Can another big game release crush your launch sales?
A reasonable question, answered! Also: Battle Pass boons & tonnes 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 to the second free GameDiscoverCo newsletter of the week - and we hit that milestone I mentioned. We have 15,000 free newsletter subscribers, up from 5,000 in Feb. 2021 and 10,000 in April 2022. (With <1,000 from Substack Recommendations.)
What does that mean? A lot of ‘word of mouth’ recommendations and Google search discoveries are powering our growth, and we couldn’t be happier about it. Thanks for supporting us as we continue to.. poke gently at the corpse of game discovery?
OK final sale reminder for the next few weeks: 48 hours left to get 30% off your first year of GameDiscoverCo Plus, including a Discord to hang with your peers, a lot of exclusive data, a whole bonus weekly ‘sales analysis’ newsletter, and plenty more…
Worried about big game release dates? Don’t be…
One question that comes up a lot at GameDiscoverCo Towers is around release timing in the PC/console video game biz. The movie business has - historically - made a big deal of strategy around the right week to hit theaters. Should games do the same?
We somewhat answered this already in this August 2022 newsletter about the best month to release your game. (We concluded that Q4 was the only time of year with lower conversion - by 30% or so, though we suspect this is partly related to the type of games launching then, & not a true ‘like for like’.)
So we didn’t see anything in that data that showed there were big ‘tactics wins’ around this. We said: “In our view, it’s not possible to tank your game’s release by putting it out at the wrong time of year*. (*But don’t release them during the big Steam sales!)” Pretty straightforward.
However, there’s another question here - if you release the same week as a massive game, does it crush any hopes you’ve had of a successful launch? Does everyone talk about that game, and nobody talk about your game? We have an answer to that too:
Above, for example, is all the new games debuting on the week of Elden Ring’s Steam release in February 2022. (If you have a Plus subscription, you can access this ‘weekly post-release chart’ page, and we have full data back to 2021.)
As you can see, Elden Ring got 200x as many first-week Steam reviews as any other title released that week (!) So, you might say, surely the other games releasing that week did worse because of it? Well, we have a metric for that, luckily.
We calculate a ‘Hype score’ based on a game’s Steam followers, wishlists, and some other concrete metrics. And then we divide that by ‘# of first week Steam reviews’ to get a ratio, which is a fraction a bit like the ‘first week sales/wishlists on launch’ ratio we often talk about.
So myself and Alejandro made a ‘big game launch weeks in 2022’ chart (Google Drive link), where we identified all Steam games that launched with at least 15,000 Hype points - which equates to perhaps >500,000 wishlists.
Then we worked out the median conversion rate for that week, for all games that launched with at least 500 Hype points (perhaps >15-20,000 Steam wishlists?), and compared it to weeks which had no ‘big game’ releases. Here’s what we found:
So, yes, there’s some fluctuations. But taking the median across hundreds of games, we just don’t see that launching the same week as a big game affects its conversion. Overall, it’s very similar - your pre-release interest is the main arbiter of your success.
You can actually see that in the above ‘Elden Ring week’ example. The Final Fantasy VI pixel remaster? Tiny Combat Arena? Martha Is Dead? They all did pretty close to what we would have expected in first week reviews/sales, given the interest in them. (You can argue that some games avoid these weeks - but those didn’t & they were fine!)
(Bonus info: if you look at the full document, we also tried removing the big game’s conversion metric from the week in which is launched, to see if removing that artificial upside changed the median much. The answer was a tiny bit, about 15%. But not enough to change our views.)
So what’s the actual takeaway here? I guess it’s this:
When you’re doing a postmortem of your game’s performance, please down-prioritize things like ‘we debuted the game at the wrong time of year’, or ‘we released the game the same week as BIG GAME and got crushed’.
It’s easy to look at Twitter or press coverage during a specific week, and intuitively feel like your game is being crowded out. But what the data says is that games that have pre-launch interest are still able to convert that interest.
Just about the only case that can be made for ‘this other big launch stopped people talking about my game’ is if streamers or press didn’t have time to play or cover your game, because they were playing other ones. So you could argue you are missing upside, due to that.
To which I would say: there’s rarely a case when the choice is that clear. It’s not like a movie theater, where there’s a limited amount of screens, and capacities might be adjusted up after a certain film does well. There are so many sub-niches of interest in the game space, and very few either/or choices for influencers.
Of course, the market is crowded, and many things can affect its success. But we recommend resetting the conversation to a simple one: ‘Is there a product/market fit, and how large is that market?’ That’s - genuinely - what matters.
How Beatstar scaled to hit $100 million on mobile
We continue to dig upstart mobile game business site MobileGamer.biz, and they have a fresh collab with Space Ape Games on another transparent article re: Beatstar. This time, it’s on how the F2P mobile rhythm game got to $100 million LTD revenue.
Space Ape, which is majority owned by Supercell, is one of a handful of mobile studios willing to be transparent on how they improved revenue over time. Here were the main takeaways we spotted:
Battle Passes are just a great GaaS model: although Beatstar launched only with the ability to buy individual songs, the Tour Pass - where “players would [optionally] pay $15 for a month’s worth of gameplay” in terms of new songs, progressions and unlocks, ended up spiking interest (above). Why? Space Ape’s Simon Hade said the pass was “selling gameplay, not content”. Smart way to look at it.
Design ways to retain players who speed through the content: this is a known problem for almost all ‘live service’ titles, and solutions for a rhythm game aren’t obvious. Space Ape ended up introducing “[multiplayer] events, which were basically leaderboard battles” a year after launch, and it notably boosted median playtime.
Find your ad-centric audience, and target them - the piece notes: “Space Ape has identified a cohort of players happier to watch and engage with ads, and is able to personalise the game to show them more.” Hade highlighted: “In our case, segmentation comes not only from the self reported demographic data but also their early song choices, install sources and early skill rating.” Ads are now 50% of Beatstar’s monetization.
The game discovery news round-up..
And as we round out this newsletter, let’s take a gander at some of the news out there in the wacky wide world of game discovery, like so:
So, Xbox & Bethesda’s Developer_Direct was very nicely done, including a surprise ‘available now’ Xbox Game Pass debut for a Tango Game Works (Evil Within) title, rhythm action title Hi-Fi Rush. Here’s the recap - with Minecraft, Forza, Redfall, and Elder Scrolls (Online) all represented as first-party franchises.
The Independent Games Festival nominees for this year are out, and “Seumas McNally Grand Prize nominees TUNIC and Betrayal at Club Low are tied for three nominations each”, with other Grand Prize noms including The Case Of The Golden Idol, Immortality, Neon White, and Not For Broadcast.
We were a bit surprised to learn that Among Us VR had already sold 1 million copies, mainly because it ‘only’ has 3,000 ratings on Quest 2, and 75-100x is the median multiplier. But more fool us - of course Among Us players would be casual, and not bother to rate! (We reckon Quest is >80% of the total sales.)
It would be good if loot boxes were properly tagged in industry-supplied game ratings, but it seems like they are not yet: “Out of a random selection of 100 games on the Google Play Store, 71 percent of games with loot boxes were not labelled as such.” Hm - third-party sites like The Family Gaming Database help with kid-related game choices, at least…
Microsoft and therefore Xbox’s quarterly results? Here’s a good round-up: “gaming revenues were down 13% for the three months ended December 31, 2022”, but with, as Satya Nadella said: “new highs for Game Pass subscriptions, game streaming hours and monthly active devices.” Only the last of those was given a number, though - 120 million MAU, up from 100 million in late 2020.
People Make Games released a new video about how Valve works as a company, interviewing “16 current and former Valve employees about the inner workings of one of gaming's most mysterious companies.” No big surprises here, if you’re familiar with the libertarian/laissez-faire vibe, but some interesting questions nonetheless.
Here’s a useful Game Developers Conference 2023 preview from Axios: “expecting about 24,000 attendees this year, up from last year but down from pre-pandemic totals”. There’s no way to watch virtually, but a separate virtual GDC later this year, and there are talks about Kirby, remote work culture, Tamagotchi (oo!) and more.
Enjoyed this editorial from The Verge about what Stadia did right on the way outta town: “I don’t think Stadia will be remembered poorly now it’s gone - because in the end, Google did right by its customers. Pay attention, rival companies: this is how you shut down a service right.”
Bloomberg is leaking more details about Apple’s Reality Pro headset, and 9to5Mac rounds them up here: “The eye- and hand-tracking capabilities will be a major selling point for the product… there will be a Digital Crown [similar to the Apple Watch’s knob] for switching between AR and VR.” Two hours use per battery pack, though - it’s all fairly early.
Microlinks: Japanese players spent $2.9 billion on boxed games and consoles in 2022; MobileDevMemo on “declining App Store revenue growth and the bull case for mobile gaming”; many have recommended Mitch Lasky & Blake Robbins’ Gamecraft podcast, “about the modern history of the video game business”.
[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.]