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Case study: Rubber Bandits' double Prologue win
It's definitely working out for them.
[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.]
There’s nothing that concentrates the mind more than deadlines. (Well, except for folks like Hitchhiker’s Guide To The Galaxy author Douglas Adams, who said: “I love deadlines. I like the whooshing sound they make as they fly by.")
Which is why GameDiscoverCo loves getting these fact-packed newsletters out to you promptly on Monday and Wednesday (West Coast U.S. time) every week. Have you thought about how you use deadlines in your business? Are they wielded like a cudgel, or carefully and delicately planned for? Food for thought….
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How Rubber Bandits’ Summer Prologue worked out nice
So, some of you may recall us mentioning Flashbulb Games’ multiplayer party brawler Rubber Bandits in a previous discussion about how Steam Prologues work. At the time, they’d released a Christmas-themed Prologue that had done rather well.
Well, we caught up with Flashbulb’s Ole Teglbjærg, since his team has just released another custom demo for Rubber Bandits, in the form of the Summer Prologue. And he’s been kind enough to show a whole bunch of stats/insight on the effects of various demos and prologues, starting with this:
So, in this (impressive) Steam wishlist graph for Rubber Bandits itself, the spikes represent: 1. Steam Summer Festival 2020; 2. Steam Autumn Festival 2020; 3. the release of the Christmas Prologue; 4. the release of the Summer Prologue.
Ole notes, very honestly and fairly: “[We know] the quality of the wishlists is of course low. The prologue is free, and we incentivize people to wishlist Rubber Bandits. But even then, there is still value in the wishlist count - both in building a community, and especially for showing traction for the game.”
The Festival demos did fine, but it’s really been the standalone Prologues that have done spectacularly well for Flashbulb. Discussing the first of those - Ole notes the Christmas Prologue was an experiment, and they weren't sure how it would pan out until we saw the numbers: “Looking back at it now, I think two factors especially worked well, in our case:
I think the genre (party brawler) lends itself very well to being a free Prologue compared to other types of games. (On top of that, I actually think the silly elf and reindeer characters fit the Rubber Bandits universe well!)
Tying it to Christmas worked really well with influencers, and this was a quite deliberate decision. While making [Flashbulb’s previous hit vehicle building game] Trailmakers, we talked a lot with influencers, trying to understand their motivations for choosing certain games over others. Around Christmas, YouTubers' earnings go up - especially with holiday themed content.”
And Flashbulb didn’t rest on their laurels after the success of the Christmas Prologue, which has about 220,000 Steam downloads. (Bonus: it keeps attracting new players even outside the holiday season - visible in the thickness of the tail on the Steam wishlist graph into Spring 2021.)
So to give the Summer Prologue a boost as it debuted, Flashbulb made a Steam announcement on the Christmas Prologue announcing the Summer Prologue. That gave the Summer Prologue a good bump in new players, which helped it get to the New and Trending chart on the front page of Steam.
And they also timed an official ‘announcement trailer’ - which already has 180,000 YouTube views - to the launch of the Summer Prologue:
In addition, Ole pointed out Flashbulb’s best practices around both marketing and demo availability for the Summer Prologue:
We incentivized signing up to the Rubber Bandits wishlist in the game, as we did with unlocking the ‘Jesus’ character in the Christmas Prologue. [You can wishlist to unlock the Mr. Big character - or at least, it takes you to the Steam page to wishlist after clicking on the character to unlock it, there’s no concrete method to ensure it actually happened.]
We think this type of ‘wishlist to unlock’ behavior is an easy and [player-optional] way of bringing attention to the base game - and it works well. There is definitely a fine line here - we didn't want to annoy players.
This time, we decided to do a much shallower game mode (Brawl) compared to the Christmas Prologue. And our plan is to remove the Prologues from Steam at some point. This is because we are closer to launch now, and we want to keep players hungry to buy when the game comes out.
We directly ask people to sign up to our mailing list in the game. This can be a bit annoying for players, but the value we are getting out of it is good [88k+ signups]. Again, players can just skip if they don't want to join the mailing list.
When people close the prologue, we open up the Rubber Bandits Steam page in a browser. This brings them closer to the base game, reminds them that this is just a Prologue, and gives them another chance to wishlist the game.
Finally, Ole understands that Rubber Bandits is the kind of casual, bitesized & easy to play game that might suffer from that ‘love the demo, but noncommittal about buying the full game’ issue. He notes: “It would be foolish to assume that because people like a (free) prologue, they will automatically convert at launch. You very clearly pointed out that it is not how it works in your previous article about prologues.”
But just looking at the kind of interest Rubber Bandits is seeing from streamers and players, this looks to me like the kind of game that could do pretty darn well on launch! We’ll see in a few months, and in the meantime, thanks for sharing the info and best practices, Ole and Flashbulb.
Next Fest: ranking the top games by CCU?
So, we’ve been talking quite a bit about Steam Next Fest. And in fact, if you’re a GameDiscoverCo Plus paid subscriber, last Friday’s newsletter was partly about what’s hot and what’s not in Next Fest! (You can still read it if you sign up now, heehee.)
But without going into detail here on all the top games, there’s good news for those who want to get a general impression. After I talked about manually looking up CCUs (simultaneous players) for Steam Next Fest demos, the SteamDB crew set up a new real-time page that sorts by CCU for all Steam demos. (This includes non-Next Fest ones, but you can work out which one is which, fairly swiftly.)
And as I said in Friday’s Plus newsletter: “It adds an important ‘sense of dimension’ for [the top Next Fest demos by raw player numbers]. For example, the top 3-5 games (that aren’t smash Asian battle royale Naraka Bladepoint, haha!) in Next Fest are getting around 1,000-2,000 CCUs at max.
But that goes down all the way to 100 CCUs if you get down to the 40th or 50th most played demos is Next Fest. And then 100th place in Next Fest is more like 50 CCUs, 200th place is more like 20 CCUs, etc. (Anything with 50 CCUs or more during Next Fest is a really promising start, in my opinion.)”
Something else that’s notable? Some of the top games in Next Fest are really zooming up GameDiscoverCo’s Steam Hype charts (explanation, scroll down). A great example is Crafting Legends’ much-awaited (but still somehow a bit low profile) gritty post-apocalyptic action RPG Death Trash:
It already had very good Hype numbers. But after the demo debuted somewhere around the Top 10 Next Fest demos by CCU, we can see it sprint up from 147th place in the Hype chart of unreleased Steam games to 72nd:
Because all of the other Top 100 unreleased Steam games are adding wishlists and followers daily too, it takes a mighty boost for that kind of change to happen. This really shows the power of demos and Next Fest for discovery, if you can get it right.
The game discovery news round-up..
Since our latest GameDiscoverCo free newsletter was last Wednesday, we’ve piled up a good few links for the discovery/platform round-up section. Putting these in some kind of semblance of order, we have the following wonderful chunks of news:
MCV’s take on the 30% revenue platform cut has some good comments from multiple smart folks. An interesting angle from Joost van Dreunen, for example: “The games industry inherited the 30 per cent rate from adjacent entertainment markets that are largely commodity-based… Games are not commodities; they are assets that appreciate in value over time [due to repeated player purchases].”
For those paying attention to ‘where’s the next Nintendo Switch upgrade?’, Doug Bowser is now making extremely vague noises that “we are always looking at… how technology can enhance gameplay experiences.” Some suggest that electronic component shortages (currently making the PlayStation 5 incredibly hard to buy!) may have pushed back announcements - and Switch seems to be doing wonderfully without extra hardware.
It’s an ominous sign for ‘big tech’ (some of the large companies that run platforms we discuss here!) that Lina Khan was appointed U.S. Federal Trade Commission chair immediately after being confirmed. As Techcrunch notes: “Khan’s star rose with the publication of a landmark paper examining how the government’s outdated ways of identifying monopolies have failed to keep up with modern business realities, particularly in tech.” Watch this space…
Microlinks: PC Gamer’s take on the best Next Fest demos; Andreesen Horowitz partner Ben Lai on how ‘instant gaming’ is evolving, post-Flash, into a big deal; Taming Gaming is a parent-centric video game database which recommends (discovery!) and explains games for kids.
A brief update on Kickstarter: board games are still dominating the ‘game’ part of the service, but ICO’s Thomas Bidaux points out that there is an honest-to-goodness video game (‘dark and mysterious Metroidvania’ Crowsworn, pictured) with the largest amount of pre-launch followers for a campaign right now - over 12,000.
Interesting to see Nielsen trying to get more modern with streaming video (Netflix, Hulu) habit monitoring, via a device which “observes internet traffic that passes through a router” for smart TVs. I know that Superdata (and other research firms?) analyzed anonymized credit card spending data to try to work out video game spending habits. Wondering if you could ever do similar for games?
Microlinks, Pt.2: U.S. retailer Target offering free 6-month Apple Arcade trials to folks signing up for its loyalty program; the biggest E3-adjacent streams by total streamer numbers, according to StreamHatchet; Amazon Appstore (for Android) “will take only 20% from developers who earned up to $1 million in the prior calendar year.”
Finally, this happened on a just-concluded Beta before Steam Next Fest (and the game also has an updated Next Fest demo.) But I really like this approach to demo feedback from Springloaded and No More Robots’ Let’s Build A Zoo:
The above graphic is good because a) it’s honest about what worked and didn’t work, b) it talks practically about what can be done to fix some of the Beta’s problems c) it also makes sure you understand that overall, people really liked the Beta - which they did.
Anyhow, I think clear and cogent public follow-ups to Betas or demos are good discovery/marketing tools that are under-used. They can show the community clearly that the devs care, and progress is being made.
[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.]