SNKRX: anatomy of a sleeper hit
It's fun to drop in on a solo dev's perspective.
[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.]
We’re back again - and thanks for the positive comments on the most recent newsletters. In ‘extending reach’ news, we’ve had GamesIndustry.biz reprinting an updated version of the recent localization piece and IndieGames JP translating the recent Hundred Days analysis into Japanese.
Plus, I had a lot of fun being the latest guest on the Community Feedback Loop podcast (Spotify, Apple Podcasts), talking game discovery and community with Bob Holtzman (Co-Op Mode) - we recommend checking it out.
(FYI: we’ll be sending out a special missive tomorrow about the newest GameDiscoverCo Plus subscriber perks. But feel free to sign up in the meantime for Discord, exclusive newsletter & data goodness - it helps keep this free newsletter running!)
SNKRX - sneaking to a Steam hit, how?
We’ve mentioned it once or twice in the newsletter, but it’s time for a deeper dive into SNKRX, the “arcade shooter roguelite where you control a snake of heroes that automatically attack nearby enemies.”
It launched on Steam on May 17th, and has already racked up 1,500 Overwhelmingly Positive Steam reviews - at a eye-openingly cheap $2.99 price point. (It also just added mobile ports.) The game is from a solo young Brazilian developer, and he’s been amazingly transparent on discovery & financials in a blog started after the game’s debut.
There’s actually almost too much data to take in, but trying to distil it down to just a few takeaways:
The game had a slow start, but has a killer hook/mechanics
At the start of its Steam life, there just wasn’t a bump - SNKRX was selling 5-15 copies per hour at $2.99 or local equivalents. That’s not terrible - but it’s also not great. But comparing it to the dev’s previous game, Bytepath, you can already see a different pattern:
SNKRX is roguelike a super addictive 15-20 minute ‘run’ and a lot of replayability - interestingly, some describe it as an ‘auto chess roguelike’ because there are AI/auto battling elements to it. And virally, people starting picking up on the innovation, despite the basic graphics.
As the dev adn/a327x says: “One day after the Hacker News post [about open sourcing the game], both jwaaaap and Derek Yu recommended the game to their followers. I don’t know where they heard about the game, I can assume either Twitter, the lessons learned post I wrote, or something else.” So - being transparent about game seems to have helped its spread too!
Twitter recommendations led to streamer pickup!
Continuing to chart his recommendations, a327x notes: “Esty8nine (pictured) picked up the game because of jwaaaap’s recommendation and he really seemed to enjoy it. After that Dan Gheesling played it due to Derek’s recommendation… SLEEPCYCLES was next… then Wanderbot, who also seemed to like it.. [then there was an even more popular video from] Retromation.”
So you can really see the effect of this recommendation snowball on sales of the game. After 20 days on sale on Steam, the daily units are trending upwards, not a normal thing at all:
Regular game updates lead to renewed attention!
Interestingly, a327x does a great job of documenting the changes in his approach in real-time, as he sees SNKRX snowball. For example, he realizes that he needs to be more efficient at updating the game with meaningful new features to keep streamers and players interested (GaaS, folks!).
In his dev blog, he says: “I’ve watched multiple GDC videos of different devs talking about their approach to updates.” (I helped to procure both videos he mentioned - Path Of Exile and Slay The Spire - when I worked at GDC, so was delighted they made a difference! )
The game was already on its way up. But you can see the content patch make a difference in daily active users, as people re-engaged with the game to see what new elements were available:
Bigger streamers give you… bigger viral effects!
Early this month, a327x noted “Northernlion played SNKRX on stream and then uploaded a video about it yesterday to YouTube. I think NL is probably the best YouTuber/streamer who could have played the game because he’s the biggest that generally plays roguelites and that ends up having a very focused effect on player numbers and sales.”
But there’s also a) the effect of Northernlion playing the game multiple times - which he ended up doing - and b) the downstream effect of other streamers who watch Northernlion, and like to try the same games as him. Both of which happened midway through June! Leading to the following results:
And now daily unique players of SNKRX aren’t 1,500 - they’re all the way up around the 10,000 mark:
So for adn/a327x, the ‘sleeper hit’ status of his game is, uh, confirmed. It’s done that rarest of things - starting off relatively low-profile, and then blowing up big. (Funnily enough, that’s also what Slay The Spire did on its release, and we also recently covered Nova Drift, a 2D space combat roguelite that did similarly!)
Takeaways for you, the average game dev/publisher? You just have to make a super replayable game with an absolutely killer hook, innovative mechanics, and sufficiently streamer-friendly for this particular crew of roguelite streamers, and you’ll be sorted. Easy, huh?
But post-release, streamers are - in our view - the only ways to meaningfully change your game’s basic trajectory on a day to day basis. (And by that, we mean - sure, you can have your game do 5x your first week’s revenue in the first year, if it’s got great word of mouth - instead of 2.5x-3.5x average. But 10x or 20x? Streamers & exactly the right game, baby.)
The game discovery news round-up..
OK, somehow my newsletter interface already says ‘draft near email limit length’ (to display properly on Gmail.) And we haven’t even written the GameDiscoverCo link round-up yet! So, uhh, let’s get to it:
There’s some PlayStation-centric complaining on Twitter right now among frustrated indies. Exhibit A: Iain Garner from Neon Doctrine; Exhibit B: Whitethorn Games’ Matthew White. Whether your game would have sold well there or not, Sony’s developer relations, internal rules, and (particularly!) tech infrastructure never scaled from the retail era to account for an exponentially larger amount of devs. No amount of indie-centric evangelists can fix this - the platform needs more DIY tech for devs.
We’ve talked about TikTok for game discovery for PC/console games quite a lot, but hypercasual (free) mobile games also do great there. Example: High Heels! from Uncosoft & Rollic/Zynga - the studio got acquired by Zynga recently, here’s a super popular TikTok featuring the game, Zynga’s Bernard Kim told me “an overwhelming organic reception” is why a lot of these games take off. Things to learn about visual hook here? (Bonus: here’s another helpful ‘how to do TikTok’ article on GI.biz.)
Just wrapping up ‘E3 week’, found this GI.biz article on the top streams and games of the show very helpful. There’s (Elden Ring-first!) insights from ICO and Fancensus in there, as well as GameStop’s 10 most pre-ordered titles after E3, which I had missed - headed by Metroid Dread and the next Legend Of Zelda. (Physical games x Nintendo forever!)
Interesting to see Sony/PlayStation buying Returnal dev Housemarque, and the comments by Sony’s Hermen Hulst in this GQ interview seem notable: “We're very selective about the developers that we bring in. Our last new acquisition was Insomniac [for $229 million in 2019], which has worked out very well… They’re very, very targeted acquisitions of teams that we know well.” No ‘spray and pray’ dollar-wise from Sony, then…
Microlinks: just noting VGReleaseList as another source of ‘what big games are coming out when?’, the Video Game Pitch Bot is a very silly AI Twitter bot pitching you games 24/7: “Townscaper meets Quake II but now with romance.”; more signs of ‘Roblox as a platform’, according to this interview with Talewind on their lofty aspirations.
And don’t miss the follow-up Tweet from Tom where he points to post-Beta ‘what score would you give this?’ surveys for his game Tactical Breach Wizards as “the only way I can ever tell if I’m doing my job” before launch. Audience & data, folks!
[We’re GameDiscoverCo, a new agency based around one simple issue: how do players find, buy and enjoy your premium PC or console game? You can subscribe to GameDiscoverCo Plus to get access to exclusive newsletters, interactive daily rankings of every unreleased Steam game, and lots more besides.]