A Little To The Left: how DLC boosted the stealth hit!
Also: three wise discovery folks & lots of news...
[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 back to the GameDiscoverCo newsletter. Turns out it’s a slow(er) news week heading into Gamescom. So we decided - as we may do from time to time - to put out a Tuesday (free) and Friday (Plus) newsletter, instead of Mon-Wed-Fri like ‘normal’.
Talking of Gamescom, Geoff Keighley has already mentioned that the official Opening Night Live showcase just kicking off is ‘less about announcing new projects’, and more about new trailers for known things. So, expectations set, we’re ready to go!
Coming soon: new eBooks, Plus back-end, pricing..
We teased this briefly the other week, but wanted to make sure everyone was aware: we’re soft-launching a massively upgraded version of our ‘premium’ GameDiscoverCo Plus data back end - part of our Plus membership - at the end of August.
Alongside the new Plus back end - which uses personalized logons (finally!) & comes with some super-cool new Steam tools we’ll show off soon - we’ll also debut two new eBooks (above) solely on Plus - Complete Game Discovery Toolkit Vol. 2 & Deep Dives.
So: our normal Plus subscription cost is $15/month or $150/year, but will be increasing to $19/month or $190/year (for new subscribers only!) starting September. But you can subscribe in the next 10 days & get grandfathered in to the cheaper sub rate for weekly sales research, exclusive Discord, data back-end and eBooks. (And if you’re already signed up to Plus, your monthly/yearly rate will stay the same, btw.)
If you’ve read this newsletter for a long time and haven’t upgraded - won’t you consider it? Your support is what makes it possible for me & my team of data nerds to crunch PC/console numbers, track trends, and tell you all about it… you might even be able to expense it, if you ask your boss! (Esp. if you’re your boss!)
A Little To The Left: how DLC boosted the hit title!
Back in February, you may recall that GameDiscoverCo ran a detailed breakdown of the success of A Little To The Left, a tidying puzzle game which had already sold >300,000 units across Steam and Switch back then.
This isn’t necessarily a game which you might have tipped to go big. But much like Unpacking, its mix of arranging & tidying really hit a nerve with influencers on TikTok and YouTube, whose audiences loved watching streamers puzzle out solutions.
Secret Mode’s Matthew Pellett recently got back to us to share an update: “We launched the game’s first premium DLC on June 27th - A Little to the Left: Cupboards & Drawers.” This $5 add-on has lots more sorting-centric puzzles, was announced during Nintendo’s Indie World in April, and bundled with the base game on launch.
And it’s going, uhh, extremely well. Matthew revealed, as of a couple of weeks ago: “We have a very healthy 23.6% effective attach rate across both PC and Switch (a combination of existing owners buying the DLC, and new bundle purchases), with that rate on the rise.”
Here’s the Steam unit sales for the DLC over the first month or so it was out. The bump around July 16th was an official Steam ‘Midweek Madness’ sale, by the way, with a 25% off bundle of the game & DLC:
The base A Little To The Left game itself also saw some its best-ever Steam unit sales during the DLC launch. When you have a lot of Steam wishlists for a title, and discount it while adding inexpensive DLC, it’s a real trigger for people to pick up both:
Now, Matthew and team did plenty to help get the game front and center - including rolling into Steam Summer Sale with that 25% base game/bundle discount, being in SimFest, Wholesome Direct, and even a cross-publisher bundle with Sticky Business.
But they also note: “We put very little marketing budget into the DLC launch relative to the base game. We did some small sponsored TikTok activity (involving Jacob Forster, who went viral with the game organically in January). But this was largely all down to show and event placements, smart planning around sales windows and opportunities, and earned content creator placements.”
When it comes to Nintendo Switch, frankly, the numbers are even more impressive. On the eShop after the DLC launch, as Matthew notes: “we saw A Little to the Left’s base game topple Tears of the Kingdom to hit the #1 All Games eShop spot in Europe and Australia (and just fall shy at #3 in North America).”
Now, one thing you should be aware, given our recent doominess about Switch game sales - A Little To The Left is one of those handful of evergreen titles (20-30 per year?) that hang out near-permanently in the list of the Top 300 most-downloaded Switch games over the last 14 days.
So we pulled some GameDiscoverCo-exclusive data - we check ‘all games’, including F2P ones, which is different from the chart you see of top-sellers in the eShop. We discovered that ALTTL was at position #110 in the U.S. most-downloaded charts when the DLC launched, but topped out at #13 - out of all games - in mid-July.
That’s really very good, especially since the $14.99 title wasn’t on sale on Switch at the point the DLC launched. (It had just come off of sale.) So what gives? Well, Max Inferno and Secret Mode’s execution was on point, and ‘eShop visibility leads to more sales’ is also a part, but the title’s TikTok and streamer friendliness is a huge part of it.
We were actually just investigating a weird spike in the Steam chart positioning for Daniel Benmergui’s innovative game Storyteller. We tracked it back in part to, wait for it, a series of videos on Jacob Forster’s TikTok. And look, there’s 629 million views on the Little To The Left hashtag on TikTok. We can’t understate this - make games that influencers love showing to their audience, and that audience will buy them!
Three wise discovery folks: Summer 2023 edition
There’s been a lot of writing about the complex state of PC & console game discovery, especially after the breakout success of Baldur’s Gate 3 - which many devs see as a tremendously high bar to set in the CRPG genre. (There’s been a lot of dialog here - here’s a great Brandon Sheffield response to backlash re: an opinion on BG3.)
But we thought it was interesting to feature three points of view directly or indirectly influenced by this/adjacent chatter over the state of discovery, as follows:
Veteran dev Aaron San Filippo, who just launched Whisker Squadron: Survivor on Steam yesterday, but had an early Steam ‘sleeper’ success with Race The Sun, has a great X/Twitter thread about how things have changed: “Then: The hard part was getting on Steam, and once you were there, your odds of success were pretty good. Now: Anyone with $100 can get on Steam, and the average game makes less than it costs to run a two-man studio for a month.”
The key quote from Aaron’s thread for us? “It's still possible to make weird, niche games and have them succeed, but that route is more of a lottery ticket than ever. More than ever, you need a hook, or you need to play in the deep waters with well-trod genre games.” BTW, we see his game - which is excellent, btw - is launching ‘good, but not great’ in a relatively outside-the-norm subgenre.
Dev & community advocate Rami Ismail (Ridiculous Fishing/EX), whose information-centric newsletter is great, did a passionate, opinion-y X/Twitter thread about his ‘worries & fears’ on the game biz right now. He sees the rise of the big budget hit as a diversity killer, since: “the business just doesn't make sense unless at massive scale & those structures will eventually collapse, except for a few super-earners & those will optimize the shit out of revenue.”
The key quote from Rami’s thread for us? “The whole situation sucks, but this isn't a ‘developers should fix it’ situation. We can't. We can choose between ‘no games’ or ‘work with what we have’. We can't replicate a Larian because to do that you need a time machine & start in a saner time.” (It’s absolutely true that decades of experience, codebase - and fanbase - give established studios a big competitive advantage.)
Former BioWare exec producer Mark Darrah made a YouTube video about ‘the live service trap’ that was very well summarized by Game World Observer, looking at the raft of Ultima Online and EverQuest competitors in the ‘90s/’00s, and relating it to today: “History repeats itself, and publishers once again realize that time isn’t infinite, and people can’t play eight large GaaS projects at the same time.”
The key quote from Mark’s video for us: “The mistake is you can only really play one Destiny at a time. You can only do one engrossing live service at a time.. So these live services tend to be dominated by one winner, two or three runners-up, and then a lot of live services that aren't really surviving.” Absolutely.
We think all the above views are worth serious consideration, because they’re a little doomy at times, sure. But they correctly reflect the pitfalls of entering a super dynamic, but very busy PC and console game market. We should all come prepared!
Still, the market can still be incredibly rewarding, if you get it right. I think about the dev of Hydroneer, who we interviewed last year around his game that sold 500,000 copies on Steam, as “the first game he made after leaving university in the UK.” Success is there, even for new devs, if you make a great game that has a big potential audience. It’s just… not super easy, or even perhaps that predictable?
The game discovery news round-up..
Finishing up for this week, let’s take a look at the various intriguing material that has landed in our inbox, social media, and RSS feeds (yes, really!) since last week:
That ‘one weird trick’ Microsoft is pulling to get around the UK Competition & Market Authority’s cloud game ‘wobblies’ & get the Activision Blizzard deal done? “Transferring the cloud streaming rights for all current and new Activision Blizzard PC and console games released over the next 15 years to Ubisoft Entertainment SA.” Feels a bit like a three-card monte, but the CMA set up some weird hoops!
Circana/NPD’s latest U.S. game hardware (& select software) numbers for July 2023 are here: “Remnant 2 was July’s best-selling video game as total spending reached $4.2 billion”, up 1%. M. Piscatella’s smart takes on the month: “[Hardware] no longer [year on year] comping to significant supply constraints”, so gains look less exciting. Also: “Giving love to classic back catalog paid off again in July. Low risk low reward $.”
Steam’s ‘top games of July 2023’ showcase/sale is much of what we expected from our data crunchin’, though it includes Early Access → 1.0 launches like (hit!) F2P title Eternal Return. But fascinating to see some categories we cover less well like ‘top DLC of the month’ - including, yes, Dead By Daylight’s Nicolas Cage DLC.
Liquid & Grit looks at how mobile game companies are moving ‘whales’ away from iOS/Android stores, where 30% ‘platform tax’ happens on IAP: “Playtika’s direct-to-consumer platform… now makes up nearly a quarter of the company’s total revenue.” Playtika shifts VIP players - using incentives - to play or pay on “browser versions and direct Android downloads of select games.”
Steam tag fans, Valve just added Extraction Shooter as a new tag, which makes a lot of sense, given the increasing prominence of the subgenre. (Here’s an ‘explainer’ for the genre - basically a ‘get in, grab stuff, get out’-fest - titles like Hunt: Showdown are prominent Steam examples. Extraction shooters are generally 3D first/third-person, btw, but Zero Sievert is a rare 2D exception.)
We’re big fans of paid DLC here, from a dev perspective. But fanbases can sometimes be cost-sensitive, hence this justification from Creative Assembly on the $25 cost for their upcoming Total War: Warhammer III DLC, which has taken the base game reviews Overwhelmingly Negative. (Here’s more context on what each DLC includes - fans are saying it’s slim for the price, YMMV.)
Want some more analysis of Polish publisher PlayWay, still working its public company ‘low risk, high reward’ model for PC games? Dungeon Investing looked into it, in two parts: “They are pretty ruthless on two fronts. One is cost, and the other is the [player] interest their games generate… if they are not able to generate interest on a game, they either don't start development, or they don't throw good money after bad.”
Another banger from HowToMarketAGame, on how Steam Early Access games end up doing at 1.0, is chock full of data, and comes to the following conclusion: “Games that earned in the range of 200-300 [Month 1 Steam Early Access] reviews seemed to kinda reach this plateau of predictability.” You have a 30% chance of ‘succeeding’ long-term at that point, he reckons. Numbers!
How PC-centric are the revenues of a very PC-centric company like Crusader Kings dev/publisher Paradox? Naavik spotted, in the latest Paradox financials: “On the earnings call, CFO Alex Bricca pointed out that unit sales on consoles brought in about SEK 100 million ($9.2 million), for a share of around 15%.” That’s… somewhere around what we might have expected?
Microlinks: a first look at Lenovo's new gaming handheld, the Legion Go; Microsoft Teams is now part of the Xbox Game Bar so you can stream gameplay to friends; Samsung Game Launcher lets you play mobile games over cloud without downloads; Apple’s ‘arbitrary’ app retirement policy strikes a blow to mobile game preservation.
Finally, we can’t think of much better uses of Starfield’s presumably mammoth marketing budget than commissioning Mythbusters alum Adam Savage to make a starship from the game. So we’re linking to the results:
[We’re GameDiscoverCo, an agency based around one simple issue: how do players find, buy and enjoy your PC or console game? We run the newsletter you’re reading, and provide consulting services for publishers, funds, and other smart game industry folks.]