The evolution of Steam tags (& why we dig 'em!)
Also: Quest's price hike, Xbox's results & 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.]
Well, it’s time for a return to the GameDiscoverCo newsletter, this fair Wednesday. This time out, we’ve got two medium-sized ‘lead’ articles, rather than one gigantic one - since there’s a lot of different interesting things to cover.
Anyhow, lots to cover, so let’s get to it - before we get too distracted by the new, free Dicey Dungeons ‘Reunion’ DLC*. (*Which is really good, and you should definitely play.)
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Steam tags: recent additions, and why they work…
So we started looking into the recent history of Steam tags - which you can browse on Steam itself, or via SteamDB for released games, and search individually via the GameDiscoverCo Plus back end for unreleased Steam games by tag.
This was inspired by the fact that ‘Cozy’ & ‘Wholesome’ are now Steam tags. (People with wholesome games, go add the tag, if your community hasn’t already!) But it got us wondering - what other tags have been added recently that we haven’t spotted?
We went on a bit of a trek, and Wok (who makes a lot of Steam analysis tools on Github) was kind enough to pass along his data on all Steam tags added since August 2019 (Pastebin link). You can see a lot of more specific and more consequential subgenres appeared in this timeframe. Summing those genre tags up for you all:
“2D Platformer, 3D Fighter, Action Roguelike, Action RTS, Auto Battler, Automobile Sim, Boss Rush, Card Battler, Colony Sim, Combat Racing, Creature Collector, Deckbuilding, Escape Room, Farming, Farming Sim, Hero Shooter, Idler, Life Sim, Looter Shooter, Open World Survival Craft, Party Game, Political Sim, Precision Platformer, Roguelike Deckbuilder, Roguevania, Traditional Roguelike, Vehicular Combat.”
We then realized that our Plus back-end was missing some recent tags, which we subdivide by ‘Genre, Trait, or Special’ classification to make them more browsable. So we just fixed that - and here’s the 29 Steam tags added since late 2020/early 2021. (Some surprising niche ones like Musou, alongside new subgenres like Boss Rush & on-topic crazes like Vikings.)
The point of this? Firstly, we’re planning to specifically log Steam tag additions in the future, because it’s interesting. BTW, a lot of the newer subgenre tags seem to have been added as part of the taxonomical revamp that formally rolled out in April 2021 as the ‘Category’ dropdown on the front page of the Steam store:
If you look at the history of game platforms, Steam has had a more complex and extensive taxonomy/category system than almost any other platform out there. Sure, it’s been loose and informal at times. But I really think it plays in Steam’s favor.
Why? Game genres and particular subgenres are important. And while suggestions solely based on the media you’ve consumed also work well, I do think discovery via tags can be super valuable, especially on a platform that approaches 100,000 games.
Along the way, Steam did some things that other platforms would not - giving tagging power to the public, meaning semi-troll tags like Cookie Clicker being tagged ‘Psychological Horror’, using that data to actually do tag rankings*, and being organic and improvisational with how it added tags, rather than over-planned.
But the net result has been poles ahead of the consoles, which have a few broad top-level genres on their store pages - if anything at all. Some are neglecting recommendation-based discovery entirely. Some - like Xbox - are trying it more adeptly. But none blend both tags and recommendations as well as Steam does. Bravo.
(*BTW, did you know that if you look in the HTML source code for your game’s Steam page, you can actually see how many people voted for each of your tags? You totally can!)
Meta’s Quest 2 price increase - what’s next for VR?
Sure, Meta’s producing glossy videos with Keke Palmer about whether we’ve got to the metaverse yet. But the headline of the week - and quite a big surprise for many - was the $100 USD increase in the cost of Meta Quest 2 headsets. Straight from the source:
“We’re making a change that will help us continue to invest for the long term and keep driving the VR industry forward with best-in-class hardware, action-packed games, and cutting-edge research on the path to truly next-gen devices.
Starting in August, Meta Quest 2 will cost $399.99 USD and $499.99 USD for the 128GB and 256GB versions respectively. And for a limited time, every new headset purchase will include an offer to download the popular VR rhythm game Beat Saber at no additional cost.”
Given that we’re used to hardware costs decreasing over time in the game space, this price jump is jarring, so say the least. How to read it?
Well, Meta is just about to report quarterly results, but if you look at early predictions for YoY revenue drops, with Meta’s share price already less than half of its peak in 2021, TikTok getting a lot of the buzz in the ‘social media you care about’ space, and Apple’s privacy changes costing Meta $10 billion this year, you can see the issue.
It’s also clear that a $299 Quest 2 price point was a money-loser for Meta. With supply chain issues raising costs in recent months, it’s possibly a bigger one that you’d expect. And we also know Reality Labs - the division housing the Quest & lots more long-term research - lost $10 billion in 2021.
So the pressure for profitable revenue growth is there - and Mark Zuckerberg has been explicit about this in all-company Meta meetings: “‘Realistically, there are probably a bunch of people at the company who shouldn’t be here,’ Zuckerberg said on the June 30th call, according to a recording obtained by The Verge. ‘And part of my hope by raising expectations and having more aggressive goals, and just kind of turning up the heat a little bit, is that I think some of you might just say that this place isn’t for you. And that self-selection is okay with me.’”
Unfortunately, we don’t have public sales numbers for the Quest, so it’ll be difficult to see how this price change affects monthly units sold. But anecdotally, there’s Quest supply in my local U.S. Target store most of the time right now, so it may not be a ‘raise prices to keep the hardware in stock’ situation.
The Quest ecosystem is still robust for third-parties, of course. When you have 10-15 million units out there in the marketplace, there’s a good installed base to keep selling games and experiences. But Meta’s AR/VR business is now on a ‘lose less money until you (eventually) become profitable’ diet - and it looks like this includes hardware.
[Late-breaking bonus news: the U.S. FTC is filing to block Meta from buying VR fitness studio Within, more aggressive than I expected, saying that “eliminating beneficial rivalry between Meta’s Beat Saber app and Within’s Supernatural app” is anti-competitive.]
The game discovery news round-up..
OK, lots of road to cover before we sleep here. So let’s go ahead and round up some of the most notable game discovery and platform news since Monday. It goes like this:
Microsoft’s quarterly results revealed that “gaming revenue declined 7% in quarter ending June”, with lower first/third-party software engagement and sales offset by Game Pass $ increases. Looks like similar declines for the next quarter. Still, record FY sales, MS’ Satya Nadella says that Xbox has been “market [hardware] leader in North America in the last three quarters across next-gen consoles”, and here’s some nice graphs from Tweaktown (above). Bonus factoid: over 4 million streamed Fortnite on Xbox cloud, including 1 million new to Xbox ecosystem.
Minecraft banning NFTs in their worlds made somebody poke the bear* *(Epic CEO Tim Sweeney), who responded on Twitter re: Epic Games Store being cool with blockchain: “Developers should be free to decide how to build their games, and you are free to decide whether to play them. I believe stores and operating system makers shouldn’t interfere by forcing their views onto others. We definitely won’t.”
VR microlinks: ‘Ultrawings 2′ has ’10x more sales’ on Quest despite design focus on PC VR; an early look at the user experience for PlayStation VR2, which surely must be a 2023 debut now; looks like Pico is getting ready to release a new series of standalone VR headsets - the Pico 4/Pro.
Interested in developing for PlayStation as an indie? Sony’s Greg Rice just announced something relevant: “We’re pleased to announce a new initiative that will make it easier for new partners to hop in and get started with developing for PlayStation. Newly licensed PlayStation game publishers and developers will be eligible to receive one PS5 development kit and one PS5 testing kit.”
Enjoyed this GI.biz piece on why the mobile game space is underdiscussed - and perhaps over-demonized - in press and social media: “The mobile gaming market landscape is very different from what it was a couple of years ago, and there are still plenty of misconceptions about how mobile games look and play and how the industry operates.”
Oodles of Netflix links: a great overview of Netflix Games’ journey so far and possible GaaS pivot; how Netflix is hoping to create more transmedia IP by being more joined-up; “Netflix isn’t the only company whose imaginary business was out-of-step with its actual business” ; a look at what the future holds for Netflix’s Interactive Entertainment (TV & choices!) endeavors.
A little Switch eShop tidbit: it appears that on-console, Nintendo’s eShop now has 3 columns for games listed in its ‘top charts’ and deals, instead of 2 columns. (And some players now see 2 columns - instead of 1 - for Switch search results.) Not sure when, why, and how - ping us if you know any more.
Couple of bonus Switch links, while we’re here. First, here’s the best-selling Japanese eShop games for H1 2022 - Overcooked, Among Us, Human Fall Flat all in there. Second, did you know Devolver’s Switch physical-only title Demon Throttle is now Amazon pre-orderable? Deliberately withholding a digital version is certainly a gimmick…
Lots of notable insight in Chris Z’s ‘Why don’t some games sell well?’ megapiece. If we all knew the answer, we’d be on a Caribbean island, etc. But this all seems to be distilling down to: a) focusing on ‘hook’ in undersupplied genres b) moving on when it’s not working c) understanding that ‘excitement’ often means streamers are amplifying existing positive buzz about the game.
Microlinks: Stadia is still onboarding games onto its Gold plan monthly, including a Saints Row; Steam just announced the Bash Bash Festival “for games that emphasize combat with melee weapons as the primary game mechanic”; did you know that ‘play and/to earn’ title Axie Infinity still has a public Google Doc where you can see weekly DAU? (It’s down from 2.7mil DAU to 280k DAU.)
Finally, just how big is Anna-purr-na’s Stray, as a viral phenom? If you manage to create your own subgenre, as Stray has, even 'My Cat From Hell' TV presenter Jackson Galaxy (99 episodes so far!) makes a ‘Let’s Play’ video about you. Behold:
[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.]