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How are new F2P games doing on Steam in 2023?
Looking at the last year's results to work out what's hitting, and what isn't.
[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 back to another week in GameDiscoveryLand, folks. This time, we’re delving into a not often-touched area - public (& extrapolatable!) metrics for newer F2P PC games - to try to make some sense out of the madness. Strap in, it’s a fun one…
Also: good news - it’s our first GameDiscoverCo Plus discount since June! Until Nov. 2nd, you get 25% off our upgraded Plus PC game data suite, weekly PC/console sales research newsletter, an exclusive Discord, six game discovery eBooks & more… hurray!
How are new F2P games doing on Steam in 2023?
While the free-to-play (F2P) game biz on mobile is admirably well-instrumented and documented - by outlets like MobileGamer.biz & Matej Lancaric, and tools like Data.ai, SensorTower, GameRefinery & AppMagic, PC and console F2P is, well, a bit of a data ‘black hole’.
Why? Well, even if mobile is disrupted by privacy changes and by clever ‘growth hackers’ who start players in a simpler game and morph the gameplay to a high-monetizing one - most ‘discovery scaling’ is done by paid UA (user acquisition).
But the more indirect, ‘Hype’-based nature of marketing on PC and console means it can be more difficult to acquire users profitably. (Though platforms like Gamesight are trying to better instrument it.)
Relatedly, F2P PC and console games (single-player and especially multi-player!) have found it tricky to source relevant benchmarks. We wanted to help! So we roughed out 30 of the top newly launched Steam F2P games of the last 12 months (Google Drive link). Below are some key examples, analyzed by copies played/lifetime gross revenue:
DISCLAIMER: some of this data is a little ‘experimental’ and incomplete. (We’re working with our Data Fellow Strahinja to estimate revenue by a combo of top-grossing charts & CCU, and we had to hack out ‘free games that aren’t monetized’.)
Plus, there are some titles we could have included - like Undawn and Synced - that we ended up filtering out because their total Steam owner numbers weren’t as high as some others on the charts we did pull. But here’s what we’ve got:
Most of the Top 10 grossing new titles have at least 400,000 lifetime players: there’s a few exceptions, like Uncharted Waters Origin, and top performers like Undecember, Summoners War: Chronicles & Marvel Snap have 1-1.5 million lifetime Steam players, we reckon. The median player number is 763,000 for these top new launches, though. (1.5-2x as many people added these games to their Steam library, but didn’t play them.)
Monetization (lifetime revenue per player) varies gigantically: we see everything from (the not new, but new-to-Steam) Trackmania, at $1.35 per player (923,000 players, $1.24 million gross), to Magic The Gathering: Arena, at $17 per player (377k players, $6.4 million gross) - and other games even higher. The median of this sample is $2.02 lifetime revenue per player, btw.
Most of the top-grossing titles also have mobile versions: looks to us like Overwatch 2 is the only top-grossing game in the Top 10 new Steam F2P launches that doesn’t have an Android/iOS version. (Often, that mobile version is making lots more $ than Steam! Games like Tower Of Fantasy (above video) are decent-size hits on mobile.)
Also: most of the top-grossing games have a) an above average percentage of Asian players (Marvel Snap is an exception in being majority English-language player reviews) b) a fair amount of Steam reviews complaining about ‘pay to win’ or ‘gacha’.
In the document, we also took a look at Steam CCU in three flavors - day 1 CCU on Steam, all-time high Steam CCU, and current Steam CCU. Occasionally, games get a ‘slow start’ and ramp up from there. But more often, games’ CCU dwindle over time.
If you try to analyze that a little bit, you’ll get to the following takeaways:
Unsurprisingly, the top-grossing titles fare better on CCU than the low-grossing ones: from these Top 30 games, the Top 10 are averaging 0.27x their peak Steam CCU, but the bottom 10 are averaging just 0.1x peak Steam CCU. (And several, like DKO and Duelyst II, are in the <0.05x peak range.)
A lot of the games that retained players launched more modestly: Tower Of Fantasy and Marvel Snap, which already had big mobile followings, essentially launched on Steam as ‘hey, if you want to play on PC instead?’ They’re retaining 0.25x-0.5x of their highest CCU because they attracted a specific subset of players, didn’t debut with 30,000+ CCU - and are darn ‘sticky’, profitable games.
Some of the large-scale PC/console PvP games seem to be ‘sink or swim’ on CCU: games like Warlander, which marauded out the gate to 23,000 CCU and now has a peak of just 249 today, is a prime example. Elsewhere, Paragon: The Overprime is also running at just 5% of its launch CCU peak.
So what are we saying? Well, it’s not impossible to make a ‘made for PC and console only’ F2P hit in today’s market. Heck, 24-player ‘battle royale’ My Hero Ultra Rumble has stealthily done pretty good on CCU/DAU on PC/console - if not monetization. It’s still >10,000 CCU on Steam, and we estimate it has 70k DAU on Xbox and 140k DAU on PlayStation, about a month after launch. (But it’s at 25% of peak CCU and falling.)
And it sure looks like top-grossing ‘pure F2P’ games launched on Steam in the last year are being dominated by PC versions of successful, good, but somewhat more aggressively monetizing F2P mobile games. Which is.. good context to have, right?
The game discovery news round-up..
Since we bombarded you with info above, let’s finish off this newsletter with a look at the top game discovery and platform news since the middle of last week, huh? Go:
Good news for Microsoft after the Activision Blizzard deal closed? Now it’s happening, a survey of potential Game Pass subscribers (above) says “8% of polled respondents are ‘very likely’ to sign up for Xbox Game Pass, and 9% are ‘somewhat likely’ to subscribe now that Activision Blizzard games will be included”, up from 5% and 7% pre-closing. (Of course, we don’t know which games will be included, and when…)
We don’t generally cover individual game milestones, but Insomniac and Sony’s Spider-Man 2 selling 2.5 million units in 1 day as a PS5 exclusive has platform reach implications, too. Stephen Totilo lists some of the comps: “Spider-Man's 3.3m in 3 days; Last of Us Pt 2's 4m in 3 days; God of War Ragnarok's 5.1m in 5 days.”
It was TwitchCon in Las Vegas at the weekend, and here’s all the platform announcements from the show - “you can now simulcast on any live streaming service” is probably the big one, after it was banned in June? And Polygon has a big ‘featured section’ with articles discussing Twitch streamer ‘burnout’ & more.
Interesting to see Rockstar continue to expand its GTA+ service, since: “Grand Theft Auto: Liberty City Stories and Grand Theft Auto: Chinatown Wars are now available for GTA+ Members to play on compatible iOS and Android devices with their active GTA+ Membership.” (It’s a minor perk, sure, but getting more ‘platform’-y.)
Looks like Xbox has a new platform streaming showcase format, the Xbox Partner Preview, and the first one is on Wednesday, featuring: “a fresh mix of indie games and familiar favorites from our third-party partners like Ryu Ga Gotoku Studio, Remedy Entertainment, Studio Wildcard, and others, with more than 20 minutes of trailers and new gameplay footage.”
A follow-up on last week’s Steam Deck ‘explainer’ - we did get some complaints about using Valve’s Deck demo app Aperture Desk Job as a possible indicator of Deck owners by country: “I saw tons and tons of people talking about playing it on desktop, and it's not surprising, given the world it's set in.” Fair enough.
In ‘PlayStation & Xbox discounting to juice sales’ news, Sony has a PlayStation Direct promotion that discounts $30 / £30 / €30 when you buy two eligible items, and here’s a Black Friday Xbox rumor: “Looks like Xbox Series X is going to have a €100 price cut this Black Friday in Europe down to €449. Should translate to $449 in the U.S..”
Nintendo’s Doug Bowser had a chat to Inverse, and we get a micro-tidbit on possible upcoming Switch hardware: “In the past, every device we transitioned to had a whole new account system. Creating the Nintendo Account will allow us to communicate with our players if and when we make a transition to a new platform.” (This phrasing doesn’t even guarantee backwards compatibility. But surely…?)
You want charts? GI.biz got charts! Firstly, September’s PC/console game sales in Europe were down YoY, but only marginally, with EA Sports FC 24 “10% down compared with the launch of FIFA 23.” Elsewhere, the UK hardware/software charts show that “the Xbox platforms benefitted from the release of Starfield, with sales up 136% month-on-month.”
The latest HowToMarketAGame research partly uses GameDiscoverCo data - and lots of ‘behind the scenes’ Steam specifics - to document Chillquarium’s micro-success when launching the same week as Starfield: “I think indies over-emphasize their release date and are overly cautious when it comes to launching along side a AAA release.” (Agree.)
Finally, we know from Fortnite that big IP crossovers in multiplayer games can be a big revenue driver. The latest one that made our monocle pop out (besides, uh, World Of Warships x Heroes Of Might & Magic?!) was Fall Guys x Final Fantasy IV:
What’s particularly interesting about this one? It’s actually two-way! They actually built a Fall Guys course in FFXIV (above). And here’s the crossover the other way - Final Fantasy cosmetic costumes available in Fall Guys. Blimey.
[We’re GameDiscoverCo, an agency based around one simple issue: how do players find, buy and enjoy your PC or console game? We run the newsletter you’re reading, and provide consulting services for publishers, funds, and other smart game industry folks.]