A Switch game discovery success? Tell us more...
Also: more on those Steam lawsuits, 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.]
Yo, it’s Simon C. at the place to be, the GameDiscoverCo newsletter, see? Peace out to… *examines self, carefully* Oh, right, I’m a follically challenged British white guy in my 40s, probably shouldn’t try any hiphop moves in the near - or even far - future.
Anyhow, plenty of things to discuss again today. Let’s start with some interesting data and insight on a Nintendo Switch game that’s definitely been outperforming the average on launch…
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Arise: A Simple Story - a Switch success how?
We’ve talked quite a bit recently about how the Nintendo Switch has a lot of players, but a very crowded store that’s difficult to break through on. There’s headwinds - 30+ games releasing every week nowadays - and a lot of extreme discounting.
So, imagine our interest when Ivan from publisher Untold Tales turned up in the GameDiscoverCo Plus Discord and said his game Arise: A Simple Story - previously available on PC, Xbox and PlayStation - had sold 10,000 units on Switch in just 8 days.
We went and looked at the eShop chart we custom compile for Plus subscribers - and yep, it’s doing WAY above average in the U.S.:
Anyhow, the next question from us was, uh, how and why? Arise isn’t a particularly well known franchise, and the Steam release has done OK, but not great. Here’s what we think re: its success:
Visually impressive game that reminds of much-played Switch titles: the title was described by Ivan as “a dreamy-looking puzzle platformer with quirky time manipulation mechanics”, and its 8/10 review from NintendoLife has a user comment that echoes what I think: “If you enjoy the visuals and themes in this game, I cannot recommend Sky: Children of Light enough.” Sky is a secret juggernaut on Switch, and Arise being good & a bit redolent of it surely helps?
Launching with a 50% discount & QubicGames promo: Ivan notes of the large launch discount from $19.99: “At $9.99 we're in a good position, as most of the newly released games are at >$17.99. Plus we get featured in two categories: Recent Releases, and Discounted Games from the get go.” Untold Tales worked with colleagues at Polish publisher QubicGames for an additional 10% off if you own specific games from that publisher, another major visibility boost.
Game is touching & critically acclaimed: To be honest, there are plenty of critically acclaimed titles that don’t sell. But a Metascore of 81 on Switch is pleasant. And it’s a game that people connect with - TouchArcade says: “The emotional journey is outstanding, and unlike a lot of other narrative-focused games, Arise packs in a lot of gameplay to go with the story.”
Looking at comments on the YouTube trailer for the game hosted by Nintendo, you can see some more indications of points #1 (“If you like games like Journey, Abzu, etc. that tell a story with no dialogue, please. I beg you to get this game!”), and #3 (“This is why I love the Switch - it's not about the graphics, it's about the story that makes a great game.”)
Concluding, I love Ivan’s tl;dr ‘back of a napkin’ summary of how it all went down: “Decision to go with $9.99 at 50% off + additional 10% off with QubicGames titles (18 games) + cute dreamy looks with simple but sticky gameplay easily seen on marketing assets + trailer on Nintendo YT channel + review on NintendoLife + Metascore 80 and placement in the top carousel on Metacritic.com/game/switch -> good first several days of sales -> getting in the charts -> more sales.”
Of course, you may also be - meh, 10,000 units in 8 days isn’t that spectacular, $-wise, especially at $10 or less per unit. A lot will depend on the ‘long tail’ for the game, and how it does with further discounts.
But it’s still one of the top releases for its week on Switch in the U.S. at least (Europe seems slower?) And we’re going to tell you about good results on Switch, even if they’re not money hat-sized. Good job, Ivan & the devs…
Those Steam lawsuits: two notable follow-ups!
As you’d expect, Monday’s newsletter about the U.S. antitrust lawsuits again Valve proceeding to ‘the next stage’ created a fair amount of chatter, both on and off the record. As a result, there’s two specific elements worth updating on:
Wolfire lawsuit: what’s proven, and what happens then?
So I definitely got some pushback from folks about my bald comment: “I don’t think that Steam was extensively blocking competitive pricing on other PC platforms that sell games.” These include Danny Day (Desktop Dungeons), who simply says this:
My comment in reply, for the record: “I don’t hear this a lot from devs, but I guess you’re saying that most of them don’t ask about it? If it’s in writing, it would presumably come up during the discovery process. (I hear about ‘won’t give out Steam keys’ a lot more.)”
It’s definitely true that Steam makes a bunch of public/semi-public comments about how Steam keys should be treated. For example: “We ask you to treat Steam customers no worse than customers buying Steam keys outside of Steam.” But Valve’s contention is definitely that Steam keys are their property, provided for free at their discretion. If there’s any legal issue with this, they will simply stop handing out Steam keys.
As for pricing NOT using Steam keys, I suspect most direct conversations over ‘I’m going to price my game less on other platforms’ come because the developer is making a point to challenge Steam’s 30% cut, if they’re irked by it. And that’s likely to be a flashpoint. But I don’t know that for sure - and that’s what discovery may dig up.
Weirdly, the Wolfire lawsuit claims: “Pricing games in a uniform manner across platforms with different commissions goes against the economic self-interest of game publishers, who could earn more profit by charging lower retail prices on lower-commission platforms” …is that really something most publishers WANT to do? (Nope.) It doesn’t come up most of the time, because it’s not something that makes sense.
So, after speaking to a legal expert or two, it seems like the case is at the ‘can go ahead, but not very strong’ stage. Maybe Valve could get a summary judgment to this class action suit if no evidence of sustained ‘bad’ behavior turns up. We’ll see…
Dark Catt lawsuit: some evidence that may not help it…
Secondly, the fact that the Dark Catt vs. Valve antitrust lawsuit also got waved ahead is interesting. That suit makes a lot of the same claims. But it’s more dubiously based around a single ‘thing’ that happened to Dark Catt’s game Djinni & Thaco: Trial By Spire, which was removed from Steam in 2020.
According to their lawsuit’s melodramatic reading: “Dark Catt also learned the real meaning of the Steam Keys Rules when it offered its game for a temporary lower price on Humble Bundle and shortly thereafter was banned from Steam.”
Well, two alleged devs from the team were posting both on Reddit and Steam around this time, and according to HammondXX: “We were not banned over the key issue, we were told "a partner account" meaning one account. was used to manipulate the review system. Yet that one account wasnt named. We asked we cant get a response.”
The separate ‘key issue’ referred to above, btw, was revoking the Steam key of a reviewer as retaliation after he gave Djinni & Thaco a negative rating, with lots of bonus drama. And it looks like the ‘partner account’ (dev) giving Djinni & Thaco a positive review maybe a) exists and b) is still viewable on Steam: “I love this game! Its hilarious and I love the spells.” (Also, this review looks a bit suspect, too.)
There’s more research in this ResetEra post from last year, if you’d like to look at the devs’ generally doofus behavior. We track games getting banned from Steam. ‘Fake reviews’ is a common reason for removals, and ‘20% Steam key discounts on Humble’ is not. (Though the devs weren’t exactly abiding by Valve’s Steam key rules either.)
Anyhow, I presume that much of the above evidence will turn up at the discovery stage - and Valve can explain the full context for their decision at that point. But yeah, proving Dark Catt’s particular issue is real and systemic is going to be… interesting?
The game discovery news round-up..
Heading down the home stretch for Wednesday now (remember, Plus subscribers get a whole extra super-cool newsletter on Fridays!), let’s take a look at some of the notable new discovery and platform news that’s popped up this week:
Sony’s fiscal results totally happened! Recommend reading this GI.biz round-up and perusing the graphs (above!) from Derek Strickland. But the big news is supply chain problems, as noted by Ars Technica: “Sony expects PS5 will still be in short supply until 2023… 60% increase in annual console production [to 18 million units] not expected to satisfy customer demand.” On games, per GI: “First-party PlayStation titles [were] 43.9 million copies out of the 303.2 million units shifted in total across PS4 and PS5 for the fiscal year. Digital downloads were slightly on the rise - representing 66% of all software sales, compared to 65% the previous year.”
Next up, a survey for you to fill out! Are Steam’s UTM analytics doing what you want, and are you using it? The folks at Evolve PR have put together a survey about UTM tracking for you to fill out. Survey results compiled by Evolve will run in the GameDiscoverCo newsletter in the near/medium future, so get on it.
Nintendo’s ‘lackluster’ annual results also debuted since the last newsletter. WorkingCasual has a good breakdown, but hardware supply challenges were the chief issue: “Switch sold 4.11 million units during January to March [and] an annual total of 23.06 million. While that’s down 20% from the 28.83 million of fiscal 2021, it’s still the second best 12 months on record.” Game-wise, 235 million units sold for the fiscal year, up 2% - and first-party games are 80% (?!) of that.
Always a must-see event? A Tim Sweeney interview, as with this recent-ish FastCompany chat with Epic’s CEO: “Later this year, we’re going to release the Unreal Editor for Fortnite–the full capabilities that you’ve seen [in Unreal Engine] opened up so that anybody can build very high-quality game content and code.,. and deploy it into Fortnite without having to do a deal with us - it’s open to everybody.” Big news, right? He also believes Roblox is “another really good-spirited company”, btw.
Top tip: you want to keep streaming your game on your Steam page with archived footage, even when your computer isn’t on? A GameDiscoverCo Plus Discord user recommended Restream.io, which actually has a FAQ on how to do it. (It’s a paid service if you remove their watermark, YMMV, etcetera.)
The folks at Bloomberg have an interesting longform article on Chinese games giant NetEase (variable paywall; maybe try incognito browser window?): “Despite being just over a 10th of Tencent’s size, NetEase’s draw for many Chinese developers is a singular focus on gaming and a track record of original hits like Fantasy Westward Journey.” Quotes from Western-based devs like Jack Emmert & Jenova Chen also part of the profile!
Elsewhere, Nintendo’s latest Indie World showcase featured a bunch of neat smaller games. Looks like Ooblets and TABS making it to Switch were two of the larger announcements. But there’s also other neat indies like Elechead, the stealth dropped Soundfall & more. (Four ‘ surprise - it’s available now!’ titles, actually.) Full PR with more info is here.
Microlinks: Nvidia’s GeForce Now 4K streaming is now available on Mac and PC, and no longer exclusive to Shield TV; loved this super-honest mobile F2P interview with Beatstar devs Space Ape Games on pivoting, prototypes, etc; Microsoft announced a lineup of adaptive accessories intended to augment or replace keyboards and mice that people with disabilities could struggle to use.
Finally, I thought I’d made a funny joke on Twitter by trying to redeem an example Steam key from Wolfire’s amended lawsuit complaint vs. Valve:
Joke’s on me - it wasn’t the lawyers! It’s the same Steam key from the original complaint, and Madjoki (of ‘Steam banned games list’ fame) told me he successfully redeemed it back then. But it genuinely was an Easter Egg for anyone who ‘loves’ reading lawsuits…
[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.]