How did Rust make $1 million in Steam revenue in a day - twice?
[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.]
Wouldn’t it be nice to make $1 million gross on your Steam game.. in one day? Maybe many, many years after your game originally came out? I think we all agree that’s a pleasant daydream.
Well luckily, Facepunch’s anarchic multiplayer gather, loot & build-’em'-up Rust (originally launched in December 2013!) has been living that dream in the post-holiday period. So why don’t we use this GameDiscoverCo newsletter to delve into what happened, and what lessons it might bring for us peasants?
Rust’s $1 million daily haul - wha happen?
The above screenshot is from Garry Newman’s Tweet, in which the Rust/Garry’s Mod creator says simply: “We made over $1m on Steam on two days this week.”
For context, I recently posted that Facepunch’s 2020 year in review blog listed its lifetime revenue for Rust. Comparing it to 2019’s post, Rust sold 530,000 copies during 2020, and grossed $43 million during the year. But clearly, $1 million in a day is way above and beyond.
The reason for this seems to be simple - streamer/influencer collective OfflineTV created a private Rust server, and invited a whole bunch of big streamers to play concurrently on it. It’s created endless drama and discussion points in the celebrity streamer world, as explained by this Gamerant piece, which almost feels like TMZ-level reporting:
“In the week that the OfflineTV Rust server has been active, there has been conflict between some of the participants, but most of this seems to revolve around controversial streamer Felix 'xQc' Lengyel.
The French-Canadian streamer has found himself in hot water before, having been banned on Twitch for a number of reasons including stream sniping and broadcasting explicit material on his channel. But here, xQc threw an accusation of stream sniping at fellow Twitch streamer Ali 'Myth' Kabbani after being killed in an out-of-the-way area of the map.”
And then some players quit, and then their fans got in a fight, and so on and so forth. And all the time, Rust was totally dominating the most-streamed Twitch games (1.365 million simultaneous watchers, at one point!) & those watchers were buying game copies galore.
In fact, enough big streamers were playing Rust together that you’ve even got fans editing together Twitch highlights from this private server into videos:
The folks at the excellent Pause Button newsletter have also been commenting on this trend, with Fawzi Itani noting on Twitter: “Feels like Offline TV (with their Rust/Minecraft servers) and [Minecraft roleplay server] Dream SMP are the equivalents of “digital hype houses.” (Hype/collab houses are real-life streamer cohabitation hangouts, for any old people tuning in.)
He goes on to list some of the reasons why he thinks it’s working: “Most interactions happen digitally vs IRL; Primarily in gaming; Each creator uplevels the rest of the group (Dream SMP is crazy successful in this regard); synchronous viewing for a variety of creators; same game different factions; Lore and storytelling.”
Are there any lessons from this for you, the average game maker? Well, creating a multiplayer environment which is a little bit freeform, but can be customized and player-enhanced is why Rust is breaking out again. It’s less about the gameplay, and more about social interactions, hilarious occurrences, and - yes - storytelling, whether that be petty feuds or more interesting themes.
It’s a similar story with Minecraft and the Dream SMP server (example video), as the Pause Button folks say: “Every creator involved in the server has seen a significant increase in popularity, riffing on the Speedrun genre (e.g Minecraft Manhunt) and hosting their own exclusive server. Mr. Beast kicked off 2021 by hiding $100,000 worth of gift cards in their server for a scavenger hunt.” Whoa.
Not saying this is easily replicable. But I do think more game developers should think about making chaotic, open online environments for players to interact in, rather than ‘game-y games’. However, multiplayer is super tricky to break into, because you need everyone to play your game at once for it to be a hit. So.. not for the fainthearted.
Finally, there’s an interesting player behavior discussion to be had around the ‘streamer-friendly’ scenarios on the OTV Rust server. On OTV, there is plenty of conflict, but actually not that many trolls trashing everything. This is quite different to how Rust normally works. (The game, when played on public servers, is famously random and sadistic.)
In the replies to a swear-y Garry Newman joke about this on Twitter, Inemity says: “It's actually amazing how many people are bitching about how these streamers aren't "real" Rust players, and if they went to a ‘real’ Rust server they couldn't handle it.” As I understand it, the real Rust experience is having all of your gear stolen and bases torched by feral players wielding lethal weapons and swearing at you?
And Kyle adds: “It’s just that they’re showcasing the game to the public in a completely different way then it actually is. Like on a real server, [a new player who bought in because of the OTV streams] gave me a tour of their base. It ends up f*cking people who buy the game because they think ppl will be friendly.”
Well, maybe all the influx of new players will actually turn the Rust servers friendly! Or maybe it’ll just stay the Lord Of The Flies of multiplayer games. So one advantage of the private server approach is the game looks more enticing to potential players compared to the average Rust player’s in-game life, as paraphrased by Thomas Hobbes: “solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short.”
The game discovery news round-up..
Well, that was an entertaining research trip down ‘what the heck is happening in streamer-land?’ But perhaps not all of you can summon a Rust-style experience, or even aspire to that level of post-apocalyptic.
So for all of you with differing plans, here’s a bunch more interesting game discovery and platform news that’s come out over the last few days:
As you can see above, Steam’s raw stats for 2020 are extremely impressive. And Valve’s full 2020 year in review twins transparency & achievement documentation in a very methodical manner. (Wouldn’t it be great to have all platforms do this?) Highlights include the mysterious advent of Steam China (“we're really close to launching this program to bring Steam onshore into China in early 2021”) & Steam data delivery (25.2 exabytes delivered in 2020, and “various countries' government bodies” asked them & others to help mitigate bandwidth issues!) Fascinating stuff.
A couple of other 2020 retrospectives - Sony has posted its most downloaded U.S./Canada and European PS5 and PS4 games for last year: “On the PS5 side, we see Call of Duty: Black Ops Cold War and Marvel’s Spider-Man: Miles Morales taking the top two spots… Call of Duty also led the US/Canada PS4 charts.” And Twitter analyzed its 2020 in video games, revealing its Top 5 most-Tweeted about (with Twitter handle, I presume!) games: “Animal Crossing: New Horizons; Fate/Grand Order; Disney: Twisted-Wonderland; Final Fantasy; Fortnite.”
Loved this Twitter thread from Victoria Tran on why game devs can’t just implement things that players ask for in real-time. (I imagine she’s been having this conversation a bit with the Among Us fanbase, haha!) There’s 15+ reasons, but a few I nodded along to: “making sure it works on all devices… if being ported to different devices, needing to rework the art/UX… "simple" design/art doesn't mean it's actually simple to make or implement.” On the plus side, if people are constantly pushing you for new features, they probably care about your game!
The crew at Chucklefish (Starbound, Wargroove) have been kind enough to do a very helpful guide for pitching to publishers. And much like Raw Fury’s, it’s full of detailed and handy information. It discusses hook, scope, and a lot of the things we talk about in this newsletter! The publishers are doing this in part because they see overlong decks and confused asks from devs. So please use the deck template as a starting point, developers - you’ll end in a much better place.
Microlinks: the awesome games that Eurogamer - always a smart outlet - is looking forward to the most in 2021; covering more niche games gets you less YouTube views, which is why people sometimes don’t do it (*cry*); a front page post on r/steam mentioning your game with no direct links gets you 224 extra wishlists over 3 days.
[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.]