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Game Discoverability & The Nintendo Switch: Where We're At
The state of play in 2020.
[Hi, I’m Simon Carless, and you’re reading the Game Discoverability Now! newsletter, a regular look at how people find - and buy - your video games. Or don’t.]
Since a great deal of my newsletters recently have been about Steam, it’s time to switch (haha!) it up. This time I’ll talk a little about the state of the Nintendo Switch for game discovery in the year of our Wario 2020. The first part of this newsletter series is on the overall Switch market, & then we’ll dive into trends around specific recent games in Pt. 2.
(A few months back, I also wrote ‘How People Find Your Game: Nintendo Switch Edition’ & ‘Nintendo Switch: A Discoverability Followup’, for those who’d like to read more on the subject. But this is a broader look at the issues!)
I’d like to preface this by saying - whereas Valve explicitly allows you to share detailed Steam sales data, the generally privacy-conscious Nintendo is much less forthcoming. (In fact, it’s previously warned developers for sharing Switch sales data among multiple devs.) So we will be dealing a bit more in abstractions.
But here’s the three big things I do know about Switch game discoverability in 2020:
- The Switch is still the most fertile console platform for most indies.
You will certainly find exceptions. But if you’ve made a more traditionally ‘independent’ game - one unlikely to appeal to gamers who play AAA Ubisoft and EA games, for example - and simul-launch, you might sell as well on Switch as your PC/Steam version. (Whether that’s as well as you’d like on both platforms is… another question, lol.)
That isn’t to say that Xbox One and PlayStation 4 can’t be amazing venues for your games, and you shouldn’t convert to them too. But I do think the Nintendo fanbase adapts a little better to the indie sensibility - especially with more modest, quirky, or 2D games.
And the relative lack of monster third-party games on Switch - partly for performance reasons - has helped smaller third-parties (like you!) stand out.
- Games are not selling as well on Switch as they used to. (It’s the choice, dummy!)
If you have a good game, there’s one time where you are guaranteed to sell well on any given platform - like the Switch. That’s when there are not many games on that platform, but lots of hungry players. That’s supply and demand at work.
This was where the Switch was at for the first 18-24 months of its lifespan - it was relatively easy to sell into five figures (unit-wise) with a good game. (Switch launched in March 2017, what feels like a billion years ago. What is time, anyway?)
And actually, even now in 2020, the amount of games released on a month by month basis isn’t really increasing:
But it’s the cumulative effect of four new games per day every day for multiple years that starts to add up. ‘Amount of games available’ (3,214 in North America, and increasing by 1,500-ish per year) is far outpacing the amount of new Switches being bought. Plus, the Pareto principle is still in effect.
So you can now have an outstanding game that sells in the low thousands of copies on Switch, just because supply/demand, lack of hype, or ‘that’s how it is’. (The same is true for Steam, of course! And the other consoles, perhaps even more so.)
But because people remember hearing about the early days on Switch & focus on sales successes… there’s some confusion on expectations out there. (Don’t make me bust out my Super Monkey Ball iOS example again for how platforms change radically over their lifecycle.)
- ‘How to sell copies’ on Nintendo Switch has become increasingly discount-centric
One definite issue is your discoverability/visibility window on Switch. If you’re just a regular game release, since the Switch started getting 120 games a month reliably, you’ll appear above the ‘fold’ in New Releases for a day or two. And… that’s it. (There’s the top charts - but they’re quite tricky to get into on initial launch.)
For discoverability - how the average Switch user finds you after release - there’s no ‘Hot New Games’ area. Sure, there’s Featured Games but it skews quite ‘bigger game’-centric, includes pre-releases too, and is 100% set by Nintendo. (I talked about the individual eShop tabs in my first newsletter on Switch.)
And unlike Steam, which is more linked to casual web browsing in terms of ‘click through & buy game’, most Switch users are browsing the store on the device itself when they work out what to buy. So finding your game on the eShop is vital! And if the only way they’d find it easily is to search for it by name, well… that isn’t going to happen much.
So you end up getting situations like the Reddit screenshot above, from r/NintendoSwitchDeals, where devs are discounting games by 40%-90% in order to make it back into the Best Sellers or Great Deals tabs. I believe these are both ranked by a 14-day rolling average of units sold. If you’re back in the charts, more people notice the games, more copies are sold, etcetera. (Plus the Reddit & web buzz.)
The State Of Discounts & What To Do
And with this Switch game discounting having zero marginal cost to a dev… it’s still happening a lot. The ‘ugh, this game just got in the charts at 50% off, maybe we have to do 75% off’ FOMO is real. And I don’t think that’s positive for the platform or perceived value for buying individual games, long-term. (Also, some of the 90-99% discounted games are not great quality, and may sour Switch players on the platform over time.)
On the plus side: Nintendo allows you to discount your game at any time (with a certain amount of notice & spacing between discounts), which is super flexible of them & ahead of what other console platforms do. And there are both public & invite-only Switch sales events you can also be in as a dev.
So it’s not like Nintendo aren’t trying to help. It’s just that allowing all games to discount at arbitrary times (which Sony, and Microsoft don’t do as a matter of course) encourages this kind of ‘increasingly large discount’ behavior. That way, your game can become an impulse purchase at a crazy discount, when few other games are on sale.
If I were Nintendo, what I’d personally do is a) allow a maximum 50% discount for all games, with one yearly exception (?); b) synchronize North America & European discounting policies, and; c) Add an algorithmic ‘Hot New Games’ eShop tab based on games that debut to strong sales. And potentially d) add more high profile themed editorial features around interesting games.
But I’m not Nintendo, so hey! And the eShop we have is the eShop we have, currently, and it can still be great for you. So I hope this guide to it has helped you understand it.
Next up in this series - thanks to a helpful person, I’ll look at implied Switch eShop sales by revenue for last month in North America, to work out what’s up.