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Prototypes, publishing, pitching, oh my!
Please imagine George Takei saying this.
[The GameDiscoverCo game discovery newsletter is written by ‘how people find your game’ expert & GameDiscoverCo founder Simon Carless, and is a regular look at how people discover and buy video games in the 2020s.]
As we saunter even closer to the ‘holiday season’, it’s time to return to the ol’ faithful GameDiscoverCo newsletter - to see what’s been geysering up in terms of game discovery and platform news.
And BTW, are you all having fun with your new ‘video game systems’? (I, too, have bought the latest advanced hardware. That’s what you’re all playing, right?) Anyhow, let’s get on with this edition of the newsletter:
Publisher pitching tips and percentages?
There’s a couple of notable articles/threads this week trying to get deeper into what publishers need or want from developers nowadays.
Firstly, Xsolla’s Justin Berenbaum has a GamesBeat guest post on pitching your game which I found full of useful and actionable information. It’s great to see another no-nonsense take on the basic information you need to pitch. (Some devs still have a temptation to make too many slides, often involving story synopses or concept art!)
I found it notable that Justin said this so pointedly: “Developers: Do not sign deals with “publishers or investors” when they are not committing money toward the development, marketing, or PR of your game. The promise of “Well, you finish your game and we’ll market it” in exchange for 50% of the revenue (or more) isn’t worth the paper it’s printed on!”
I largely agree with this, especially if publishers are offering no-advance cuts as high as 50%. (This is out of the ordinary - remember folks, Kellen Voyer’s recent survey gives you a good idea of the deals currently being signed, %-wise.)
IMO, deals with a lower cut to publisher (25-30%) and no advance can be fine - as long as they are employing staff to directly work on your game. And I’d like to throw in a caveat in the opposite direction. Beware publishers who put a $250k marketing spend in the publishing package that they recoup against the game’s net revenue, and then blow it all on poor-ROI advertising. (That happens too.)
Elsewhere in the piece, I nodded at Justin’s mea culpa on behalf of publishers as to why their ‘yay/nay’ publishing answers come sooo slowwwly: “There are many stakeholders in the decision-making process, and one dissenting voice may be the nail in the coffin for funding for your game. On top of that, getting timely feedback from every stakeholder is often an exercise in herding cats.”
BTW, Justin’s article is the second in a series. Here’s the first, which includes the following interesting graph I hadn’t seen before (not sure exactly how it was extrapolated):
Cosmic genre/pitch graphs? It’s groovy, man!
Wanted to highlight a long/complex but interesting Twitter thread by Kyle Kukshtel (Cantata). Kyle has put together an interesting visualization around pitching your game to publishers, focusing on where certain genres fit (cost vs. complexity) for making prototypes.
Here’s one of his master graphs, which is absolutely not taken from a Scientology induction seminar (there’s no axis for Thetans, for starters!) or a radical conspiracy theory subReddit:
The graph’s focus is based around finding the ‘pitching sweet spot’ in terms of ‘% of uncompensated work done on the prototype’, vs. the ‘% of the game’s budget you’re asking for’.
Kyle notes: “The thesis of this chart is that, despite what publishers say, there IS an ideal time to pitch your game. However the developer really bears the blunt end of that decision.” It’s an innovative visualization approach to what is a fundamental dev problem if you want funding for your game - what genre, how much prototype?
His conclusion - which relates directly to the problem of prototype funding for game devs we talked about before: “The economics of this are F*CKED! It forces development to consolidate around the middle genres, and deviating outside of that means taking a bigger financial risk just to make something that you can effectively demo.”
The game discovery news round-up..
Finishing up, there’s an irritatingly substantial amount of things going on in the world of game platforms and discovery right now. And that’s in addition to the launch of the PlayStation 5 and Xbox Series S|X, which are firmly ensconced in the ‘hella sold out for early adopters, we’ll find out actual long-term demand in a few months’ camp. So let’s go go:
All the game hardware platforms are doing well in this lockdown-heavy world, but Nintendo Switch’s continued domination is worth remarking upon - “the best-selling video game console for 23 consecutive months” in the U.S. and more than 735,000 units sold in October 2020, second highest ever in NPD history and “only outdone by the 807,000 units sold of the Wii system in October 2008.” Switch still viable platform? Surely.
Missed this at the time, but the folks at ‘personalized influencer game store’ Nexus responded to my newsletter on them with a bunch of interesting stats about what they claim is working. For example: “When Karmakut (379,000 YouTube subscribers) launched his Creator Store in 2019, he didn’t change anything about his channel… yet he drove more than $17,000 in game sales in the first 30 days.”
Buried in Paradox Interactive’s extremely good financial results, a note that Crusader Kings III has “over 19,000 reviews on Steam and over 1,000,000 units sold.” So that’s 52 sales per review - within the 20-60 sales per review range that GameDiscoverCo surveyed back in August. (We think smash hit games tend towards the high end of the range, and cult favorite ones with vocal fans towards the bottom?)
Applause to Newzoo, which is continuing its move away from over-extrapolative ‘aspirational’ data and towards larger sample real-life estimates, for grabbing a bunch of launch ‘player’ data for PS5 and Xbox Series X|S, using player profile & achievement data (I believe?) Details: “More than a third of U.S.-based PlayStation 5 owners… played Black Ops or Spider-Man… Demon’s Souls boasted a PS5 player share of 15.8% in the U.S.”
Wanted to note that Evva Karr’s Founder’s Kit website - collecting game pitches and sundry other things for indie devs - has added some new pitch decks, including this one for Bear & Breakfast which I liked, as well as some U.S. example legal documents (MNDA, contractor agreement, etc!) which some might find helpful.
Steam’s top sellers for the week had a lot of the usual suspects in it - albeit with Destiny 2 shooting to the top of the chart, because of the Beyond Light launch. And interesting to see Football Manager 2021 all the way up at #4, showing how perennial that franchise is. (The game is doing something confusing where it officially lists its release as November 24th. But it’s been on sale since November 10th, saying that the early release is a Paid Beta.)
Microlinks: does a long-term ‘early access’ business model kill buzz for MMOs? (some thoughtful responses here!); here’s NPD’s top game titles for October 2020 across console/PC; Itch.io is giving its revenue share to developers on Black Friday, likely inspired by Bandcamp waiving its sales cut on select days. (Any other platforms want to step up?)
Finally, bonus link-wise, I really enjoyed this mini-documentary from Sam Sutherland that touches on social gaming and user-generated content in some heartwarming ways:
[This newsletter is handcrafted by GameDiscoverCo, a new agency based around one simple issue: how do players find, buy and enjoy your premium PC or console game. Exciting announcement coming later this week!]