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A Little To The Left: how tidying (and TikTok!) made a hit
Also: Supercell's unique biz model on display. And 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.]
We’re delighted to welcome you back to ‘midweek happy hour’ at GameDiscoverCo Towers. The links are flying out of the kitchen, the analysis is steaming hot, and if you leave a big enough tip for us, we’ll keep going all night - word count be damned.
Oh, and we haven’t had a GameDiscoverCo Plus (paid) sub deal for a while, so let’s take 25% off monthly or yearly Plus subs until the end of Feb! (This gets you a whole extra weekly game analysis newsletter, ‘live’ Steam Hype dataset & more - details here.)
A Little To The Left: rise of the ‘organize ‘em up’?
So, we’ve been aware of Max Inferno & Secret Mode’s A Little To The Left for a while now. The Steam and Switch title, if you haven’t seen it, is “a cozy puzzle game that has you sort, stack, and organize household items into pleasing arrangements.”
And it’s very interesting how viral this underdeveloped subgenre can be. As a commenter in the above GameGrumps video says: “This game is genius in its marketing. Everyone sorts and organizes differently, so anyone watching a Let's Play says, "No, they're not doing it right! UGH, now I have to buy the game so I can do it RIGHT."“
By the word ‘marketing’, we would probably substitute ‘hook’ here. And in a client note earlier this month, we singled out A Little To The Left and Unpacking - as titles that have done great on both Steam & Switch, despite being cute/cozy, which is rare.
So it was great to hear from Secret Mode’s Matthew Pellett, with a whole bunch of real-world data on A Little To The Left, which included the wild LTD Steam sales graph for the game (above, not normal).
Matthew talked us through the above sales graph, as follows (directly quoting him!):
The launch itself [at $14.99] on November 8th (no discount applied).
Bumps in late Nov. around the Steam Autumn Sale, though we didn’t discount.
Spike on December 17th for the 20% discount in the Steam Winter Sale.
Greater spikes around Dec. 23rd-24th with front-page Steam Winter Sale feature.
Drop in early Jan to coincide with the end of the Steam Winter Sale.
Another spike on January 16th triggered by going viral on TikTok, then a cascade of additional content creator support to help secure a new baseline.
And the overall sales numbers are great: “In mid-January we announced we’d sold over 200,000 copies of A Little to the Left across Steam and Nintendo Switch. By the first week of February, we’d topped 300,000 copies, weighted a little more towards Steam [than Switch].”
We also track U.S. Switch eShop download rankings (across the top games, free & paid!) for our Plus subscribers. Below is the ranking for ALttL - it actually got as high as #2 of all ‘recent’ third-party games (and #1 for download-only) in its latest surge:
So what’s going on here with these post-launch spikes? Matthew explained: “In mid-January a variety content creator called Jacob Forster, who usually covers horror games, posted a Let’s Play [of the game] on YouTube and shared some puzzles on TikTok.
That’s when things went stratospheric. The TikTok just resonated with people, as did his next one, and his next one… As of February 6th, Jacob has shared 42 [ALttL] videos on TikTok, with a combined view count of over 65 million!”
As for why Jacob covered the game, Matthew traced back the causality for us:
Jacob played A Little to the Left after seeing another content creator, Gab Smolders, cover the game on YouTube.
Secret Mode sponsored Gab Smolders to play A Little to the Left at launch in November in part because they saw Gab pick up the demo organically in July, and that demo Let’s Play drove a large number of wishlists.
Gab Smolders picked up the demo after seeing the game featured in one of the June 2022 [Day of the Devs and Wholesome Direct] showcases. So that’s an example of game showcases working, then…
Following this viral pickup, Matthew notes that “we’ve seen so many major content creators pick up A Little to the Left organically and cover the game on their channels across Twitch, YouTube and TikTok”, including GameGrumps but also notables like Jerma985 and multiple VTubers.
This is all pretty interesting because frankly, most games slide off the charts after their first peak, and don’t come back - except when discounted. Was there any sign of this virality earlier in the game’s history? Well, yes:
The game launched with over 100,000 ‘current’ Steam wishlists (and around 5,000 Steam followers), pretty darn good for this style of game. And above is an annotated graph of the major milestones in the game’s pre-release history:
Max Inferno announced the full game (previously a GMTK Jam 2020 project) & launched the Steam page at Wholesome Direct in June 2021. This caught the eye of the then-fledgling publisher Secret Mode, who reached out about a partnership.
A demo then featured in Feb 2022’s Steam NextFest. (Matthew says: “In hindsight this was too early, and the following NextFest window would have been better, but at the time a summer launch window was being discussed.”)
The game participated in the Cerebral Puzzle Showcase Steam festival.
There was also media coverage up to (and during) release from outlets like IGN, GamesRadar+, The Verge, The Guardian, Rock Paper Shotgun, and Kotaku, of course. But looks like it’s been ‘game hook’ & streamer support that led to a lot of the virality.
Oh, and late-breaking news: A Little To The Left just hit its all-time highest units sold in one day on PC, thanks to a Steam ‘Midweek Madness’ sale that’s currently in progress. (With plenty of discount and content expansion possibilities in the future.)
Anyhow, you may find this all a tad ironic, given that in our last newsletter on Steam Next Fest, we literally said that the era of the multi-platform hit indie pixel art game was near its end. (We still think that’s true overall.)
All we can say is - exceptions happen. And when they do, they are intriguing games with streamer-led discovery & gameplay that appeals to our innate human nature (ahem, PowerWash Simulator, a great non-pixel example!) So… more thinking about the psychology behind what humans crave & streamers want to show to audiences?
Supercell: launching & maintaining games is hard!
Looks like it’s time for the F2P game industry’s equivalent of the King’s/Queen’s Speech - or maybe I’m the only one who sees it that way - Supercell (Clash Of Clans, Hay Day) co-founder Ilkka Paananen’s latest yearly blog post.
Paananen isn’t just Finland’s highest earning and most-taxed individual - the latter being a little bit noble, btw, given how tax avoidance is easier than you might expect. He also speaks intriguingly on public strategy for Supercell. On his mind this year:
It’s difficult to both create and maintain - he notes: “We need to both invent brilliant new games (regularly!) and continuously improve those games for our players (hopefully forever!).” But on the former - Supercell has “launched 5 hit games but [has] killed 30+, by my latest count. We haven’t launched a new game globally since Brawl Stars on December 12, 2018.” Maybe it’s getting tougher to launch new games in general?
Maintaining requires bigger teams than Supercell previously thought - “Our live teams have grown a lot and continue to grow, but we are still not where we ought to be and we’ll continue to push on this front.” Specifically - as the game gets older, there are more areas “that need to be modernized and rethought.” But also, more features & content are now buildable on top of the formidable codebase created over time.
He sees opportunities for Supercell outside of mobile - perhaps the most surprising recent change: “Supercell is known today for its mobile games, but perhaps thinking exclusively about mobile is too limiting? We want to make the best new games, period.” Hence the new U.S. Supercell studio grabbing some of the best PC & console talent. (The final product could be mobile & PC & console, of course…)
Paananen also shared Supercell’s 2022 financials: revenue of €1.77bn (-6% YoY); and profit/EBITD of €632m (-14% YoY), due to “increased investments in our future”, removal of Supercell’s titles from Russia, and post-Apple ATT (and COVID) hangover. Overall, Clash of Clans has made $10 billion (!) in lifetime $, & Hay Day $2 billion.
Next up? Squad Busters is in limited-time beta on mobile, Supercell is investing in external firms like Metacore (Merge Mansions) and the PC-first (interesting!) Channel37, and there’s plenty of free cash flow to try new things. Watch out, world?
The game discovery news round-up..
Finishing up, we wanted to start our game discovery round-up with this hair-raising ‘raising $ is lots of work’ visualization. It’s from a blog post on how “plug and play cross-platform [game] back end” Loot Locker raised a >$2 million seed. But also, there’s this:
Sony’s PlayStation Plus ‘Game Catalog’ line-up for February 2022 goes up a notch in terms of high-profile titles: Horizon Forbidden West (a year after release), The Quarry, Resident Evil 7, Outriders, Scarlet Nexus, Borderlands 3, and Tekken 7. Oh, and Harvest Moon: Back to Nature for PS1 for PS+ Premium subscribers!
Microsoft followed up with Eurogamer in response to (redacted) CMA data that games entering Xbox Game Pass sell fewer copies in the 12 months following Game Pass inclusion. MS: “We're focused on helping game creators of all sizes maximise the total financial value they receive through Game Pass.” (Most titles do make more $ than they otherwise would - but standalone sales rarely go up.)
Cozy (death-y!) management title Spiritfarer caused a bit of a stir with how specific it was about raising its regional prices: “Something like 85% of sales coming ‘from Argentina and Turkey’ seem to be coming from people playing in other countries - people who are chasing the lowest possible price on Steam.” (Still legit - and looks like the review bombing around it only lasted 3 days.)
Interesting quote from Naavik’s Nick Statt, re: MultiVersus’ ‘1% of peak CCU’ woes: “I'm starting to think we're in some sort of economy of attention… that makes it near-impossible for new products and services to stay viable in the long term when they're competing against TikTok, Fortnite, YouTube, and Netflix.”
Talking of ‘economy of attention’, Roblox’s 2022 fourth quarter results are out, and though the company continues to lose $, those quarterly DAU numbers are hella impressive: “average Daily Active Users (DAUs) were 58.8 million, up 19% YoY… hours engaged were 12.8 billion, up 18% YoY.” Revenue only up 2%, tho.
A follow-up on Steam Next Fest metrics and why some games like Voidtrain had lower-ranked CCU, but higher follower additions? It was pointed out to me that Voidtrain had a pretty short demo - thus, less CCU, but not in a bad way!
Here’s a good opinion piece on marketing tips for success on Early Access titles: “You should prioritise big and meaningful content updates [that drop every two to four month] over more frequent, smaller efforts that might not add as much for the players.”
Another excellent recent piece from GameRefinery, on mobile game trends & predictions for 2023: “Mobile game developers will use more transparent monetization policies (but not all of them)… publishers will continue finding ways to bypass Apple and Google’s IAP fees.”
Chris Z’s latest piece looks at the best time to release your game on Steam, best summarized as ‘not during Steam storewide events, probably not when a bunch of other games are coming out, a quieter month helps a bit’, with reference to our previous article on this.
Microlinks: game companies (including Tencent and NetEase) get another 84 licenses to release their titles in China ; Bigscreen VR’s $999 Beyond headset is custom-made to fit your face, but doesn’t come with base station & controllers; insight into the best ‘hooks’ for YouTube video titles & thumbnails.
Finally, New Zealand-based game devs Runaway are making the #gamedevfashion tag happen on Twitter, as “a fun way to highlight diversity within the games industry, and break preconceptions (and misconceptions) around what a game developer looks like.” Join them:
[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.]