Switch's 'free week' demos, game controllers on PC & more

It's your bonus newsletter for this week!

[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.]

Well, since that Steam followers/wishlists newsletter was pretty darn long already, here’s your bonus Thursday newsletter for this week. It has all the neat game discovery/platform content we didn’t want to slip to next week.

Oh, and tomorrow, GameDiscoverCo Plus subscribers will get their custom weekly newsletter analyzing the top Steam & Switch games right now, & why they’re a hit. Please consider signing up - for the perks & to support the newsletter as a whole:

Switch’s ‘Game Trials’ & third party participation?

Always interesting to see Nintendo rolling out a new(er) discovery method to third parties. Specifically: Game Trials have been around for a while as part of the Nintendo Switch Online membership, as can be seen from this Nintendo FAQ.

As is explained: “A Game Trial is a free, downloadable full version of a game made available to Nintendo Switch Online members. The Game Trial is playable for a limited period of time. After the trial period ends or your Nintendo Switch Online membership expires, the Game Trial will no longer be playable.”

In the past, there were only a handful of Game Trials in the West, including first-party linked titles such as Pokken Tournament DX. But in the last few weeks, third party games starting with Crash Team Racing Nitro-Fueled! have been included in this promotion, which is the equivalent of free weekends on Steam or free weeks on Xbox.

Looks like Overcooked 2 was the most recent game to get a Game Trial this way, and Dead Cells was also available earlier in January. It appears that Nintendo Japan is running on a different schedule/game list from Europe and the U.S. for its Game Trials games - it has SteamWorld Dig 2 coming up next, for example.

Anyhow, just wanted to point this out because a) perhaps you hadn’t spotted it, and b) if you have a reasonably prominent Switch game, maybe you can ask Nintendo about how to get into the Game Trials program. It’s good, especially if tied into a discount so you can generate revenue from the promotion. (None of these promotions are paid by the platform holder, AFAIK.)

These ‘free full versions of games for a limited time’ are a net game discovery positive, if there aren’t many games featured. Under those circumstances, the ‘people finding your game because of the promotion’ element outweighs the ‘people playing your game for free, and then forgetting about it’ element. So.. consider it!

Which controller is used to play your PC game?

As you may have spotted, Valve just came out with a Steamworks announcement around better tracking the game controllers people use to play your game on Steam.

This is an oddly underdiscussed subject sometimes. And you can definitely run into ‘negative Steam review’ issues if you write your own controller code on PC, and don’t test it with a range of controllers.

Quoting to give you some context: “We’ve just added some new reports in the Steamworks Sales & Activations dashboard that show the breakdown of major game controllers players are using (or could use) within your game. This comes on the heels of a recent update that added support for PS5 controllers, and a number of improvements to various Steam Input features within Steam.”

Wondering how the above image (a Steam-provided example!) compares to other games? I went and looked at another controller-friendly Steam game I have access to stats for. And it’s very similar to the example given in the blog post: of all controller users, 70% use Xbox controllers, 26% PlayStation, 2% Switch, 1% Steam, and 1% other. (Valve says the global average for PlayStation is 24%, for example.)

Valve goes on to suggest you should analyze your numbers and improve your code if you have a controller-friendly game that differs from the averages. And an interesting point here: “If we have just one thing we’d suggest and promote, it would be for more developers to display the corresponding PlayStation [or other console?] icons in game when there is a prompt for a player to hit a certain button.”

One tip I’ve heard: if you’re using Unity, there are a number of third party Unity asset store packages such as Rewired which can take care of a lot of the integration work for you. Looks like InControl has good ratings too, and also comes recommended by many.

(Getting this right can be surprisingly easy, if you can use the right third party resources. Valve provides the Steam Input API and Steam Input Gamepad Emulation. And I even know one Unity game which ripped out its input code and replaced it with Rewired at the last minute. Not recommended, but it worked.)

The game discovery news round-up..

Finishing off the round-up here, there’s a lot going on, so let’s whiz through these in some semblance of order. We’re going for it:

  • A couple of notable PlayStation things: the next generation of PlayStation VR is coming, which “will incorporate some of the key features found in the DualSense wireless controller”, but not in 2021; and this interview with Sony’s Jim Ryan reveals more of Sony’s push onto PC with select - likely slightly older - PlayStation first-party titles (Days Gone, pictured, is next.) Ryan on publishing Sony titles on PC: “We also looked at it through the lens of what the PlayStation community thought about it. There was no massive adverse reaction to it.” Fair enough.

  • In its latest financial results [PDF], Crusader Kings publisher Paradox changed its amortization, leading to less profit. Trying to explain this in the paid subscriber-only GameDiscoverCo Plus Discord, I happened across this great ‘explainer’ from Game Over Thirty, which sketches out why expense type matters for Games As A Service! (BTW: great overall results for Paradox, but re: Empire Of Sin, CEO is “not satisfied with the launch, neither with the quality of the game nor how it was received by the market.”)

  • Returning to megahit survival game Valheim, it’s worth considering the game design advances that has made it a surprising smash. As Fraser Brown at PC Gamer notes, its hunger system gives only positive effects, and it cuts out a lot of the “daily chores, eating, drinking, fixing or replacing tools” that just makes other survival games a chore. Post-launch discovery for games is massively aided by ease of play, and “the lowering of these barriers is one of the reasons it's currently enjoying huge player numbers.”

  • In case you missed it, Xbox is really stepping up on the accessibility side, with the launch of updated Xbox Accessibility Guidelines. Specifically related to this: “Developers now have the option to send Microsoft their Xbox or PC title and have it analyzed and validated… to help the developer understand what aspect of a given experience may be challenging for certain gamers with disabilities.” Great stuff.

  • Microlinks, Pt.1: Felix Kramer’s talk from the GDC 2019 Game Discoverability Day on ‘discoverability from day zero’ just got posted on GDC YouTube; a whole hour video talking to the Embracer crew - including group CEO Lars Wingefors - about their ongoing Katamari; look at the kind of custom debug tools that some ‘90s arcade games built in (impressive, actually.)

  • Amazon’s lower-profile Luna cloud gaming experiment continues to roll out smoothly, and it’s now available on Fire TV devices without an invite - as is the Luna Controller, for any U.S. folks who want it. Not claiming it’s a slamdunk, of course. But it seems like a good incremental step into the ‘cloud only’ space. Though the boss of Luna and Fire TV - Marc Whitten - did just wander off to Unity.

  • Microlinks, Pt. 2: the Western (full-time) game industry doesn’t pay amazing compared to tech, but at least it ain’t the Japanese anime industry, ouch; not discovery, but loved this Derek Yu (Spelunky) piece on which game designer archetype you are; how chess has become a trending streamer/influencer game since lockdown.

[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.]