Switch game discovery - look on the bright side?
A series of more positive angles for Switch devs.
[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.]
It’s the last game discovery update of the week! And since we talk about ‘hooks’ a lot at GameDiscoverCo, today’s newsletter is brought to you by this inexplicable mashup of ‘Pen Pineapple Apple Pen’ and Harold Faltermeyer’s ‘Axel F’. Our four-year-old is currently obsessed with it, and it’s as hooky as get-out. You’re welcome.
Nintendo Switch & the dev upside!
You may have noted that I’m a pessimist-realist(TM) when it comes to a lot of this game discovery goodness. IMO, you need to come in with eyes open that this is not a business where everybody makes a profit.
However, when it comes to Switch - and please read the ‘state of discoverability for Switch’ article I wrote in May, if you haven’t - it occurs to me that perhaps my pessimist side has been over-exposed. Especially given some recent changes.
In particular, I just noticed Mikael Forslind’s Tweet that: “In little more than one week Alwa's Legacy [pictured above] has sold more copies on Nintendo Switch than on Steam since the launch 4 months ago. Switch is still a great platform for indies!”
And yep, Alwa’s Legacy seems to be a very ‘Switch-compatible’ game - a well-designed cute pixel art 2D Metroidvania which got a 9/10 score from NintendoLife, a key review outlet for ‘core’ Switch players. Now, looking at the Steam review count for Alwa’s Legacy, you’ll see that based on GameDiscoverCo estimates, it’s been a bit slow - perhaps a high range of 4,000 copies on Steam so far.
Nonetheless, for smaller devs, decent initial Switch sales can make all the difference. And if you follow the ICO Partners Switch newsletter, you’ll know there are between 30 and 40 games released weekly on Switch eShop in the West. That’s so much more pleasant than the 180-200 titles that debut on Steam every week. So you just have less titles to break through.
(The same is true on Xbox and PlayStation, if you feel like your game works with those audiences, and if conversion is inexpensive! It is a little mysterious to me why we don’t talk about regular Xbox/PlayStation discovery more - may be an issue with indie game fit on them, NDAs & transparency of companies who target the ‘bigger’ consoles.)
Anyhow, yes, Switch unit sales can nowadays be very discount-centric. But I realized - of course, that’s true for Steam and other consoles too. Discounts work as a discovery mechanism. And Nintendo has added a ‘X days left on sale’ note on eShop items, which we’ve seen does now spike revenues at the end of sales.
Since Nintendo may have tightened up discounting in some territories, it could mean that the extreme-discounted games we see in top charts will be higher quality ones, like Gonner at 90% off.or like Killer Queen Black at 90%. I personally think this is preferable to some of the borderline shovelware often atop Switch discount charts, which may get players’ $, but turn them off playing longer-term.
Also: many people are spending Nintendo Points for these heavily discounted games, so it’s not always coming from the same conceptual money bucket. (Of course, less extreme discounts can also move many games’ sales by 10x, too! Overall, devaluing games is still blah. But who doesn’t love a very temporary bargain?)
So that’s the ‘glass half full’ version of the Switch discoverability conundrum. Does anyone feel better already?
Short/tiny games & discoverability issues
So from time to time, I’m going to be doing full-length interviews that won’t be included in full in this newsletter, but will be excerpted in it. And the first one of those is ‘10mg: invading Steam with microgames to make a point’, currently available over on my Gamasutra blog.
As my intro explains: “As games continue to flood onto platforms like Steam, many developers are trying to make their games look even more expansive, complex and replayable to justify people buying them. Not so the 10mg (Ten Minute Games) project, which is a series of 10 microgames from different teams that each take 10 minutes to play.”
The games launched yesterday (Thursday) for PC on Steam, and you can see the full collection for purchase here. It’s a really interesting thought experiment which tries to get round a simple issue - depth and replayability is (generally) how value is assigned by video game players nowadays.
Excerpting from my chat with 10mg organizer Stuffed Woombat, particularly on why he got this concept going: “10mg is a psyop. The goal is not to make money, or to immediately convince people that short, experimental games are worthwhile. It would be great if that happened, but 10mg is primarily about shifting the Overton window of the game length discussion.
There is a lot of amazing, groundbreaking work being done by game developers, but we are encouraged to hide that work, serving it up very slowly over long playtimes. If a game is less than two hours long, people can refund it.
From a consumer perspective, this is amazing, but for developers it means that the two hour mark is something sacred, something that has to be crossed to have a shot at the ever elusive sustainability. And beyond that, games are often treated merely as entertainment, competing to provide ever-lower cost-per-hours-entertained.
If we can sell 10 minute long games on Steam, maybe other developers will be less scared about their game’s length. Maybe they will refrain from padding their game’s playtime with repetitive gameplay. If people enjoy some of our games, maybe they will give other short games a shot.”
Anyhow, I like their chutzpah, and 10mg contributor Droqen (Starseed Pilgrim) wrote something called ‘Videogames Are Too Long’, inspired by the concept. So read the interview, then stick it in your pipe and smoke it - as a discovery thought experiment, if nothing else.
The game discovery news round-up..
In the ‘there’s something for everyone’ department, here’s a whole bunch of useful links about game platforms, discoverability and trends to end out this cycle. Wake me up before you go go:
The crew at Future Friends have done a wonderful thing by creating an indie game Discord kit, given that a Discord is a pretty invaluable marketing tool for studios of all sizes nowadays: “Kickstart your community in just 2 clicks using this ready-made server template + guide. Made exclusively with indies in mind.” Thanks, crew!
So you’ve probably seen the PlayStation 5 UI by now - Digital Foundry has a good analysis of it. Some interesting accessibility/discovery things in here: “Activity cards take the form of curated entry points into the game, authored by the developer - 'ready to wear' challenges that get you straight into the action with specific objectives highlighted - and even an estimate on play time offered.” Great idea! This also adds quite a lot of dev work and localization, so will be interesting to see how it plays out for the average dev, since it seems fairly high-end focused.
More Steam data goodness from Lars at GameDataCrunch - the latest update includes new ‘power tools’ on the right of the screen in desktop mode, as well as better overlap stats (“find the game that has the largest proportion of its own reviewers in common with the Target Game”), and all kinds of other crunchy stuff. (Can’t wait to show you all the things I’m cooking up with Lars exclusively for the GameDiscoverCo Plus paid newsletter/data tier that is launching soon, too!)
Another Genshin Impact analysis, this time from Jeff Witt of GGDigest, and some interesting points in here on its weird crossplatform nature: “Genshin Impact doesn’t care about mobile session length. Just like 5 minutes of playing Breath of the Wild would be virtually pointless, so too would playing Genshin Impact for just a few minutes at a time. This is because Genshin Impact is meant to be played more like a console/PC game than like a mobile game.”
Ryan Clark’s latest voluminous Clark Tank game sales/discovery video stream is now up on YouTube - use the chapter markings to navigate. In this edition, I liked Ryan’s commentary on the Microsoft/Bethesda acquisition and the need to “be visible” in the industry to better protect yourself against major business model changes.
For anyone keeping up on the state of game streaming, Streamhatchet has its quarterly report for Q3 out [PDF link], and plenty of interesting stuff in there: “League of Legends was the most watched game of Q3 with a sizeable portion of the viewership coming from its esports leagues… Mobile games continue to grow each quarter as PUBG Mobile and Garena Free Fire secured the third and fourth spots on the list.” But yes, both Among Us and Fall Guys are also in the Top 10.
Microlinks: Among Us is so au courant that it gets a New York Times profile; Indiecade Anywhere is up and running and has great free & paid attendee tiers to check out devs, games and more; The MIX Next had a neato streaming indie game showcase on Twitch on Wednesday (archived video: presentation starts at 14 minutes in! Also: Steam sale/showcase.)
Finally, sometimes a game comes out of nowhere that has spectacular virality but breaks a lot of rules. A LOT of rules. That game is Blaseball, here’s a written ‘explainer’ from back in August, and below is (the very British) Quinns from one of my favorite YouTube channels, People Make Games, putting it all in perspective for you:
[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.]