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PC & console games: predictions for 2023
What took us so long? Also: lots of GDC news & 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.]
It’s mid-GDC week, and a bit on the hectic side. But we’re still bringing you plenty of news and views from the wild, woolly world of game discovery. Because… how could we not?
Also: due to popular demand, we brought back our 25% off all ‘Plus’ subscriptions deal for the next 2 weeks. It’s got good stuff: Discord access, an extra weekly game analysis newsletter, ‘live’ Steam Hype dataset, 2x eBooks, and more - details here.
2023 in PC & console games: our predictions…
Earlier in the year, one of our clients asked us for ‘trends for the year for PC/console games’. And look, we have a whole bunch of opinions on this. So here’s an augmented and updated list, before Q1 ends (better late than never!)
Successful PC genres are getting deeper and more involved: time and again, if we’re looking at good-performing titles on Steam, they are getting more complex in terms of gameplay. (But not necessarily graphics!) Think: factory automation games, complex management titles, crafting, etc. Also getting bigger: online co-op, which is really, really important for reach nowadays.
New GaaS titles are finding top games tricky to dislodge: according to our estimates, we’re seeing just 8 games with >1 million DAU on PlayStation, and less than 60 with >100k DAU, from the entire PS4/PS5 catalog. Many of those top titles (Fortnite, GTA V, Rocket League, etc.) have built up 5-10 years of content to attract and retain. And it’s just harder to compete with them than many realized.
PC first, console later is ‘in’ for non-AAA: this makes more sense than it used to for smaller titles. You can launch something on PC in Early Access, and then ship to console timed to the 1.0 release if it does well. You can make more bets, and the audience can help hammer out bugs on PC. (The upside for simul-launch is still there for the biggest games - or Switch-friendly smaller titles - though.)
The ‘middle’ of the PC/console market is starting to see dubious ROI: perhaps it’s better to fund something more epic that looks AAA and costs $3-7 million, rather than getting stuck in the middle with a $1.5 mil game that visually compares to a bootstrapped $150k game? In the ‘middle’, if you have to rely on Game Pass deals to break even, that helps - but it’s terribly tricky to plan for.
Switch still struggles to grow in importance, due to store discovery issues: a friend of mine told me that his buddy, who doesn’t normally play consoles, got a Switch recently. Buddy’s first Q: ‘What’s with all the $1 games?’ Not good! So yes, discount-heavy approaches can break through. But discovering non-charting games is still a disaster, and some ‘Switch-friendly’ games sell better on PC now.
Specific tag & genre-wise, a few stand out on PC: we still think City Builder (#2 out of 95 genre tags on GameDiscoverCo Plus’ pre-release Steam tag ranking) can be super powerful. Look at the positive early reaction (14k followers!) to SteamWorld Build, for example. Colony Sim is still a super big deal as a tag (#4), and we also want to give a shout-out to undersupplied tags like Political Sim (#6). There’s no ‘instant hit’ subgenre, but there are some that have better odds...
So that’s what we’ve got. You may agree, you may disagree, you may want to complain to us that we’re just not as good as Nostradamus*. But them’s the breaks.
*Whom we believe correctly predicted Sony vs Xbox’s antitrust fight, back in 1555:
“Too late the king [Sony] will repent
that he did not put his adversary [Xbox] to death.
But he will soon come to agree to far greater things [a 10-year CoD licensing deal]
which will cause all his line [the PlayStation 6?] to die.”
Steam Deck - how many players are you getting?
Did you know that Steam’s back end now has a special ‘Steam Deck players’ section, which allows all developers and publishers to see Deck DAU and playtime hours for their own games? We didn’t, but 11 Bit’s Piotr Bajraszewski gave us a heads up on it.
He’d been meeting with Valve at GDC and they mentioned the page. You can see the last 3 months for strategy publisher Hooded Horse above, for example. (Data reprinted with HH’s permission!) In their case, Steam Deck is 0.37% of total playtime, currently.
We thought that this page wasn’t linked from the Steam back end. But it turns out it is, on the Players page - just click on the ‘switch to Steam Deck player stats’ link. There’s also per-app details, with Against The Storm heading Hooded Horse’s line-up:
We may do an anon survey on Deck game share soon. In the meantime, my buddies at No More Robots have Steam Deck as a larger percentage - 1.45% - of total player time, in part due to Deck-friendly games like Descenders & Yes, Your Grace.
While these stats won’t help us to work out Steam Deck’s installed base (which we guesstimate is in between 1 and 2 million right now, but scaling rapidly) - it will at least show how much your games are being played on Steam’s cute portable device.
The game discovery news round-up..
There’s quite a lot of announcements, since it’s the Wednesday of GDC. Some of them may have to wait until next Monday’s newsletter. But here’s what we’ve got:
Epic’s biggest announcements at GDC include the debut of Unreal Editor for Fortnite, alongside a pledge to “proportionally distribute 40% of the net revenue from Fortnite’s Item Shop and most real-money Fortnite purchases to all island publishers on a monthly basis.” (This includes Epic’s own content, tho, but still!) And it’s unifying its asset marketplaces under the Fab brand later this year.
Xbox publicly announced the (already existing!) ID@Xbox Developer Acceleration Program, which “empowers underrepresented creators” via porting & prototype grants and useful info. Also announced during GDC from them is “the first console platform to release dedicated energy and carbon emissions measurement tools”.
An open-source Apple code release “mentions ‘realityOS’ and ‘Reality Simulator’ [alongside] currently existing platforms such as iOS, macOS, and watchOS”, and… we’re still waiting for that reveal! 9to5Mac says: “The first iteration of [Apple’s AR/VR] headset is expected to be unveiled at WWDC in June, with the device going on sale later in the year.”
Arkane’s Harvey Smith discussed the canned PlayStation version of Redfall in a new interview: “We were acquired by Microsoft [as part of Bethesda] and it was a change with capital C. They came in and they said 'No PS5, we're focusing on Xbox, PC and the Game Pass'.” This undercuts Xbox’s ‘Mr. Nice Guy’ pitch a tad, but it true.
The latest ‘state of the stream’ overview for Feb. 2023 digs the wizard: “Hogwarts Legacy entered the top 10 on Twitch as the first big debut of the year. In 2022, the top two debut games were Lost Ark and Elden Ring who both surpassed 70M hours watched, which would put Hogwarts Legacy at #3 with 50M+ hours [if it launched last year.]”
GDC tidbits: game lawyer Kellen Voyer had some good publishing contract tips in a talk early in the week. And if you’re ready to book ahead, some pics from Game Developers Conference banners reveal that GDC 2024 is being held March 18th-22nd, 2024, woo!
Quantic Foundry looked at their player preference data for 13,500+ trans and non-binary gamers, collected between June 2015 and January 2023, and extrapolated a whole bunch of interesting findings: “trans and non-binary gamers have a profile that clearly leans towards the Immersion and Creativity motivations.”
A prominent Chinese video game association has “released a draft of self-discipline rules to govern the promotion and distribution of new titles” from companies like Tencent, iDreamSky & more. The gist: “Many games were illegally published and promoted, flooding the market. Continuing this trend is not conducive to the healthy development of the.. game industry.” (Self-governing better than gov crackdowns?)
ICYMI: Newzoo’s latest report on the PC/console space, as summarized by GI.biz, has: “PC and console games (total): $92.3 billion, down 2.2% year-on-year… The market intelligence firm attributed the slight decrease in consumer spending partly to fewer console game releases in 2022.”
Microlinks: HTC announces inside-out tracker for VR accessories & body tracking; a mobile Frozen City post-IDFA global launch UA case study; how the Mirror 2 adult Steam game devs “went from urban hero to fans cheering their bankruptcy in two years”.
Finally, for those who are in the U.S. and didn’t file your 2022 taxes yet, boy, do we have a Steam game opportunity for you, thanks to perpetual pranksters MSCHF?
[We’re GameDiscoverCo, an agency based around one simple issue: how do players find, buy and enjoy your PC or console game? We run the newsletter you’re reading, and provide consulting services for publishers, funds, and other smart game industry folks.]