Apple's Arcade shifts, Steam's cookies, oh my...
Plenty going on in the space this week.
[The GameDiscoverCo game discovery newsletter is written by ‘how people find your game’ expert & GameDiscoverCo founder Simon Carless, and is a regular look at how people discover and buy video games in the 2020s.]
Welcome back, my friends. I know it’s Easter Monday in Europe, which is pretty much a holiday. But the U.S. isn’t so jazzed about giving everyone time off. So my boss (me!) is telling his report (also me!) that it’d be great to send out a GameDiscoverCo newsletter, anyhow. (You can read it on Tuesday if you’re off today.)
Which is lucky, because we have a fair amount of things to get through, starting with an interesting widening of Apple Arcade’s subscription service:
Apple Arcade - not just for exclusives anymore!
On Friday, Apple stealth-announced a large expansion to Apple Arcade, expanding the service by over 30 games, and for the first time diverting from the ‘must run on all Apple devices’ plan. Specifically, there are now three types of Apple Arcade titles: “Arcade Originals are playable across iPhone, iPad, Mac, and Apple TV. Timeless Classics and App Store Greats are available on iPhone and iPad.” Killercow has a super-useful Airtable document listing all the games. And this makes a lot of sense - for a couple of reasons.
Firstly, from what we’ve heard, non-phone/tablet usage is miniscule at this time. As we wrote to our paid Plus subscribers when we deep-dived into Apple Arcade in December: “We [believe] the iOS store is the vast majority (95% or more) of the reviews and play time on Apple Arcade. (Apple Arcade is also available on tvOS and MacOS, which have 1-2% of the amount of reviews.)” And I guess the new M1 Macs can run iOS apps anyhow…
Secondly, the original concept behind Apple Arcade - ‘all original, custom commissioned games’ - always seemed a little odd. There were already a host of great premium (one-off paid) iOS games that would fit wonderfully with the service. These would have been cheaper and easier to license - alongside a modicum of originals.
So this is precisely what has been added: lots of classic casual titles like chess, backgammon, and Zach Gage’s ‘board games with a twist’ titles, plus already-hit titles like Don’t Starve: Pocket Edition, the original Reigns, Monument Valley, Fruit Ninja, and many more. (Apple got around the ‘Apple Arcade titles have to be in a separate part of the store’ issue by making two App Store entries with different game names: the Apple Arcade version of Monument Valley is called Monument Valley+, for example.)
The initial Apple Arcade line-up faltered a bit because it overemphasized artsy one-off narrative games. (Which are great in a minority, but semi-overwhelmed the line-up.) And its ‘everything to everyone’ platform approach created issues around game controller vs. touch interface. Titles like Crossy Road Castle are awesome, but use onscreen pad/button controls, which just aren’t that intuitive to the average player.
So there’s been a refocusing - which also includes a tranche of sudden-drop Arcade Originals, such as NBA2K1 Arcade Edition, Star Trek: Legends (looks like an expanded F2P game without IAP - interesting), and The Oregon Trail reboot, plus Sakaguchi’s Fantasian. It it has impressively expanded what was already decent value for $5 per month, while providing a lot of replayable, native touchscreen experiences.
Perhaps it’s not for core console gamers, but Arcade is bundled into all Apple One subscriptions, and you get three months of Arcade free with all new Apple hardware purchases right now. And in some ways, Apple is cleaning up a problem it indirectly created. You can’t play many mobile games without ads and microtransactions up the wazoo. And this is a great way to build a catalog where the commercial prompts are silent.
Possibly, some of you think I overfocus on Apple Arcade. But, two things in conclusion. Firstly: now you can get your premium iOS game licensed for Apple Arcade, even if it’s already available on the App Store (I wonder how wide they’ll go in this category?)
Secondly: I do think both Xbox Game Pass and Apple Arcade (and PlayStation Now, in time) are harbingers of major long-term changes to the game business. Not a cataclysmic one, but one that requires careful monitoring - especially for anyone making ‘buy once to play once’ games.
The witty British politics show Yes, Minister (an ancestor of Veep) featured a UK civil servant version of how these big changes tend to roll out: “In stage one we say nothing is going to happen… Stage two, we say something may be about to happen, but we should do nothing about it… In stage three, we say that maybe we should do something about it, but there’s nothing we *can* do… Stage four, we say maybe there was something we could have done, but it’s too late now.” So… which stage are we currently at?
(Thanks to Lee Healey for the custom commissioned Apple Arcade illustration header, btw.)
Steam, GDPR, and cookies - notable changes!
For anyone who is tracking Steam traffic via Google Analytics for marketing purposes: you might want to keep an eye on a major change to Steam’s European cookie permissions which rolled out over the last few days.
Specifically, there is now a Steam cookie preferences page which lists all the opt-in cookies (and some ‘mandatory for technical reasons’ cookies) that Valve will serve you if you visit Steam. In the rest of the world, this page just ‘exists’, and it’s not brought to your attention actively.
But in Europe, these cookies now default to off - likely due to the GDPR data privacy rules. And last weekend, everybody in Europe’s cookies were switched off, and get turned back on via accepting the below agreement (pic via xPaw of SteamDB) prominently displayed when you load Steam:
You can see chatter about this in Reddit’s r/privacy. Related to this, game devs have shared with GameDiscoverCo that they currently see only about 30% of their European traffic in Google Analytics, compared to earlier in March.
(We also notice that another of the cookies is for Valve’s internal analytics. So it’s possible that Steamworks analytics will also be missing a lot of European traffic. It depends on how players decide to push those buttons, or if they use fine controls to e.g. block Google Analytics, but not Valve’s tools.)
I’m sure we all agree that users having control over their privacy is, abstractly, a good thing. But for anyone who relies on this type of information to tune advertising or track week-on-week changes, just be aware: the baseline has changed on Steam, and it may change further, as more people set their preferences over time.
The game discovery news round-up..
We’re starting to ramp up for the summer announcement season (whatever the heck that looks like nowadays, in this COVID-tinged lanscape.) So let’s look at all the other news going on out there in Game Discovery-land:
Presuming most of you saw this, but Valve is holding a SteamWorks Virtual Conference on April 20th from 10am PT to 3pm PT. Localized and subtitled videos will be up on-demand afterwards, and the content looks very useful: the CS:GO team on why updates are great, a step-by-step guide to Steam’s events and announcements tools, & two dev talks on communicating with players!
The first Summer Game Fest event to be confirmed is Day Of The Devs, happening virtually in June, and the Double Fine x iam8bit event is free to submit to until April 9th, and free to showcase if picked, as far as I am aware. (Events like the PC Gaming Show and The Game Awards are generally $$ to show your game at, with some exceptions.)
Microlinks: the ‘MLB baseball game coming to Xbox Game Pass on Day 1’ announce, despite it being developed by Sony, is an eye-opener; the IndieGamesJP.dev website is translating some of our newsletters into Japanese, much appreciated; Sony’s subscription service PlayStation Now getting newer games - including The Avengers & Borderlands 3 - but for shorter periods of time than Xbox; this first-party oral history of Oculus is pretty interesting, actually, even if largely Luckey-airbrushed.
The ‘what’s up with E3?’ magic 8-ball continues to oscillate wildly, with a Video Games Chronicle scoop about various options for the virtual event - including players paying for access - making the ESA publicly announce that this… wouldn’t be happening. Either way: “the ‘Electronic Entertainment Experience’ (instead of “expo”), is planned to run for a week starting June 13, and incorporate three days of broadcast content, followed by a consumer experience powered by an official E3 app.” When you lose the physical co-location advantage, it’s rough out there for E3.
Vlad Calu of Those Awesome Guys has a neat Twitter thread showing launch Steam wishlists for the company’s roguelike deckbuilder Deepest Chamber. It debuted during Game Dev Direct (so was in that Steam ‘feature’), and then showed full gameplay on a paid Northernlion stream shortly thereafter (the unedited version of which has 108k views on YouTube already!) A good one-two punch?
Microlinks Pt.2: Chris Plante on the ‘quiet turning point’ around video game subscriptions; new ‘biz of game dev’ site Premortem.games is reprinting select GameDiscoverCo newsletter sections; a neat survey of 7,500 turn-based RPG players and their preferences; PlayStation’s closing of its legacy PS3, PS Vita, PSP stores - presumably for legacy tech reasons - getting some bad publicity.
And that’s it for this newsletter. Sign up for GameDiscoverCo Plus if you want to support our good work here, and talk to you all on Wednesday!
[We’re GameDiscoverCo, a new agency based around one simple issue: how do players find, buy and enjoy your premium PC or console game? You can subscribe to GameDiscoverCo Plus to get access to exclusive newsletters, interactive daily rankings of every unreleased Steam game, and lots more besides.]