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Discounting your games: 7 clear rules!
Players like buying games when they're cheaper, we hear.
[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.]
Huh, it’s Wednesday already, and so we’re back in your inbox, with plenty of useful updates on game platforms and discovery. And we’re ‘dancing with’ a Kevin Costner reference or two, since we’re sure that’s very culturally relevant* nowadays. (*It’s not.)
Anyhow, let’s get on with today’s newsletter. It features some handy tips on post-release discounts, a look at Weird West’s performance and Game Pass, and lots more besides. Let’s go…
[Reminder: talk to your peers & get many goodies via a GameDiscoverCo Plus paid subscription. This includes an exclusive Friday PC/console game trend analysis newsletter, a big Steam ‘Hype’ & performance chart back-end, eBooks, a member-only Discord & more.]
Discounting: seven ways to drop your price-a?
So GameDiscoverCo has certainly covered post-release discount strategies for your PC and console games before. We wrote up something back in early 2021 which cheekily suggested: “some game makers don’t spend enough time being 100% methodical about discount timings and amounts.”
But we haven’t returned to it recently. And since ‘on discount’ revenue will likely exceed full price revenue for the lifetime of your premium-only PC or console game, we wanted to go into a bit more detail.
So when we saw Capy (Grindstone, Below, Super Timeforce Ultra) studio director Joel Burgess was helping his peers out with discounting advice on a game biz Discord, we reached out for permission to reprint, added some comments, and… here we go:
You’ve gotta be discounting, folks: Joel says: “There are a few (contradictory!) rules of thumb I try to keep in mind with sales. Rule #1 is be on sale as often as possible. Any discount percentage outperforms [the same period if the game is at] full price.”
Time discounts to ‘beats’: “Line discounts up with any press beats you’re anticipating, Mostly this means a major update, but could be other stuff, eg: a physical edition, an article/interview, a new game you’re releasing, a competitor release you expect might residually impact your game, etc.”
Participate in platform sales: He points out: “There’s nuance from platform to platform. But in general I think you get better visibility from platform sales, and participating has the intangible effect of being good for the relationship.”
When running a solo sale, try to punch above your weight: “Do this however you can. Submit marketing requests to platforms. Again, everyone is different. I’ve heard that it can be useful to organize bundle/collab sales on Steam too.”
Some players are looking at historical discounts: “Keep in mind that deal hunter sites track your deepest ever discounts. Try and cross ‘best price ever’ thresholds with thought and care. Incorporate that messaging when hitting a new deepest discount (to fans, press & partners).”
Decide if you’re prioritizing units or revenue: “You usually will choose revenue, but sometimes you may want units (e.g. a better bragging point to use in future project pitches.)” Another potential ‘more units better’ setup we can think of is if you’re bundling the first game with a sequel.
Don’t presume that ‘biggest discount’ is always best: “Do simple analysis tests to test your best-performing % discount. I was surprised to find 40% outperforming 75% off recently (on revenue).” We think this is especially true when you get to very large discount percentages - more than 50% off.
Great stuff, and thanks, Joel. Yes, we really believe you should be doing a lot of discounts on platforms like Steam which allow it - as many as 12 per year? At gradually incrementing discounts, ideally...
[And no, your players don’t think any less of you if you discount a lot, frequency-wise. We literally asked them about that in 2021: ‘I don't think it devalues the product’, they say. Please show this to any of your partners who are still concerned about this.]
The Game Pass conundrum: Weird West edition
We’re always interested in what people say about game sales expectations - especially when a game is also Day 1 in Xbox/PC Game Pass. (Our data says that Game Pass doesn’t obviously decrease your PC conversion rate, but there’s a lot of factors at play.)
So when the excellent documentary collective Noclip interviewed Julien Roby and Raphaël Colantonio of WolfEye Studios (Day 1 Game Pass title Weird West) as part of a podcast series, we slunk over to eavesdrop. And here’s some of the things we heard:
Overall financial performance wasn’t quite as desired, yet: despite some cultish raves for the sprawling, zoomed-out immersive sim ARPG from the founder of Arkane Studios, Colantonio does note that it’s performed “below expectations” for him. (It’s at Mostly Positive with 1,700 reviews on Steam, which is… decent!)
But the game has been enjoyed by a lot of players: Raphael notes Weird West has had “pretty nice numbers” in terms of overall reach, but adds: “Most of our most of our… players were on Game Pass, right? But because Game Pass is a flat fee*, it's not per player, then you end up with a kind of ‘Well, we haven't fully recouped yet.’” However, he adds that “over time, it's going pretty well” in terms of extra sales. (*Mainly.)
GameDiscoverCo Pro data backs up this claim: our upcoming console data set (psst, sign up to be notified when it turns up!) estimates Weird West’s Xbox ecosystem owners at just over 500,000 players - of which we suspect 95%+ were Game Pass, plus 15,000 (paid) owners on PlayStation. (And data partner GamingAnalytics estimates about 110,000 (paid) owners on Steam, with a recent discount pushing units higher..)
Did Game Pass ‘success’ affect sales of the game elsewhere? Noclip host Danny O’Dwyer asked about what Game Pass meant to WolfEye. And Julien Roby noted: “The idea was to see it as a tool to get some exposure for the game” as well as the Game Pass fee, adding: “Unfortunately, we can’t test the reality if we hadn’t been on Game Pass.” (We still think it’s majority a ‘supply and demand’ issue, and a small minority a ‘didn’t buy elsewhere cos it was on Game Pass’ issue.)
Case studies like Weird West are particularly interesting because they show the potential gap in overall funding budgets with AA titles that also get signed to services like Game Pass, now we’re in this super-crowded market.
We can guesstimate wildly that Weird West might have been a $5-$10 million budget game. (WolfEye is a compact ‘indie’ studio compared to Arkane, but we’d expect those kind of numbers.) You really need a game like this to sell 2-300k+ on PC, as opposed to 100k+, to return profitably - if you consider a Game Pass advance alone would seldom recoup that full budget.
As this ‘premium sales + Game Pass’ model starts getting more difficult in AA, you may have to change the financial model of your games. WolfEye co-founder Julien Roby notes: “The danger for the developers is… that if the fees that are being paid for being on a subscription service is not big enough. Then suddenly, you [have to] change your designs to monetize some parts of the game… and you're designing the game around revenue, rather than trying to design a great game.”
Xbox is fine with you putting extra monetization in your Game Pass game. And we’re not expecting them to pay the full dev costs of all Game Pass titles. But there’s definitely a revenue hole here for some games. It either gets zero-ed out by making cheaper games, or more post-launch monetization. (Or publisher arbitrage, a more traditional way to deal with it, which is clearly happening anyhow for Weird West.)
We’ll end you with a quote from Raphaël Colantonio that we’re nodding along with: “It's been weird, and frankly, talking to a lot of other developer friends. 2022 has been weird. You know, a transition to new business models... people are a little off-balance.” Yes, weird.
The game discovery news round-up..
And that’s almost it for the week for regular newsletter heads. We’ll be back on Friday for Plus subscribers, looking at the surprise-ish launch of Marauders & lots more besides. But here’s what we’ve got, discovery and platform news-wise:
The charm offensive continues over at Microsoft’s official news site, weaving an irresistible tale (above) of why the ActiBlizz deal should go ahead. There’s a lot of ‘iOS/Android store policies are restrictive’ talk, and MS’ Brad Smith says the deal “strengthens our resolve to remove this friction on behalf of creators and gamers alike.”
PlayStation Studios’ chief Hermen Hulst popped up in a few places this week, with Axios quoting him that “we have stood up 12 projects… in the live ops multiplayer space”, and confirming console/PC ‘staged release’ plans: “We'll see at least a year between releases on our own platform and the PC platform, probably with the exception of live service titles.”
Epic Games Store added NFT-including title Blanko’s Block Party recently, you probably heard. But given the robust investment in the blockchain games space and Steam blocking NFT projects, it’s not the only title! Other titles we spotted include Star Atlas, STG Football and Forge Arena. (We’re just telling ya!)
Excellent data/insight from HowToMarketAGame about a few things (whether Steam page translations & demos help), but in particular on some games getting lots of Steam impressions & some not. Based on traffic categories: “The high levels of visibility partially come from Valve widgets and from word of mouth.”
Why do lots of ‘formerly in 2022’ games get delayed to February or March 2023, and not, say, May or June 2023? Axios’ Stephen Totilo reminds us that games like Company Of Heroes 3 are pushed back, “but not delayed long enough to move out of the company's fiscal year, which often end on March 30.” Maybe a reason for indies to beware of Q1s?
A follow-up on that ‘show gameplay fast’ trailer newsletter: Plus subscriber Artur (Jupiter Moons) points out: “There is also a platform reason to go with a quick gameplay trailer on Steam, and make it the first trailer.” Specifically: Steam autogenerates micro-trailers that play on ‘hover over with mouse’ in Steam tag pages & elsewhere. He mentioned Elden Ring as having a bad microtrailer, and I spotted the cut-up version in the Souls-Like tag page, and… yup, I agree.
The PlayStation Stars incentive program has now rolled out in the U.S., and TweakTown notes that: “Sony will reward 10 PS Stars points for every $1 that PlayStation Plus subscribers spend on games.” And it appears that $60 games cost 15,000 Points. So it’s effectively a 4% ‘points to spend on games’ payout rate, which compares decently to the 5% rate for Nintendo Gold Points. FYI!
The latest Victoria Tran (Among Us) piece is on how to join an already-established game community to manage it and fit in: “It can be stressful jumping into a place that has formed bonds and routines without you - think of it like being the new kid at school who doesn’t get the inside jokes yet.” Great solutions proposed…
More mobile games are making web stores to bypass the 30% iOS/Android ‘tax’, according to the FOSS Patents blog, citing multiple Supercell titles (Clash Of Clans and now Hay Day). He notes: “On the web store, they cost approximately 10% less than inside the app. This means both the game maker and end users save money.”
Microlinks: intriguingly, Google Ventures has led a $12 million investment into alternative Meta Quest store SideQuest; Apple’s Tim Cook says that in the future, “you'll wonder how you led your life without augmented reality”; GameDiscoverCo given a ‘$50 off’ coupon for Steve Bromley’s ‘Playtest Kit’, “70+ resources to help you plan, run and analyse your playtests.”
[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.]