Does a Day 1 Game Pass debut make your game convert worse on Steam?
Our data says.. not so much!
[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.]
Welcome to another newsletter, folks. Hope you had a pleasant weekend! And it’s time for us to delve deep into the mechanics of PC/console game market, thanks to the data GameDiscoverCo is collecting on 70,000+ Steam games daily.
Reminder: we can only do these ‘big data’, helpful free newsletters because of those of you who sign up for our GameDiscoverCo Plus paid sub. Many thanks to those who did - or will do! (You get a lot of great extra stuff, as detailed on our ‘About’ page.)
Xbox Game Pass Day 1 vs. Steam conversions - what’s up?
OK, so the rise of Game Pass (both Xbox and PC) from Microsoft has been a notable one over the past 3-5 years. We’ve devoted quite a few newsletters to it - and Xbox has been doing a great job of picking high quality games for the service.
But one question that always comes up, talking to devs and clients is: when considering the options, does being in Game Pass lose you any ‘juice’ when simultaneously launching your game on other big platforms like Steam?
It’s very, very difficult to work that out - because you can’t A/B test for, uhh, reality. But GameDiscoverCo has now amassed enough data on Steam pre-release ‘Hype’ and reality that we have a potential answer. (Thanks to the client who suggested we do this, and was fine with us sharing the results!) The way we did this is as follows:
We’re tracking all 8,000+ pre-release games on Steam, and creating a ‘Hype’ score based on that game’s Steam followers, wishlists, forum traffic and more.
We then look at the game’s first week Steam review number performance (a decent comparison point for sales for non-F2P games), and create a ‘Hype conversion’ number/ratio.
The median number - as you’ll see below - is approximately 0.15 for the median game that launched with at least 500 Hype score (maybe 10-15k Steam wishlists at launch?)
However, there’s massive fluctuations for big hits and big flops. (For example, in April 2022 on Steam, The Stanley Parable Ultra Deluxe had a 1.42 conversion rate - 10x median, and Uragun had a 0.01 conversion rate - 15x worse then median.)
One important thing to stress here - these Steam conversion numbers are performance versus ‘expectations’. So they are an amazing tool for seeing whether also being on Game Pass Day 1 affected expected performance, one way or the other.
Without further ado, here’s the full game-specific data (Google Drive link) for the 45-ish GP Day 1 games we found since July 2021. And here’s the topline results - the D1 Game Pass titles compared to monthly results for all Steam games with >500 Hype:
So, what does this mean? We think this legitimately shows that being on Game Pass isn’t negatively affecting your conversion rate on Steam, on aggregate. There is no evidence across those games that you are performing worse because you also appear on Game Pass. Which is great.
In fact, the ‘also on Game Pass on Day 1’ Steam conversion rate of 0.17 is about 20% above the monthly average for all games of 0.14. In our view, that’s probably down to the Xbox team selecting good quality games - rather than any major uptick related to crossmarketing.
(Why? When there were only 100+ games in Game Pass, it was easier to get in a ‘top games’ slot. And there was more visibility since less games were released monthly. With 4-500 games nowadays, 20+ new games per month, and the ‘Most Popular’ list dominated by Minecraft, Forza, ARK & friends, it’s trickier to get sustained visibility.)
Anyhow, the general point here is the markets operate quite independently right now. People consuming your game on Game Pass often aren’t the same people who would have bought it on Steam - especially if your game is a small or medium-sized one. (It’s much less clear for blockbuster AAA games, obviously.)
Of course, what being in Game Pass doesn’t do is guarantee you success on Steam. Here’s a small part of the whole data set, just so we can talk about Steam reviews/CCU:
So, for example - Dodgeball Academia converted its Steam Hype at 0.29, around twice the median on its August 2021 release on Game Pass, Steam and other console platforms. That’s great news, huh? Well, yes and no.
The game only had 90 Steam reviews (3,000-ish units sold?) in Week 1 - even with a better than expected conversion. And it only has 234 review (8,000-ish units?) on Steam even now. So we’re guessing it’s made the majority of its revenue from its Game Pass deal.
What you’re seeing there is the supply/demand issue for PC and console games affecting some game launches adversely. There’s just so many good quality games on the market that it’s difficult to accumulate ‘Hype’ for all games nowadays. That’s an independent, separate problem to Game Pass.
There’s one other angle to consider. What we aren’t measuring is people who never Steam wishlisted a game in the first place, because they play a lot of their indie games via Game Pass. This may also be an increasing cohort over time - and a difficult one to measure. We do not think it is yet significant, though.
But overall, we would always recommend people taking a Game Pass deal - as long as it’s for a reasonable sum - in today’s market, especially if a small/medium sized game. It helps significantly with dev costs, gets your game in front of more casual players, and doesn’t cannibalize non-Game Pass sales.
[We still haven’t 100% forgiven Microsoft for some of its early ‘Game Pass players will def. buy lots more non-Game Pass games on Xbox’ rhetoric. But we’re starting to see Game Pass as a increasingly vital source of funding for indies who, well, aren’t going to recoup elsewhere.]
PlayStation Plus: we have more details, folks!
Aha, it’s that time again when Sony spills more details on its revamp of PlayStation Plus, and… it seems pretty much like everyone expected, right? In other words, the company is picking a pretty damn good - if obvious - selection of games for the core catalog competing with Game Pass.
These includes some semi eyebrow-raisingly good first-party Sony titles (Marvel’s Spider-Man: Miles Morales, Ghost Of Tsushima Director’s Cut, Uncharted The Nathan Drake Collection), as well as some great looking third-party notables (Final Fantasy XV Royal Edition, Control: Ultimate Edition, NBA 2K22, and Assassin’s Creed Valhalla.)
Unfortunately, I don’t even have a good name for that selection of games, since it’s described in the announcement as: “PS4 and PS5 Game Catalog - PlayStation Plus Extra and Premium**/Deluxe Plans”. That’s ‘PaPGC-PPE&P/DP’ for short, folks! And also don’t forget: “Titles may vary by local market, and some titles may not be available to stream until after launch.” There are asterisks upon asterisks here.
And talking of Assassin’s Creed Valhalla, that is ***-ed in the release, because it’s “available to PlayStation Plus Extra members as part of Ubisoft+ Classics. Access to Ubisoft+ Classics games is a benefit for PlayStation Plus Extra and Premium members.” So it turns out Ubisoft+ is coming to PlayStation soon, and there’s a ‘jr’, separate version bundled with the higher tiers of PlayStation Plus.
So: in Xbox Game Pass, two tiers, the higher one comes with EA Play bundled. Whereas: in PlayStation Plus, three tiers, Ubisoft+ Classics comes with two of them, with upsell to Ubisoft+ which is a separate subscription service? Ow, my head.
There’s also been some complaints about the initial announced line-up of classic PS1/PSP games: “I don't get how you arrive at a place where you finally are putting together a place to revisit the legacy of PlayStation and don't put any Ridge Racer games on that list. They even have other games from Namco!”
Urgh, I dunno. Maybe Sony's overall outreach on PS+ is ‘get big games first’-centric & hasn't been led by people who have had time to duck & dive to get super interesting stuff yet? (Or if they have, the marketing folks decided not to highlight it thus far. Except first-party title Tokyo Jungle, of course. And Enslaved on PS3.)
And yep, the PS+ Premium tier is looking a bit anemic at this point. It adds the retro (sometimes cloud!) games catalog and the time limited demos. And only a handful of demos (inc. Cyberpunk, Tiny Tina’s Wonderlands) were announced alongside this. But you’ll work it out over time, Sony - iteration of tiers/benefits will and should happen.
The game discovery news round-up..
OK, we’re approaching the end of this newsletter. So let’s turn our attention to the latest game discovery and platform news. Which, since we haven’t done a free newsletter since last Wednesday, is up to our eyeballs. So let’s disgorge it:
Your man Mark Zuckerberg has been excited about Meta’s high-end VR headset Project Cambria, and he demo-ed it late last week (Facebook video, The Verge round-up). Protocol also chatted to Zuck about his views: “It's not that far-fetched to imagine how being able to display some digital collectibles in your Instagram profile is a precursor to being able to have a shirt from your favorite brand that you can take from Horizon, to then wear in Fortnite.”
On the question of ‘how close can a clone be?’, definitely interesting to see League Of Legends studio Riot & parent Tencent suing Moonton over mobile F2P smash Mobile Legends in China: “Over the years, as Riot updated its video game, Moonton would copy it. When Riot updated the game's promotional materials, Moonton copied them. And when Riot released a new trailer, Moonton copied it.”
The ‘big on YouTube’ crew at Hoeg Law took a detailed look at the Steam x Wolfire suit, concluding similarly to us - albeit with a lot more legal knowledge on the MFN (most-favored nation) question: "Can't guarantee anything, but I would still suspect that Valve and Steam will win.. if precedent stays pretty much the same as it always has."
Nintendo’s earnings report comments [.PDF link] did have one interesting / cryptic section on Switch Online: “The number of Nintendo Switch Online + Expansion Pack members is steadily increasing.. by region, the ratio is especially high in the United States. When we first started Nintendo Switch Online + Expansion Pack, the majority of subscribers were those who migrated from the original [NSO]. However, we began to see an increase in new subscribers late last year, caused mainly by the introduction of popular Nintendo 64 titles and add-on content for Mario Kart 8 Deluxe and Animal Crossing: New Horizons.”
Here’s a rare interview with a senior Tencent game exec, Steven Ma. No massive revelations, but more doubling down on GaaS, for sure: “Players want bigger and bigger games, and that drives costs higher. We believe the game as a service model is a good answer for the market. Right now we’re still at an early stage. Some games using this model have problems. But we believe it’s the future of the market.”
Here’s a good Chris Zukowski write-up on how ‘Peggle & RPG’ title Roundguard teamed up with similar, bigger hit Peglin to generate more game interest in the former title, partly thanks to a Steam bundle of both games. Roundguard’s Bob Roberts: “About 40-50% of our Steam page visits over the last few weeks came from the bundle page, or the bundle preview widget on Peglin’s page.”
In case you missed it, NPD’s April U.S. hardware/game charts are upon us, summarized in this Twitter thread: overall, down 8% to $4.3 billion, but: “Lifetime unit sales of Nintendo Switch have now surpassed those of PlayStation 4, making it the 4th highest unit selling console in U.S. history, and the 6th highest unit selling video game hardware platform overall.” And Lego Star Wars was gigantic.
A bit more about Summer Game Fest via the Epic Games Store’s editorial output (!), notable re: making SGF way more focused this year: “This year’s Summer Game Fest is going to be an even more compact affair, [Geoff] Keighley said. The core of the event kicks off on June 9 at 11 a.m. PT and will run through June 12.”
Microlinks: Steam Deck adds per-game performance profiles; some excellent tips on running an interactive virtual event, whether in games or outside of them; Google Store removes dedicated ‘Gaming’ tab, “effectively burying Stadia”; the top 10 public game companies generated $126 billion in 2021, vs. a total of $193 billion.
Finally, we love a long-period graph as much as the next geek. So when TweakTown’s Derek Strickland made a Nintendo profit/earnings chart calculated since 1981 (?!), we just had to share:
Who can spot the Wii U era in this chart? Derek adds: “FY2021 - Highest operating profit, ordinary profit, & operating profit ratio • FY2009 - Highest net sales • FY2001 - Highest ordinary profit ratio.” Until next time, data nerds…
[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.]