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Deep dive: how Everspace 2 made its space opera a PC hit
Also: Sony's results, and a whole bunch of other discovery 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.]
We have returned. And on a day that seems to be a (pagan?) holiday in Europe - coincidentally, we just watched The Wicker Man last night - we’ll be producing our own ‘folk horror’ take on video game analysis in our latest newsletter.
So come with us as we summon Baba Yaga, and ask her to grind some bones to augur the future of the PC and console game biz. (Or maybe we’ll just use Steam back end data and .CSV exports instead, like the science-led nerds we actually are.)
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Everspace 2: how iteration helped Rockfish hit big
The folks at Rockfish Games gave us an early heads-up on a milestone for their single player space exploration/combat sequel Everspace 2. It has now hit 300,000 Steam units sold - at $30-$50 USD or local equivalent - after its Jan. 2021 Steam Early Access release (with a 25-person dev team) and April 6th, 2023 1.0 release.
Even more impressively, the team said: “this sequel saw seven times more pilots in the cockpit during launch week than its predecessor, hitting a high of close to 10,000 concurrent players.” It’s also more than 3x the 3,000 Steam CCU at EA launch. And with 27% of the game’s Steam reviews in the last month, it’s one of those ‘1.0 hits bigger’ titles..
But yes, stonks go up, successful game is successful - but what you probably want to know is - why, and how? Well, thanks to insight from Michael Schade & Lee Guille of Rockfish Games, and lots of editorializing, we can do just that. Let’s start with why:
Look at the depth of experience of Rockfish in this genre: both the dev - and its predecessor Fishlabs - have been making ‘space dogfight games’ for 20+ years. The Galaxy On Fire series has more than 40 million downloads on smartphones, and the first Everspace has sold handily too. So yes, if you keep making the same type of game, you generally iterate and improve it. This is a good idea!
There’s a lack of good ‘space opera’ titles on PC and console: apart from Star Citizen and its byzantine dev/funding weirdness, this genre is underpopulated. But people still want to play Wing Commander-likes. And besides Elite Dangerous & maybe the Rebel Galaxy series, Everspace is one of the only franchises getting it right…
This subgenre has a high barrier to entry: the Rockfish team said “the team’s internal pitch for EVERSPACE 2 was Freelancer meets Diablo with Descent vibes”, and if you look at the top Steam player reviews, they nailed those vibes. (The Diablo reference is for looting, inventory upgrades, crafting & all that ARPG goodness.) It’s not even easy to make good space combat, let alone with this layered on top.
As for how this went down? Well, as a baseline, here’s Everspace 2’s Steam revenues, DAU, refunds, units, and median time played as of April 20th, courtesy of Rockfish.
And in addition, here is the ‘units sold on Steam LTD’ graph for a chunk of the Early Access period only, with the following clarifications & caveats:
Everspace 2’s discount sales spikes are impressive: it has only ever been 25% off its USD $39.99 original price, and is now $49.99. Given that semi-aggressive pricing, its unit spikes look great to us. But it’s a large, complex game with 88% Positive Steam reviews, and it has the value proposition correct for its audience.
PC Game Pass inclusion? No problem for Steam purchases: the Rockfish team saw no negatives for including the Preview - and now 1.0 - version of Everspace 2 in PC Game Pass. (And there were big positives for reach and dev budget.) Good to know.
Beyond this high-level overview, the Rockfish team also provided us a massive document with lots more great granular insight. There’s so many that we’re sad we can’t include them all. But here’s three more standouts:
Everspace 2’s creators are strongly in favor of ‘always-on’ demos: they note that “having a time-unlimited, always up-to-date demo throughout Early Access helped tremendously to manage expectations and reduce the number of negative reviews”, especially for hardcore HOTAS (Hand On Throttle And Stick) enthusiasts (!)
If you get it right, your audience will defend your higher pricing - the team says: “we received only a few complaints about the [$50] price [at 1.0 launch], with our community immediately jumping in on the Steam forums and social media, stating that the game is well worth its price tag and actually great value for money, especially considering the amount of explorable, handcrafted locations in the game.”
The team is excited to keep its monetization simple: Schade says he has proved out the model to “continue living the indie dream and keep making exciting space action RPGs for PC and console old-school style without anyone breathing down our neck to incorporate online functionality, microtransactions, or whatever the latest fancy new monetization scheme might be.” We think he has too.
As a result, Everspace 2 is poised for more growth. It’s planned to launch on PS5 and Xbox Series S/X - including a physical edition - in Summer 2023, major free updates are planned, and a paid ‘sizable expansion’ DLC will arrive in 2024. Sounds like a plan!
PS5: how Sony’s big hardware win may multiply…
Late last week, Sony put out its latest results. And as you may have heard, the floodgates finally opened on PlayStation 5 supply, with very attractive results: “Sony Interactive Entertainment has shipped a record 6.3 million PlayStation 5 consoles during the first three months of the year, to reach 38.3 million consoles shipped life to date.”
And Sony’s president, COO and CFO Hiroki Totoki says he believes the company can ship 25 more million PS5s in the fiscal year ending March 2024. The company also said [.PDF]: “Distribution inventories have also normalized, and we are now able to deliver PS5 to customers without waiting almost all over the world.” So we’re finally in high gear!
Now, shipped doesn’t always equal sold-through, of course. But there’s a heck of lot of player interest in PlayStation 5, and some of the signature ‘PS5 and Xbox Series’ only third-party games are finally starting to hit. Which is leading to a fascinating trend.
If you’d have asked me a few months ago, I’d have said the rise of PC versions of games would make the PS5 (and Xbox Series) consoles less important over time. But you know, I’m actually changing my mind.
Why? We’re seeing a series of articles like ‘Star Wars Jedi: Survivor is the worst triple-A PC port of 2023 so far’. And this is the latest in a long list of PC conversion flubs for high-end games - including The Last Of Us Pt.1 and Wild Hearts - we’ve been documenting for Plus subscribers.
Surely this is creating a lot of nervousness for people choosing between getting a gaming PC and a console? We see multiple comments on Jedi: Survivor that people are excited to pick up a PS5 specifically to play it. And you know that a standardized console is guaranteed to play your game, as opposed to a very non-standard PC.
So perhaps this is actually an additional driver of PS5 units. And as the PS5 installed base gets even bigger, more games will launch exclusively for higher-end consoles, PC users will continue to have issues playing those games on low and medium-end machines. Which makes a PS5 even more attractive…
PS5: Sony’s ‘live service’ games transition wen?
The other interesting question in Sony’s results was - what is going on with PlayStation game sales? Japanese financial analysts took ‘new first-party game sales’ slowness very much as a negative, which led to other concerned news stories around “conservative profit outlooks” for Sony:
“Toyo Securities analyst Hideki Yasuda said sluggish sales of [Sony’s own] videogame software, which is more profitable than the [hardware] side, cast a shadow over the game unit. In the latest quarter to March, [PS5] sales more than trebled from a year earlier to 6.3 million units, while [first-party] software sales fell 3.5%. ‘If you buy new hardware, you generally buy software as well. Software sales ought to have grown in tandem with hardware,’ Yasuda said.”
It’s unclear that units are 100% a relevant metric, though. And as a ResetEra poster noted: “Important to note that software unit sales != software revenue due to the explosion of F2P games with DLC/MTX via the add-ons category in reporting.” Which includes.. a lot of the games - like Destiny 2 and other GaaS titles - that Sony plans to concentrate on.
But we did say plans to concentrate on. And we’re still very early in Sony’s ‘live service’ makeover. There is still a gap before a lot of those titles - like Naughty Dog’s first standalone multiplayer game - debut. (And some of them will need to hit Destiny-sized big to make a difference, of course.)
Overall, that same ResetEra poster noted that the general direction of revenue is good across all games on PlayStation as a platform: “Overall software sales (1st & 3rd party, add-ons) grew ~11% from FY2021 - FY2022.” So no big worries there.
And Tweaktown’s Derek Strickland concluded in a Twitter thread: “Long story short, consumers appear to be buying less games but are spending more on the games that they do buy… volume is down and game revenues are up.” So maybe this is more about changing business models - albeit a shift that Sony’s own games also have to succeed at?
The game discovery news round-up..
Finishing off the platform and discovery info, let’s take a stroll down News Avenue (situated next to the less salubrious Hot Takes Way and Gossip Alley):
Steam rolled out some nice new changes to its PC desktop client Beta, including an overhauled In-Game Overlay, with “friends chat, achievements progress, guides, discussions, a browser, and more” - and a new game notes app (above) which is “saved per game and are synced across to any other PCs you are logged into.” So nifty!
Who’s coming to Fortnite’s UGC platform in search of $ and reach? Some super-famous Fortnite influencers, that’s who: “In a joint announcement on Friday, SypherPK, Ninja, Nickmercs, TimTheTatman, and CouRageJD revealed that they are collaborating on a new Battle Royale title [in UEFN], currently codenamed ‘Project V’.”
Nielsen put out a snippet of a player survey on which the games that players want to see rebooted, and the top picks were: Silent Hill (20%), StarFox (19%), Spyro The Dragon (18%), Contra (16%), and Twisted Metal (15%). (Not sure if this was a freeform choice, or picking from a menu.)
Issues re: Apple’s App Store submission process? Shot: “iOS’ app review is still broken, and developers are angry: ‘Apple sees itself as above the law’”. Chaser: “Game developers tell Apple how to fix app review: ‘Just look at Google and take their best practices’.
Microlinks: a great deep-dive on what Steam followers vs. wishlists do for you, functionality-wise; Aliens: Fireteam Elite is out on Nintendo Switch, but the description is a bit unclear it’s a cloud-streamed version; over 15 million players claimed the Dying Light Enhanced Edition on Epic Games Store.
All eyes on the ASUS ROG Ally competitor* to the Steam Deck, since reports say: “The higher-end Asus ROG Ally will apparently cost just $699.99. That’s for the model with an AMD Z1 Extreme chip, 16GB of RAM and a 512GB SSD, meaning that Asus’ 512GB handheld costs just $51 more than a 512GB Steam Deck.” (*Hardware competitor - but Steam wants a vibrant ecosystem of SteamOS handheld PCs!)
The gamification of Twitch continues & I promise you this is a real paragraph from the excellent Today Off Stream newsletter: “A new Golden Kappa Hype Train appeared on AdmiralBahroo's stream this week. The record-breaking (Level 50) hype train resulted in people unlocking the Golden Kappa emote for 24 hours. That outcome has not sat well with the community, with AdmiralBahroo himself calling out Twitch.”
Fascinating piece on the ‘bottom-feeders’ describing how releasing ‘trash’ games on Steam can be profitable for them: “In total, the developer earned $42,886 from the eight “trash” games. As a reminder, they spent $5,000 on their development. Creator’s net profit for a year of work was more than $37,000.”
Ubisoft+ is adding more third-party indie titles to its subscription library, in this case Old School Musical and Neon Abyss. And something else I didn’t realize is the limited-time nature of these signings: “All indie games are available on Ubisoft+ for a period of six months.”
Microlinks, Pt.2: UGC platform mod.io “launches new metrics system for creators and studios”; in Europe, 101 million people access the iOS App Store on a monthly basis; of relevance to attribution marketers: “dark social falsely attributes significant percentages of web traffic as ‘direct’.”
Finally, looks like the Famicase exhibition is back for 2023. For those who don’t know, it’s a ‘make a cartridge design for an invented Famicom/NES game’, as participated in by design stars like Cory Schmitz, and we always love the invention at work:
[We’re GameDiscoverCo, an agency based around one simple issue: how do players find, buy and enjoy your PC or console game? We run the newsletter you’re reading, and provide consulting services for publishers, funds, and other smart game industry folks.]