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Don't buy (Steam games) for me, Argentina...
The truth is - players are being naughty...
[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.]
Well, looks like we made it to the end (of E3), basically - is everybody all watched out? We’ll have a video about that at the end of this very newsletter. But in the meantime, let’s get going with the updates - and there’s plenty of them.
(PSA: folks being GameDiscoverCo Plus subscribers helps us send out free newsletters, and also gets you perks: a private Discord, pre-release Steam Hype data, an extra weekly newsletter & more. Much obliged.)
Argentina, Steam game sales, and you!
So, this mini-investigation started after a developer GameDiscoverCo knows started asking questions about his Steam game’s sales in Argentina. They seemed, well, suspiciously high. (As much as 6-7% of his total sales!)
For those paying attention, Argentina is a perfectly nice country. But its total population of 44 million - compared to say, Brazil’s population of 210 million - wouldn’t really imply it should be the leading South American country by unit sales.
Then we noticed popular racing game Horizon Chase Turbo making a few country-specific price adjustments. And lo and behold, one of the first mentioned changes was.. Argentina.
So we looked into it more. And spotted something related - if you look at Steam default ‘suggested’ country pricing, as shown here on SteamDB, Argentina is the cheapest, at only 13% of U.S. pricing:
It seems like Horizon Chase Turbo got a bit more aggressive on all of its lower-priced territories. But in looking at some newly published games we have access to, we only see particularly suspicious trends in Argentina.
For example, we’re regularly seeing games with low thousands of units sold in Argentina - as high as 3-4% of lifetime totals. That’s often three times as many units sold in Brazil (which, as we said, has 5x the population.) And it looks like it’s because of this Steam trick:
“In Argentina the currency is devalued, the prices on Steam are regionalized, which produces the games on Steam for Argentina are much cheaper than for other countries. Normally people used VPN until months ago to change the region of their Steam account but with the latest Steam regulations, it is not so easy anymore.
Now to change the store region of a Steam account it is necessary to buy a game with a local payment method. In other words, buy with a credit or debit card from Argentina or the country where the region will be changed.”
And yes, that Reddit user is offering two paid services. Either: “I create a new Steam account and send it to you with a regional price in ARS. In these cases you can share the Steam library with Family Share to play the games in your main account.”
Or: “I log in to an existing Steam account and change the region of the store by making a purchase within Steam with an Argentina card. For this i will need your Steam username and password and the SteamGuard code if it is activated.”
So this is yet another workaround for multiple successful Steam attempts to stop things like this. (I’ve been told Nintendo Switch has a similar issue for Mexican eShop purchases - the cheapest option for easily changing store currency on your Switch without needing a third party.)
Anyhow, I would have three takeaways for this issue:
When setting your currencies for your game for the first time and using suggested Steam currencies, I would consider tweaking up the price on any country that has more than a 75% discount to prevent this country-based purchase tourism. (Although the only other country with that issue right now is Turkey. And you don’t want to be horrid to in-country buyers.)
Very importantly: if you increase the price of your game in any territory, you can’t participate in a Steam sale for 30 days, per Valve rules. So you don’t want to jeopardize being in the Summer Sale by making this change right now. So definitely worth waiting around a bit to do.
Although you may think ‘OMG, we’re losing money, we need to patch this issue right now’, I think it’s an open question as to how much money you’re losing, since this is essentially ‘piracy lite’. How many of the buyers of your game at 87% off would have also bought it at full price? Not sure. There’s an argument you are losing no money here, in fact! (And gaining Steam reviews.) But it’s still a loophole to discuss.
(BTW, the newsletter title and image are an Evita joke, c.f. Madonna’s performance of said song. Just in case our younger readers have no idea what I’m talking about.)
E3 showcases - a Wholesome follow-up!
Thanks to everyone who responded with feedback to Monday’s newsletter about E3 showcases and profile/wishlists. As you’d expect, there was particular feedback - and some extra data - about the showcase ‘bands’, and how they related to first-day wishlists.
In the end, it’s highly variable, but PC Gamer’s global EIC Evan Lahti noted to me: “Semi-anecdotally I have heard from several participants (indies or small publishers) who have reported 25K Steam wishlist adds immediately after participating in the PC Gaming Show. Pre-2021.” Not sure how many days that # is across, but I do think PC Gaming Show is one of the stronger showcases from a pure streaming perspective. (Not an ad.)
BTW, Evan also confirmed that the show is minority paid-sponsored and majority non-paid editorial, game pick-wise. But it has sponsor criteria, so only higher quality games get showcased. In a year where E3’s official stream schedule clearly featured any showcase that paid them, and suffered some backlash as a result, particularly on Day 3, this looks to have been a good move.
The other feedback we got was from a few people citing Wholesome Direct as a mid-wishlist level ‘winner’ for cozy games, as opposed to the lower tier we put it in. I think there’s a Steam-related reason for that I’ll explain at the end of this section. But here’s a wishlist graph and then some data from Lukas Steinman of Maximum Fun:
“We found your recent free GameDiscoverCo about E3 showcases especially interesting, as our debut game, [cozy organizing puzzle game] A Little To The Left, was featured as part of Saturday’s Wholesome Direct presentation.
Thought we’d share with you what the Wholesome Effect was for us (link is to a wishlist graph for Venba, a game really nice looking game also in the Wholesome Direct presentation, and a similar product to ours).”
As you can see, the results were pretty decent for A Little To The Left. This is especially true since the game has only been on Steam since last week and it was the “first real marketing push” for the game. It went from 40 wishlists on the first day for their Steam page to 2,579 on Wholesome Direct Day (Saturday), and then going down to 1,022 (Sunday), 817 (Monday), and 577 (Tuesday), for a total of just over 5,000.
There were also 1,650 game demo plays on Itch.io, and a good increase in Twitter followers and mentions - although Lukas notes that they only added 210 Steam followers. (So their wishlist/follower ratio is way out of wack at this point, possibly a concern wishlist conversion-wise.)
Finally, it’s also interesting to note to follow-on discovery that you get radiating from a showcase inclusion. A Little To The Left was mentioned as part of Derek Lieu’s “Best Trailers of E3” list alongside notables like Halo Infinite and Starfield, and there was a nice Tweet by Game Makers Toolkit about their game’s roots as a GMTK Game Jam 2020 game.
I do wonder how these cozy games will end up converting on Steam, given we don’t see many of them high up the Steam Hype charts we do for Plus members. (We see far more deep strategy/management titles and AAA-adjacent GaaS titles doing well on Steam.)
But the metapoint here is clear. I think Wholesome Direct did better than we expected because it had pretty good Steam featuring around the time it streamed, due to its inclusion (because of co-streaming) in the Guerrilla Collective Steam events page, which was front-page Steam linked at that time.
And while the first Guerrilla Collective stream initially looked a little slower on wishlists than the second, this was because its Steam featuring didn’t kick in til the next weekend (and then those games very likely made up the wishlists!) This is galaxy brain complexity stuff, unfortunately.
So for these E3 or E3-adjacent events, a great question to ask, beyond the relative reach of the streaming broadcast (which is vital!) is: a) does the event have a Steam page?, but more importantly, b) is Valve featuring the events page prominently in some way?
(FWIW, the biggest Steam features this time around were the official E3 page and the Summer Game Fest page - which also has Day Of The Devs games in it. There were others like Guerrilla which got good featuring, but it’s all very complex, and now I need to have a lie down.)
The game discovery news round-up..
And before we end out this week’s free newsletter, here’s a few more tidbits from the world of video games, platforms, and video game platforms. Let’s go:
Of course, I don’t need to tell you all that Steam NextFest is live now. And the interesting thing for me is that there’s no longer any ‘top charts’, just recommendations and featured categories. [EDIT: sorry, sorry, it looks like they added some charts just after the start of the Festival. Will update on this next newsletter!] And please tell us how it all goes for your demos!
Over on ‘VC starts its own editorial site’ Future - not sure how I feel about that - Jade Raymond has a great piece talking about, well, game IP, buzz and discovery through the fan experience. So right up our alley. Some interesting thoughts on user-generated content for high-end franchises here: “Hit franchises of the future need to be designed to ensure quality and canon even when — especially when — we hand over ownership to the fans.”
Perhaps you want Steam-style data aggregation, but for the Epic Games Store? The EpicData website is doing just that, and we haven’t mentioned it before here. It includes things like trackers for new game pages, as well as discounts by percentage, and there’s also a Github repository which has code for all of the scraping. (If you want to play along at home.)
Just a small window in the mobile game space - SensorTower is showing its estimates of top worldwide mobile game revenue for May 2021, and I think it’s good to check in on that! “Honor of Kings from Tencent [had] $264.5 million in player spending”, and other notable games included PUBG Mobile, Genshin Impact, Roblox, Lineage M (a surprise to me - recent drama over a $3.5 million disgruntled whale here), and Garena Free Fire.
More on Game Pass x cloud streaming x consoles - a wrap-up post from Xbox’s E3 page goes into a bit more detail: “For the millions of people who play on Xbox One consoles today, we are looking forward to sharing more about how we will bring many of these next-gen games, such as Microsoft Flight Simulator, to your console through Xbox Cloud Gaming, just like we do with mobile devices, tablets, and browsers.” That’s a super-interesting pitch to roll out wide, isn’t it?
Elsewhere, wanted to note that I'm the kickoff talk for the (all-virtual) game discovery conference Disco:MTL on July 5th, giving a talk on 'Perfecting Your Game Hook & The 10 Commandments Of Game Discoverability'. The event is organized by Jason Della Rocca and compatriots from the not for profit GamePlay Space in Montreal:
It’s pay-to-attend (but modestly so - about $40 USD), and includes a lot of game discovery smarties like Philomena Schwab (Stray Fawn), Chris Zukowski, Jenny Windom of ‘I interviewed her about TikTok’ fame, plus folks from Devolver, Finji, Raw Fury, Modern Wolf, and more. (Consider this some kind of endorsement?)
Finally, I just realized that trying to get through ‘virtual E3’ in one piece - while also checking out all the games - has strong “I watched every show” vibes. So I now visualize all GameDiscoverCo readers as Andy Samberg emerging from his Emmys bunker, super disheveled. Thank you and good night:
[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.]