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New games' biggest discovery competition? Old games!
Also: Valve tells devs about Wolfire suit discovery, lotsa discovery 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.]
We’re back in your inbox again! Welcome to another week of goodness here at GameDiscoverCo, where our latest quest is to get all of our email open rates over 40%. (Everyone stop moving companies and signing up again, you’re ruining our stats, lol.)
Oh, before we get started, Holedown dev Grapefrukt once again made a YouTube playlist of trailers for every single Independent Games Festival entry this year* (*that has a trailer on YouTube.) It’s 480 trailers and over 15 hours. Please enjoy!
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Discovery: new games = good, old games = great!
After we put out a largely not empirically-based newsletter about the fracturing of attention in the PC/console game space, GameDiscoverCo challenged ourselves - how about coming up with some real data to back up all that chutzpah?
One thing we said was: “Over time, there are more 'evergreen' games that continue to sell well and have people ‘maining’ them. These are taking away money - either directly, or via people playing them and not buying new games - from existing titles.” Can we measure this in some way?
Turns out, using our GameDiscoverCo Plus back end data on Steam reviews, we can - if you consider Steam reviews a proxy for attention, in terms of new players. (We do, at least in months where Steam isn’t incenting reviews for badges, etc.) So here’s what we did:
We created this document [Google Drive link] where we compared - above - ‘the first 30 day review count for new games released in October 2022’ (left) to ‘the review count during October of the top games that weren’t brand new’. (I guess that’s 31 days, but, y’know, close enough…) So that’s ‘new games’ vs. ‘old games’.
October 2022 was actually one of the busiest months of the year in terms of Steam launches, so may be a best-case scenario for new games. Even so, the Top 20 ‘old games’ got 50% more reviews than the Top 20 ‘new games’.
And if we discount the outlier (Call Of Duty : Modern Warfare II) and replace it with a ‘notional game’ that’s a median of the Top 20’s value minus CoD, ‘old games’ got 225% more reviews than the top ‘new games’ for October.
If you look at the full document, we also tried extending this to a Top 40 (on a second tab), and we see the old vs. new gap widening. In this scenario, the Top 40 ‘old games’ in October 2022 got 74% more reviews than the top ‘new games’, and minus CoD, the ‘old games’ got 258% more reviews than the new ones.
Finally, we decided to exclude free to play (F2P) games from the Top 20 and Top 40 charts. As it happens, October 2022 was a strong F2P launch month too (Undecember, Super People, Marvel Snap), so the ratios didn’t change a lot with ‘premium only’ games selected. (Not sure this would be true for every month.)
But what’s the takeaway? First, I’m not sure everyone is aware of how well some ‘old’ GaaS games are doing. Facepunch’s Rust got more reviews during October - almost 9 years after its Steam debut - than Gotham Knights’ first 30 days on sale.
And secondly, I think some of these huge reviews/sales numbers from old games present both a challenge and an opportunity. It’s amazing that Terraria is doing 15,000 reviews per month, frankly.
Maybe that shows market size & opportunity for people wanting to make Terraria-style games? But it also means that you have to compete against the decade of post-release development on Terraria, its existing fanbase and streamers, and some amazing player-created mods. After all, they didn’t stop selling that game…
So yes, this is a simplistic view of the market. But seeing the entire market more holistically, and thinking about both displacing existing older games, as well as competing against new ones, is vital as the ‘no reset’ PC/console market continues.
Steam devs - notified re: Wolfire lawsuit discovery!
Regular GameDiscoverCo newsletter readers will be well-appraised of Receiver 2 dev Wolfire’s U.S. ‘class action’ antitrust lawsuit against Steam - for price fixing and other allegedly nefarious behavior, which we last covered back in May.
Well, as we mentioned at the time: “Both Wolfire and Dark Catt have reached the “fine, now prove it” stage of the legal process. This means that an immensely complex ‘discovery process’ may now start, including depositions, requests for productions of documents (including internal emails from Valve and the other companies), and more.”
And if you’re a Steam developer, you may have got an email from Valve precisely about this on last Wednesday, November 30th. Valve explains in that email: “We are sending you this notice because information related to you or your apps and content on Steam may be subject to discovery in this lawsuit.”
Some of the data asked for is part of what Valve considers ‘Confidential Information’ in the Steam distribution agreement, including sales data & emails about pricing, sales & revenue share, Steam key request data & emails, other written communication with partners, and more.
As Steam notes: “Valve takes Steam Partner confidentiality very seriously. It has objected to the Plaintiffs’ current demands for the disclosure and production of confidential Steam Partner information to the extent permitted by the court rules and Valve’s legal obligations to produce information in this litigation.”
Finally, Valve says it’ll start producing information ‘on or after January 18th, 2023’, and there is a confidentiality order in place to stop e.g. sales information leaking in a wholesale manner. Which is good, since none of us want that.
Nonetheless, it’s possible that communications between you and Valve could appear in the lawsuit. And obviously, what Wolfire & Dark Catt are looking for is ‘smoking gun’ emails, where Valve appears to act in an anti-competitive manner in some way.
We’d expect these mainly to be: a) things Valve said about your game’s pricing on other platforms and b) discussions around Steam keys, and whether Valve withholding Steam keys in certain circumstances is anticompetitive. (Valve says it’s not, and will remove Steam keys as a platform feature, if the court says that it is.)
[BTW, we asked Wolfire how they’re funding the v.expensive discovery phase of this lawsuit - industry literature notes that “in two recent single-plaintiff antitrust lawsuits… the claimants each spent nearly $5 million to prosecute their claims through trial.” No answer so far.]
The game discovery news round-up..
So let’s finish things off in style, with all kinds of things in the game platform and discovery space happening since last Wednesday’s newsletter. Let’s go:
Microsoft is pushing hard for approval of its giant Activision Blizzard deal, most recently via a Brad Smith editorial in the Wall Street Journal explicitly stating: “We’ve offered Sony a 10-year contract to make each new ‘Call of Duty’ release available on PlayStation the same day it comes to Xbox.”
Relatedly, the New York Post is claiming of the Microsoft x Activision deal: “At least one Democrat on the four-member [U.S. Federal Trade Commission] panel has recently taken a sympathetic view of the merger.” And: “A Democratic defection would leave [FTC chair Lina] Khan with a 2-2 tie in any vote.” Huge if true, etc, etc.
Krafton’s PUBG: Battlegrounds is finally coming to Epic Games Store on December 8th, and there will be crossplay with the Steam version. (Many of EGS’ successes seem to have been in the ‘large F2P game also available on EGS’ category - see Genshin Impact, for example.)
Two Google ‘end of year’ charts of note: 2022’s top trending YouTube videos & creators in the U.S. has a Minecraft streamer’s face reveal in the Top 3 vids of the year; Google Play’s best apps and games of 2022 has Apex Legends Mobile as the all-over top game.
Microlinks, Pt.1: Apple’s new AR operating system may be called xrOS, not RealityOS; Polygon has put out an ‘explainer’ for video game unions for y’all; Meta is adding the ability to have public wishlists to your Quest store account.
No Gravity Games is back again with its ‘Switch eShop title 100% discount chaining’ exploits. This time, it’s offering a free game every day from December 5th to 16th on the U.S. eShop if you sign up to their newsletter. (If you missed a day, you can buy the game cheap to catch up!) Fascinating stuff.
One of the highest-profile bannings of a Steam publisher for ‘fake reviews’ in recent months is from Polish publisher & dev SimFabric, after “the prologue to SimFabric’s upcoming game Cthulhu: Books of Ancients” got flooded with obviously fake reviews. SimFabric “later started banning people for posting information about fake reviews”, but is now claiming it had nothing to do with the fakes. Hmm.
Microlinks, Pt. 2: in the UK, Nintendo Switch had 42% of all consoles sold during Black Friday week, with Xbox at 40% (helped by Series S discounts!) & PS5 at 18%; the top Steam Deck games of November 2022 were headed by Vampire Survivors & Persona 5 Royal; free Quest off-store mega-hit Gorilla Tag is finally coming to the main store on December 15th.
Microsoft has confirmed that beginning in 2023, “games built for Xbox Series X|S including Forza Motorsport, Redfall, and Starfield will cost $69.99 USD at launch” - or your local equivalent. But also: “As with all games developed by our teams at Xbox, they will also be available with Game Pass the same day they launch.” Ah, that Game Pass upsell…
The ‘microcommunity platform’ Discord (is this a good description? Ed.) has revealed monetization around server subscriptions. Is it possible that smaller game devs and communities will use this - instead of Patreon - to monetize their biggest fans? It perhaps is - send us good examples when they happen!
As ‘the 2023 summer of revamped E3’ is almost (?!) upon us, the Summer Games Fest team has pre-announced that its kick-off will be on Thursday, June 8th 2023 at the 6,000 seat YouTube Theater in Los Angeles, with public tickets available for the showcase. (The ReedPop-produced E3 2023 will be June 13th-16th, also in LA.)
Microlinks, Pt. 3: Nintendo seems to have lost interest in its mobile game strategy after a hot start in the late 2010s; the emerging area of the best Linux distros for playing PC games on; ‘community platform with a mission’ Just About got announced & feedback is intriguing for the ‘GameFAQs but you get paid’ biz model.
Finally, we all love a good ‘funny thing that happened during game dev’ story. And I can’t believe that the Ubisoft devs behind Rayman Raving Rabbids ran out of time to make a mini-game, so coded this:
[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.]