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Steam Next Fest - which games were hot & why?
Also: those Meta announcements, and loads more besides...
[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.]
GameDiscoverCo is back (from Disneyland, with a shrunken zombie head in our hand luggage.) And just in time, by the look of it - since there’s been a veritable explosion of news on the game platform and discovery front.
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A look at Steam Next Fest’s top games & trends!
As many of you are probably aware, Steam’s latest ‘free demos for lots of games!’ showcase Next Fest took place from October 3rd to 10th, and showcased hundreds of upcoming PC games - to varying degrees of player interest.
Last time, you may recall that bots ruined the concurrent user count for games, ‘cos a Steam badge was linked to playing demos. This time, Valve smartly made the badge about discovery queue exploration, which allowed us to get ‘real’ demo CCU counts.
So our ‘manual data wrangler’ Alejandro grabbed the top 30 October Next Fest games by max Steam CCU for the demo, and arranged them in this GameDiscoverCo-exclusive document. [EDIT: we missed a couple of games such as Manor Lords and Undecember, and have added them!] Just excerpting the Top 10:
Some notable takeaways from the biggest titles from October 2022’s Next Fest:
The popularity curve for top Steam demos is a hockey-stick: perhaps not surprising, but a top-CCU game in Next Fest, Undecember (a F2P Diablo-a-like), got 16,500 simultaneous players during the Fest. But only seven games in total got >1,000 CCU, and less than 50 got >100 CCU. That’s some dropoff.
The biggest Next Fest games aren’t necessarily recognizable: one of the cool things about the Cambrian explosion of games is that there’s a lot of under-the-radar goodness. I personally only recognized 4 of the top 12 - medieval builder Manor Lords, the Vampire Survivors-ish Soulstone, Tinybuild’s long-in-dev Hello Neighbor 2 & spaceship builder Cosmoteer.
We can guess at DAU (and maybe total demo downloads?) from CCU: roughly, daily active users on Steam are as low as 7x CCU (for much-played games!) and as high as 15x CCU (for less-played ones.) For example, Soulstone Survivors perhaps had 30,000 daily players & then 100-150,000 for the entire week? (That’s a big guesstimate.)
As for trends in the genres of games that were popular, Alejandro kindly looked at the Top 5 Steam tags for each of the Top 30 Next Fest games. Here’s the top ‘top tags’:
Some of these tags are too generic to get much takeaway. But diving into the specifics: ‘sandbox’, ‘roguelite’, and ‘survival’ seem to index well, and microgenres like ‘action roguelike’, ‘action RPG’, ‘colony sim’, and ‘card battler’ had 3+ entries.
The story, to us, is actually that no particular genre dominated - which is great? Though the Top 30 seems light on very cozy/wholesome titles, intriguingly (maybe they demo less well? Though the top titles aren’t 100% dystopian, either - it’s a mix.)
Anyhow - overall, some of the bigger-CCU Western games from this Fest include ‘topdown co-op action shooter’ (From Space), ‘seafaring co-operative roguelite’ (Ship of Fools), and ‘procgen top-down post-apocalypse survival’ (Zero Sievert).
So we’d definitely recommend spending time poking at the Top 20-30 games. We do think Next Fest demo success is a good indicator of overall interest on release. (If your game didn’t do so well, streamers can still find it later, tho!) And if you didn’t try it yet, looks like it’s time to register for February 2023’s Next Fest, already. *phew*
Forget the Quest Pro - let’s poke at game ecosystem stats!
OK, there was a lot of hoopla this week around the launch of the Quest Pro VR headset at $1,500, and what it meant for the future of the metaverse - and Meta. (Here’s a good round-up of “takeaways for 5 types of viewers that Meta wanted to reach.”)
Our short answer to that Q? We think the Pro is a stalking horse for the 2023 launch of the Quest 3, which’ll have proper color passthrough for AR, and cost somewhere close - or slightly above - the current Quest 2 pricing.
So if we’re going to skip the thinkpiece on Quest Pro, what we really want to do is drill down on the Quest ecosystem, now there are likely almost 15 million Quest 2 headsets out there. And there’s a Meta blog about milestones. Summarizing:
Stress Level Zero’s VR physics sim Bonelab did goood: “Last month, BONELAB hit the $1 million [gross revenue] mark in less than an hour, setting the record as the fastest-selling app in Meta Quest history.” For Plus subscribers who read our Quest mini-commentary on Fridays, you’ll know we spotted this spike. We now estimate 600k units sold already, and >$20 million gross on Quest alone.
Some other impressive title-specific milestones are shouted out: “Both Zenith: The Last City and Resident Evil 4 made over $1 million in under 24 hours, and Blade & Sorcery: Nomad hit that mark in two days. And The Walking Dead: Saints & Sinners has surpassed $50 million in revenue on Meta Quest alone, nearly double its revenue on all other platforms.” So that’s all kinda impressive..
Quest users are definitely spending $ on games: The blog notes: “To date, $1.5 billion has been spent on games and apps in the Meta Quest Store, and roughly one in three titles are making revenue in the millions.” Again, this sounds delicious, right - revenue in the millions? (Remember the ‘main’ store is closely curated, though.)
In general, the picture is rosy. It seems like Quest players keep using their headsets - in part because they’re not connected to a console or PC you can also play games on!
The only caveat we’d have is that as more and more games launch in the Quest store, some new titles are running ‘slower’ compared to a few months ago, as ‘evergreen’ games start to rule the roost.
This is normal supply and demand at work. Nonetheless, look at this week’s top Quest games, per GameDiscoverCo Plus (each rating might be 75 units sold for paid games):
This chart is actually more evenly balanced by ‘vintage’ games than we thought. New games like Bonelab, NFL Pro Era and Into The Radius complement continued sales from older games like Demeo, Beat Saber, and Blade & Sorcery.
But the point stands. Blade & Sorcery: Nomad is selling 25,000 copies a week - every week. Whereas most recent official Quest store titles seem to be selling between 5,000 and 40,000 units in their first 3 months on sale. Still, as a minimum amount, that ain’t bad?
We suspect that a lot of those 33% of Quest titles that have gross revenue >$1 million launched in the time when there was a more severe lack of games. So perhaps the ratio of ‘brand new’ games grossing >$1 million won’t reach 33%, going forward.
But hey, given everything going down with Horizon Worlds, it seems like Meta’s video game strategy is way better honed than its metaverse strategy. Which is sorta good if “The 'real' metaverse already exists and it's called 'Fortnite'“, we guess?
The game discovery news round-up..
Before we finish up for the week re: free newsletters, here’s a chunk of sparkling knowledge ore. You’re welcome to crunch up for the nuggets of game discovery & platform info there-in:
The UK’s Competition & Markets Authority has detailed its potential objections [.PDF] to Microsoft buying Activision Blizzard, and MS’ PR & lobbyists are straight in there, replying to GI.biz and saying: “While Sony may not welcome increased competition, it has the ability to adapt and compete. Gamers will ultimately benefit from this increased competition and choice.”
We were interested to note that Volition & Deep Silver said that Saints Row has had over 1 million players across all platforms. We looked into our upcoming GameDiscoverCo Pro data on console, & looks like PlayStation makes up 600k of those, and Xbox just over 250k. So the Epic Games Store PC version must account for 150k of those units, roughly? Interesting…
Game biz analyst David Gibson has been poking around shipping manifests for Sony, as you do, and found out: “Sony Interactive shipped around 7.5 million kilograms of stock to the US in September 2022. This was an increase of 400% (or five times the size) of the 1.5 million kilograms shipped to the US in September 2021.” Unless these are all Mark Cerny ASMR CDs, probably means more PS5s are coming?
How did Twitchcon go? Today Off Stream has a full round-up of a particularly eventful show, which had some logistical issues (had they not heard of DreamSMP?) and at least one dangerous vendor booth. However: “Despite the mixed bag of on-scene semi-disasters, most creators walked away with a positive experience.”
The crew at my old employer Game Developers Conference has just launched the State Of The Industry survey ahead of GDC 2023. (Please fill it out, so we can get interesting results like 2022’s survey, which showed “over one-third of respondents (34%) sided with Epic Games” in Epic vs Apple - and just 8% with Apple.)
The PlayStation Plus ‘Game Catalog’ additions for October are here, and they include the GTA Vice City remake, Dragon Quest XI S, Assassin’s Creed Odyssey, The Medium, Naruto to Boruto: Shinobi Striker & more - a strong line-up, actually. (Oh, and Everyday Shooter on PS3, though the ‘Classics’ tier for PS+ Premium is still limping along a little bit for PS1/PSP titles.)
Here’s another interesting take on Overwatch 2, which correctly notes: “Many games that have transitioned to a live service model, like Bungie's Destiny 2, have been met with player backlash. This is in part because gamers often compare the way gaming products used to make money with how they do now.” But also, the bar is so high: “Players now expect Fortnite & will be disappointed if a new live service game falls short.”
Indie publisher Whitethorn (Calico) has gone ultra-transparent, sharing average employee salary ($51,000 across 35 staffers), average ‘per game’ direct funding ($232,100), average net revenue split to them (28%), and average direct marketing spend ($56,000). I don’t 100% get the firm’s route to profitability - besides publishing a smash hit - but gotta respect the hustle to put the $ out there.
Where, oh where, is Xbox Cloud Gaming available this week? When you search for game names on MS’ Bing search engine? Check. On the Meta Quest VR platform in the near future? Check. More easily on Surface Pro now that the Xbox app works for ARM chips? Check. Looking forward to ‘Cloud Gaming on your fingernails’ next…
Microlinks: after Overwatch 2 semi-rescinded is phone number requirement, Call of Duty: Modern Warfare II is another multiplayer game planning ‘phone number for reg’; Phil Spencer leaves old Xbox streaming protos on his shelf to confuse people; Take-Two’s Strauss Zelnick is just fine with the Microsoft/Activision deal, cos his evergreen hits just keep truckin’; why games criticism never went mainstream?
Finally, what’s the scariest bug ever triggered in a video game? On Twitter, GSK translated a ‘90s Sega arcade game error that seems… bad: “Legendary Sega composer Hiroshi ‘Hiro.’ Kawaguchi on the [Sega] R360: ‘Programmer Macchi was debugging alone late at night (which we'd been told to never do) & a bug caused the rotating chassis to freeze with him upside-down, and a patrolling security guard ended up helping him down’.”
And if you haven’t seen a Sega R360 - they’re fairly rare, unfortunately - this should help you visualize why this might be a problem:
[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.]