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How Solarpunk racked up 250k Steam wishlists!
Also: what comes next after Battle Pass? And oodles of platform news...
[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.]
No rest for the wicked, they say? And as we presume all of you are devilish at best (& diabolical at worst!), we’ve prepared another compendium of useful PC and console discovery data, rolled it into a boulder, and asked you to push it up a hill. Forever.
Oh, and re: ‘pushing large, round objects’, the best offkilter game discovery angle this week? This Kotaku profile of Baldur’s Gate III has game director Swen Vincke revealing: “It’s possible to be turned into a cheese wheel in this game.” Spinal Tap approves…
[Don’t forget: our GameDiscoverCo Plus paid subscription includes our Friday ‘exclusive’ newsletter, exclusive Discord access, a login to our Steam ‘Hype’ & post-release game performance chart back-end, multiple eBooks & more. Support happily welcome…]
How did Solarpunk hit big on Steam & Kickstarter?
Not sure if you’ve spotted it, but Cyberwave & RokaPlay’s upcoming first-person ‘making solar arrays on floating islands’ title Solarpunk has been shooting up GameDiscoverCo’s custom-compiled Steam Hype charts recently.
For context, the teaser trailer for the game explains: "Alone or with friends, you can construct buildings, grow food, craft gadgets, and explore distant islands with your own airship." And it’s really taking off*! (*Airship joke?)
In fact, it’s now #5 in Hype for the ‘Open World Survival Craft’ tag from all 16,000+ unreleased Steam games. And it’s in the Top 100 across all unreleased, with >250,000 wishlists - and over 22,000 Steam followers. (In Dec. 2022, it only had 400 followers!)
The game also just concluded a very successful Kickstarter, which raised over 300,000 Euros ($326,000) from over 6,000 backers. So how, exactly, did it manage this? We caught up with Adrian Kaiser from publisher RokaPlay to get as many answers as we can.
Firstly, Adrian supplied us an annotated Steam wishlist chart up to mid-June 2023, which succinctly explains some of the big marketing ‘beats’ for the game so far:
You can obviously read the above and say ‘oh yep, all makes sense’. But the size of the daily wishlist additions is particularly impressive. And we had the following takeaways:
The look/premise of the game led to strong wishlists almost immediately: Adrian says: “We produced a teaser trailer at the end of December 2022, which was posted by Wholesome Games on Twitter (and immediately reached 5000 likes. On TikTok the post also did quite well.” A clever use of the #gamepass tag on Twitter resulted in another viral Tweet, media site pickup, and then Steam Discovery Queue traffic, with wishlists hitting 1-3k per day for a few days.
The strongly positive reaction was down to a great crossover hook: we actually asked Adrian what he thought the game’s hook was so killer? He said: “It's the combination of beautiful graphics, the successful genre, the theme around ‘sustainability’ and the need for ‘peace / balance’ in this troubled world.” We’d add that bringing the co-op first person survival vibe into the ‘cozy’ space is a great move. And it’s less violent than other titles like Aloft that have a similar ‘floaty islands’ hook.
The game is ‘the thing’, but you need to know “which switches to flip”: Adrian says, modestly, that “it is very important to understand that the project is great and we did not use a secret marketing hack.” But he and his colleague Bonnie have had great success on TikTok (330k+ likes!), on Reddit (a 40k upvote post), and even organized the Cozy & Family Friendly Games Steam Festival, which featured Solarpunk among a host of third-party titles. So they’re putting the work in!
Paid Kickstarter marketing can really help wishlists, too: RokaPlay ended up doing paid Facebook ads for the Solarpunk Kickstarter. They spent almost 20,000 Euros & added 40-45,000 Euros of KS pledges. These ads also helped contribute 1-2,000 extra Steam wishlists per day. (Due to $$$ pledge tiers & microtargeting, ‘Facebook x Kickstarter’ is one of the few paid media combos we like. Folks like the KS-approved Jellop & Backercamp specialize in this space, tho you can also just run your own!)
Looking at the ‘reveal trailer’ for Solarpunk, what strikes us is how straightforward, but charming it is. You can cut down trees and craft with them, you can farm, you can build & position solar arrays. Then you can hop into a cute little airship & wander to other islands with your friends, while your robots water your plants for you. Feels yum.
All this is shown with ‘real gameplay’, and it’s proving to be extremely attractive for prospective players. Of course, what Cyberwave & RokaPlay now have is the opposite of a Hype problem - it’s an expectation problem. They need to deliver on the promise! But.. wouldn’t we all rather have an expectation problem than a hype one?
What comes after Battle Pass? Event Pass & more..
We’re in the weird situation - in the PC and console game space - where a few dominant ‘live service’ games that can do sophisticated things with monetization, but most premium games get user pushback that affects buzz if they get too ‘clever’.
But it’s interesting to see the Battle Pass paradigm (‘pay X dollars for access to this set of content’) very well-established in games like Fortnite, and it was even more interesting to see GameRefinery release a new ‘mid-core mobile games’ report that expands on this.
As the report explains: “Battle Pass is a proven monetization and engagement feature. It can be a standalone recurring event or a game-wide progression system.” And in the F2P mobile space, midcore titles have been adding “additional monetization layers and progression layers” to that base.
In particular, it’s noted that these passes are considered “a more player-friendly way to monetize the event rewards compared to, for example, gachas.” So here were the particular layers that we thought were smart:
Event Passes with both free and premium reward layers: GameRefinery notes that these are in addition to Battle Passes, and: “Some implementations of event passes are League of Legends: Wild Rift in their Lunar Feast event, Goddess of Victory: Nikke in the Chainsaw Man collaboration event, and Clash Royale in each of their Tournament events.” You can see the interface for the Chainsaw Man event here, and it’s basically an upsell to get ‘even better stuff’ for anyone playing the event.
Battle Pass-specific ‘premium’ stores: GameRefinery explains that “there’s usually a special currency gained from the Battle Pass reward tracks, often as a bonus reward once the main track is completed”, and there’s a limited-time shop with additional exclusives. For example: “Diablo Immortal uses a battle archive shop that features past seasons’ rewards. These rewards are available for purchase with battle archive coins, which you can get only with the more expensive version of the premium battle pass layer.”
More season-based systems with progress resets: GameRefinery notes: “The hit strategy game Call of Dragons [has] a lot of the progression vectors reset season to season. Even when not everything is reset, the change still brings a ‘fresh cyclical feel’ to the game and tackles the problem of the game becoming very stale.” And Clash Royale also “recently overhauled its event systems to create an interconnected season with a seasonal currency and shop.”
So that’s what mobile games are doing - and we recommend GameRefinery’s mobile game/feature & events tracking data (paid!) and this particular ‘midcore games’ report (free w/reg!) if you want to learn more about this space.
And should we expect to see more interlayering of monetization methods in the top, well-retaining PC and console live service games over time? Most likely, yep. You can see it as aggressive, or just ‘fairly monetizing hardcore players’, but it’s happening…
The game discovery news round-up..
Finishing off for this week - unless you’re a Plus subscriber, in which case a lovely Friday newsletter awaits - let’s take a look at some notable platform & discovery news:
The debut of Apple’s $3,500 Vision Pro headset was meant to be more of a ‘line in the sand’ than a large-scale consumer roll-out, anyhow. However, there are now reports that “Apple was only asking for enough parts to be able to build between 130,000 to 150,000 units in 2024”. Other sources suggest ‘less than 400,000’, but either way, these production complexities may slow cheaper versions, too…
We’re still mopping up those Sony document leaks from last week, but here’s more of the redactions, & we’re particularly highlighting: “Microsoft and SIE both made competing bids for Valheim and Immortality to have those games on their subscription services. Microsoft won both bids.”
Midia Research dares to suggest: ‘Games publishers are gradually losing their mojo’, noting (among other things): “Under the traditional ‘unit sales’-based model, the only cannibalization publishers had to worry about was negated by ensuring a staggered approach to launches… however, in the ‘time-spent dependent’ business model of today, games need to be actively pursuing consumers’ limited time continuously. [So] a publisher’s third-party portfolio is in gradually increasing competition with itself.”
Ex-Valve staffer and current Stray Bombay CEO Chet Faliszek has noted how poor his ‘Twitter to game interest’ pipeline seems to be, saying views are ‘dismal’, whereas a “simple low investment” TikTok video will “get more views, higher engagement and drive Discord signups and some sales [for The Anacrusis], even though I have 1/6th the followers on TikTok as I do on Twitter.”
The early July 2023 Xbox Game Pass additions show how much of a wide net Microsoft is still casting: there’s the return of Grand Theft Auto V (including Series X/S versions!), but also the very silly McPixel 3, diverse builder Common’Hood, and Capcom’s big-budget online ‘dinosaurs vs humans’ thing Exoprimal as a Day 1 Game Pass debut.
Nintendo is heavily hinting re: better compatibility for Switch and ‘the next Nintendo console’, thank goodness, saying in a shareholder Q&A: “Regarding the move from Nintendo Switch to the next-generation platform, we will make good use of Nintendo Accounts to make this a smooth transition for our consumers.” (At least, we presume it won’t be ‘log on to same account, can’t play any old games’?)
Continuing the infinitely long ‘governments hate loot boxes’ thread: “The Dutch government is now preparing to completely ban loot boxes in video games. This is part of the country’s plan to improve regulations for in-game purchases.” (The Dutch Minister in charge of consumer affairs still has to pass the law, define loot boxen, etc.)
The Steam Deck account just made a fun announcement: “Hi all, just a quick note to celebrate a big milestone - we’ve just passed 10,000 Verified and Playable titles on Steam Deck!” Great stuff, especially given the clever tech that allows many games to ‘just work’ on Deck, outside of the Windows ecosystem they were built for.
We had a whole newsletter about the FTC’s definition of ‘dark patterns’ after that big Epic fine for Fortnite’s “unintended game purchases”. Well, the FTC is certainly using that big stick, just not in games. It’s now going after Amazon for “enrolling customers in Amazon Prime without consent” and also fined Publishers Clearing House $18.5 million for “false suggestions that making a purchase was the only way to enter its popular sweepstakes or that doing so would increase their chances of winning.”
Want to know how the Sega vs. Sony platform war of, uh, 1996 went down? (Besides ‘badly for the Sega Saturn’?) Some newly leaked Sega Of America documents explain a lot: “The document offers glimpses… that explain how Sega went from a company that broke Nintendo's near-monopoly in the early 1990s to giving up on consoles entirely after the Dreamcast.”
Finally, we linked a pic above, but would you like to visit the Tokyo of the 1970s when Space Invaders was just becoming a video game phenom? You can’t, but as Matt Alt explains, “polarizing pop-artist” Takashi Murakami has just set up the next closest thing:
“Coffee Zingaro… is a simulacrum of an Invader Room - the name for the proto-arcades that sprung up in Japanese cities in 1978 through about 1980, when the “Space Invaders” video game craze swept the world. Once the proprietors of kissaten (coffee shops) realized that they could make far more money from customers dropping coins into the games than by selling java, they hastily rearranged their spaces to accommodate dozens of the machines.”
However the tabletop video games at Coffee Zingaro are, uh, 500 yen ($3.46) per play, Alt points out! So be prepared to bring a LOT of quarters (or yen, you know what we mean), if you visit Nakano Broadway soon…
[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.]