How did 'the plastic duck game' become a discovery hit?
Quack quack! Also: Tumblr's trends of the year & lots more.
[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.]
We have returned to your inbox with a dozen Hail Mary-s, game discovery fans. Unfortunately, we can’t offer salvation - but we can certainly offer a lead story dealing with the discovery story behind some very cute plastic ducks (!)
As we send this, looks like Assassin’s Creed Valhalla just launched on Steam as part of Ubisoft’s big Steam comeback, both a) with the base version at 67% off its $60 list price b) with no Steam achievements, just Ubisoft Connect ones. “It’s a bold strategy, Cotton - let’s see if it pays off for them.”
[For Holiday 2022, we have a 25% off deal through end of year for our GameDiscoverCo Plus paid subscription. This includes Friday’s PC/console game trend analysis newsletter, a big Steam ‘Hype’ & performance chart back-end, eBooks, a member-only Discord & more.]
Placid Plastic Duck Simulator - a fascinating story
When Placid Plastic Duck Simulator launched on Steam back in July for $1.99, we spotted it - mainly because it made the Top 20 for ‘most Steam reviews in the first 7 days’ for that month. (It’s now #9 in lifetime reviews out of all games launched that month.)
So yes, we’re aware that at $2 each (or $3.18, if you buy the version with ‘extra ducks’ DLC bundled in), “the ultimate high-tech rubber duck simulation” is not going to make its devs multi-millionaires. But it is a riveting story of how games go viral on the Internet - it now has 98% Positive reviews, and nearly 3,500 of them! Here’s the top-level stats:
So we were super-happy when Valerio Bernadini from the game’s dev, Turbolento Games - who are also the developers of first-person survival game Starsand under the Tunnel Vision studio alias - reached out and talked to us. Here’s what we found out:
The game itself is fascinating in part because it has no direct control. All you can do is switch camera views, wait for new ducks to arrive, and watch the ‘action’. Valerio says they got inspired by other ‘meme games’ like Tree Simulator & Mountain, “maybe the first game [we saw] in which you don’t have to do anything.”
Plastic Duck Sim’s visuals are actually pretty good, with “vaporwave aesthetics and a pinch of childhood nostalgia”, and the game was created during an internal game jam after 2 and a half years of development on Starsand. But there was conceptual depth, too: “the very first feeling we aimed for, though, was awe: not in the aesthetic sense, but rather a certain disbelief” that the idea even exists.
But why do people enjoy this game? Valerio notes that it’s not just watching nothing: “Having the ducks floating in water allows for all sorts of random interactions, and we had a lot of fun conceiving them!” It’s true - each duck has a personality and different attributes, and: “Players tell their own stories, and we love watching them as they narrate them on Twitch [or YouTube]!”
The best example of this is RTGame’s video ‘Placid Plastic Duck: A Dramatic Masterpiece’ (above). It has 750k views on YouTube alone, came out about 3 weeks ago, and is responsible for a big recent spike you can see in Duck Sim’s sales:
But surely you want more data on this game, and to hear about the dev’s plans for it? You want into the duck business too, right? We can oblige:
Valerio notes that “we did zero marketing” for the game, and no social media apart from a couple of Reddit posts. He says that “at least two big Japanese Twitter pages made a post on release day”, and this seems to have led to Japanese and South Korea streamers picking up the game. (I found some vTubers playing it on NicoNico Video, for example.)
This shows in the regional results: 25% of the purchasers were in the U.S., but 16% from South Korea, 14% from Japan, and 10% from Taiwan - not a normal country breakdown at all. (While we’re here, the game has median time played of 2 hours and 16 minutes, and average time of 6 hours and 52 minutes. Not bad!)
So this streamer interest - both initially in Asia and later in the West - meant that “people throw 2 dollars into a game that it’s supposed to be a joke, only to find out that there are 47 different handpainted ducks to collect, several weird interactions, environmental events, one UFO, achievements, secrets, and a soundtrack to vibe on. They are happy and leave a positive review to share that happiness with more people.”
What about DLC and next steps? Valerio notes that “we released the first DLC in October, and it sold pretty well… not so much to the people who already had the game, but quite a lot to new players.” This backs up GameDiscoverCo’s view that DLC is great for new players/yield increases - especially if the base game is dirt cheap.
So yes, there’s a new DLC - with a ‘winter resort’ location - coming out on December 15th. And the devs plan to add multiplayer around March 2023 (“Yes, you can do nothing with your friends”), and a third DLC and Switch port after that. So this is - from starting as a bit of a joke - a real thing that a lot of people are enjoying, now.
GameDiscoverCo is certainly proud to be breaking the news about a multiplayer mode for Placid Plastic Duck Simulator - we can’t deny it. But beyond the novelty, there’s a lesson here. (Even if most of us aren’t planning to make a ‘no-controls’ game soon.)
The game is doing well because it’s a novel, streamer-friendly idea that allows streamers to create narratives around what’s going on in the game. Streamers love to do that! So this type of idea is eye-openingly streamer-friendly in the short term.
The fact you can’t actually control any of the characters, and just have to see what randomly happens, based on physics? That’s exciting and surprising as well. The little ducks, to paraphrase Zack de la Rocha, are saying: ‘Duck you - I won’t do what you tell me.’ Peace out.
Which games did Tumblr users dig most in 2022?
The fascinating thing about the Internet is not that it’s a ‘series of tubes’ (of which YouTube is just one). No - it’s that it consists of a mass of ‘microscenes’ (if you’re being nice) or ‘echo chambers’ (if you’re not being nice.)
Anyhow, via Ryan Broderick’s excellent Garbage Day newsletter, we discovered that microblogging service Tumblr - which you might have forgotten about, but still has 300 million monthly active visitors - just released its 2022 Year In Review compilation.
Tumblr is the perfect example of ‘if your game is big there, you have a big, younger fanbase who may play your game and buy your merch’ that we don’t talk about much. And it has a different ‘flavor’ of user than, say, YouTube or TikTok. But here’s what we learned:
For top video games in general by tag, Toby Fox’s Deltarune rules, followed by Genshin Impact and Five Night’s At Freddy’s. Games we were surprised by? There’s a lot more Stray fan-art than we expected, and similar could be said for the rather avant-garde Disco Elysium.
A separate chart for mobile games concentrates - as Tumblr often does - on games that feature memorable characters, which is why sexy demon dating game Obey Me! Shall we Date (more info!) is top again. The super-odd Disney license Twisted Wonderland is second, and it’s interesting to see Cookie Run at #3.
Fascinatingly, there is an entire chart for video game characters - headed up by Deltarune’s Spamton, but with plenty of Five Nights At Freddy’s and Ace Attorney personalities in there. And a whole separate chart just for Genshin Impact characters. (That game is biiig.)
Finally, there’s an entire chart just for Minecraft streamers, if you were wondering how large that scene is. I confidently expected Dream to be #1 - but no, he’s #3, and Tommyinnit tops the chart. And yes, most people’s Minecraft streaming handles are pretty silly.
So how is this helpful? This isn’t the most popular games in the world. It’s more accurately the most popular characters from games that a certain subsection of sometimes Japan-loving, fanart-centric Western nerds love.
But it’s still helpful to me - and you - because this isn’t a tiny community. And the entire Internet is built up of many of these larger, overlapping communities. Understand them all, and you understand everything. (At which point, you may need to go and have a lie down.)
The game discovery news round-up..
So, final game discovery and platform update of the week. And have things been happening since Monday? Oh my, things have been happening - here’s many of them:
Yes, Microsoft “has entered into a 10-year commitment to bring Call of Duty to Nintendo following the merger of Microsoft and Activision Blizzard King.” And Valve’s Gabe Newell he’s “happy” that the same could be true for Steam, but says he’ll take their word for it: “Microsoft offered and even sent us a draft agreement for a long-term Call of Duty commitment but it wasn’t necessary for us.” Ah, antitrust theater.
Epic Games is introducing Cabined Accounts, “a new type of Epic account providing a tailored experience that is safe and inclusive for younger players using [EGS] or the Launcher, while also maintaining access to the gameplay you love in games like Fortnite (above), Fall Guys and Rocket League.” Intelligent parental controls? They’re good.
Meta has posted its ‘best of Quest 2022’ awards/showcase, with the ‘Best Game’ award going to charming puzzle adventure The Last Clockwinder, and ‘Most Innovative’ including titles like Garden Of The Sea, Tentacular, Startenders, and Spacefolk City. (A couple of these have sold ‘just OK’, tho - 5-10k units, perhaps.)
Microlinks, Pt.1: “copyright, cost, and ageing code”: why some games disappear from Steam; Mod.io now has ‘truly’ cross-platform mods, with its launch on Switch; this survey of younger Japanese schoolkids revealed that 76% play on Nintendo Switch (!) and 60% on smartphone/tablet.
GameDiscoverCo got its Google Search trends email for November 2022, and there was a massive uptick in people searching for ‘Steam antitrust lawsuit’. We firstly thought this was related to the Wolfire suit, but no, it’s due to SteamClaims.com, which seems to be advertising on Facebook. (It’s targeting players and trying to get some kind of mass arbitration started? Fun times.)
As part of a class-action suit settlement, iOS App Store devs “now have over 700 different new price points from which to choose for their apps… with options ranging from as low as $0.29 all the way up to $10,000.” [Devs need to manually request the top price points to stop scams.] And manual local territory pricing is coming in 2023.
Want to understand how more aggressive F2P Steam games monetize? This ‘explainer’ write-up for World Of Warships does a good job of laying out the game’s IAP. And, as it’s the game’s 5th Steam anniversary, it will put $5 into your Steam wallet if you complete a specific in-game achievement. (Interesting promo!)
Non-financial microlinks: An excellent Rami Ismail article on how indie devs should think about milestones; Ubisoft launches tool to spread awareness on disruptive in-game behavior; the AIAS & iam8bit’s Game Makers’ Sketchbook is showcasing great quality game art again.
Netflix CEO Reed Hastings is genuinely into games, would be the takeaway from hits NYT Dealbook appearance last week: “Netflix, he said over and over, wants to make great TV shows, movies, and games… And when asked about Netflix’s well-reported interest in getting into sports, he answered with this: ‘Talk to us after we’re a big leader in games. We have a lot of investment to do in games.’”
Just reminding that tomorrow (Thursday 8th) is The Game Awards, Geoff Keighley’s hype and awards extravaganza in Los Angeles. Steam is giving away a Steam Deck every minute during the awards, and we’ll see what else goes down - besides game reveals - of interest to this newsletter!
Microlinks: the YouTube Streamy Awards had a bunch of game-adjacent folks honored, including Markiplier; GameStop is laying off employees as it comes down off ‘meme stock’ highs; Xbox is doing a Winter Game Demo event timed to the Game Awards with >20 demos.
Finally, we’ll have more about this in Friday’s Plus newsletter. But isn’t it great that an arcane 15-year old free game can debut on Steam in a (much-enhanced!) $30 version and immediately sell hundreds of thousands of units? That’s Dwarf Fortress, baby:
[We’re GameDiscoverCo, an agency based around one simple issue: how do players find, buy and enjoy your premium PC or console game? We run the newsletter you’re reading, and provide consulting services for publishers, funds, and other smart game industry folks.]