Discover more from The GameDiscoverCo newsletter
How Dying Light 2 kept players interested, a year after release
Also: how streamers find games, and 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.]
Welcome, once again, to our humble newsletter. We try to educate, by exfiltrating (information about how games get found and bought), and infiltrating (the insight directly into your brains!) And long may it continue.
BTW, we were just reviewing our mental notes on ‘surprise game hit of the last 12 months’, and Pizza Tower is #1 by a mile. A Wario Land-style 2D platformer with kinda grotesque ‘90s-style animation? It shouldn’t have worked, but it 1000% does!
[Heads up: Our paid ‘Plus’ tier has a 25% off all subs deal until the end of Feb. It’s definitely got good stuff: Discord access, an extra weekly game analysis newsletter, ‘live’ Steam Hype dataset, 2x eBooks, and more - details here. We’d love your support…]
Dying Light 2: lessons from 1 year of updates…
We all know that Techland’s post-apocalyptic first-person action RPG Dying Light 2 launched with a bang in early 2022 - selling 5 million units in its first month. And the team just confirmed the whole franchise has now topped 30 million units, wow.
But it’s interesting to drill down on what the Techland team has been doing since launch. A comment on the above '1 year anniversary’ YouTube video from a player says: “While other game studios can't even produce steady content for their live-service games, Techland here creates a steady amount of content to their single player titles.”
And as it happens, Techland’s Maciej Jałowiec wrote a LinkedIn post about the game’s anniversary, noting that the game reached 22,000 CCU (simultaneous users) on Steam back on February 12th, 2023. That’s up 185% week on week, and the best CCU number since about a month after launch.) So how did they do it? Let’s analyze:
The team prioritized player-suggested improvements: after “constantly monitoring online chatter, Steam reviews and messages in our own channels”, Techland “introduced significant changes to enemy behavior in the first months after the release, making them scarier and more challenging.” So - genuine gameplay shifts and balancing, based on player feedback. The company even added color grading options, for those who dug the more drab palette seen in pre-release E3 showcases.
They fixed and improved a gigantic amount of content, GaaS-style: When I went to the Steam news update page, I was surprised by both the amount and intensity of updates from the team. For example, just the V1.8 update from last December has over 100 improvements and fixes, and the team also launched the $10 ‘Bloody Ties’ story DLC, as well as free ‘Chapter 2’ story DLC. A lot going on here…
The team “made it shareable and social”, despite the game being singleplayer-centric: The addition of a photo mode after release helped players share their coolest moments in DL2. And Jałowiec notes that although the game is single-player centric, “we made sure the co-op mode is more enjoyable than ever by adding dynamic co-op challenges that appear throughout the game.”
Modding is also a key area being nurtured: in December, Techland announced a tie-in with Mod.io, opening up ‘developer tools’ for the game, so “players can create, download, and share custom maps in the PC version of the game and take part in the ‘Shape your City’ contest - featuring the chance to win a share of a $50,000 USD prize pool.” This is still pretty early, but a number of maps are already being shared.
The Techland team is committing to long-term support: a recent interview with Dying Light franchise lead Tymon Smektala had him noting: “we already have a pretty good picture of Dying Light 2 Stay Human in 2027, and where we want the game to be after those five years.” And the company already revealed its 2023 roadmap, including lots of free updates and a second paid DLC. (Again, full speed ahead…)
Certainly, the game’s 1st anniversary Twitch stream - timed with a 50% off sale - was a big reason why Dying Light 2’s player base spiked. (When you have a game this popular at launch which is $60 at base, discounts are an incredible interest driver. A lot of this is managing discounts while showing new value via free updates/paid DLC!)
But it’s also about a dev’s post-launch attitude, and whether players trust you to keep delivering the new goodness. As Jałowiec smartly says: “If you want to keep your game alive, listen to players, seriously consider their wishes, implement what they see as important, and make a big deal out of community-oriented updates.” Seems to be working, huh?
How streamers find new games to play…
We’ve mentioned the YouTuber Wanderbot (448k subs) a couple of times recently, because he has been doing some blogging about subjects near and dear to the heart of the GameDiscoverCo newsletter.
In a recent post, he actually detailed the ways that he personally finds games to stream. Remember he’s a ‘variety streamer’ and very indie-friendly, so he goes far above and beyond a lot of influencers, effort-wise. But here’s what he looks at:
Incoming email with Steam keys: “It’s a lot to sort through, but this is generally where I look first when I’m trying to find new things to cover on my channels.”
Steam’s new demos page: “most of the big channels rarely pay attention to them, leading to less competition and far more breathing room.”
Steam Next Fest, of course: “I’ve actually started spending the first day of the festival going through as many demos as possible and adding them to my wish/follow lists, rather than leaping into playing them.”
Calendar websites: “At the end of every month, I spend an hour on calendar.terminals.io, adding every major upcoming release that catches my eye into my bullet journal.”
Social media: “Twitter & Reddit still tend to be some of the best places for me to discover new games.”
Discord: his own Discord server “is currently the best way for my audience to suggest games to me, as I have a channel dedicated for recommendations.”
Steam’s new releases section: but not so much, because a) it can be “packed with shovelware and low-effort titles”, and b) “require me to either buy them on the spot… or to reach out to developers to ask for a press copy”, which can be tricky due to lack of reliable contact details/methods.
Discount sales: again, a bit less common, but: “There are a lot of games that content creators have completely moved on from, but fans have not, and those are generally the games I try to focus on first.”
And what’s particularly good is that Wanderbot also asked some other major ‘indie variety’ game YouTubers how they find games:
Splattercat “largely focuses on games from his inbox, and Steam New Releases when things are a little slow.”
Retromation “uses Twitter, recommendations from friends, and watches the Steam New Releases section like a hawk.”
Clemmy from Best Indie Games “uses his email, the BestIndieGames.com contact form, and then browsing Steam, Twitter, YouTube, and Reddit in that order.”
Anyhow, this is just a snapshot - and most relevant for smaller titles, vs. larger AAA games. But it’s good to know how you even get noticed out there, right?
The game discovery news round-up..
We love weird graphs, so why not start this round-up with a doozy? Via Game Data Library, here (above) the ‘weeks since launch’-matched lifetime Japanese hardware sales of the four Xbox console generations.
None of them have topped 1 million units. But Xbox Series sales (gray line) will pass the original Xbox sometime this year, woo! There’s actually a market-share stat related to this* later in the round-up, so let’s peruse:
Much ‘fire’ around Microsoft’s Activision deal, with a press conference near the European Commission allowing MS to tout a new 10-year deal with Nvidia to “bring [a] blockbuster lineup of Xbox games, including Minecraft and Activision titles like Call of Duty*, to NVIDIA GeForce NOW cloud gaming service.” (*Hopefully!)
If you add Microsoft president Brad Smith Tweeting a graphic on “a binding 10-year contract to bring Xbox games [including CoD] to Nintendo’s gamers”, and the fact that Smith was brandishing a paper version of the unsigned PlayStation contract during the conf, the pressure is on! Eurogamer sez, though: “Without Sony on board, Microsoft's dual announcements today felt like a sandwich without the filling.”
Roblox’s vision of user-generated content involves using AI to make it easier for ‘regular players’ to make mods - an intriguing angle: “For example, a creator could design a car through a simple statement such as ‘A red, two seater, convertible sports car with front-wheel drive’.” (Link via the ‘Inside The Creator Economy’ newsletter.)
Sure, the Xbox Game Pass ‘Ultimate Friends & Family’ subscription has expanded to six other smaller territories - Chile, Hungary, Israel, New Zealand, South Africa, and Sweden. But this is clearly a continued soft-launch for the Game Pass Ultimate upgrade that allows you to “add up to four people to your membership.” We expect it to get much wider, soonish…
An interesting theory over on Twitter about some surprisingly high PS5 sales in Japan: “I believe one of the main reasons… is because PS5 scalping has been and still is occurring on an industrial scale. Most of these PS5s are resold in China. There is still a demand for Japanese PS5s in China because Chinese PS5s are region locked… this is lucrative because the yen is so weak.” (And Hogwarts Legacy just did good in retail in its first week in Japan, too.)
Is it better to design ‘X genre with a slight twist’ or ‘a big, complex mash-up of two genres’ for your game? Chris Z has done the in-depth analysis, and he thinks: “11.8% of the hit [Steam] games that released in 2022 were novel genre mixes. 88.2% of the hit games adhered more to predefined genre expectations.” So, the latter, then?
We don’t hear much about console platforms giving taking less than 30% cut from big clients - but we know it happens. This fact was confirmed for Call Of Duty on PlayStation in the latest UK CMA documents, since two (redacted) ‘normal’ and ‘current’ percentages are listed, and it says: “[Sony] did not believe the current [<30%] discounted margin [for CoD] would remain post-merger.”
A really smart new feature from Steam: “We've just shipped a Beta update to Steam and Steam Deck that includes… Local Network Game Transfers. This allows Steam users to install games directly from one PC to another over a local network, without having to download and install from the internet… great for Steam Deck owners, multi-user Steam households, dorms, LAN parties, etc.”
Returning to Xbox x Activision, one late-breaking tidbit from that press conf: “Microsoft's Brad Smith on percentage splits for the console market between PlayStation & Xbox: Europe: 80/20 Japan: 96/4* Global: 70/30. Sony's share was 69% during late 2022.” This is ignoring Switch - but it’s so rare to get a platform sharing these.
One new ‘game platform’ we should touch on briefly is, uhh, Universal Studios LA’s Super Nintendo World? Yes, really: “There are the ‘key’ mini-games… earning three separate keys from these mini-games gives you access to Bowser Jr.'s Challenge.” The cost? “The interactive [mini-games] require the separate purchase of a $40-per-person Power-Up Band”, in addition to your Universal Studios entry ticket.
Finally, I’m still helping on social media for the Video Game History Foundation, and this ‘90s U.S. print magazine ad I selected ‘sent me’. Free (boxed) PC games if you sign up for long-distance phone service? That’s some old-school sub bundling, folks:
[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.]