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4 big discovery takeaways from 'not-E3'
We examine how the platforms - and the games - fared.
[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.]
Salutations, my comrades in video game discovery. We’re back in our little newsletter-building content management system (shout-out, CMS nerds!) and ready to spray some text-based commentary at you. We very much appreciate you reading, btw.
The subject of today’s lead story? We just flew in from watching all those ‘world premieres’, and boy, our arms are tired.* (*Editor’s note: we actually just stayed in our house - that joke 100% doesn’t work.) But what things should we learn from the last few days’ dizzying array of game showcases? We’ve got some ideas.
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’Not-E3’: the four big game discovery takeaways?
If we were to describe the amount of content hurled towards our eyeballs in recent days, we would say - ‘a lot’. And here’s our attempt to distil all of that down into trends:
1. The size & scope of showcases has been mindblowing.
If you look at the E3Recap 2022 website - the only place I know which tries to link to trailers individually - you can see 568 game trailers listed across all ‘not-E3’ showcases. So if you felt like you were drowning in new content, that’s why!
What if you want to work out what happened & don’t have all day? I found IGN’s 7-minute trailer-only edits of big events - which they did for the big Xbox/Bethesda show & for the Summer Game Fest kickoff - to be handy.
And there’s a lot of useful articles putting all game trailer for a show in one place - for example RPS on Day Of The Devs’ line-up, or Polygon on some of the Wholesome Games showcase notables. Nonetheless, I’m a high-information intake individual, and I found the sheer amount of info a bit incomprehensible. Don’t fret if you do too.
2. Why wouldn’t you participate? Any upside is still upside…
If you subscribe to the idea that ‘marketing beats’ are part of the reason why games do well, being in an E3-adjacent showcase makes sense. You don’t lose anything by trying. (Although collectively, too many ‘update’ trailers are diluting the pool for all, imho.)
In addition, there’s a Steam ‘Summer Game Announcements’ hub page this year. So if you’re in one of those showcases, you should get the advantage of at least some platform visibility - perhaps not ‘dedicated sale’ amounts, but hey.
Two things to bear in mind: the profile of the event, and the amount of money paid to get into it. Many non-platform showcases are ‘pay to play’ (unless they want your game as a cool reveal!) - and costs range from hundreds of dollars to six figures.
So there’s an opportunity cost there - can you sell another $15,000 in copies of the game to justify the $10,000 spend? Try to at least partly do the math, using Steam wishlists and trickle-down interest.
3. It’s unclear who ‘owns’ the digital E3-adjacent space, going forward
For a number of years, control of ‘the E3 timeframe’ had been drifting away from the ESA - the traditional trade organization organizer of E3 - as partners chose to do offsite events, or stream direct to their player audience.
As Colin Campbell wrote in 2021, we’ve shifted from a privileged, media-filtered landscape to a ‘direct to consumer’ environment, and everyone can get hyped at the same time: “E3's digital nature is more egalitarian in nature than in years gone by. I think it's great that consumers and fans get to see the big announcements in real time.”
And with the ESA opting out entirely for this year, the space is even more confusing, ownership wise. Anyone can decide to do a showcase and have it co-streamed by bigger outlets like IGN and GameSpot - or just do it themselves if they have scale.
So we see outliers like the OTK Games Expo - which I heard did good wishlist numbers. Or even former E3 foes like Devolver, which got excellent share of interest thanks to its shorter, snappier standalone showcase. (Cutting the bloat = good!)
But since nobody owns ‘the Internet’ or co-streaming, this June announcement timeline isn’t predicated on who can buy the biggest booth on-site at the LA Convention Center, or fly the most influencers in. And it’s staying more freeform.
4. The physical future of E3 is even more confused.
So we’ve established the future of ‘not-E3’ digitally is a complex melange of ‘whoever shows up digitally’, right? How about the physical side of things? After 2 and a half years of COVID, there’s definitely many people missing a physical E3 manifestation.
It’s tough and expensive to put on very large scale public video game events, though. (Trying games or talking to devs doesn’t scale in a music concert-like ‘one performer to 50,000 listeners’ way. And most don’t want to stand in 5-hour queues to try Call Of Duty - or see that as poor value.)
Thus, it made a lot of sense that Geoff Keighley’s Summer Game Fest org partnered with iam8bit to create Summer Game Fest Play Days, a physical LA showcase where press and influencers could try some of the games shown at the Keighley-verse’s Summer Game Fest/Day Of The Devs combo.
For some titles - like Capcom’s Street Fighter 6 - this created a really nice follow-on effect: ‘You’ve seen the trailer, now get impressions from some of your favorite Internet folks’. And keeping the event to a few hundred people who have strong reach has much better publisher ROI than E3’s historic ‘we’re a trade show, but we’re massive, so now we’re a consumer event too’ confusedness.
With dueling announcements from the ESA and Keighley that 2023 will see physical events from them in LA, we don’t expect this to be resolved soon. But the ESA’s necessity - thus far - to try a ‘go big or go home’ strategy ended in 2022 with them going, uh, home.
And we’re not convinced this will change for ‘Not-E3’ 2023, with so much obvious value being created by online showcases. And for physical events - especially with COVID still here? Building up from well-crafted intimacy is far better than working out how to fill out LACC’s cavernous halls. Advantage: the upstarts.
How did the platforms perform during ‘Not-E3’?
We’re not talking about the games shown at ‘not-E3’, by and large - we’ll leave that to the rest of the Internet! But we’re interested in platform performance. So let’s have a look at how platforms fared - in our hideously subjective view - in the past few days:
Xbox (A-): almost a top grade for the ‘Game Pass 4ever’ crew - thanks to an extremely cohesive showcase, lotsa ‘Game Pass Day 1’ announcements & some really interesting expansionary deals like the Game Pass tie-up with Riot on their F2P PC/mobile titles. Only negative: lack of hot first party games for 2022.
PlayStation (B-): ‘not E3’ wasn’t a focus - hence a third-party multiplatform centric State Of Play stream, with first party popping up in Summer Of Gaming with the oddly priced, premium Last Of Us remaster, and the seeds of the first-party GaaS pivot with a standalone Last Of Us Part 2 multiplayer game. Missed a press conf-led chance to hype the games in the new PS Plus tiers, though?
Nintendo (DNS): ‘The only winning move is not to play’, says the always independent Nintendo. And while they may yet pop up with a late showcase, we’ve rated them ‘Did Not Start’ - for choosing to ignore the whole thing. (Though a few games announced with Switch SKUs during the third-party showcases.)
Steam (B+): A semi-participant, in that a Steam Next Fest iteration is this week, started out in June, and was deliberately timed to Keighley-verse goings on, earlier in its history. Next Fest’s popularity & PC/Steam SKU announcements at all showcases makes Valve a winner, without directly running a streaming event.
Other notables: Netflix (B-) for a decent line-up of mobile SKUs of games that lacks a cohesive delivery mechanism; Epic (B) had a few ‘EGS-first’ exclusives left over from its historical attempts to beat Steam, but is mainly post-pivot, funding F2P bangers and multi-platform games - and heading in a stabler direction.
One important note: it’s the long game, across first and third-party games, which is going to lead to the success (or failure) of certain ecosystems. Long gone are the days that a console-maker ‘wins E3’ and therefore the holiday retail market. (Heck, at least one console-maker is trying to evolve beyond hardware platforms.)
The game discovery news round-up..
OK, that was a lot. Let’s try to wind down with a few more links from the past few days. We’ll drop more of them on you starting Wednesday, so we don’t all get overwhelmed:
Almost immediately after my ‘growth stock bubble’ piece from last week, Devolver downgraded its full-year earnings, and its share price almost halved to 72p (not pounds, as I wrote last week, heh.) Market downturn is part of it, but the stock market can also be very ‘what have you done for me lately?’ Youch.
The other eye-opener in this space? Embracer, also a big subject of that newsletter, announced a $1 billion Saudi Arabia investment, using all newly-issued shares (!), and then rapidly had to defend the decision - mainly on the ‘Saudi Arabia bad’ angle: “My values as a Swedish entrepreneur are unwavering.”
Xbox continues to masterfully roll out a large-scale technology roadmap with announcements like this: “later this year [we’ll let] Xbox Game Pass Ultimate members play, from the cloud, select games they already own or have purchased outside the Xbox Game Pass library.” And also Project Moorcroft, a (dev-compensated) program bringing “new, curated demos of upcoming games to our Xbox Game Pass members” - definitely a fast follow to PS+’s slightly bungled ‘free demos’ tier.
In metaverse adjacent news, Facebook Gaming brings Crayta’s user-generated games to its cloud platform: “the collaborative game-building platform is built on Unreal Engine 4 and features a library of thousands of player-made games users can browse or add to with their own creations.” Kinda interesting, actually.
The UK’s Competition & Markets Authority isn’t impressed about Apple’s blocks on cloud gaming: “Apple has blocked the emergence of cloud gaming services on its App Store... By preventing this sector from growing, Apple risks causing mobile users to miss out on the full benefits of cloud gaming.” There’s some additional ‘market investigation’ happening, but the CMA seems to be waiting for its Digital Markets Unit to address this in a wider context?
Not sure if Switch is empirically junkier than other consoles, but they did just allow ‘Prison Life Simulator 2022: World FIGHT Battle GTA ULTIMATE’ onto the eShop. We’re no fans of gating. But given how easy it is to creep up the charts with discounts, it’s not an amazing look to see third-party sales drop, as things like this keep debuting.
How did Apple’s privacy changes affect spending in mobile games? 68% find post-IDFA advertising more difficult: “Even before [April 2021’s App Tracking Transparency changes], we were seeing a trend of ad spend moving gradually away from iOS and towards Android. This was accelerated by concerns about the impact of ATT, with more studios moving their testing and marketing spend to Android. But iOS isn't going anywhere fast in terms of its importance for game devs.”
Finally, wanted to highlight a classic magazine clipping that made me chuckle, and a handy playable fix available in Steam Next Fest this week. Firstly, the folks in question, c.1999, who we hear are ‘Rockstars’ in their own right:
Secondly, the fix? Fashion Police Squad, from Mopeful Games & my buddies at No More Robots. “Baggy pants, dull suits, sightings of socks with sandals... A message needs to be sent, and it needs to be sent in style. Time to serve some good ol' Fashion Justice!”
[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.]