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Cook Serve Forever's announcement splash, deconstructed
Also: Xbox's latest financials & 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.]
Well, it’s midweek madness over here at GameDiscoverCo HQ. We’re shaking off a slight cold, trying to deal with frantic pets as the water company digs up the street, and squinting quizzically at the mass of game discovery news flooding our vision.
While we do that, and before we get going: there’s only 3 days left to grab our latest lifetime 20% off monthly or yearly Plus subscription deal. This video has more info on the big data, newsletter, and Discord perks you get for joining - we’d appreciate it!
Cook Serve Forever: modeling a big launch splash?
Some of you may have spotted that Vertigo Gaming just announced Cook Serve Forever, the fourth (aha, clever title!) in the long-running Cook Serve Delicious cooking sim series that creator David Galindo has worked on for a decade now.
The CSD series is now up to a million units sold across the three existing games. And GameDiscoverCo thought it was interesting to look at how Vertigo positioned this fourth game reveal for success, by pursuing a multi-point promotional campaign.
So we caught up with Vertigo producer Erik Johnson, and he explained all the things the team did at the same time to ensure maximum discovery interest:
A Steam ‘Daily Deal’ on announce day: Erik notes that getting a discounted version of the CSD Trilogy featured by Valve “was absolutely critical to our success.” Not only did it bring in around $30,000 gross revenue, the top banner and ‘Wishlist Now!’ widget on the bundle page heavily cross-promoted the new game.
An early trailer, blending tease & gameplay: it’s still early, and “the gameplay is all alpha right now, in terms of the mechanics and the food.” So what to do? Play up the game’s plot in a good-looking animated trailer (see above), somewhat of “a wonderful inside joke” for fans because the original CSD had no plot at all, and the franchise now has “weird lore” all over it. But still put gameplay at the end.
Voice actors integrated into announce promotion: David & Erik wanted to make it clear that any promo from voice actors is a bonus (not why they were hired!) But Elspeth Eastman’s and Emme Montgomery’s reveal that they are voicing the (also visual likeness-adjacent!) lead characters in the game clearly helped fire up their fan bases, and beyond.
Masses more Steam cross-promotion: since players regularly visit all the other CSD Steam pages, there’s widgets for Cook Serve Forever, plus Steam news stories when allowed (Valve sometimes reclassifies these, I think sequels should be allowed overt crosspromo), and Steam capsule icons mentioning the new game. Oh, and specially arranged third party widget cross-promo with Bakery Simulator - clever.
Kitfox (and friends) Steam festival appearance: a lucky coincidence, but Erik says: “We're friends with Kitfox Games”, who saw the announce and said “We're running a festival starting tomorrow and we have a friends section..” that Cook Serve Forever could be in. A great example of how friendly peer connections can help.
Media coverage: interestingly, nobody really picked up the announce ahead of time when offered. But they were happy to write up stories about the game in real-time, given the franchise’s profile and social media buzz. Some good mentions, too: in Eurogamer, in RockPaperShotgun, and in IGN South-East Asia, among others.
In addition, of course, there were “big pushes on Twitter, Instagram, Reddit, and TikTok” for the announce, though Erik notes: “TikTok absolutely tearing it up for CSD3, but we haven't had that big pop yet for CSF.” In time, no doubt.
The result? Cook Serve Forever was wishlisted more in its first 36 hours than Cook, Serve Delicious! 3?! was in its first month after announce. The game has 8,000+ Steam wishlists a week after being revealed (not bad!), with 4,200+ of them arriving on day one. Here’s a Steam wishlist graph to illustrate:
As for longer-term plans? A demo of Cook Serve Forever may appear in the last Steam Next Fest of 2022 or the first one of 2023, with Early Access release to follow sometime fairly soon after that.
Overall, we think this is a good example of a game with an existing fanbase being well-organized with an announcement. It’s rare to see an indie franchise with this many sequels. (Titles often shift into GaaS and DLC updates, instead of launching brand new titles.)
But if you’re going for the sequel angle, ‘announce ASAP and loudly with some gameplay’ is a key mantra for success - mission accomplished!
Xbox’s results: new insights into subs & success…
We don’t normally do a newsletter section just on financials. But Microsoft’s quarterly results yesterday had some good new details on Xbox - particularly hardware & subscription trends. So here’s some high-level notes on the whole thing:
GI.biz says MS’ CEO Satya Nadella “discussed the growth of Xbox Cloud Gaming, with more than 10 million people having streamed games to date. Xbox Cloud Gaming is only available to Xbox Game Pass Ultimate subscribers, indicating that at least 40% of the 25 million Game Pass subscribers… are signed up to the higher tier.”
The Verge notes that some ‘$1 for a month’/churned subscribers could be included in that 10 million Cloud Gaming number, tho. (Either way, we bet ‘try cloud game on Xbox console, instead of downloading 100GB’ is a big part of Cloud Gaming’s success, probably a higher percentage than mobile or PC streaming…)
Overall, as Daniel Ahmad commented, the Xbox division’s revenue was up 6% overall year on year to $3.74 billion for the quarter, and it was the: “Best [ever] non-holiday quarter for Xbox… Content and Services crossed $3bn for the first time in [the relevant quarter].”
Console-wise, Bloomberg’s Dina Bass notes that “Xbox hardware sales rose 14% (or 16% excluding currency impact) in the March quarter”. And given Nadella’s comments on “Xbox console market share gains in the past two quarters”, seems like Microsoft has had better hardware supply chain luck/planning of recent, compared to Sony.
However, Content & Services (the Game Pass & first/third-party game sales bucket) was only up 4% and collectively "below expectations”, the mix affected by “growth in Xbox Game Pass subscriptions and first-party titles, offset in part by a decline in third-party titles.”
But there’s a slowdown coming for Xbox, partly on difficult comps - “[CFO Amy] Hood projects gaming revenue in the June qtr will decline ‘mid to high single digits’ amid continued tough console supply conditions and lower numbers of gaming hours coming out of pandemic (though still higher numbers of hours than before pandemic).”
So that’s a lot of numbers! What does it all mean, though? I would say: revenue isn’t surging crazily for Xbox. But the combination of Game Pass, flexible hardware choices for enjoying Game Pass, and Sony’s current PS5 hardware supply woes probably have Xbox picking up incremental next-gen market share, longer-term.
Profit-wise? Unfortunately, we can’t see profit for the Xbox business. It’s a smaller part of Microsoft’s hilariously named ‘More Personal Computing’ division, which also includes the Windows business. This division as a whole has $20 billion profit per year - so there’s no big need for Xbox to emphasize profitability over growth.
So it seems to be ‘mission accomplished’ for Xbox right now. They’re making a lot of noise, their revenues are going in the right direction, I don’t believe they are wildly unprofitable (‘ignoring’ acquisition costs), and players love Game Pass.
Maybe putting first-party titles like Forza in Game Pass creates limited standalone sales upside for top first-party Microsoft titles. But when you’re locking people into an ecosystem & aren’t very profit-motivated, does that really matter? (Nope.)
The game discovery news round-up..
And before we get done for the week on free newsletters (there’s still a Plus-exclusive one on Friday, don’t forget!), let’s have a look at these notable stories from the PC, console and VR video game ecosystem:
NPD’s March 2022 U.S. hardware/select software sales trends are here, and this mammoth Mat Piscatella Twitter thread has much data. Spend declined 15% to $4.9 billion, thanks to hardware shortages & slower mobile spend, but “Elden Ring remains the best-selling game of 2022 year-to-date, and now ranks second over the 12 month period ending March 2022.” Good starts for Gran Turismo 7 (Sony) and the newest Kirby (Nintendo), too.
Ah, the Meta results just landed, and the ‘Reality Labs’ division that includes Quest hardware and software saw $695 million in revenue in the quarter, up 30% year on year. The division’s loss is up 62% to $2.96 billion, though, so clearly a lot of spending going on to generate all that revenue. (Besides R&D costs, the hardware is probably loss-making at $299, right?)
Want to see all of the ‘takeover banners’ given out by Valve on the front page of Steam over the past few years? SteamDB just added a dedicated page to look at these. Unsurprisingly, they’re a mixture of individual game launches, genre sales, publisher sales, Next Fest/Steam Deck, etc.
A bit more on those PlayStation Plus-exclusive ‘timed’ trials via GameDeveloper - looks like it’s for games with retail cost of $49 or above, Sony provides tech, and: “Developers have up until three months after their games launch on the PlayStation Store to release their timed trial. Trials are also only required to be available to PlayStation Plus Premium users for at least 12 months.”
The Switch’s Joycon drift hardware issues have been a big deal, volume-wise: “Workers at Nintendo’s third-party repair facility reportedly faced a “very stressful” work environment caused by a deluge of Switches sent in for issues related to Joy-Con drift, according to a report from Kotaku.” Thousands per week, apparently?
Seems like PlayStation is setting up a new Preservation department, according to a LinkedIn message from former EA preservation engineer Garrett Fredley. Not many details on how it’ll work - but both emulation and game asset/source code preservation are increasingly important for companies like Sony?
Some new Steam Deck OS updates just debuted, including “the ability to turn on a lock screen and PIN for Steam Deck” (above, smart!), as well as an improved Achievements page, localized keyboards for 21 languages, multiple window switching, and a host of minor updates.
Microlinks: Twitch is looking to optimize for profit (although not for positive publicity, now it’s leaked!) by incentivizing streamers to run more ads, changing sub revenue cut; ‘E3’-adjacent streaming showcase Guerrilla Collective has opened submissions for its 2022 event; Meta is opening a real-life store devoted to VR and Quest on the Meta Burlingame campus.
[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.]