Steam refund messages: the silly & the sensible

We're a serious newsletter, got to mix it up here.

[The GameDiscoverCo game discovery newsletter is written by ‘how people find your game’ expert Simon Carless, and is a regular look at how people discover and buy video games in the 2020s.]

Welcome to another week of game platform and discovery goodness, from your friends at GameDiscoverCo. Hope you had a happy and healthy weekend - and here we go again!

Steam, (funny) refund messages and you

If you remember, I recently asked devs to go digging around in their Steam user refund comments, to see what amusing things turned up. This was inspired by this Jake Birkett Tweet which surfaced the following refund reason for RPG card battler Ancient Enemy:

Well, thanks to everyone who replied to the GameDiscoverCo Tweet on the topic - here’s some of the best replies. Probably the randomest was this one from Jens Bahr for a player of Awake, cos, uhh, yeah:

Next, here’s one from Alva Majo, whose Golfing Over It with Alva Majo is a kinda popular spoof/enhancement of Getting Over It with Bennett Foddy (it’s meant to be evil):

The folks from great Peggle x RPG mashup Roundguard sent over this one, which just seems to be an existential critique of playing video games:

Then there’s this from ‘I Can’t Believe It’s Not Gambling’, which the dev says “plasters "lootbox simulator" and use a snarky tone like everywhere on the store page”, but:

Finally, if you like the ‘referencing other games’ method for refunding, the Tangle Tower devs sent over this one:

…to which Frog Detective creator Grace Bruxner said ‘owned’, lol. To be fair, I think this was related to a Ludonarracon bundle that had both games in it - but still funny.

And here’s the final, basically default Steam refund reason from Daniel Gubala:

Now we’ve done the silly, here’s the sensible part of this section. Yes, a lot of Steam refund messages are ‘something I thought I had to type in order to get my money back’. A lot of people go through the motions, and don’t really contribute anything that you might usefully use to improve your game.

But there are a few things I would look at. Firstly, just check your overall Steam refund rate, which can vary from 4% to over 20%, in my experience (and averages 8-9%, I believe.) If yours is above average, are there any themes that stand out? There’s additional (slight) color you can glean on overall gameplay frustrations, if you trudge through enough of these dispiriting messages.

Secondly, ‘casual’ player technical support issues sometimes come out more strongly via refund requests than in reviews or via Discord bug report channels. For example, one of the games I can see requests for has issues with game controller support. We see those weakly via official channels, but more strongly via refund requests. YMMV, but it’s worth poking around in there.

(Final dev reminder: refund data is on Steamworks Sales & Activations site, click on ‘Steam packages’ - the game’s ‘home’ page - go to ‘Refund Data’ link on the right.)

Who makes the top games on Steam?

So, Richie de Wit from Dutch Game Garden made a long, interesting Twitter thread with his examinations into the backgrounds of the top-selling games on Steam from January to June, 2020.

His estimates (guesstimates!) are that 84 out of the 3821 non-F2P games launched in the first half of 2020 are projected to make more than $1 million net in the first year. And moreover: “these 3821 titles combined will earn $1,027,495,076. The 84 top performers will earn a combined revenue of $991,571,151. That's 96% of the total combined revenue.”

You can certainly quibble with specifics on this. And probably should, given that the revenue estimates were done fairly simply via review counts, without discounts or regional variations (so e.g. China may be over-represented.) But I think the general point still stands - success on these platforms is always top heavy.

But one thing I found fascinating. Success is not, in his estimation, overwhelmingly based on the size of your team or where you are located. Specifically:

And then, here’s those 84 games divided by their apparent country of developer. (Sorry to whoever complained recently about pie charts being difficult to read, here’s another one not made by me!)

So this doesn’t surprise me. I think location and team size is relatively unimportant in having hit games. And in fact, countries with low cost of living and decent national healthcare/social services actually advantage you as a global dev. If you can make the right game.

Heyo, it’s Party Animals!

Over to Al/Morwull on Twitter, who tagged me at the end of the thread referencing Party Animals (above):

We’ve already talked about Among Us and about Fall Guys on this very newsletter, and I mentioned Phasmophobia in passing in the last newsletter as being a co-op horror thing that’s doing super well in pandemic times. But I didn’t talk about Party Animals, which is, well - Valve’s Alden Kroll, take it away:

Crazy! Who knows how well it’s going to do when it comes out, but probably… good? The interesting thing about Party Animals to me is that it’s made by a professional-looking Chinese dev studio called Recreate Games. And I’m not sure if they’re called that because they… recreate other people’s games?

(Joke, kinda, but Party Animals [gameplay video] sure is almost exactly Gang Beasts, but with cute animals and a bunch of other upgrades. It’s not a super easy game to ‘clone’ because of the complex physics and multiplayer. And sure, they’re bringing a few new things to the table. Still… thought-provoking re: the ‘clone vs. inspiration’ line in the sand, huh?)

That’s all, folks!

I was originally going to do a link round-up here, but Substack is telling me I’m about to blow past the limit for the newsletter to display properly in Gmail (!) So let’s end it here for now.

But before I do, a correction! In the last newsletter, I originally said that devs couldn’t have a demo both in the last and the current Steam Game Festival, because Valve had limited that. Thanks to Jonatan Van Hove (Nuts) for reminding me that the policy kicks in after the current festival: “Games may only participate in one of the next three game festivals: Autumn 2020, February 2021, or June 2021.” Oops/thanks. More anon.

[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? We’ll be launching a ‘Plus’ paid newsletter tier with lots of extra info/data - watch out for it soon.]