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Nightmare Reaper: doing a 1.0 Steam release the right way
Some impressive results from the splatterpunk FPS.
[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.]
It’s a whole new week. And therefore, we’d like to welcome you back to our little newsletter. It continues our long-held mission: to probe hyperbole and hype, and extract ‘real results’ and actual data on how you get people to notice your games.
Oh, and for those who’d like to support us in this work, only 3 days left to get 30% off the first year of GameDiscoverCo Plus. Plus subscribers get exclusive newsletters (what’s really selling & why?), custom Steam/console charts exports, two eBooks, a member-only Discord & more. And… onward.
Nightmare Reaper: lessons from a Steam 1.0 hit!
One question we get asked quite a lot is ‘how much is my game going to pop on its Steam 1.0 release’? To which the answer is… it depends. You can get some great visibility tools when leaving Early Access on Steam, including the ability to appear in the ‘New & Trending’ chart on Steam’s front page.
But some games see major sales jumps, and some launch into 1.0 with, well, a bit of a whimper? Which is why it’s neat to see gorestained retro FPS - with looter-shooter and roguelite elements - Nightmare Reaper doing so well after its March 28th, 2022 1.0 release. It just hit an all-time high of 1,100 CCUs, and here’s its lifetime reviews:
Anyhow, the dev of the game, Blazing Bit Games’ Bruno Beaudoin and his partners at agency Evolve put out an informative Twitter thread about what went down around 1.0 - and clued me in so I could ask some extra questions.
Here’s some of the key reasons I would say that Nightmare Reaper has had a successful Early Access → 1.0 transition, during which 35% of all the game’s Steam page traffic was coming from the “New and Trending” tab:
There was something specific and new to talk about for 1.0: the July 2019 EA debut “released Chapters 1 & 2 of the game, giving players a good slice of what the final 1.0 content with all 3 chapters would be.” So this latest update finally shipped the ‘full’ version of the game, a major milestone that helped sell the whole title.
There’s a specific subset of streamers who concentrate on this genre: the thread calls out Civvie11’s video (250k views!) and Gmanlives’ much earlier video (150k views!) In addition: “Directly prior to launch, NR had a Twitch event in which ~70 Streamers were given early access to help showcase Chapter 3 and create pre-launch hype.” Oh, and MoonMoon “decided to stream the game for 7 hours the day after launch to an average of 11,914 concurrent viewers.” That’s some reach!
The game wasn’t overdiscounted during Early Access: if you look at discounts, the title only did 20% discounts - which emails wishlisters - a handful of times. There’s an argument that is too conservative, and sales were suppressed during EA due to it. But it led to a better 1.0 bump, when the game was more complete.
Nightmare Reaper is legitimately great: the game has serious depth, in addition to frantic retro FPS action. Which is why it’s had 95%+ Positive Steam reviews until very recently. One Steam reviewer explains: “3 separate unique skill trees in which you play mini-games to unlock various bonuses and perks which take multiple playthroughs to unlock… A plethora of weapons, enemies and level varieties. Also lets not forget to mention the cavalcade of treasure to hunt down and find..”
The results? Impressive. In 6 days, Nightmare Reaper has sold 10,400 more units, on top of the 19,900 accumulated in nearly 3 prior years in Early Access. So basically 50% of Early Access units sold in just the week after 1.0 launch! Check the pickup:
The game had 39k outstanding Steam wishlists at the point it went 1.0 - and has added another 36k wishlists in quick succession. I’d expect Nightmare Reaper to sell tens of thousands more copies in the next 12 months. (There’s various bonus Steam back-end graphs in the full social media thread, btw.)
Evolve & Blazing Bit’s conclusion? “A longer Early Access period can be an asset; After your game gets past an initial views/interest hump, Steam will proudly display it to users; Coordinating pre-launch efforts that gives early access to creators is win-win; You still need a ton of passion and work!”
Finally, GameDiscoverCo asked Beaudoin, the creator of Nightmare Reaper, what he think made the biggest difference in this successful 1.0 launch, and he said: “It's hard for me to say because I'm no PR expect, which is why I hired Evolve - which did a great job. I think it was definitely a combination of factors. But I think we shouldn't underestimate the power of great trailers and positive YouTuber videos.
The YouTubers that made positive Early Access videos got people interested. Most people held off for 1.0 before buying the game. I also feel like having been able to maintain "Overwhelmingly Positive" on Steam [throughout Early Access] kept the game in people's minds.
Once everything reached critical mass and 1.0 came out, people were ready for it and the extra word of mouth it created got it to the [Steam] main page. I still think we've only scratched the surface of what the game could have done, if it was able to capture more influential people earlier.”
Beaudoin also noted that he thought that luck was involved. Sure, there’s always luck. But if you make the right type of game, and then promote it to right type of people, then you’re increasing the chances of success. Which is what happened here!
E3: how it’s feeling now (how’s it feeling now?)
For some reason, I’ve chosen to title this newsletter section after Charli XCX’s pandemic-era album. I think it’s partly because in-person events are defined by their vibe and feeling. And the news that even the digital version of E3 2022 won’t be taking place is leading a lot of people to reflect on what E3 means to them.
Perhaps I didn’t think I had feelings about E3… but I do. I’ve attended 20-ish editions - my first E3 was 1998, when the show was still in Atlanta (!) I remember seeing a limousine sign for Douglas Adams (one of my heroes, there promoting Starship Titanic) at the airport.
We don’t know for sure that E3 won’t be returning. The ESA are still saying it’ll be back in 2023 in both physical and digital form. What we do know is that Summer Game Fest and a number of other digital showcases are happening in 2022.
And we know that the landscape for physical video game events has radically changed in the last 25 years. Here’s some points I feel have been underdiscussed about why E3 happened, and how it’s changed:
The show’s original point was to show games to retail buyers: Colin Campbell’s very helpful history of E3 1995 for Polygon illuminates this: “There was no one more important to a games publisher than the games buyer at Toys “R” Us, KB Toys, or Sears.” It was about how many cartridge or CD copies of your game they would order for the holiday season - hence the June timing.
As the show developed, showboating for the press & audience became way more important: this article on the role of hype in game history times this to E3 2001’s Xbox debut: “The well-covered and organized entry of the newest competitor in the console market made people hungry to watch the war unfold, therefore at the following E3 the materials started to become more audience-directed.”
At some point, publishers realized that ‘direct to consumer’ was all: for so many years, even after the retail market had consolidated, the press was the conduit to the audience at E3 - hence its odd ‘no public allowed’ designation for most of the time. But with the rise of livestreams in the 2010s, the disintermediation of the press and the show was almost complete - especially with influencers becoming more important, and media less.
I specifically remember sitting in the audience at Bethesda’s 2018 E3 showcase when Andrew WK popped up on stage and thinking - ‘Wait, why am I here? Shouldn’t I be a excitable Fallout 76 influencer for the purposes of everyone watching the stream?’ (You can still see YouTube comments laughing at the audience for not being more into it.)
At this point, it had become clear that - well, that the purpose of E3 was unclear. Companies didn’t have to cluster their announcements around June, because there were less physical copies being ordered by Toys “R” Us buyers to go under the Xmas tree. (In fact, there was basically no Toys “R” Us at all.)
Throughout this, let’s not forget that the E3 organizing body Entertainment Software Association is not, at its heart, an event organizing group. (It partners with a former IDG exec on the operational side of the show.)
The ESA was - and has been - a U.S. lobbying organization, funded by major game companies so legislation doesn’t stop them from selling and marketing their video games. As Doug Lowenstein said on his departure from the ESA in 2006: “So for us the issue revolves around concerns about content… Fundamentally, the challenges for the industry are to continue to build the accessibility and the acceptability of video games in the world.”
To some great extent, I would say - job done? And as large companies go direct to consumer at ‘whatever time of year they want’ - something that was already happening, before COVID made large gatherings tricky - it increases the chances that the ESA’s member companies want the association to stick to its original, core job. (With less of the being difficult to video game historians, please.)
But going back to the ‘how we’re feeling now’: E3 was absolutely responsible for some amazing moments I experienced in person, from the custom Cirque Du Soleil Kinect reveal (!) to smaller, more insane gems like Akira Yamaoka’s ‘Let It Die’ concert. We’ve been starved of it by COVID - but we all need real, physical events that spark joy and wonder. Let’s have more of those around games, safely, however they manifest.
The game discovery news round-up..
OK, let’s take a canter around the main video game discovery and platform news since last Wednesday, shall we? There can’t be too many news items… *looks at list*… oh. Still, we’ll have you out of here in less than ten bullet-points:
Some more ‘not E3, but adjacent temporally’ streaming show alerts: PC Gaming Show is back on June 12th, the Future Of Play Direct showcase (above) is also taking place during Summer Game Fest and looking for submissions, and - even I’m having trouble keeping up. (According to this, Future Games Show is also looking for submissions.)
There’s a bit more info out there about Sony’s PSVR 2 thanks to a Unity talk at GDC: “If you’re a developer in particular, you’re likely to find some interesting insights into making games for the device here, particularly for controller input and eye-tracking.” It’s unclear if the high-end approach is right reach-wise, but it’ll make for some striking games!
This interview with Xbox’s Chris Charla, in which he noted that ID@Xbox devs have earned more than $2.5 billion in royalties LTD, reminded me that Xbox has done a wonderful job of - as he says: “normaliz[ing] indie games as crucial platform content.” Charla is right - this didn’t have to happen, and it’s only with internal champions that so many great indies make it to Xbox, Game Pass, etc.
Devs located in Greater China with English language versions of your games (or trailers)? The Enter The Dragon Steam festival, organized by Pixmain, is coming up later this month - April 23rd to 30th - so you might want to submit your game.
Look, a new ‘metaverse’ consumer survey with some interesting conclusions: “Marketing executives are way more excited about branded campaigns in metaverse campaigns than actual consumers; Only 1/3rd of all US consumers who understand the concept are excited about the Metaverse & consider it a positive technology; Nearly half of all consumers who understand the Metaverse concept associate it with Facebook/Meta (!!!).”
How do mobile games soft-launch? I found this blog on how Wooga’s Switchcraft did it helpful. Some Google platform sell in there, but also honesty from Wooga: “The soft launch was planned for 3 months but took 6 months because the first attempt failed after only one and a half months… we quickly discovered that our FTUE (first-time-user-flow) was not performing. So we had to stop UA (user acquisition) to focus on rebuilding our FTUE.”
Facebook parent company Meta “said that its second annual Meta Quest Gaming Showcase will take place April 20. The event gives fans of the VR headset the latest on new games and more. Start time is set for 10 a.m. PT on Facebook, YouTube, Twitch and Oculus TV.” Given Quest’s burgeoning player base, worth a look.
More signs that Russia is splitting from the rest of the world on copyright & ownership of games: the government “announced that it would begin to ignore copyright restrictions in a policy it calls “parallel imports” that essentially legalizes intellectual piracy”, as Wargaming is divesting its business in Russia and Belarus.
Microlinks: Xbox looks to be moving ahead with a Game Pass family plan; the UK consumer games market reached a record figure of £7.16bn in 2021, “growing by 1.90% from the previous record of £7bn”; Amazon Prime Gaming can be great promo for your games via free IAP/perks, as shown by this massive Blizzard team-up.
Finally, it’s a bit of a deep cut, but Sony not being able to emulate PlayStation 3 easily for the PlayStation Plus reboot, due to the Cell processor? It reminded me of this (extremely fictional) NeoGAF fanfic on how Mark Cerny took over hardware design on PS4 and PS5 from the ‘notoriously complex’ Ken Kutaragi, and the T-shirt 'somebody' made inspired by it:
[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.]