Game Discoverability & The Nintendo Switch: What's Selling?
A look at the charts through a helpful lens.
[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.]
Welcome to the second half of an overview of the Nintendo Switch & discoverability. As you might have read in the first part of the missive, I think the Switch is the most promising console platform for ‘natural discoverability’ for indies.
But it’s getting pretty crowded out there on Switch, release-wise. (And some devs are operating on information from 12 or 18 months ago, when all games sold better solely due to scarcity.) So what information can we find about what’s selling well?
The State of eShop Rankings
Unlike Steam, where there’s a host of real-time website data that can be scraped, the Nintendo Switch eShop charts (which are separate for Europe, North America, and Japan, incidentally) only exist on the console itself in real-time Top 30 form.
There’s also no information on number or quality of reviews on the eShop. (Though interestingly, Nintendo experimented very briefly with adding reviews to the webpage for eShop games back in 2018. Guessing it did not go well - by their strict & family-friendly standards - so I doubt it’s coming back.)
An additional confusion is that, because of the 14-day rolling nature of the charts, you might be looking at a game that was formerly discounted, but isn’t any more. As an example in the eShop pic I took above for the header, Thief Simulator (which has now sold 400,000 copies on Switch!) was 90% discounted & then its discount ran out.
So its #7 ranking in the North American eShop is related to that, and perhaps you wouldn’t know that when browsing, because it’s listed at full price. It’s one of a number of quirks which make it very difficult to view eStore success from an actual revenue point of view. But luckily, somebody is trying to help with that…
A Manual Solution To The Problem - eShopRank
Created monthly - originally for Ryan Clark’s Clark Tank streams - Bigosaur’s Milan Babuskov is doing a monthly North American Nintendo eShop revenue ranking which tries to manually sort out the wheat from the chaff. (Or at least, the crazily discounted games from the modestly or non-discounted ones!)
I chatted to Milan briefly via email on how he put this chart based on descending total revenue together, & he noted on the methodology: “I would log into [the North American] eShop every day at the same time and write down the positions. At the end of the month I analyzed the recorded positions and sale durations.”
Another important clarification from our conversation: “The list only ranks the games relative to each other.. it's quite possible that Animal Crossing made 2 times more money than Just Dance. Or maybe it made 50 times more. We don't know that. But we do know it earned more, and this is what the list is about.” He added: “The main thing missing is the games who lurk below the top 30 in number of copies sold, but still make decent revenue.”
The First-Party Stalwarts
The Switch differs from the other console platforms, in that first-party (Nintendo created or published) games legitimately do dominate the eShop charts from a revenue perspective.
We’re looking at games like Mario Kart 8 Deluxe, Animal Crossing, & Splatoon 2. They do particularly well because they are all platform-exclusive & cost $60 in the U.S. with relatively low discounting (Splatoon 2’s 30% off is the highest this month.) So that’s… most of the Top 20 dealt with!
[SIDE NOTE: it’s interesting to see an open-minded but third-party platform holder, Microsoft, with two of the six highest-grossing games - in the form of Minecraft & Minecraft Dungeons. It’s not 100% about closed ecosystems. Maybe 90%, haha.]
The Third-Party AAA Crew
Historically, third-parties have supported Nintendo platforms spottily. This is often to do with them having unique technology or controllers. We’re now seeing some larger publishers putting big, often slightly older AAA-sized 3D games onto Switch.
And that’s why there’s titles like Borderlands: The Handsome Collection, Just Dance 2020 (aided by a 50% price cut), Bioshock: The Collection & Assassin‘s Creed: The Rebel Collection hanging out in the Top 30 for May.
In general, backporting of older games to Switch has ramped up significantly, even for indies. Given the game is done already and ‘just’ needs porting, it can make sense - if the technical requirements aren’t too high. Unless you have a very prominent IP like the above, it may be more of an incremental win than a smash hit, though.
The Successful Without (Much) Discounting Indies
What I find most interesting is looking at the top indies that aren’t discounting, but are still eShop charting. These tended to be divided into short-term - in the sense they just came out - and long-term. Here’s what I see in May 2020:
Short-term: Streets of Rage 4, What The Golf?, Bug Fables, Shantae & The Seven Sirens.
Long-term: Stardew Valley, Untitled Goose Game, Human Fall Flat, Hollow Knight, Overcooked 2
Some of these long-term Switch indie ‘hits’ are probably selling tens of thousands of copies every month, with little discounting, for many months. That’s the sweet spot, eh? Try to study what’s doing well here and work out how it might apply to your titles.
The ‘Hella Discount’ Charting Indies
If you get the most people to check out your Switch game via very heavy eShop discounting, and that’s also the maximum revenue you think you’re going to get… well, that’s your choice. Whatever, it’s definitely good to do one-time ‘big’ sales sometimes, just to get people excited.
I’m less delighted by the ‘12x sale yearly at a 90% discount’ crew - but hey, it’s all allowed. And those listed at the bottom of the May 2020 ‘top charts by revenue’ are a mix of the approaches. Each is still likely grossing tens of thousands of dollars a month.
Some of the 80-90% discount charting crew I see listed here include Defunct (pictured), Elemental Knights R, Thief Simulator, Hungry Shark World, Sushi Time!, Moto Rush GT & more.
Now, what I’m hoping is that somebody discounting by 30-50% will gross as much money as the extreme discounters. But they just won’t make it onto the Top 30 charts, so you won’t be able to see.
However… the jury is out on that. In the end, extreme discounts trigger people to buy things because it’s an impulse purchase & who knows when it might be repeated? And you gain a lot of visibility that way.
So that’s what I’m seeing on the Switch right now. The exciting bit: there’s some indies grossing millions of dollars per year! The playing field is open! The less exciting bit: price wars are devaluing some indie games! It’s getting busy out there!
But you can make it work - I know you can. Take care in this difficult time, & talk to you soon,