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Which platforms should you launch your video game on first?
It's not as obvious as it looks. Plus: Roblox analysis & latest news.
June 2, 2022
5 Min Read
[The GameDiscoverCo game discovery newsletter is written by ‘how people find your game’ expert & company founder Simon Carless, and is a regular look at how people discover and buy video games in the 2020s.]
We are getting there, folks. After a holiday start to the week, it takes a while to get back into the swing of things. Which is why this newsletter is a day late (and not a dollar short, we reckon!)
But we’re in the building, and have twin focuses for main stories today - game launch platforms & Roblox. Though to be clear, we are not claiming you should be simul-shipping on Nintendo Switch and Roblox. (Well… maybe we’d like to see someone try?)
Which platforms should you ship your game on first?
A few days ago, Patrick Klepek put out an excellent piece on VICE called: ‘One Dev’s Xbox Struggles May Show How Game Pass Is Already Changing Games’. In it, he chats to The Game Bakers about their experience shipping rather beautiful ‘love adventure’ Haven, and how it affected platform choices for their new Furi DLC.
Basically, since Haven was Xbox Game Pass on Day 1 (and standalone Xbox sales weren’t awesome), and Furi was featured on PlayStation Plus at launch back in 2016 but also never sold great on Xbox, The Game Bakers’ Audrey Leprince says:
“We talked to the team at Xbox to see if there was a way to get some support, but Furi didn’t align with the Game Pass strategy focused on new titles… This is why we took the decision not to bring the DLC to Xbox at launch: the chances the investment was not going to recoup were high.”
What’s particularly neat about the article is that it snapshots units downloaded/sold per platform for both 2020’s Haven, and 2016’s Furi (before this new DLC hit.) Here’s Haven’s players, both including and not including Game Pass:
So this shows the power of Game Pass in terms of sheer players. Heck, 73% of all LTD folks who downloaded Haven did so via a Game Pass subscription. And then, here’s the Furi stats, with the caveat that 2016 was a loong time ago, and PS+ is changing:
Leaving aside the fact that doing DLC for a game released in 2016 is unusual - to say the least - it’s interesting to me that The Game Bakers would skip only Xbox for the Furi DLC, based on these stats. (It was presumably PS4 and PS5 combined for Haven doing 4x the paid units on Xbox that partly convinced them?)
If you look back to the original Furi release, there wasn’t that much paid difference between Xbox and PlayStation. And since the team ended up having to do a public statement re: ‘DLC is on all platforms except Xbox’, it elicited some grumpy responses online. We think we would have just shipped on Xbox too - and hoped to recoup longterm. (But we don’t know how large DLC port costs would have been.)
Anyhow, you do have a lot of choice, as a developer or publisher, about which platforms to ship on. And The Game Bakers were 100% right that ‘ship simultaneously on all PC/console game platforms’ is not the right approach for many, nowadays. Here are some alternate configs we’ve seen:
PC first, and then console for (or after) 1.0 release: for example with Skul: The Hero Slayer and especially with a lot of more complex PC titles like Rust, which needed time to come to console. Big advantage: you can get the community to knock out early bugs & improve (and ‘prove out!’) the game. Disadvantage: you can’t do ‘one big launch push’, traditional PR-wise.
PC and Switch only at launch: we’ve seen some publishers such as Devolver doing this, for example for upcoming pixel-y title Gunbrella. You need a lot more paid QA in order to pass Switch cert sufficiently ahead of time. But - at least until recently - the two-platform push could be worth it.
PC & whoever pays you to be in a subscription service Day 1: see Xbox/PC Game Pass in particular! Also PlayStation Plus - maybe not Apple Arcade any more. Money talks here, and of course you’ll make sure a console version is ready Day 1, if you get the correct payment and reach for it.
PC (and console?) & mobile at the same time: with the advent of games like Genshin Impact, it really does seem like you can make a truly platform independent game that isn’t Fortnite or Minecraft, if you get it right. There’s not a lot of these that work without a lot of tweaking, tho. More often, games come to mobile later, like with Apex Legends. But it’s worth considering…
There’s some big questions around this subject. A lot of old school folks will presume that simultaneously shipping on all consoles and PC is best - also in part because it can justify higher upfront game budgets.
But the ‘simul-ship at all costs’ approach is more expensive and complex. And your flops can be even larger and more painful as a result. To us, it’s also redolent of the ‘freeze all content 4 months before release’ approach - which isn’t so compatible with multiple pre-release demos, tweaking the game constantly based on user feedback, etc.
So we do think everyone should be asking what you lose and what you gain by debuting on lots of platforms at the same time, in terms of both opportunity cost, flexibility & money? And we commend The Game Bakers for being up front about it.
[We’re GameDiscoverCo, an agency based around one simple issue: how do players find, buy and enjoy your premium PC or console game? We run the newsletter you’re reading, and provide consulting services for publishers, funds, and other smart game industry folks.]
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About the Author(s)
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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