Deep dive: analyzing Slapshot Rebound's F2P Steam success

Great to see a part of the biz we rarely get to check out.

[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.]

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Slapshot: Rebound - the data behind the success?

There’s been very little detailed data exposed by devs of Steam free-to-play games. But there are definitely good opportunities here - even for indies.

So, back in March, GameDiscoverCo did a deep-dive into Steam (and mobile) F2P battle royale King Of Crabs. And now we’re back again, looking at rather popular multiplayer ice hockey game Slapshot: Rebound, thanks to Oddshot Games founder Gilles/Erveon.

Slapshot: Rebound is an oddity, since it’s a F2P sports game with realistic-ish physics and deep gameplay tactics, but sporting a relatively cute look for the characters (as can be seen in the above YouTube video!)

And it’s struck a chord with players, as can be seen from the game’s Steam numbers below. Sorry, no exact revenue here, but we can see reach, with over 650,000 ‘free licenses’ since December 2020:

We asked Gilles what made him decide to go in this particular direction, and he explained: “I inherited the hockey theme when I took over development of the first Slapshot game from a hobbyist developer. People were looking for a hockey game on PC and the popularity of the first Slapshot - which was more or less a prototype - proved a product market fit that I was happy to explore further.”

We can also see the daily Steam free downloads for Slapshot: Rebound below, which is how it got to nearly 600,000 total downloads:

There’s obviously a launch spike, but all of the other spikes in the download graph are from influencers somewhat ‘randomly’ picking up the game. This makes sense, since this isn’t a title with large themed updates, but a continuing eSport that can be discovered at any time. (BTW, the download slump in June is the Steam Summer Sale, when F2P games get de-emphasized in Steam’s UI, and seems to happen to all F2P games.)

The largest spike, in late August 2021, was thanked publicly on the Slapshot Twitter account and revealed to be Polish-language influencers Xayoo Industries. Their play sessions peaked at around 64,000 simultaneous Twitch viewers (!) and significantly boosted Polish players of the game.

Relatedly, you can see the effect on Slapshot’s CCUs and daily active users here, maxing out at around 15,000 daily actives after ‘the Polish onslaught’, haha:

We also asked Gilles about the most surprising good and bad things about Slapshot’s success so far. He explained: “The most surprising thing has been the size of the community. It exceeded expectations at launch and has remained stable almost a year after launch. It has definitely required a lot of work to get to that point - but we're genuinely happy to have created a big enough community to sustain the game and ourselves.” The game spent $0 on paid marketing during launch, incidentally - and has still thrives despite that.

But on the bad side? Having a large competitive-focused multiplayer community “...where a small but loud subset of the player tries to ruin the experience for fellow players and harass our development team. We've spent a lot more time than anticipated working on tools and community systems to help counter this toxicity. I'm extremely grateful for the people who help keep Slapshot as safe of a space as possible with us.”

How does Slapshot monetize on Steam?

While Oddshot isn’t revealing exact monetization numbers here, they say that around 50% of the total monetization of the game is via Steam DLC or Steam Wallet purchases.

The IAP (in-app purchases) is all in-game Steam Wallet cosmetics in the form of outfits and accoutrements for your ice hockey players. And there’s also a ‘Lifetime’ Premium DLC for $15 which includes premium excusive cosmetics, and a boost to earning experience and in-game currency.

Cosmetic purchases range from $5 to $50 for in-game currency, with $50 being the most in-game currency for your money. Gilles says that cosmetics make up the majority of their Steam revenue: “The ones that perform the best are usually seasonal items. For example, the Santa hat is still the best selling cosmetic, despite having only been in the shop once.”

He also notes: “We are evaluating more forms of monetization, including season passes, but are in the early stages on this.” As an indie, the idea of trying this more complex kind of monetization may be potentially stressful - and F2P multiplayer games with IAP do need to do very well to be financially worthwhile. But it can really work out.

A surprising PC game revenue source - display ads!

Oh, and that other 50% of the total current monetization for Slapshot: Rebound?Surprisingly, it’s in-game ads! Oddshot works with a bunch of sponsors to do seamless in-game advertising on the boards of the hockey rink.

As Gilles notes: “In sports arenas, people are already used to seeing advertisements as a part of the aesthetic. For the first iteration of Slapshot, we had joke graphics on the boards. It didn't take long before community members expressed interest in putting up their own images to advertise their Slapshot teams or livestreams for a small fee. When working on Slapshot: Rebound we wanted to explore this further; automating the system and getting actual brands on there.”

One thing that helps Oddshot quite a bit with leverage on ad deals is the split of the countries playing the game. Unlike King Of Crabs, which had a lot of players from Russia, China, Thailand and Vietnam (nothing wrong with that if you can monetize, btw!), this split is very Western/higher-GDP centric:

Gilles continues: “After some research, we discovered that there are several companies out there that already serve as a broker between brands and games to [automate sales]. Through this, we've had some amazing brands advertise in Slapshot: Rebound including Lexus, Pizza Hut, Energizer and Microsoft.”

Bonus: the eSports opportunity?

Finally, while we’re a bit fed up with eSports being roundly over-hyped, it’s clear that Slapshot: Rebound is very eSports-compatible. It’s an engaging digital version of an existing competitive sport that many people love, even as a smaller indie game.

So, first steps in this direction - before this newsletter hit, Oddshot announced a campaign with Microsoft and Intel, committing to the competitive scene in Slapshot: Rebound by pledging $5,000 or more to its community organized initiatives.

Gilles notes: “There haven't been any cash prizes for Slapshot events before, so this could cause a big shift. That, in combination with the new in-game "eSports hub" feature we launched, has seen viewership triple on livestreams.”

And with Oddshot starting the process of organizing tournaments with multiple major eSports leagues, the pledge will fund cash prizes, production value boosts, and other ways to help the scene. In other words, it’s good marketing for the game and also great engagement for the community.

Conclusions: better visibility for F2P on Steam?

So that’s Slapshot’s current profile! Ending: one comment I’ve heard from multiple F2P devs on Steam is that it’s tricky to get visibility for your base game through what we’d consider ‘normal’ Steam visibility channels. You can’t be in any sales or Midweek Madness with your F2P game, for example, removing some obvious discovery points.

When asked about visibility in general, Gilles noted: “Steam visibility contributed in a notable way right before and right after launch, when we were featured on the Popular Upcoming and Popular New Releases lists. We also made it into their 'December's top releases' post, but didn't see much of an impact from that.”

He added: “From the Steam stats I've shared you can see that in terms of page visits, external traffic is over a third higher than Steam store traffic. So a lot of our downloads come from word of mouth, or influencers that have picked up the game organically. We're also experimenting with having the game on other platforms such as Trail.gg to increase visibility.”

So I don’t think we want F2P titles to overwhelm all the charts and discovery methods for existing paid games. And ultimately, discovery is your own problem! But it’s possible that they are slightly underpromoted on Steam right now, particularly because the main ‘top selling’ charts only list paid game SKUs (base game or DLC.)

There’s been some vague murmurs from Valve that we may see some updated public chart data for Steam. And I’m wondering whether ‘top grossing games’ will be one of those, in addition to ‘top selling’ by SKU. (‘Top-grossing’ exists on tag pages right now, but not in a centralized place or as a global chart.) That might help expose interesting F2P titles, without overwhelming the existing balance. Guess we’ll see!

The game discovery news round-up..

Since the lead story is expansive today, we’ll be moving straight on to the notable links and stories from ‘the Internet in general’ in platforms and game discovery. And it goes a little something like this:

  • So ‘Netflix x games’ is kicking off earlier than some expected: “Starting tomorrow, all Netflix subscribers on Android will start seeing a row labeled either "N Games" or "Games On Mobile" inside the normal video-streaming app. The games are exclusively for smartphones and tablets.” Just a few titles for now, and iOS versions ‘coming soon’, but Ars Technica “is familiar with at least two Netflix Games projects that are more surprising than the games we saw in today's roster.” Oo.

  • In case you missed it, Steam is launching a Steamworks ‘virtual conference’ on Steam Deck on November 12th. “Topics will include: Steam Deck Hardware; Development without a dev-kit; Steam on Deck; Proton Support; Steam Input; Steam Deck Verified; APU deep dive with AMD.” Sounds worthwhile to us.

  • Over at Gamesight, they have graphs proving that streamers/viewers love spooky games at Halloween: “Horror game viewership received an incredible increase around mid-October. The difference in viewership between September and October is a whopping 38.763% for the entire genre. On the day of Halloween alone there were 3,263,346 hours streamed.” That’s a lot of creepy!

  • Microlinks: yes, that chip shortage is hitting Switch consoles, with output 20% under Nintendo’s target, according to Nikkei; in ‘new cloud gaming hype’ news, Nvidia’s updated GeForce Now tier seems pretty good; none other than Crash Bandicoot co-creator Jason Rubin helped spark Dr. Cortex’s, uhh, Mark Zuckerberg’s interest in the ‘metaverse’ space.

  • You may remember the reports last week that Steam’s ‘Weeklong Deals’ mini-banner had gone missing. Well, as folks in our subscriber Discord spotted, it’s back again, as of this week - see above! (So: either a policy change or an inadvertent removal? Either way, it’s all good.)

  • We were talking about eSports earlier in this very newsletter, so it’s great to have Joost van Dreunen cover the state/future of eSports in his latest newsletter (and I just read that Neil Postman book, too!): “Esports is, and always has been, an entry point into the broader array of practices around live-streaming, online gaming, celebrity (an important element that has historically been notably absent from gaming when compared to music and film), and fan culture.”

  • Do you have a relatively simple-looking PC game that uses excess GPU? Well, if you’re the Fall Guys-esque Steam game Bro Falls, you may get constantly accused of bitcoin/crypto mining. A player message pinned by the devs notes: “I love this game a lot (unironically) and I'd love it if more people played without claiming "Bitcoin miner" because it isn't one.”

  • Microlinks, Pt. 2: this video showing how games perform on xCloud versus an Xbox One shows the long-term power of cloud gaming; some interesting mini-interviews re: working at home/hybrid in this ever-challenging era; Samsung has announced that it’s jumping into cloud gaming with its Tizen smart TV platform.

Finally, we like running graphs from ICO’s Thomas Bidaux. And his latest one on Switch game releases per month across the last 3 years is intriguing. Will Switch games stay at 200 releases per month for the rest of 2021? We’ll seeeee….

[We’re GameDiscoverCo, a new 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.]