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PlayStation's Plus reboot - the pluses and minuses?
We're looking at how the announce went yesterday.
[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.]
Well, we’re back, and guess what? Since the Monday newsletter, that ‘Sony subscription’ thing that we thought would get announced this week… actually happened! So we can have a go at deconstructing it for our lead story.
BTW, I don’t generally put game recommendations in newsletter intros, but Patrick’s Parabox just debuted on Steam. I got to check it out when I still worked at GDC (it won ‘Excellence In Design’ at the 2020 Independent Games Festival), and it’s one of the most innovative puzzle games since Baba Is You. Here’s a trailer, plz blow yr mind.
[PSA: it’s the final week to get 30% off the first year of GameDiscoverCo Plus deal. You get data-rich exclusive newsletters (what’s really selling & why?), custom Steam/console charts to rank and export, two eBooks, a member-only Discord & more.]
PlayStation Plus reboot: announce wins & losses
There’s already been a bunch of Internet chatter - and smart op-eds - about Sony’s newly announced PlayStation Plus reboot, which is scheduled to come out in June. And yes, the details are pretty close to those leaked. But just for the record, with $ in USD:
PlayStation Plus: 2x monthly downloadable games, online multiplayer, discounts, cloud storage: $9.99/month, $59.99/year.
PlayStation Plus Extra: all of the above plus “a catalog of up to 400 of the most enjoyable PS4 and PS5 games” for download while you are subscribed: $14.99/month, $99.99/year.
PlayStation Plus Premium: all of the above, plus “up to 340 additional games”, including PS3 games available via cloud streaming, PlayStation, PS2 and PSP games for download/streaming, time-limited game trials, and some extra cloud streaming access for Plus/Extra games: $17.99/month, $119.99/year.
There’s some additional disclaimers, for example the fact that “for markets without cloud streaming, PlayStation Plus Deluxe will be offered at a lower price compared to Premium” and minus the PS3 games - which are cloud-streamed only.
The announcement came alongside a slightly defensive Jim Ryan interview with GI.biz, describing Sony’s view of Day 1 releases into PlayStation Plus: “It's not a road that we're going to go down with this new service. We feel if we were to do that with the games that we make at PlayStation Studios, that virtuous cycle will be broken. The level of investment that we need to make in our studios would not be possible, and we think the knock-on effect on the quality of the games that we make would not be something that gamers want.”
Look, as we’ve discussed at length, Xbox has the ability - as part of a much larger company that makes great profit on Windows and Azure - to not worry so much about being very profitable. So it can be super aggressive on Day 1 games in Game Pass. (They don’t want to lose money, and generally haven’t been, if you exclude the, uhh, multi-billion dollar cost of acquisitions.)
PlayStation is now arguably the flagship brand for a venerable Japanese company which just doesn’t think ‘breakeven to build market share’. In part, that’s because since it needs the division to keep becoming more profitable to drive Sony’s stock price. That’s the major reason for the different approaches, in my view.
Anyhow, I think online reaction to these new PlayStation Plus tiers has been, well, mixed. Just to point out a random online Twitter comment: “18 dollars a month is crazy. How is it more than gamepass but not nearly as good?” Perhaps not super fair, but a surface-level view. But let’s break this all down a little:
The basic strategy here is sound: it’s the same basic idea that Microsoft did with Xbox Live Gold gradually getting deprecated into Game Pass. You keep offering attractive upsell packages - and perhaps limited time offers - and you can keep getting people to jump up from tier to tier.
The monthly vs. yearly pricing gap is a mistake: it may be for historical reasons, but the gap between ‘monthly pricing x 12’ and ‘yearly pricing’ is gigantic. It’s as high as 45% (!) more expensive to pay monthly, which seems super large for consumer subs. This newsletter itself has a 17% gap ($15/month vs. $150 per year.) And Xbox has just standardized on monthly plans, so doesn’t even have a yearly comparison.
In the absence of competition, that would be fine. But people are comparing Xbox’s prices to PlayStation’s via those inflated monthly prices. This leads to people comparing e.g. $17.99/month (PS Premium) to $14.99/month (Xbox Ultimate), vs. the real yearly costs of $119/year (PS) and $180/year (Xbox). That’s unfortunate, especially since Jim Ryan said over 2/3rds of PS+ subs paid yearly.
Something (leaks?) didn’t make for a content-first announce: it’s possible that all the media leaks on the format of the PlayStation Plus revamp made Sony announce it before they were truly ready. Or perhaps they didn’t appreciate that game names, not structure would be the thing that got people excited.
Either way, if Sony had launched with lots of logos of awesome-looking games, rather than trailing belatedly in the PR that “Death Stranding, God of War, Marvel’s Spider-Man, Marvel’s Spider-Man: Miles Morales, Mortal Kombat 11, and Returnal” would be some of the titles in Plus Extra, then people would have got much more excited. Heck, I bet a lot of the retro titles will get people amped. But they’re not there yet on content acquisition, maybe?
Overall, I do think that these extra PlayStation tiers can work. Some of the games they’re lining up for PlayStation Plus Extra are going to be very good. Though I hope there’s space for small/medium indies like in Xbox Game Pass, and the PS+ tiers won’t just be ‘greatest/obvious bangers’ in the Extra tier, and then a whole bunch of (playtime compensated?) big-label older catalog titles in the Premium tier.
But I do think Sony should have torn some things apart, instead of trying to build on the exact existing services that already existed. It’s created a slightly muddled melange of tiers and products. Maybe with the amount of people already subscribed to PS+, that was tricky. But the other elements were more dynamite-able. That’s just my 2c.
Listen, platform marketing is difficult: it really is. You need to have all your ducks in a row from an internal perspective to present yourself to the market. And sometimes integrated platform marketing teams don’t truly exist within these large companies that historically haven’t needed them.
As for where I see the market: Nintendo does platform marketing poorly, Xbox does it very well, Steam does it increasingly well. And I don’t think that PlayStation completely has it together, based on this rollout. But I do think it will improve, and the game line-up will probably look impressive when it all comes together. So roll on launch, eh?
GameDiscoverCo - a sub milestone & state of biz!
When I was meeting with folks at GDC, there were a few folks curious about how this whole GameDiscoverCo thing was going. And since we always preach transparency in business, and try to get people to provide real data - here’s our real data (above!) Notes:
The GameDiscoverCo newsletter uses Substack, a popular newsletter platform, and we’re so happy to have just hit 10,000 free subscribers (!!) and 800 paid subs. Overall, our free newsletters get opened at a median rate of 40-45% (pretty high?) & Plus newsletters having a 55% open rate.
Money-wise, we’re sitting at #13 in the list of top-grossing Substack technology newsletters, and the top video game-related one. (BTW, the paid subs figure above includes some more expensive group subs, and also comps. The number of individual payees is 500+ and increasing gradually, but steadily.)
So that puts our yearly newsletter gross revenue trend - before Substack’s 10% cut and 3% credit card fees - between $75k and $100k USD. This might seem like a very large amount of money, just fine, or something else entirely, depending on where you live/work. (I live in the Bay Area, for some reason. :P)
Also bear in mind that GameDiscoverCo now has two other full-time contractors - Alejandro, who works with data & puts together the manually created Plus chart info, and Thomas, our lead coder for the Plus data back end.
If you included their costs, we’d be basically breakeven on the newsletter. But this is where GameDiscoverCo’s consultancy comes in. We’ve been fortunate to pick up a number of regular clients - generally small/medium sized publishers - who read the newsletter, and want help and advice on trends.
In addition, a publisher client is funding the vast majority of Thomas’ salary to work on some exclusive data-mining features. So we’re able to share the rest of his work with everyone in the Plus back end. That makes the whole setup more viable, happily.
BTW, here’s an artist’s impression of me last night, frantically reloading before the 10,000 subscriber milestone hit:
It’s been a real trip for me to build GameDiscoverCo as a bootstrapped business after 15 years at a large corporate. However, I do have privileges I should call out that allowed me to even try this. My wife’s job provides me healthcare benefits (otherwise a big cost in the U.S.) And I had savings to get me through the initial bootstrapping.
My original plan was to simply build a paid newsletter subscription business at scale. There are definitely people like ex-The Verge editor Casey Newton who’ve done that - he wrote a postmortem of his Platformer newsletter, which had 49,000 free readers, last September.
The paid newsletter model would work out fine for me over time, if I ran it solo. But it turns out that being generous with free newsletter content has attracted a lot of potential consulting partners. It’s allowed me the revenue lift to add coding and data help, and augment value for the paid newsletter further. So it’s synergy (ugh!) at work.
There’s a lot more I could write here: about whether the paid newsletter pricing was right, whether we give away too much data/insight for free, whether we actually send out too much content. (If you are a Plus subscriber and read all our newsletters, you’re reading the equivalent of 3 full-length novels per year!)
But we have a reader survey coming up in the next few weeks. We’ll leave the more existential questions to that. In the meantime: thanks for reading and supporting - myself, Alejandro and Thomas really appreciate it. Viva GameDiscoverCo!
The game discovery news round-up..
Moving past the navel-gazing (lol!), let’s get on to what’s going on in the world of video game platforms and discovery goodness. It’s only Wednesday, but there seems to be a large chunk of news built up already. Let’s take a look at it:
Lots of handy GDC talks last week, and the write-ups are popping up: GI.biz was kind enough to write up Victoria Tran’s piece on game devs using TikTok. And Chris Zukowski documented Derek Lieu and Dana Trebella’s talk on ‘fallacies encountered when marketing games’. Both great!
As ‘E3-adjacent publicity events’ build up speed, Day Of The Devs - from iam8bit and Double Fine - just announced it’s open for submissions until April 8th. Selected folks will be featured in its Summer Game Fest showcase, which I think gets choice streaming-related billing, just after the main Keighley-fest?
Video game finance bod Stephane Rappeneau says: “The valuation of game companies is a hot topic in the media, especially after 2 years of intense acquisitions. What are the main ways to value a tech/game company? If you sell your studio, how much can you reasonably expect?” Super useful stuff.
Yes, in ‘not good news for Web3 games’, a hacker stole $625 million from the blockchain behind NFT game Axie Infinity, and The Verge’s report on the disaster includes one of the best ‘conflict of interest’ statements I’ve ever seen: “Disclosure: Adi purchased three axies for a total of $105 last month in order to report on the game; axies currently sell starting at around $25 apiece.”
We talked about Ampere’s subscription research in the last newsletter, but this Axios piece illuminates another interesting angle: “Gaming subscription services amount to just 4% of the revenue in the North American and European game markets… That’s $3.7 billion, compared to nearly $81 billion generated from other spending on games, including the sale of discs, downloads and in-game add-ons.”
Brace Yourself Games founder Ryan Clark (Crypt Of The Necrodancer) was renowned for his mammoth Clark Tank streams, doing similar analytical goodness to this very newsletter! He stopped them in January 2021 - but he’s now doing posts on TikTok with great info on game hook, etc - check ‘em.
Demo woes? Michal Napora (founder of game marketing agency 32-33) made a new YouTube video talking about how you build marketing (press, streamers, video exclusives) around a demo. As he says: “Making a demo of your game takes time, money, and effort. So why not get the most goodness out of it?”
Microlinks: with global aspirations, Microsoft/Xbox is rolling out a PC Game Pass preview in Indonesia, Malaysia, Philippines, Thailand, and Vietnam; mobile-centric site GameRefinery has a piece on seven ways to take Battle Passes to the next level; the prestigious U.S. creative media Peabody Awards are finally honoring games, starting with Journey - and chatbot ELIZA.
Finally, since he Tweeted it himself, I presume he’s fine with 10,000 people reading it. But Future Friends Games founder Thomas Reisenegger (great PR/co-publishing firm, btw!) is having some letter ordering problems, and I can’t stop laughing about 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.]