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2023 in video games - what do we know already?
Also: new Steam release dates, Netflix's latest buy, & lots more!
[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.]
Welcome, creepy guests, and it’s a spooky day that has already come and gone for you lovely Europeans. (Hope you got too much candy!) In the U.S., we’re just ramping up to hand out lollipops to excited munchkins. And.. this newsletter to you?
And as we chuckle our way through a Twitter thread of Stable Diffusion making ‘realistic’ AI versions of Sega’s House Of The Dead, and contemplate our future among the horrific machines, let’s get to some proper trend forecastin’, shall we?
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2023 in games: there’s graphs to be perused now!
If we have our chronology right, the history of ‘the future of tech described in a lot of complex charts’ goes something like this: first, there was hallowed tech analyst/VC Mary Meeker, who did yearly Internet Trends reports from 1995 to 2019 (!)
But it looks like the last one was pre-pandemic, boo. Luckily, Activate Consulting’s Michael Wolf started doing a ‘similar’ report in 2016 for WSJ Tech Live after Meeker decamped with her showcase to the Code Conference, & has kept his going.
2023’s ‘Technology & Media Outlook’ is a hyper-dense 181 pages (!), downloadable in .PDF via the Activate page. But there’s 17 pages on video games & eSports, and another 30 on ‘the metaverse’. And here’s what we wanted to highlight for games:
Sure, there’s a few weird things in the above ‘logo matrix’ for big tech firms & games, disclaimed in the fine print we snipped out. (Garry’s Mod is a stretch for Valve/’virtual world’ - it uses the Source engine.) But the ‘full-stack’ approach to games from tech giants is 100% right - and it’s great to see it visualized like this.
Activate comments: “Major technology companies are leveraging their scale to acquire game publishers in pursuit of full-stack gaming capabilities. This is only the beginning for M&A in the gaming space, as we expect industry consolidation to continue.” We agree, and see even big firms like Embracer and EA ‘in play’ for the future.
The firm does its own consumer surveys, and has an interesting data slice from one of them (below). It suggests that ‘Habitual Gamers’, which they define as “gamers who view gaming as their primary source of entertainment and follow gaming content online”, are “more likely to be male, younger, and higher- income, and they dedicate more time to gaming across multiple devices.”
We found the report’s thirty pages on ‘metaverse’ a little trickier to decode, given everyone’s lack of clarity about what the metaverse even is. But here’s some takeaways:
Activate is very much in the ‘the metaverse is games, duh’ camp, suggesting: “The Metaverse is already here (not years away): virtual worlds, experiences, large scale user bases, functionality, IP, user agency, and social activities largely exist inside of video games today and will provide the foundation for the future.”
Their survey suggests that 77% of gamers have participated in ‘non-gaming activities’ in games in the last 12 months, with 47% socializing and meeting new people, 34% creating or personalizing an avatar, 24% purchasing virtual goods, and 21% creating new games or levels. So far, so Ready Player One…
Also notable: “Mixed reality will significantly enhance immersion, but will not be critical to the growth of the Metaverse; we forecast that VR and AR headset sales will fall short in reaching the great majority of potential Metaverse users.” In other words, whatever is coming in the next 5 years isn’t going to be VR or AR-led..
Anyhow, that’s just a taste of Activate’s full report. But it’s good to see firms which are not solely focused on games dive into how everyone’s media usage evolves in the future. (With pretty graphs - don’t forget the pretty graphs...)
PSA: release date info is a-changin’ on Steam…
We promise we’re not turning into the ‘Steam parish newspaper’ here. But the crew at Valve announced an important change to game release dates late last week. So we’re passing it along and interpreting it for you.
More broadly, the team announced “we’re standardizing the way future dates are displayed, so that shoppers have a localized, consistent, and understandable way to view upcoming releases.” Specifically:
Starting now - with a forced transition* at the end of the year, devs can choose their public release date to be any of these options: “The exact date. “Aug 24, 2023”; Month-and-year. “August 2023”; The quarter of the calendar year. “Q3 2023”; The year. "2023"; No date at all. “Coming Soon”.” (*Your game will say ‘Coming Soon’ if you don’t change it by then.)
This makes a lot of sense, since previously: “One-off jokes or references don’t translate, and date descriptions vary from place to place.” In general, devs seem very happy with this change, except a) being sad that ‘funny release strings’ are gone, and b) some people suggesting ‘Coming Soon’ is too aggressive a phrase, and ‘To Be Announced’ would be better.
Devs will still have a specific private release date, “which is helpful for [Valve] to understand roughly when games intend to release - even if you choose not to share that exact date with customers.” But it’ll be 100% private - as opposed to the current one, which was recently exposed by a store API, and has led to some awkwardness. (Even though ‘private’ release dates aren’t always more accurate.)
From our data scraping point of view, we’re delighted, because we previously tried to interpret a multitude of weird date names. (Or just ‘jokes in the date field!’) And for devs, it’ll be good, because it’ll make the two different fields way clearer. Hurray.
Oh, and Valve’s fix for people trying to game ‘Popular Upcoming’ lists is still in place: “You can change the release date of your game up to two weeks prior to your specified date. Once you are within that two week window, your game will start showing up more in ‘upcoming releases’ lists. Once this visibility starts, you can no longer adjust your release date.”
The game discovery news round-up..
And let’s finish things off in style, with the following wonderful, spectacular, and sometimes even interesting (!) video game discovery and platform news, as follows:
Netflix just got another internal studio, acquiring Cozy Grove & Alphabear creator Spry Fox. A smart acquisition by Netflix, since Spry Fox knows how to make interesting, joyful games that could work as part of a game subcription. The team is “already focused on making Cozy Grove 2 as well as a larger, non-violent MMO.”
Some datamining has revealed that the latest Steam client beta includes early code for moving games between PCs (or to a Steam Deck): “On Thursday, SteamDB creator… Pavel Djundik Tweeted a new discovery in Steam's code: a ‘peer content’ client/server mode. His takeaway… ‘Valve is seemingly working on peer-to-peer Steam downloads on LAN.’” No longer re-downloading games to Steam Deck? Smart.
Xbox’s Phil Spencer has his WSJ Tech Live interview now viewable here, and Protocol deep-mined it for extra context, including this ActiBlizz deal claim: “This opportunity is really about mobile for us… When you think about 3 billion people playing video games, there's only about 200 million households on console.” In MS’ view: “We have to break that duopoly of only two storefronts on the largest [mobile] platforms.”
Big TikTok things: firstly, Wednesday is TikTok’s first big video game showcase, and the invite says that “leading publishers are launching games on our platform”, with folks from EA, 2K, NetEase, & Playtika lined up to speak. This seems to related to reports that TikTok is launching a ‘Games’ tab - which would be a big deal, right?
We like highlighting PC/console ‘paid DLC strategy’, and Firaxis/2K’s Marvel’s Midnight Suns is launching at $60 with an extra $40 ‘season pass’, which includes Morbius, Deadpool, Venom, and Storm DLC, each of which is getting “new story missions, a new upgrade for the [central game hub], and a selection of new skins and outfits” alongside the character itself.
Sure, we all knew Meta’s Quest 3 would be coming in 2023, but Meta now said so: “Meta shared the brief confirmation with shareholders during its Q3 2022 earnings call, saying that the upcoming headset was a driver of the growing operating costs of its Reality Labs division.” Yep, that’s a $9 billion AR/VR loss YTD, with losses ‘growing significantly’ from there in 2023, wowzers.
All hail Steampoacher! As explained by its creator Lasersink: “Copy the URL from any Steam store page and paste it into the box… and you'll see all the store image assets and library assets. Right click to download. Should be useful for content creators (thumbnails etc.) and websites covering PC games too.” And for devs, too!
Apple rolled out new iOS App Store ad placements that allowed sponsored ‘You Might Like’ app suggestions. This lead to gambling app ads beneath ‘gambling recovery’ apps, general distaste for the concept & a pause of “ads related to gambling and a few other categories on App Store product pages.” And separately, “the industry backlash towards Apple has been increasing as the tech giant pushes to make more money from its software services.”
Here’s a video walkthrough of Xbox’s new home UI for 2023, and The Verge’s Tom Warren says: “While there are some much-needed improvements, the home section of the Xbox dashboard is starting to feel like one giant Xbox Game Pass ad.” Right now, you can’t customize the interface - but it’s possible this’ll come later.
Microlinks: Amazon Fire TVs are getting their own cloud gaming hub featuring Luna; Amazon’s Prime Gaming November free picks are up, including Fallout: New Vegas; Microsoft “powers up search for Chinese gaming hits in race against Sony.”
Finally, since it’s Halloween today, here’s Fruit Ninja designer Luke Muscat terrifying us all with ‘spooky tales of game dev disasters’, including 35% of a game.. disappearing:
[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.]