally hoping to include some other titles I have access to stats for. But a lot of them have anomalies (launching into Xbox Game Pass, or missing certain versions) which make them non-perfect examples.
So we wanted to ask - can some of you ‘donate’ anonymous % data on PC/console first week sales for your game(s)? If you can, here’s a Google Form to fill out with your relative first week sales per platform. I’ll print the results if anyone brings the numbers…
How about ‘long tail’ for these different platforms?
Yes, first week revenue is one thing, but continued sales on these platforms is another. Anecdotally, here’s what I’ve heard about some of the long tail pluses and minuses for non-Steam platforms:
Seems like you can rack up decent long-term revenue on Switch by discounting regularly, since its discounting rules are closer to Steam’s (being time-based). Perhaps at the cost of longer-term devaluation of games, though?
Sony and Microsoft’s rules over discounting are more restrictive/bottlenecked than either Steam or Switch, and long tail may be affected (somewhat negatively) by that. But hey, less long-term devaluation of games as a product*. (*Except Game Pass, lol.)
iOS premium games can have decent long-tail revenue if they get repeatedly Apple featured. But of course you can’t charge as much $ per unit, which is a bit of a killer.
One theme endures, though - of PC/Steam revenue being a bigger chunk of the total % than you might expect, especially for ‘indie-looking’ games. (Don’t presume you’ll quadruple your PC revenue just by launching on all the consoles. Unless you have a game which truly appeals to a core console game player. At which point… back up those money trucks!)
Follow-up: Apple’s 15% cut for App Store games
Thanks to everyone who read or commented on our recent GameDiscoverCo newsletter - ‘Does Apple's 15% platform cut change the game?’, discussing Apple’s changes to its royalty rate for smaller devs.
There were some super interesting responses, on both Apple and platform cuts in general. Wanted to highlight the following ones:
Thanks to Owen Goss (Disco Zoo) for pointing out an error. I originally implied that the 15% App Store cut was retroactive to 2020, and this is incorrect. (I was misreading this confusingly phrased piece of text: “Existing developers who made up to $1 million in 2020 for all of their apps, as well as developers new to the App Store, can qualify for the program [which starts in January 2021] and the reduced commission.”)
A comment on the Gamasutra version of the post from Richard East brings up the ‘true’ commission rate on Nintendo Switch: “Nintendo's cut is effectively 25% when considering their 5% 'coin rebate'. This might even be a bigger boost to indies than a 25% actual commission, since it encourages purchasers to use up those coins before their 12 month expiry.”
Just to capture my own reply to Richard on Switch’s real royalty rate: “It's 25% in a weird abstract way, because the coin rebate might or might not be spent on your games? I bet for cheap/90% off games, a lot of the spending is 'free money' via coins. (Relatedly: I don't think we've even seen stats on the percentage of people who actually use their coins. I suspect it's nowhere near 100%, because it's not super well explained on the eShop.)”
Finally, Tenderfoot Tactics dev Badru took issue with me calling financial group Vanguard a good ownership model, correctly pointing out that Vanguard is one of the biggest shareholders into U.S. private prisons. This is because Vanguard blindly invests in all the top public companies (unless you opt not to by picking very specific funds.) If we’re trying to talk about ethics & capitalism, it’s only right we should be called out on ethics. (Semi-related: Badru has a hot tamale opinion piece about Itch and Steam that is worth poking your head into.)
The game discovery news round-up..
And we’re at the ‘lots of things to round up’ stage of this GameDiscoverCo newsletter. So this is the part you can doomscroll past if there’s just a little bit too much of it for you. But some of it is useful - honest!
Xbox Game Pass things: its mammoth December content update includes games like Control, Gang Beasts, Slime Rancher, & Yes, Your Grace. And the latest Xbox software update includes a number of new features, but in particular: “Xbox Game Pass members can pre-install certain games before they launch on the subscription service.” It’s a great service!
On Steam - after the Autumn sale & Steam Award nominations launched, a number of games (like RISK - pictured!) saw significant positive Steam review bumps. This was related to the Steam Awards asking for reviews alongside nominations. So if you’re a fan-beloved game, or one that was particularly suited for a specific award, you did well. (Yes, Your Grace picked up 300 reviews, for example.)
Thought these poll results from Scourgebringer’s Thomas Altenburger on ‘the most stunning art direction’ for pixel art games were super interesting. Top games? Hyper Light Drifter, Owlboy, Celeste, Blasphemous, SNK games, Children Of Morta, Sword & Sworcery, Dead Cells. That’s a good set of games to look at - and also to ponder how a combination of art and gameplay made people dig the art even more?
You get a lot of great perspective on the state of the game biz from Rami Ismail (ex-Vlambeer, currently everywhere at the same time), so I dug this round-up of his NG20+ online conference talk. Lots of platform/discovery stuff touched on: “The industry keeps pushing to find a way to move away from that premium model that I personally love… But it is abundantly clear that if we're going to be making the games that are selling right now, that those models might not be as sustainable as we thought.”
Discussing Vecter, a free runner/shooter that’s racked up 300,000 downloads on Steam - it’s basically 100% free, with a small optional DLC - the dev (Taranasus) made an interesting Patreon post with full stats. In the first year: “Free Downloads: 262,671… Steam DLC units: 522… Steam DLC Revenue: $2,201.” His conclusion is a good one: “If you want to make a living out of donations, true donations, DO NOT DO THIS, there are much more efficient ways to make money. However, if your are like me and don't care about the money, just want people to play your game: 100% DO THIS!”
Microlinks: how PS5’s (controversial but cool) Activities challenges were pitched to devs; there’s now a ‘trending with friends’ section on your Switch user page - interesting discoverability, not super well-trafficked location for it; 23rd Annual Independent Games Festival nominations will open on Monday, December 7th.
Microlinks, part 2: PlayStation Plus has selected multiplayer games for December’s ‘freebies’, including Worms Rumble & Rocket Arena, a good boost to their online playerbase; the NPD has stats on player behavior changes since COVID hit, with 45-54 year olds playing 59% more!; this week’s Steam top sellers include a lot of the evergreens, with Cyberpunk 2077 topping charts on pre-orders alone. (What a juggernaut!)
Finally for this newsletter, Brace Yourself Games’ Ryan Clark has created a second in his video series about how to make video game hooks (ironically called ‘Part 2’ - not very hook-y, Ryan! Here’s ‘Part 1’.)
But this is all INCREDIBLY good stuff. And it’s right at the core of what I’m trying to preach with this newsletter. You need the right design or angling to get people to notice your game, even before you get to ‘marketing’ it. Go check it out:
[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!]