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Deep dive: can new Steam browsing options help your game?
Or are they icing on a cake, so to speak?
[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.]
Time to return to the fabled world of GameDiscoverCo. It’s time for a whole bunch of neat discovery news, following the sidequest into the world of PlayWay earlier this week. (And thanks for the compliments on that piece, btw.)
So let’s cue up a more ‘regular’ newsletter. Let’s start with a new taxonomical Steam announcement, showing continued leadership from the platform in ‘ways to discover new games’…
(Reminder: if you aren’t signed up to GameDiscoverCo Plus, our premium tier, you’re missing weekly Steam/Switch game analysis newsletters (example!), custom-calculated ‘hype’ data for every unreleased Steam game, a great member-only Discord & more. Do it now!)
Deep dive: here’s the new ways to browse Steam!
Valve - who is kind enough to directly send me press announcements nowadays - recently put out: “After four months in beta experimentation through Steam Labs, the Steam Store now offers new ways to navigate and browse its tens of thousands of titles. Featuring new points of entry for New & Noteworthy titles, plus Categories featuring popular Sub-Genres, Themes, and various forms of Player Support.”
You can read the full announce on the Steam blog. What’s particularly interesting about this particular graduated Labs experiment is that it attempts some human-based taxonomy on top of a system that has largely been ‘individual tag’-driven to date. (I did one semester of a library science degree back in the day. So you can see why this might appeal to me!)
The original Steam Labs post about this feature explains in a bit more detail: “It’s not enough to simply offer good games on Steam - we also need to make sure they’re easy to discover. And to do that, we need to organize them in ways that make sense without being overwhelming… This experiment exposes entry points modeled after the three chief ways players tend to browse Steam—by genre, by theme, and by player modes.”
What this means - in practical terms - is that the ‘Categories’ section in Steam navigation has been human-curated to include combinations of the most commonly sought-after Steam tags. For example, Farming & Crafting Sims now has a homepage which includes tags like Farming Sim, Agriculture and Crafting all in one place. Previously, titles were user-tagged with one or the other of these, but it was a bit of a mess.
And there are other smart combos like Board & Card Games, Grand & 4X Strategy and others that make it easier to see all the different types of game Steam has at a glance, in a menu. (With game themes like Horror, Sci-Fi/Cyberpunk, and ‘player support’ like co-operative and MMO also part of the new menu.)
Oh, and separately, the ‘New & Noteworthy’ dropdown has been made more prominent, including this page which is just fresh titles. Now obviously, the question here is - will people use these menus to navigate, and will new games be discovered because of it?
It’s a little early to tell - and part of it will depend on what Google ends up favoring for search results, for example. (Right now, ‘farm games on Steam’ brings up the two prominent tags as separate results - maybe eventually the combined tag page will dominate?) And let’s not forget this is one of many discovery tools on Steam.
But it’s just great to see Steam trying to take steps to make types/styles of games easier to navigate, in addition to their other ‘recommendation engine’ work. Many of the other game platforms - with Switch being the most egregious example - have abdicated responsibility on this stuff. Help with recommendations matters to devs!
Sure - a lot of people still search for specific games on platforms because they know about them already. Actually, there’s a super-interesting data point on this we found buried in the Apple/Epic lawsuit we analyzed a couple of weeks back:
But that doesn’t mean platforms shouldn’t try to help with discovery. We’re not all as ‘name brand’ as Fortnite. And long tail - in particular - is helped by platform discovery mechanisms. So please keep making them, platforms.
Which games are hot on Discord in 2021?
You may remember us covering this a few months back. But after Stephen ‘MrGameTheory’ Takowsky chatted to us recently, it jogged our memory that he runs a master list of the top video game Discords we hadn’t looked at in a good while! So let’s do it and see what we can see:
At one point, I believe most Discord communities were locked to 500,000 total users. But now select communities (Genshin Impact, Fortnite, Minecraft) have higher caps, permitted if they prune inactive members. And the ‘simultaneously online’ figure can be almost as interesting as the ‘total’ figure, so keep an eye on that.
Many of the top titles are obviously multiplayer-centric, showing the viral effect of having players compete. But there are also single-player titles sneaking in there - Nookazon is a partnered but unofficial Animal Crossing item-trading server, for example.
Definitely interesting to see streamer-themed servers up there, battling with the official partnered Discords. I’m sure you’ve all heard of MrBeast, and his gaming-themed Discord is a… beast. And I hadn’t heard of Minecraft YouTuber TommyInnit, but his Discord is giant too.
A little further down the full list, just wanted to point out some of the games that get discussed slightly less with a mass of Discord users: Risk Of Rain 2, Escape From Tarkov, and GTFO. (They may be obvious to a lot of you. But they’re still hanging in there and getting a LOT of interest - maybe more than you realized.)
Anyhow, thanks to Stephen for hand-compiling this. There’s no way to look this info up automatically - especially not for verticals. We’ll try to check back in again soon.
The game discovery news round-up..
Finishing up here, there’s a LARGE amount of new information out there on your wonderful game platforms, and what they’re been up to recently. So let’s waft that text into your general area:
In the last 24 hours, both Xbox and PlayStation public financial results hit. And with new consoles launching - even if supply-limited - it was good news all around. Look, PlayStation shipped 7.8mil PS5s and now has 47.6 million PlayStation Plus subs (up 15% YoY), and Xbox had 50% more revenue year on year, with Xbox content & services - games + Game Pass in general - up 34%. So that’s… nice!
In case you missed it, Epic added the Itch.io store to their store! It’s just the downloadable PC version of Itch, but it helps showcase Epic Games Store’s more general ambitions as an ‘app storefront’. (iHeartRadio and Brave got added at the same time.) Amused by Leaf @ Itch’s very uncensored comment: “I have a hunch that Epic is going to use this in their lawsuit against Apple to demonstrate how open of a platform they are. Unlike mobile platforms, they aren't demanding any cut of payments we do on our own platform despite being available there.”
Just wanted to note that Steam’s top new releases for March 2021 are highlighted on Steam’s blog and in this nice sale page. Lots of titles in here, like Ranch Simulator, Loop Hero, Stronghold Warlords and Mr. Prepper, that you would not be surprised about if you’re a Plus subscriber - we’ve been yakking about ‘em all month. (Also interesting to see Top 5 new F2P games by player count, tho!)
Bundle maker and publisher Humble got some negative social media chatter by changing bundle structure to Humble bundles to maximize the charity donation to 15% - and default it to 5%. Honestly, with publishing and Humble Choice leading, I don’t think the bundles are the majority of Humble’s revenue, and this seems to have upset the vocal minority who were moving charity sliders. Wonder if the upside is worth the reputational hit, even though the original setup was business-unorthodox?
Esoteric microlinks: it’s been confirmed that tech anti-trust centric Lina Khan will be one of the U.S. FTC commissioners, good piece on the ‘missing middle’ and why the creator economy needs a middle class; loved this wholesome story about elementary school 'Dreamcast friends' in Japan meeting in person, 20+ years later - it’s why games & game platforms are great!
In yet more platform change news, Apple finally rolled out its privacy changes with the latest OS update, and The Verge has a good ‘explainer’ on what this actually means: “Once updated to iOS 14.5, every single company that wants to track users and their data across different apps and websites now have to ask permission first using a standardized prompt [see above] created by Apple.” Kinda a big deal for mobile games, folks - let’s keep an eye on the fallout.
You rarely get to see Xbox Game Pass game numbers. So it was cool that the Rain On Your Parade devs (cute game, btw!) Tweeted that the game has 150,000 players after one week, due largely to Game Pass. (We suspect this might be ‘installs’ rather than players. So the unique player number could be 50-75% of that. But either way it’s impressive - and shows the reach advantages of Game Pass for certain indie titles.)
You’ve probably heard enough about Cyberpunk 2077 already, but just flagging a couple of interesting things in CD Projekt’s financials: “13.7 million copies sold-thru: 73% of sales were digital. PC: 56% PS4: 28% XB1: 17%” to the end of 2020. Perhaps slower console sales due to tech issues/store pulling, tho. Also, this reactive low blow at Stadia from CDPR execs - youch.
Nitty-gritty microlinks: PlayStation Now rolling out higher-res support for 1080p capable games for its cloud streaming service; Xbox adding more ‘FPS Boost’ titles to next-gen Xbox devices; Sony confirms it’s testing PlayStation Plus movie/TV benefits in Poland; you can play Steam PC games on Xbox in the Edge browser, if you’re cheeky enough.
Finally, ICO’s Thomas Bidaux has been crunching Nintendo Switch release numbers per month again. He comments: “March 2021 had 171 new releases on Switch, the [third-highest release month] in the history of the console... And the only months that did better were the October months. And January 2021 saw 158 new releases [the fourth-highest release month]. How many releases will we have in October 2022?” We can all find out together!
[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.]