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Temtem & 'battle pass': a study in tightrope walking
Also: an explainer on where games & China are at...
[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.]
Welcome to Wednesday in the world of video game discovery, crew. We’re leading this newsletter off with an interesting monetization quandary, and carrying on straight down the middle with sections on China and a big ol’ round-up.
We’ll be back for you Plus subscribers on Friday, breaking down data on a biggish week on Steam, following launches for The Wandering Village and (soon!) Metal: Hellsinger, and a surprise Judgment/Lost Judgment drop from Sega. For now.. onward!
[Reminder: talk to your peers & get many goodies via a GameDiscoverCo Plus paid subscription. This includes an exclusive Friday PC/console game trend analysis newsletter, a big Steam ‘Hype’ & performance chart back-end, eBooks, a member-only Discord & more.]
Temtem’s new angles on monetization & discovery
You know, 2022 is definitely a year where we’ve had a few people whispering at us: ‘Why aren’t more people talking about how bad the market for new PC/console games is, bro?’ (Well, maybe they didn’t say ‘bro’, but you get the general idea…)
We’ve talked quite a bit about the supply & demand disparity - many semi-expensively developed titles are launching slowly. And we’ve also talked about methods - pricing, DLC, and other monetization - that you can use to improve your revenue.
But it’s been relatively rare to see mid-sized Steam games get deeper into ‘enhanced monetization’, or be aggressive on pricing. Which is why we wanted to take a look at Crema & Humble Games’ hit ‘MMO creature collector’ Temtem, which just hit v1.0.
The title launched in Early Access in January 2020 at $35 USD, and was a pretty big hit from the get-go (more than 10,000 Steam reviews in Month 1.) Ever since, it’s never been on sale (even once!), and has gradually increased pricing - it’s now $45 as of 1.0:
The justification for this? This is clearly a game that people ‘main’, as can be seen from the below ‘hours played when a Steam review was left’ chart for Temtem, available over at Steam Scout.
It clearly shows that the vast majority of people - those who leave reviews, at least, are playing Temtem for 20 to 100+ hours:
So sure, $45 for 20-100 hours of gameplay is a pretty decent deal - even if it’s rare to see non-AAA, non-Japanese titles price themselves at above $30 in today’s market. (If you think you’re providing that much value, you might consider it…)
But beyond that, the game has a cosmetic Battle Pass system (pay for extra XP to unlock exclusive items, for a limited time) for committed users. Temtem’s Guillermo Andrades explained to Shacknews they’re doing it because “the whole game is built as an MMO, with an MMO infrastructure (big servers, large amounts of persistent data, etc)”, but they didn’t want to charge a subscription.
This cosmetic Battle Pass? It’s controversial, folks! This furore may seem ridiculous to readers who are well-versed in these mechanics. But for paid, non-AAA Steam games, having any kind of Battle Pass is relatively uncharted territory. Here’s MassivelyOP contextualizing the complaints about it:
“The fact that Temtem has a battle pass isn’t anything exactly new, as developer Crema Games announced its intention in a February 2020 roadmap post. Even so, players are apparently surprised by the decision, making their displeasure known in the form of Steam reviews, a bit of rancor on Reddit, and some community fracture within the game’s Discord.”
On the Discord, community manager Tsukki explained: “Our intention has always been to avoid p2w [pay to win], and to make any premium item as optional as possible. Anything and everything paid in Temtem is cosmetic only.” (There’s also a premium ‘cosmetics’ item shop in-game, btw.)
In addition, the devs - who seem both well-liked and adept at pivoting - already announced some changes, such as increasing Tamer Pass XP from defeating monsters - done after the above ‘explainer’ video, and “including the content of the Tamer Pass in the rotation of the Premium Store a year after it has run its original course.”
So, while the game’s recent reviews have dropped to ‘Mixed’, there’s plenty of supporters - check this recent Reddit thread. And the title is still in the Top 50 global Steam sellers right now. The team clearly needed a popular game and a laser-sharp approach for this to work. And even then, sounds like the devs have received abuse.
I think Temtem is on the bleeding edge of a continuing trend. With the lower demand & shorter tail on new Steam & console games, you may need to find ways for your 50+ hr player to spend more, while ‘tightrope walking’ audience expectation.
And people seem to understand - for example - that AAA standouts like Destiny 2 has a pretty complex ‘expansion & seasons’ set-up now, which allows Bungie to monetize via new paid levels & modes in fairly complex ways. But how far can you go with paid or indie-adjacent AA games? Temtem is actively testing this boundary right now….
Explainer: what’s going on with games & China?
Many of you have put together ‘the state of video games x China’ piecemeal. But China-based consultant and journalist Daniel Camilo kindly gave us permission to reprint sections of a new LinkedIn post he made on the space.
So we wanted to go through it again, since China is a massive market. But it can be a bit mysterious. So here’s what we’ve got:
The Chinese government is officially approving a fraction of created titles: “73 new game approvals… in September. Most are for mobile/cloud… while this year more and more games continue to be approved for publishing in China, the market remains extremely barren. For international devs & publishers, it's basically a huge "NOPE", and for Chinese ones, it's either mobile or nothing.” (This came after a big ‘are these games culturally appropriate?’ gov blow-up in late 2021.)
The largest companies like Tencent & NetEase are having a rough time getting new titles launched in China: Daniel notes that “one title from NetEase - a mobile basketball game” was approved in September. A Tencent subsidiary had an educational game approved too. But if you’re wondering why NetEase is now buying Western studios alongside Tencent’s historical Western investment aggression... diversification makes sense, & they’ve got nowhere else to go!
The Chinese ‘shadow games economy’ is large and complex: Daniel says: “A HUGE "grey market" exists in China, where imported consoles and their games proliferate, international digital platforms are widely available on PC with all kinds of offerings, and services like Game Pass continue to grow in China.” And while Steam is semi-blocked in China, there’s still a huge audience able to buy & play.
Even some domestic Chinese-created ‘unlicensed’ titles can monetize: “A licensed game in China (ISBN license) is allowed to monetize itself in a way that non-licensed games aren’t.. it can be integrated into Chinese digital payment/banking systems. But unlicensed games in China can still be monetized in-game through [mobile] ads and other means. Sometimes.” In addition, some indie Chinese titles still publish on Steam ‘global’ and get a big Chinese audience.
So basically, if you’re in the West: forget about getting an official gov license for your game - unless it’s a big mobile title and you’re locally partnered. But absolutely localize into simplified Chinese, especially on Steam. And be at peace with a large ‘unofficial’ market being a boon, for as long as it’s here… which may be forever?
The game discovery news round-up..
So let’s finish out the week with some of the notable game discovery and platform news that has cropped up since Monday, shall we? It descends from the sky like this:
Lots of company showcases this week - here’s the handy text round-up of yesterday’s Nintendo Direct, which revealed the Legend of Zelda: Tears of the Kingdom release date & much more besides. But as this editorial on Nintendo escaping the console war suggests, maybe Switch is just a 'game machine for Nintendo-created titles', and everyone else is.. kinda incidental?
Another platform showcase was the Tokyo Game Show-adjacent PlayStation’s State Of Play, which showcased PlayStation-first titles like God Of War Ragnarok, alongside more on the PlayStation Stars digital collectibles, which include “Punto the gondolier from Ape Escape 2, PlayStation 3, PocketStation, Toro and Kuro celebrating a birthday, Chord Machine, and Polygon Man.” For… the fans?
Good news, everybody: Future Friends’ Kris Wingfield-Bennett has published v2 of his press kit template: "super quick setup... no web dev exp required.. free (+ works with free Notion sub)... looks [great!]... GIFs autoplay", and with "new tips, guides + insights" too.
What’s a normal weekly wishlist rate on Steam? HowToMarketAGame just published survey results on this (see above), also advising: “don’t worry about click through rate” - it’s too variable for a bunch of reasons. Also some good & realistic data in there on ranges of financial success from organic wishlists.
Two Electronic Arts things of wider interest: the company is instituting a kernel-level anti-cheat system starting with FIFA 23, and is taking The Sims 4 free-to-play starting on October 18th as they “continue to develop and release packs, kits and Sims Delivery Express drops.” More GaaS reorientation, basically.
Here’s an excellent overview of Fortnite Creative Mode as it moves into using Unreal Engine 5: “Creative mode grew in popularity for its ability to enable players to farm XP, as a training ground to level up their Fortnite skills, and also as a way to enjoy new experiences once Battle Royale got old. It has grown so much, in fact, that CEO, Tim Sweeney stated “about half of Fortnite play time by users is now in content created by others, and half is in Epic content” in an interview with Fast Company.”
‘Xbox is doing a billion things’ update: Discord Voice is now available for everybody on Xbox consoles; Microsoft is updating its Xbox app on Windows with HowLongToBeat (estimates on game completion times!) integration and faster launch times; /twitchgaming: ID@Xbox Fall Showcase’s highlights, including Valheim coming to PC Game Pass on September 29th.
FYI: Steam’s global yearly Halloween sale got replaced with the horror-centric Steam Scream Fest after its recent discount rule changes. But you don’t have to be a 100% spooky game to get included, if you add an in-game event with “dedicated [scary] items / cosmetics, thematic quests, maps, characters, and/or action.”
There’s a lot of PlayStation VR2 hands-on impressions appearing, such as this Eurogamer commentary: “In terms of technological and visual quality, this feels like one of the more memorable generational console leaps.” Here’s three more takes on the tech, also positive - GameSpot says: “I ended my time with PSVR 2 with much more of an interest in it than when the hardware was initially announced.”
Microlinks: Unity says of recent criticism aimed at them: “We weren't talking enough, and we weren't being clear enough with where we were going with gaming”; PlayStation 5 overtakes Nintendo Switch to become 2022’s best-selling UK console (so far); Discord is adding Forum Channels to “hold organized, meaningful conversations without drowning each other out.”
Finally, you may recall that game marketer Patrick Seibert guested with us back in 2021 on what happens if you put a game on Steam and never talk about it. Well, he’s been repeating the experiment for music, and.. maybe we’ve got it good in games?
[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.]