Is your game built for 'main'-ing, trending, or sampling?
Also: Roblox data, PlayStation & Xbox antitrust fighting, & 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 to mid-week, via the GameDiscoverCo newsletter. We were originally going to go VERY data-heavy with this edition. But we veered sideways into an important philosophical discussion - how do you expect players to consume your game(s)?
Oh, and thanks to all the new subscribers recently. We’re hustlin’ real hard - via our two weekly free newsletters and our Plus subscription-exclusive ‘which games are actually popular?’ newsletter - to bring you the right info. We’re enjoying it a lot.
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Your game: for ‘main’-ing, trending, or sampling?
You may be familiar with someone saying they are ‘main’-ing a certain video game. At least in the U.S., this means that it’s the game they are spending most of their gaming time playing. (A similar phrase exists for playing specific fighting game characters.)
And we were looking at Take-Two’s softer financial results this week, we were reminded that a lot of the major PC/console game publishers have shifted their product mix to rely on games that are intended to be your main squeeze.
As TweakTown’s Derek Strickland points out on Twitter, the Grand Theft Auto franchise dipped to pre-pandemic levels in the latest Take-Two quarter. But it still grossed over $200 million in just three months. Here’s his LTD quarterly graph, wow:
Obviously, a lot of this is recurring revenue related to the Grand Theft Auto Online portion of the game (latest trailer above!), given the Megalodon Shark Cash Cards you can buy for $99.99 for in-game redemption. (Though much is also base game sales!)
The point here is not the short-term slowdown in the game biz after these COVID lockdown-era highs - which we’re seeing industry-wide. The point is how consumers see your games, and how the make-up of total PC/console revenue is changing.
So when Electronic Arts’s CEO says that single-player games are "really, really important", but then EA’s CFO “also followed up noting that live service games account for over 70 percent of the total [EA] business”, you’re seeing economics dictating content. And it’s changing the mix of successful titles.
So, splitting PC/console games up in a possibly over-facile way, here’s how we see the landscape:
Games built for ‘main’-ing: deep, often co-op or multiplayer games that you can play many hours per week, perhaps on voice chat with your friends. You buy these games with the intent you’ll be playing them 3-6 months from now (whether you do or not!) And you spend extra money in them via IAP or DLC. An increasing percentage of the market, but super high barrier to entry.
Games built for trending: the latest big thing - an idea that’s so strong that people rush and buy your title, even if it’s single player and non-replayable. And the discounts and long tail can carry you through. Stray is an obvious recent example of this, and I’d also cite Devolver’s upcoming Terra Nil and, hilariously, Turnip Boy Commits Tax Evasion. The flavor of the week/month.
Game built for sampling: a good-looking game that’s - hopefully - well made. Some people will buy it. Maybe some streamers will check it out and make it popular. (Especially if it has replayability, at which point you might graduate to ‘trending’.) In general, a few players will be enthused, and everybody else will put on their ‘need to try eventually’ list. So it’s a great prospect for Xbox/PC Game Pass, as an ‘incremental subscription value’ point.
So, I’d argue that not all games fit clearly on this continuum. But you can give all PC/console titles a score for each factor. Let’s do that for a sampling of most-reviewed new games of August 2022 on Steam so far, according to our Plus post-release data:
Hooked on You: A Dead by Daylight Dating Sim - ‘main’-ing = 0/10, trending = 9/10, sampling = 3/10. (IP is a 9/10 ‘main’-ing franchise, though!)
The Mortuary Assistant - ‘main’-ing = 1/10, trending = 7/10, sampling = 5/10. (Just a very well made jumpscare game.)
Farthest Frontier - ‘main’-ing = 8/10, trending = 5/10, sampling = 5/10. (Not multiplayer, but scores high on ‘will I be playing it in 6 months?’ and likely GaaS-style updates.)
The trend of what dominates overall sales and revenue - not just new games - is clear. We recently instituted a new Plus-exclusive data point, ‘monthly most-reviewed Steam games’. Here’s the top non-F2P titles for July 2022. It’s filled with ‘main’-worthy games, many ancient (release date is 1.0 in some cases), but almost all GaaS and multiplayer:
So long-term, I think indie game devs/pubs can entirely survive on a diet of ‘games built for trending’. But the danger is that more and more of your titles will slip into the ‘games built for sampling’ tier. (Perhaps those are money-losing as a standalone title.)
At this point, you may be reliant on Game Pass - or other subscription services - for your profitability or reach. And this trend may accelerate, as players rely on subscription services to try sample-worthy games, instead of just buying them.
So maybe you need to scope up and try to construct ‘games built for ‘main’-ing’. But this means you need to make games that people will still be playing many months later?
Games will need to be very complex, deep, and well-maintained in order to do that. And you may need to displace another ‘main’-ed title, in order to make yourself into one, sometimes a perilous proposition. Which is not easy, and a larger risk. Hm.
Roblox: how are third party games really doing?
You may recall that back in May, we poked around in Roblox (second story), since the scale of third-party games in the near ubiquitous kids game/app continues to be quite impressive.
As we noted at the time: “The biggest titles like Brookhaven RP can have as high as 500,000 CCUs at times, and even lower-ranked titles like the SCP Foundation-themed 3008 see more than 30,000 CCUs on many days. It’s a massive market, even if the third-party dev cut isn’t the best.”
Anyhow, the question of how much money these titles actually make was tackled by David Taylor in a super well-constructed newsletter for Naavik a few weeks back. David was aided by a Roblox leak which exposed 2021 ‘Robux’ spend in individual games. From there, he came up with the following estimated 2021 dev payouts:
So there’s some pretty good revenue numbers towards the top. And some good wins for amateur creators, which some top titles are made by. But David also weighed in on whether VC investments in pro Roblox studios is going to work out in the long term:
“It’s hard to say whether launching a top-250 game is a repeatable task for VC-funded studios entering the space, given that success on Roblox is more art than science today. The remarkable creativity and drive of indie developers on the platform combined with the sheer volume of them would suggest that it’s not easily repeatable.
Larger studios I spoke with have their sights set on the top 10. But this appears highly ambitious, as the average age for the top 10 Roblox games in 2021 was roughly four and half years old.”
We’d agree - and add that the success of top Roblox games are often an odd mix of ‘chill hang space’ and gameplay-adjacent sandbox elements. PC/console game design isn’t necessarily what you want to succeed. This may fox trad game devs in Roblox. (But we’re eagerly waiting for success stories, and will pass along when they happen!)
The game discovery news round-up..
Finishing up here, we have a number of interesting new game platform and discovery gems to throw in your direction since Monday. And we’ll start with these:
As part of the Brazilian antitrust discussion over Microsoft buying Activision Blizzard, Microsoft has replied to Sony’s claims that it would be a bad idea, specifically saying on Call Of Duty x Game Pass: “Sony does not want attractive subscription services to threaten its dominance in the digital distribution market for console games… In other words, Sony rails against the introduction of new monetization models capable of challenging its business model.” So, uh, there.
Just ‘popular game engine/ad platform Unity’ things: “AppLovin offers to merge with Unity [on condition of giving up the ironSource deal]: it’s musical chairs on mobile”; and Unity’s China regional JV is now official, and “local partners including Alibaba, China Mobile, G-Bits, miHoYo, OPPO, PCI, and Douyin Group will invest at a post-money valuation for Unity China of $1B.”
For Switch eShop devs distro-ing in the newest South American territories, beware! Multiple games - most recently Shin-Chan - have appeared digitally for ridiculously cheap (40c or less!) in territories like Colombia & Chile. Worldwide eShop players change territories to grab games super-cheap, and Nintendo can only remove the game from that country to fix. (Double-check regional pricing.)
There’s a new-ish ‘PlayStation games for PC’ page on PlayStation’s website, showing Sony’s commitment to the space ahead of Spider-Man’s PC launch. One interesting FAQ item that was pointed out to me: “You currently do not need a PSN account to enjoy PlayStation Studios games on PC.” Given recent Xbox games on Steam require an Xbox login, gotta reckon ‘currently’ might be a hint?
We didn’t cover this recent report that ‘only 1% of Netflix’s subscribers are playing its games daily’ because it seems, uhh, maybe too high. Don’t see how 1.7 million are playing their games daily when, if you look at the list, hardly any of them of them are GaaS titles (yet). Although there’s Netflix Asphalt Xtreme, I guess? Anyhow, Sensor Tower has some more numbers here from June.
Do you understand TikTok, like, at all? Do you feel a bit old and useless when you squint at it? Fear not: Errant Signal’s new, 50 minute-long TikTok: Life on The Algorithm video explains how the platform works - with plenty of examples, analysis, and even a section analyzing ‘NoodleTok’ vs. ‘PugTok’.
SocialPeta released a report on mobile game ads in H1 2022, as summarized by GameDev Reports. Not our core focus here, but it’s interesting to see CPI (cost per install) for different ad types ranging from $1.50 to $7.50 for F2P mobile games. (You need sharp monetization for those who DO pay, to profit - right?)
There’s a ‘high Steam reviews to sales’ multiple alert on the PlayWay-affiliated Builder Simulator, which just disclosed 72,000 units sold (before refunds), but has ‘only’ 660 Steam reviews (109x). Not surprising for a broadly casual sim, but our estimates often top out at 60x, so bear exceptions like this in mind.
A very pleasant interview with ID@Xbox’s Chris Charla has him noting: “With Game Pass, you know the content is curated and the games are good. Every game might not be for you - people have different tastes, of course - but the only real cost once you're a member is just the time to download and the bandwidth or storage space on your Xbox.” I agree - Game Pass is indisputably very well curated right now.
Microlinks: IGN Playlist added “the most popular games on IGN that released in July or haven't yet come out, based on site traffic reports”; Impress Games now has one of those ‘instant Steam revenue calculator’ things - using price and # of reviews; after all that ‘make more paid DLC’ news, Oxygen Not Included is converting its second paid DLC back to free updates, intriguingly.
[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.]