How V Rising reached 1 million sales in only a week!
We've got some hints, direct from the developers at Stunlock Studios.
[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.]
Greetings, all, and welcome to the second free GameDiscoverCo newsletter of the week. First up, we’re excited to be talking about one of the top Steam launches of 2022 so far in V Rising, with input from its developer Stunlock Studios.
But we have plenty of other things to talk about, too - the upcoming ‘not-E3’ showcases, Steam Next Fest, and loads more besides. So.. time to get to reading and scrolling, hm?
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Interview: Stunlock talks V Rising’s mega-success
So, last we checked in on Stunlock Studios’ V Rising, it had hit 1 million Steam players just a week after its May 17th Early Access release. That’s… pretty impressive, right?
There was actually some significant indication that the game would do great up front, even if you hadn’t personally heard of it. It was our top-Hyped game on Steam for the week it came out, and #33 (out of 8000+!) in top Steam wishlists for unreleased games. But it outperformed even those lofty expectations.
For reference, here’s a GameDiscoverCo Plus-exclusive back end view of the top-ranked Steam games released in May 2022, from a ‘how did they convert their Hype?’ perspective. The approximate median for ‘significant’ games is 0.15. And V Rising did six times as well as we ‘expected’, despite having a big headstart on interest:
So yep, ‘big game is big’ is not news in itself. But we’d really like to puzzle out how the game got such good pre-launch Hype - and how it converted way above average. So we got a hold of Stunlock’s community manager Jeremy Bearson, and worked with him to advance some theories, as follows:
At its (vampire) heart, V Rising is a complex and well-put together genre mashup!
If you lazily glance at the game’s thumbnails, you might think V Rising is ‘just’ a top-down ARPG. But it’s way more than that, as explained by GameRant recently when discussing how the game has ended up getting some yummy Valheim comparisons:
“Like Valheim, V Rising presents as a survival game… [and] at the end of a long day of fighting though, players in both Valheim and V Rising must return to their all-important base… For PvP players in V Rising, just like Valheim… [there’s even an option that] if a player's base is destroyed by an enemy… their progression has been entirely wiped out.”
When I asked Stunlock’s Bearson about the game’s core hook, joking that: “It's not JUST vampires, right?”, he saucily replied:
“Maybe it IS just vampires! I think it’s more likely the survival genre itself, and the way the game is built to appeal to a wide range of survival players. All the major mechanical systems are built with each other in mind, and it’s easy to find what you like in the game without feeling too imposed by the parts of the game you might be less interested in. It’s all one very cohesive experience, not a bunch of different mechanics sewn together.”
The point here is that the core game - even at Early Access launch - has excellent base-building survival gameplay, but also multiplayer (co-op and PvP), which really helps word of mouth and streamer reach at launch. Also, you can set up your own server! And it’s extremely deep. As always, the game is the thing…
Building a robust pre-release Discord and community was super important
Getting a large community based around your game early is important. When chatting to Stunlock’s Bearson about this, he noted: “With a new IP like V Rising, you don’t really have an old crowd familiar with your ideas beforehand, so we really wanted to have places for people that take an interest in our game to gather. Before we released it, our Discord server was sitting at around… 14k members? As of right now, I believe we have 62k.
We’ve been using a bunch of experimental features and announcement channels to try and keep information flowing. There’s… a culture that’s building around server hosting, server varieties, and different game modes that’s building up that we VERY much expected, but probably not to this degree.” Absolutely.
Lots of early feedback and Hype build-up created via Closed Betas..
The Stunlock team did some larger closed Beta tests near launch, with up to 3,000 players. As Bearson notes: “The Betas were pretty essential in solidifying our direction and helping us bug fix in a major way before the game was in everyone’s hands… The feedback we got from the players helped us solidify our direction and find some major emergent issues that we were able to adjust quite a bit.
Even in the last seconds leading up to our Early Access launch, we were making changes, ones that I think the game might have been much worse off for if we didn’t feel the urge to make those adjustments. Huge thanks to those players.”
Anyhow, I know you all know this by now, but repeating: doing larger, controlled public or private demos allows you to understand what people do and don’t like about the game, and address feedback before you get penalized for it at Steam launch!
Also see: fanbase, transparency, ‘all the normal things’…
In addition to the above, we spotted some other things we felt additionally contributed to V Rising’s smash hit nature too - as follows:
Stunlock has a heritage of successful multiplayer games - both from an expertise & built-in fanbase perspective! That shouldn’t be underestimated: “We definitely worked to connect with our Battlerite and Bloodline Champions (and even our Dead Island Epidemic fans out there, we see you) and make them aware of what we’re working on. Because they’re such different games… we tried to be clear about that from the beginning, so that they would understand that this project is very, very different from our past endeavors.”
In general, I thought Stunlock were extremely transparent with players about plans for V Rising - see this very comprehensive post-announce Q&A, for example. But Bearson does add: “Being transparent is all about communicating what you can and trying to be as honest as you can. Ironically, this means keeping things to yourself sometimes.” So be.. tactically transparent?
And of course, there’s all the other things you would naturally need to do: “We put a lot of work into getting our name out! Releasing trailers, reaching out to influencers, keeping an active presence on socials, and keeping active keeping players informed of our development through things like dev blogs and newsletters were essential to getting a foothold in the gaming space.”
So there you go - we’re not claiming everyone can replicate Stunlock’s success. But at least you can better understand why V Rising appealed, and why it was primed to take off. And thanks to the devs for chatting to us about it…
Steam Next Fest - how are you getting ready?
Yes, we know that ‘not-E3’ is coming up any day now. But just a reminder that Steam’s June Next Fest event kicks off next Monday, June 13th, and is starting before we send out our next free newsletter!
Alongside the new Valve-issued trailer for Next Fest, we wanted to highlight a great Twitter thread on prepping for Next Fest from Wanderbots, who is one of the few high profile YouTubers who regularly covers smaller new games. His top tips, as follows:
Get your collateral right: “Always have a presskit ready and available, with high res logos as pngs, key art with & without branding, succinct gifs that show off major features, and easily accessible contact info.”
Keep your demo up a bit longer than Fest length: “Highly recommend leaving your demo up for at least a week after the Next Fest, if not longer unless you need to take it down asap after the event. There just isn't enough time in one week to try every demo, and keeping yours up will boost your chances for coverage.”
Get to the point, Steam page-wise: “Most people will be skimming the Next Fest page… your thumbnails are your first and possibly only impression of your game... Similarly, your Steam page should have tags, screenshots, and trailers that show off what your game is about as quickly and accurately as possible.”
Next Fest got busy - bear that in mind: “The first few Steam Next Fests were incredibly good for visibility, since there were only a handful of demos available. Nowadays the event is oversaturated and visibility is a lot harder unless you're at the top.”
The full Twitter thread actually has another 5 or 6 excellent points (if you’re releasing straight after Next Fest, flag it prominently; don’t send too many streamer follower-up emails, etc).
But wanted to end with this excellent Wanderbots comment: “Don't wait until the event to start pushing for wishlists & follows. That's what the event is for, yes, but you'll get more out of it if you start early.” We’ve seen more titles ‘pre-gaming’ recently, partly trying to make it onto the leaderboards when Next Fest starts - great advice.
The game discovery news round-up..
Before we get out of here, we’ve amassed a whole bunch of those darn game discovery and platform links. And we’re here to serve them delicately on a plate for you. Or maybe shove them down your gullet, depending on your point of view:
Before ‘not-E3’ starts blowing all our minds, here’s an interview about how Summer Game Fest came together, here’s a list of the various events taking place, which now includes the Devolver Digital Marketing Countdown to Marketing (hosted by Mecha Suda51?!) on June 9th, and here’s a vague hint that maaaaybe we’ll get Hollow Knight: Silksong news. Hopes and prayers, folks.
The big Apple announcements at WWDC were not about games - and no sign of that AR headset. But this excitable WWDC x games thread from Christophe Sauveur notes the Metal 3 API is the reason why games like No Man’s Sky are coming to Mac. Oh, and: “Apple is now providing first-party open source Unity plugins for several of their frameworks, including Game Center, GameController, Core Haptics, PHASE and Accessibility.”
U.S. industry trade body the ESA came out with its ‘2022 Essential Facts About The Video Game Industry’ report, and Axios wrote up some of the highlights: “The U.S. gaming population [who play for at least 1 hour per week is] at 216 million, compared to 227 million for 2021… the 2021 figure is still an increase from early 2020’s 214 million.” Average age of players is 33 across all game-players - including mobile.
The latest Meta Quest VR headset installed-base estimate, via IDC: “Quest 2 is the most successful VR headset to date… with [14.8 million] units sold since its announcement at Facebook Connect 7 in Sep 2020, the Quest 2 has contributed to massive growth in VR sales & consumer adoption.” We can believe that, more or less.
Among Us’ Victoria Tran has a great new blog on the following subject: “Starting your first community is ROUGH. And if you’re doing it from scratch? Even worse.” It bad! Luckily, suggestions are made on “core tenets to building your first community… where you’ll find your first members… tips on keeping them in the community… how to measure how well you’re doing.”
Microlinks: China issues 60 new video game licenses, none for Tencent or NetEase; Intellivision is trying to save the Amico by severely cutting staff and licensing out its IP; May 2022’s UK game sales were “quiet”, down 32% and with Lego Star Wars still #1, according to GSD’s slice of the market. And PS5 hardware “is sitting in third place this year, due to severe stock shortages between January and March.”
Oh, another Apple thing, while we’re here - the 2022 Apple Design Winners were announced, including some Apple Arcade exclusives (Wylde Flowers for inclusivity, Gibbon for social impact, and Lego Star Wars Castaways for visuals), plus non-Arcade titles such as Overboard! and Marvel Future Revolution. Congrats to all winners!
One reader told me I was insufficiently critical of Roblox’s ‘trust & safety’ functions in that recent overview. To be less understatedly British, dealing with such an incredibly open platform has been variously an issue, a ‘mass shooting’-aping issue, a weird child labor issue, and a People Make Games-exposed issue for Roblox, despite much company investment. Maybe it’s a platform that’s too close to ‘the open Internet’ to let your kid use, or maybe not - but caveat emptor.
Other creative media microlinks: the U.S. ‘spring TV avalanche’ wasn’t good for anyone, sez Vulture’s Buffering newsletter; Weezer’s Rivers Cuomo thinks Discord is great for ‘the future of music fandom’; an amazing Vox/The Pudding data collab on what happens after TikTok songs go viral, label & touring-wise; Jeff Sagansky slams the streaming-driven TV business model: “We are in a golden age of content production & the dark age of creative profit sharing.”
And that’s it for this week’s free newsletters! As always, if you love what we do, please subscribe to GameDiscoverCo Plus, tell your friends, and otherwise make noise, so we can keep making noise in your direction. *incoherent shouting sounds* Seacrest out!
[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.]