Steam's biggest Next Fest demos? We rank 'em!
Also: detail on Switch's end of life conundrums, and more...
[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.]
Good gracious, how is it the start of another week again? Luckily, since we know our calendar says Monday, and it’s the last day of Steam Next Fest, we know exactly what we’re writing about today…
Oh, and before we start, wanted to shout out Double Fine’s gigantic PsychOdyssey doc, which just debuted free on YouTube in 33 parts (?!) It’s an incredibly honest behind-the-scenes dev view - rarely seen - on the multi-year making of Psychonauts 2.
[Heads up: our GameDiscoverCo Plus paid subscription includes our Friday ‘exclusive’ newsletter, exclusive Discord access, a login to our Steam ‘Hype’ & post-release game performance chart back-end, multiple eBooks & more. We highly recommend it…]
Next Fest - which games ended up doing the best?
As promised last week, as Steam’s gigantic Next Fest PC game demo showcase (we spotted 838 of ‘em!) finishes up, we have sliced and diced the data around the top-performing games into a spreadsheet (Google Drive doc) for your delectation.
There are a variety of ‘success metrics’ - including top CCU (simultaneous players) during the Fest, and most Steam followers added. And top game by far - with >100,000 CCU for its demo at peak, and 33,600 followers (300k+ wishlists?) added during the Fest - is Ironmace’s multiplayer first-person dungeon crawler Dark & Darker.
You can watch the above video to understand the game. But think ‘multiplayer co-op first person Souls-like with brutal enemies & proximity voice chat’ - once again, co-op being a big deal, btw! (The game has a had a series of popular alpha demos before this one. Oh, and you can even fight with other player groups in-dungeon over ‘sick loot’.)
Anyhow, here’s the 20 highest-ranking games in Next Fest, sorted by their max CCU during the event itself - the Google Drive doc has 30, plus bonus tabs with extra data:
Here’s some comments on the trends we spotted, while putting this together:
Peak CCU doesn’t 100% correlate with other ‘success metrics’: lush interdimensional survival game Voidtrain maxed out at <2,000 CCU (#8), but was the only game beside Dark & Darker to add >20k followers. And it was #2 in Steam’s main ‘Popular Upcoming’ NextFest feature when we checked on Friday. (Publisher Hypetrain’s CEO confirmed it added >100,000 wishlists partway through Next Fest week, and it probably improved from there!) Great result!
Deeper, more complex PC-centric games ruled the roost again: not many cutesy platformers in here! When we check the Top 5 Steam tags for each game, we see high rankings for City Builder, Action Roguelike, Dungeon Crawler, and RTS, for example. (Lots of zombies, dungeons, military/war, deep space, and terraforming?)
The Top 30 games got >300 CCU for their demo: is that good? Well, 300 CCU is the equivalent of 3,000-5,000 daily demo players, if your demo is shorter. So… it’s decent? And to give wider context, if you got 300 CCU for your game at launch, it would probably sell 6,000 to 12,000 units in Week 1 (so, $120k to $240k gross for a $20-$25 game?) And then 3x that gross $ in Year 1. Again: decent, not breakout.
The ‘Daily Active Demo Players’ tab of the NextFest Steam page was maybe unwell: when we did grab data later in the week (see third tab of the GDoc), we found games with <100 CCU ranking fairly highly on the Steam-tallied tab, which seems incorrect to us. (But the top 5 were right-ish - and it wasn’t a highly trafficked subpage, we bet.)
Finally, going through some of the top titles - so you can get a good idea of the type of titles we’re seeing - we’d highlight the following trends:
Specific PC-centric niches can make sense: titles like Plan B: Terraform (an automation game with a side order of terraforming), Broken Arrow (a realistic-looking strategy wargame), and Fabledom (a super laid-back citybuilder) all performed very well.
Zombies, zombies, zombies: we kid, but yet again, some of the top titles included a zombie base/citybuilder using real-life world maps (Infection Free Zone), and a zombie-themed Vampire Survivors-a-like (Yet Another Zombie Survivors). The undead: still hip.
Pixel art can work, but only with enough gameplay heft: actually, Sons Of Valhalla (a side-scrolling Kingdom+++) was one of the few titles with overly pixel-like art to make it into the Top 30 most popular by CCU. We think the era of ‘make a beguiling-looking indie pixel art game and have it be a hit on multiple platforms’, while not over, isn’t what it used to be.
But to be honest, it was difficult to round up trends here. We recommend you check out all of the Top 30 - you’ll see games like UGC-powered co-op builder/raider Meet Your Maker, great-looking openworld roguelite Ravenbound, and much-hyped dungeon crawler sequel Darkest Dungeon II. So many great games, such little time…
Where is Switch really going? Nintendo has ideas..
So yes, since we last sent the newsletter, we had the latest Nintendo Direct, which you can read a press release for here. And it was, well, lots of Nintendo-y IP, presented well for Nintendo fans, as usual. (Some say it’s getting too formulaic, some love it.)
But what was more interesting - for us trend-watchers - was the translation of Nintendo’s fiscal results Q&A [.PDF] that debuted late last week. There are some genuine Qs around Nintendo’s short and long-term strategy, & here’s what we spotted:
North America is starting to tail off for the Switch - president Shuntaro Furukawa revealed: “In the Americas, software unit sales for the nine months between April and December decreased by 19.5% year-on-year… the Americas was the only region where unit sales declined year-on-year.” Why? Well, Splatoon 3 did great in Japan, and Switch Sports & Mario Strikers in Europe - and the new Pokemon games everywhere. But there wasn’t a standout non-Pokemon title in the Americas.
‘Big gets bigger’ - and catalog fatigue - is hitting Nintendo IP, too - Furukuwa noted that for the largest IP like Pokemon, “sales were beyond our expectations”, but “evergreen [game] titles released in prior fiscal years accounted for approximately 60% of sell-through last fiscal year and approximately 50% this fiscal year.” There isn’t a clear ‘why’. But we do wonder if Nintendo’s $60 game price point and lack of discounting (beyond about 20-30%!) is affecting them, vs. other platforms willing to be more aggressive, deal-wise. (Or, say, switching to a subscription model.)
There’s palpable Nintendo pushback against ‘SaaS at all costs’ - presumably due to Sony’s recent corporate shifts, Nintendo is sounding a tad defensive, talking about “software that is not run as a service” as still desirable. They add that “consumers who play a few titles for short periods of time are also very important to us, which is why we use annual playing users, rather than play time, as our KPI.” Hey, as long as the company comes out ahead at the end of the day, right?
Nintendo also points out that households can have multiple Switches in them, the same way they have multiple phones. Furukuwa specifically says: “our new challenge for the seventh year [of Switch] is finding ways to encourage users who are considering new purchases, replacement purchases, and additional purchases to pick up a Nintendo Switch.”
With 122 million Switches sold, it makes sense that replacements - or extra pickups for brothers and sisters - could help. The company is claiming 112 million playing Switch users in 2022, btw. (Interesting to compare this to 2 billion currently active Apple devices, and remember how gigantic the smartphone landscape is.)
But signs of a new Nintendo device? Not right now. And will it be backwards compatible when it arrives, like all other console devices now are? One would think so, but this is Nintendo we’re dealing with. In the meantime - extra Switches for baby brother it is….
The game discovery news round-up..
So, let’s finish things off here by looking at a whole bunch of other breaking - or not so breaking, but still interesting - game discovery and platform news, as follows:
No sooner than it was over, than another one’s cycle starts up. You can enter your game for Steam’s June 2023 Next Fest now. It’s happening June 19 - 26, and: “If you think you might want to prepare a demo and participate in the Steam Next Fest June 2023 edition, please register your interest by March 16th.”
The $70 premium PC/console game price point is becoming a bit more common - Koei Tecmo & EA’s Wild Hearts is launching at it, this week. And it looks like the next Zelda game on Switch will be $70, too - the first ever Nintendo-published game-only title to do that.
Sales things: NPD’s U.S. January 2023 results are showing Dead Space and Fire Emblem Engage with good debuts, with hardware sales flat YoY: “Growth in PlayStation 5 and Switch hardware spending was offset by declines across other platforms.” And in the UK, PlayStation 5 sales were “up a whopping 98% over January last year, when there were significant shortages.”
Apple playing up gaming on Macs? 100% happening in this new interview, with Apple VP Bob Borchers saying: “With Capcom bringing Resident Evil [Village] across [to Apple Silicon Macs], and other titles starting to come along, I think the AAA community is starting to wake up and understand the opportunity.” We’ll, uh, see?
More scariness from mobile? This piece on Playrix and why ‘product-market fit is a moving target’ specifically suggests that you change the product in real time - based on hit ads - to succeed: “Obsessive focus on [ad] creative and bridging the gap between gameplay and creative is what connects [recent mobile successes].”
A little more nuance on the UK Competition & Markets Authority’s recent negative ruling on the Microsoft x Activision deal, via Florian Mueller: “the remedies notice provides some guidance as to what concerns have to be addressed. I interpret that as a high - but not insurmountable - hurdle.” Some suggestion that the deal is still finesse-able, in other words…
TikTok is big for ‘the young folks’, you say? But how big? Well, according to a new survey of kids ages 4-18 in four countries, the “average daily use of TikTok climbed to a whopping 107 minutes, or 60% longer than the time they spent watching video content on YouTube (67 minutes).”
PlayStation’s most-downloaded PS4/PS5 games for January 2023 include some big debuts - the Dead Space remake in the Top 5 in both the U.S. and Europe, alongside a load of evergreens (Minecraft, CoD, etc) - and stealth longterm megahit The Forest also ranking pretty darn well.
Interesting new app here: “Epic Games has just released Postparty, a new iOS and Android app to help you share clips from your Fortnite games on PlayStation, Xbox, Nintendo Switch, and PC... Postparty also works with Rocket League, though only on PlayStation and Xbox for now.”
Microlinks: Meta has completed its acquisition of VR fitness game/app company Within, after the FTC block failed; Amazon Luna will lose over 50 more games in February as the library continues to shrink; AR Insider guesstimates that Meta sold approximately 1.1 million Quest 2s in Q4 2022.
Finally, loved this Tweet from Parrot Analytics’ Julia Alexander about the opaqueness of a certain large tech company’s announcements on its subscription services:
[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.]
Thanks for the in depth analysis here, Simon!