Steam tag trends, Epic & Valve lawsuit drama, & more

Look, there's a lot going on, OK?

[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.]

Welcome back, my feathered friends, to the aviary of information and opportunity which is the latest GameDiscoverCo newsletter. This week, we plan to provide you a wide variety of cuttlebone treats from the world of video game data.

As always, our newsletter is most relevant to those making premium (‘pay once, play lots’) games on PC and console. But we also bring a lot of detail on DLC + GaaS trends, platforms, and other goodness, for those wanting a wider perspective. Let’s beak it!

(BTW, if you’re not signed up to our GameDiscoverCo Plus tier, you missed Discord/data goodness, plus Friday’s game-specific newsletter, where we looked at actual success/failure for Hood: Outlaws and Legends, Total War: Rome’s remaster, Switch charts, Apple Arcade trends & more...)

Sign up for GameDiscoverCo Plus!

Monthly Steam tag data goodness? Goodness!

Just launched over at third-party Swiss Army Knife of Steam analysis SteamDB is a new release summary page - which allows you to ‘sort by subject tag’ across all games released in Steam’s decade-plus history.

The above chart shows the history of all games released on the platform. (Remember us talking about supply and demand on platforms being a key part of success? This is why being early to Steam was a big boon!)

But we also wanted to highlight a couple of example tags. Quite a lot of the Steam tags seem to scale linearly with total games, so even those that differ incrementally might be worth poking at. Firstly, here’s ‘cyberpunk’:

Can’t tell if this is ‘people tag more recent games cyberpunk, because Cyberpunk 2077 is coming out’, or whether people are genuinely making more cyberpunk-themed games. But you can see a clear and somewhat above average uptick in 2020 - kinda neat.

And secondly, here’s ‘citybuilder’ - a tag/subgenre we’ve been recommending people get into for some time, which seems to see a slightly more linear rise in interest:

Having said all that, Jake Birkett noted on Twitter that “I notice that for many tags there's a sudden jump in them in the 2nd half of 2020. I wonder if it's because more people started using the new tagging tool in Steamworks?” (That feature launched in June 2020.)

It’s true the Steam Tag recommender is newish & better known by devs. (Both devs and players can tag Steam games, don’t forget - and you should always tag yours comprehensively.) It’s helping create better taxonomies for Steam games - but perhaps it skews the likelihood of picking certain newer tags. So YMMV - but look around anyhow.

Epic vs. Apple lawsuit progress, oh my!

For anyone glued to the Epic/Apple lawsuit, for which The Verge’s Adi Robertson is providing live-Tweets that include lawyers discussing Agent Peely (he’s a banana in a tuxedo, folks) you’ll be pleased to know that plenty is still happening. (Update: naked Peely has also now been discussed in a court of law.)

Honestly, there’s almost too much to deal with - dumb talking points around Itch’s adult content notwithstanding. But here’s some Epic and Apple discovery/platform tidbits we found interesting:

  • Protocol’s Nick Statt noted that Epic Games Store VP Steve Allison said that “third-party developers have made about $500 million from Epic Game Store to date. Epic itself has generated $800 million revenue from first-party titles on PC alone.” Impressive-sounding numbers, but doesn’t really change our view that advances against exclusives are the bulk of that - Borderlands 3 alone must be 25% or more, right?

  • Statt notes Allison’s testimony that Epic Games Publishing “has 14 projects in development”, and it’s the other major strategic investment for its PC game store alongside first-party games. This is more indication that Epic is moving away from paying once-off for EGS exclusives, except in key cases, and into co-publishing. (Epic can sign a deal & get a cut of revenue on console platforms + timed or total EGS exclusivity too - makes a lot of sense!)

  • Some redacted Microsoft strategy documents also got included in the lawsuit, thanks to Xbox execs being called to testify. Here’s Microsoft’s CY2019 Game Industry Profit document, as archived on Courtlistener. Loads of interesting stuff in here: “Publishers captured the majority of total industry profit (66%); platforms in closed ecosystems/networks (e.g., Console, Mobile, Browser) generated 39-46% of segment profits while platforms in open ecosystems (i.e. PC Client) generated only 5% of segment profit.”

BTW, the document redaction and posting process for the Epic/Apple trial has been a disaster, mainly due to volume and complexity. That Microsoft document is now missing from the Box drive, at least one confidential Epic document leaked briefly last week due to a court error, there are large amounts of redaction requests from major firms every weekend…. jeez.

Valve and antitrust - the plot thickens - or curdles?

Finally, following the antitrust lawsuit filed against Valve recently, David Rosen of Wolfire made a statement on his company website about it. It’s intriguing - and quite accusatory - but unfortunately doesn’t really bring the receipts. Here’s what he’s claiming:

“When new video game stores were opening that charged much lower commissions than Valve, I decided that I would provide my game "Overgrowth" at a lower price to take advantage of the lower commission rates. I intended to write a blog post about the results. But when I asked Valve about this plan, they replied that they would remove Overgrowth from Steam if I allowed it to be sold at a lower price anywhere, even from my own website without Steam keys and without Steam’s DRM.”

Of course, Rosen doesn’t provide any of the specific correspondence around this - which I presume will be revealed if/as the case advances to trial. But the difference between ‘restrictions on Steam keys’ and ‘restriction on pricing in general’ is probably the main point here.

In fact, Joe Wintergreen posted the Steam back end key request form, which makes it clear Valve thinks restricting Steam keys themselves is not anti-competitive. Otherwise the platform wouldn’t put it in black and white like this:

The vast majority of the discussions I’ve had with developers around ‘Valve and restrictions’ has been on the use of Steam keys. (Side note: from a conventional business point of view, it’s a bit crazy that other companies can run multi-million dollar businesses on the back of keys being provided by a platform for free?)

But in general, devs/publishers make the decision to price their games similarly on all platforms, for ease of marketing reasons. This choice tends to take place independently of the % platform cut to the developer. So for any devs who didn’t, we’ll see what ‘real’ info Wolfire has and how widespread it is… at some point? Maybe?

The game discovery news round-up..

And we’re easing in to the final stretch of the newsletter here. We’ll be back on Wednesday with our next missive. And in the meantime, here’s miscellaneous data goodness galore:

Finally, you may have heard that Nintendo’s latest financial results were pretty spectacular. Well, here’s a visual from their results slides for just how spectacular (via Martin Lindell.) Gotta keep putting out those Switch ports, huh?

Now, back to playing New Pokemon Snap. (BTW, I’ll give a free Plus subscription to the first person who can reply via email & successfully explain my terrible Professor Mirror joke back to me.)

[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.]