TikTok: practical advice for big discovery wins!
It's an important network for game discovery, nowadays.
[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.]
It’s totally a Monday - and as you read this, I will be ambling around Disneyland on a mini-break where I do not, in fact, have to look at Steam’s real-time charts. (I’ll be inhaling a Dole Whip or two outside the Enchanted Tiki Room, instead.)
But thanks to the magical concept of ‘write a newsletter ahead of time’, you’ll still be getting some useful info on game discovery trends. Onward…
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TikTok: a primer for reluctant game developers?
Yes, we know we’ve talked about TikTok a few times recently - most recently in August with a profile of Mortal Rite, which used the social media standout to get over 120 million TikTok views, 640k TikTok followers, and 60,000 Steam wishlists.
But we ran into a great long-form post from trailer maker Derek Lieu a few weeks back. It’s titled ‘TikTok For Game Trailer Editors’, but includes wider-ranging wisdom about the video platform, which has as many as 1 billion monthly active users (!)
Derek gave us permission to reprint parts of his piece, saying: “I think TikTok is probably one of the best current social media platforms for reaching an audience, and I really like how its messiness does away with the perfectly curated Instagram feed mentality which can be paralyzing for creators.
It feels very low stakes, and I find its messiness makes it very approachable and fun to use. How quickly you grow a following really depends on you and your game, but it's worth trying it out and experimenting. Again, no topic is too small!”
We agree, and we’ve crystallized Derek’s full post - which we’d definitely recommend perusing - down into the following seven points:
Post specifics about your game! “For gamedev I recommend posting small videos about [very targeted] different aspects of your game. Sort of like how you might tweet an animated GIF. It's just a little nugget about the game, yourself, or something people might find entertaining. I've also seen people use TikTok as a means to poll their audience about a feature they're going to add to the game.”
Get to the point: “TikTok is a very unforgiving platform because it is SO easy to swipe away to the next video if you're not interested in what you're watching…. If people don't know what the video is going to be about within the first second or two, the person watching might swipe away. The fastest way to establish the topic is to use text or to say what they're about to see.”
Keep it simple and short: “I often say a game trailer should have 1-3 ideas in it, but even a pretty focused trailer actually has many more in it. TikTok videos really need to strip things down even further… I think the TikTok audience would rather watch a dozen short videos about tiny parts of your game rather than a long video which feels like it was made for YouTube or a documentary short.”
Don't overthink it: “Similar to the previous tips. TikTok videos are flighty, quick, and light, so you should really try to think of topics which feel like they carry that amount of weight like: ‘Here are all the animations for petting the cat in my game.’ Or maybe: ‘This is the first concept art for this character, and here's what the finished version looks like!’”
TikTok is fun and MESSY: “TikTok videos are generally crudely made, messy, and unpolished when compared to something you post on your website, YouTube channel, or maybe even Twitter. In fact, I think it can be WORSE to post something like a highly polished trailer on TikTok. It’s a great place to experiment, practice, try out new things, let your hair down, show your messy desk, your game's bugs, and say ‘lol, look at this.’”
Make it personal: “A huge part of TikTok's appeal is the strength of the personal connection between the creator and the viewer. I think this is because of the immediacy of the format, and the fact videos usually are taken with the selfie camera of a cell phone. It's very different than a YouTube video show with a DSLR, tripod, high quality lighting, and then edited, scored, and carefully honed.”
Caption your videos: “Videos without captions are highly frowned upon on TikTok. Part of it is probably that people might watch on mute, but also, I think it's because text helps you digest a video much faster. Our brains are super duper hard wired to read text in our primary language, and it's a fast and efficient way to deliver information. Spoken narration or words don't absorb in quite the same way.”
Derek added, by way of recommending other sources on TikTok: “Most of what I know about TikTok is from Thomas Reisenegger and this excellent primer he wrote to help get game devs started. I also recommend reading Victoria Tran's EXTENSIVE discussion of her strategy for running the TikTok for Among Us, which has lots and lots of examples, data, spreadsheets and other [neatness].”
So there you go. We’re not saying success on TikTok necessarily means your game will be a smash - we noted that Mortal Rite only exceeded its recent $50k Kickstarter by about $18,000, despite its TikTok popularity. But… it can’t hurt, right?
How are niche indie F2P games doing on mobile?
We enjoy following the transparency of TinyTouchTales’ Arnold Rauers, who just shipped free “solitaire style roguelike deckbuilding card game” Card Crawl Adventure on iOS & Android, and did a big postmortem blog about his month 1 sales - and overall current revenues across his portfolio.
There’s plenty to learn from the post, but we especially wanted to focus on the following facts about the game & Arnold’s portfolio:
The game had decent organic & ‘featured’ reach: Following an Apple feature and non-paid promotions to his existing lists - and various website reviews, etc: “After 1 month we could generate 55,000 downloads, 38,000 coming from the App Store and 17,000 from the Google Play Store.” (He doesn’t do paid acquisition.)
The monetization on the game isn’t incredibly aggressive: Arnold explains: “The game is free to download, [and] offers 1 free character and 4 paid characters ($0.99 each), which are all free to try as well. We also offer an ‘easy mode’ for $0.99 and a consumable purchase to catch up on the Weekly Tavern Crawl [mode].”
Arnold’s strategy works because he has a portfolio of games: The Month 1 results for Card Crawl Adventure aren’t that impressive: “The game has generated around $2,000 in its first month, $1,300 coming from Apple and about $700 coming from Google.” But he adds: “With an average of about $66 a day, this revenue amount falls in line with most of my other titles.” (He also monetizes some games via ads & Google Play Pass.)
Other titles, eh? You can see that the original Card Crawl (red/blue graph sections) got a good revenue boost at the same time that Card Crawl Adventure launched, with >$10k netted for the month in total across all of his games for Arnold:
These are somewhat niche titles - Arnold notes: “The biggest criticism of the [new] game is its initial complexity and steep learning curve if you are not a fan of the genre.” But the series also has fans and good replayability in their niche.
Anyhow, building a set of interlinked, free mobile games he can monetize from is working out - at least for Arnold as a solo-ish dev in the space. And there’s praise for Card Crawl in Google Play reviews in “avoiding all the worst impulses of current mobile games.” (Of course, this also means less $.)
We see don’t see that many ‘traditional’ solo indies making a living in the mobile space, because a) it’s so difficult to get enough organic reach, and b) to scale you often have to monetize aggressively, then use paid ads. So this is an interesting case study.
The game discovery news round-up..
Before you continue your working week? Here’s a round-up of the top game discovery and platform news that we’ve totally spotted, recently:
The Brazilian regulators have waved through the Microsoft x Activision Blizzard deal, and on the way, released a larger document that seems to reveal that “Xbox Game Pass generated $2.9 billion from consoles in 2021.” About what we’d expect? TweakTown’s Derek Strickland contextualizes this alongside total spend: “Xbox gaming generated a total of $16.28 billion in calendar year 2021.”
The EA app for Windows “has officially left its open beta phase and will soon replace Origin as our primary PC platform”, and the Dead Space remake “will be 'native' on Steam, no Origin client required.” A major change in direction? Unclear, since Star Wars Jedi: Survivor still claims it needs Origin (or shortly, the EA app?)
September 2022’s top PlayStation games, according to Sony itself? The Last Of Us remake made it to #3 for PlayStation 5-only titles, but was outdone by basketball (NBA 2K23) and soccer (FIFA 23). Elsewhere, PlayStation 4-compatible games had a lot of the usual suspects (Minecraft, GTA) near the top of the charts - but remember PS5s can buy PS4 game SKUs, which muddies the rankings a bit!
Apple Arcade continues to skew ‘replayable and family friendly’, with its October line-up including Gin Rummy & Spider Solitaire (woo!), plus “casual embroidery-based puzzler” Stitch, and its continued mobile-exclusive takes on the NBA 2K franchise. Oh, and excellent older indie The Gardens Between. (It’s a good mix.)
A new interview with Unity’s John Riccitiello has him saying, for those saying the company is expanding outside of a core focus on video games: “Yes, we have businesses outside of gaming… Yes, they generate revenue. Yes, that makes us a healthier company so we can invest more in gaming when we want to. But it also advances our understanding of technology so we can make an ever-better game engine.”
Lewd games update: Nintendo is apparently cracking down on overly suggestive Switch games, while Steam reconsidered its ban on visual novel CHAOS;HEAD NOAH, which is now launching as scheduled on both PC and console. Valve sez: “We've also examined the process that led to the previous decision about CHAOS;HEAD NOAH, and made some changes to avoid situations like this in the future.”
VR stuff: Meta’s Mark Zuckerberg is hyping the “higher-price-point device” ‘Cambria’ pro VR/AR headset to Protocol ahead of its unveiling tomorrow, but hints at lower-cost devices to come: “We think that there's a kind of consumer-grade device, in that $300-to-$500 range, for gaming, social use cases, things like that.” Also: more Meta engineers need to be playing Horizon Worlds, or else.
The latest Marvel’s Spider-Man Remastered patch on Steam “added Connect to PSN option in the menu”, although it’s not yet working. Still, it’s an indication of Sony’s plans to expand PSN beyond PlayStation devices at some point in the near future.
Valve announced that its long-awaited Steam Deck docking station is now available, and also ran a personable video announce (above) revealing that Steam Decks can now be ordered in real-time (in the West!) They did caveat that if things get hectic with Deck orders, “at a certain point we’ll flip back into reservation mode until we’re able to catch up.”
Epic CEO’s Tim Sweeney has been feedin’ the trolls again on Twitter, replying to one and saying: “Epic Games Store is one of the big ecosystem success stories of the past 5 years. It's built up 50% of the audience of Steam in less than 4 years.” It’s done better than many, though a good chunk of those uniques are Fortnite/free giveaway/F2P related. And he added, later: “The past is decided - the battle is for the future.”
Microlinks: EU antitrust regulators “are asking game developers whether Microsoft will be incentivised to block rivals' access to Call of Duty maker Activision Blizzard's best-selling games”; Stadia's shutdown? “The history of Google's doomed project, from those inside and out”; also: “What happened to the virtual reality gaming revolution?”
Finally, we’ll end with a fun story from the world of classic PC MMO Ultima Online, which recently turned 25 years old (!):
[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.]