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What's the most effective paid ad platform for PC/console games?
Also: some transparent data from Deep Rock Galactic!
[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 the only typed missive you’ve read this week that actually slows time as you read it*, the GameDiscoverCo newsletter. (*We’re working to patent this unique feature. And stop looking at us weird.)
Also - thanks for the feedback on Monday’s newsletter on monetization. For those keen to discuss similar topics, I’ll be leading some roundtables on ‘Navigating the Move Away from 'Premium-Only' Games’ - at DICE 2023 in Las Vegas next month.
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2022 data: the best paid promotion for your games
While I’ve been on the record as saying, uhh, ‘quite a lot of paid marketing for PC/console games is not well-directed’, I’m obviously a big fan of a metrics-led approach to working out the ‘good spend’ - and exposing the best ad platforms.
Which is - in part - what the folks at Gamesight do. They have a ‘marketing attribution’ platform tuned for games & do influencer discover, relations and tracking - used in various ways by companies like Riot, NetEase, Sega, Bungie & more.
So when I heard they’d published the 2022 version of their free report trying to answer the question - ‘what is the most effective ad network for games?’ - I moseyed over to download it.
So the team there looked - at an aggregated level - at impressions and conversion across all campaigns run through Gamesight in 2022 (concentrating on PC/console games), and came to the following conclusions:
Short form content is on the rise, with a catch: “Tiktok’s usage is up 115% from 2021, demonstrating short video’s powerful ability to raise brand awareness by sheer volume of ads in front of users. However, TikTok’s conversion rate has dropped from 2.65% to 0.96% - a consequence of the fast-paced nature of TikTok’s media as well as Gen Z’s disinclination towards corporate marketing.”
Social ad platforms are the reigning rulers of retention: “On average - Tiktok, Twitter, Facebook, YouTube, and Snapchat’s retention rate was 40% higher than non-social platforms. While many factors could be driving retention, these ad platforms are successfully aligning games with their target interested audiences.”
TikTok is YouTube’s antithesis: “the former had high volume but low conversion, while YouTube had low volume and high conversion. While they share similar retention and audience reach, the two video platforms exhibited a different relationship with their audience. Essentially, TikTok introduces ads to a much wider audience, but people tend to swipe quickly past rather than engaging. Meanwhile YouTube Ads have fewer impressions overall, but convert users at a higher rate.”
Gaming ads had a 43% higher conversion rate on desktop compared to mobile.: “TikTok was the only platform that performed better on mobile – 9x better than desktop. Adwords was the only “balanced” platform in the Top 5, where the PC conversion rate (22.2%) was only 13% higher than the mobile conversion rate (19.65%).”
At a high level, Gamesight also provided the above infographic trying to compare retention, conversions, volume and reach for some major platforms. (It’s very difficult to summarize this stuff . But kudos for trying!)
There’s quite a few more details in the full report, including a note on Twitter’s ‘generous’ post-Elon Musk ad incentives (hah!), the rise of TikTok’s conversion API, and the fact that conversion rates for these PC/console titles performed 2.67x better on desktop vs. mobile.
To conclude: ROI can be difficult to prove for PC and console games, due to lack of granular pixel/user tracking. (Something that’s becoming trickier on mobile, too.) But that shouldn’t excuse us from trying to get more scientific about it….
Deep Rock Galactic: transparent stats for y’all!
Rejoice, since another company made the decision to put out ‘real numbers’ on game performance. This time, it’s Ghost Ship Games, which posted a giant infographic to its Steam news page showcasing Deep Rock Galactic’s 2022 year in review.
The co-op FPS ‘space dwarves’ mining sim is a classic GaaS on the rise, as can be seen by its DAU increases since its early 2018 Steam Early Access launch. (It monetizes post-launch via an extensive set of cosmetic DLC, by the way.)
Anyhow, some of the other things we noted from the infographic, and are duly typing up for your benefit:
DAU is on the way up: as can be seen above, the trend is pleasant. Steam daily active users (DAU) averaged 113,700 in 2022, up 50% from 75,400 in 2021. And Steam monthly actives were similarly up 53% to 830,000 in 2022. One other interesting thing - you can see from the infographic that DAUs are 10x CCU for Deep Rock, meaning the median playtime per day is almost 2 and a half hours.
5.5 million units sold to date, and it’s accelerating: from 502,000 units in 2018 (and slightly less in 2019!), Deep Rock scaled to 1.18 million (2020), 1.385 million (2021), and 2.34 million (2022) paid units. (Some of this is aggressive discounting - as much as 66% off on Steam. But that only builds the continued user-base.)
Lots of ‘free’ Xbox/PS subscription players got added: “over 750,000 new players joined Deep Rock Galactic on Xbox platforms” during 2022, and we’re going to guess 95%+ of those were due to Game Pass. And 9.5 million units (!) were claimed during the PlayStation Plus giveaway in January. (Though we’re guesstimating that only around 25% of these ‘claimed’ units were played.)
Playtime for Deep Rock is pretty darn impressive: looks like the average Steam playtime is a whopping 42 hours and 45 minutes, and 500,000 of the Steam players have got >100 hours played. (The graphic didn’t list the median playtime, unfortunately.)
Of course, this doesn’t guarantee that Deep Rock Galactic multiplied its revenue in 2022 in the same way it’s increasing its DAU. (A lot of its new acolytes last year were acquired at a bigger discount, or via Game Pass/PlayStation Plus.)
But the data is showing that the game has people’s attention & approval, and so is well-positioned to add more cosmetics - of which 3.4 million packs have been sold so far - free ‘seasonal’ content, and perhaps even bigger paid DLC over time?
The game discovery news round-up..
Finishing off the notable news for this week? On the one hand, I’m surprised that we found another 10 items since Monday. But on the other hand, I’m not:
That Xbox & Bethesda first-party game showcase rumored in the last newsletter got officially announced for January 25th under the name ‘Developer_Direct’ - some new branding. Games to be showcased include Forza Motorsport, Minecraft Legends, and Redfall. And “a standalone show is in the works” for Starfield, later.
Want to know a list of all the press outlets that are actively enrolled in Metacritic or Opencritic? Sure you do, which is why AhmenX put one together over on Reddit. They do note: “This IS NOT A CONTACTS LIST. It's just website names, URLs and some extra information for press outlets from around the world.”
The Chilean government’s ‘sure, it’s fine!’ ruling on Microsoft x Activision is now live, and some translation of the .PDF happened on ResetEra From a Chilean gov survey: “61% of console players would opt for a different video game [if they lost access to Call Of Duty on their hardware], and only 20% would opt to switch to another device.”
Bonus stat from that Chilean government antitrust report: it seems to suggest that in 2021, Call of Duty was the third-biggest PlayStation third-party game by revenue, only “behind FIFA and Fortnite” in terms of 30% cut. (There’s also a CoD multi-platform revenue split cited. But not sure if these are Chile-only, third-party estimates, etc, so we’ll spare you.)
Really liked this GameDeveloper.com piece by Ustwo’s Xu He looking at “the effect of altruism in games and how designing for empathy reshapes online communities”, with case studies including Popcannibal’s Kind Words and Thatgamecompany’s Sky: Children of the Light.
What were the biggest mobile games of the year? Mobilegamer.biz & Appmagic did a series of articles estimating this, including the most-downloaded games (headed by Subway Surfers, Garena Free Fire & Stumble Guys), the top-grossing mobile games (Honor Of Kings, PUBG Mobile, Genshin Impact), & more…
Ubisoft Massive designer Fredrik Thylander, previously of DICE - where he worked on Battlefield and Mirror's Edge, has poked a stick at achievements and trophies on Twitter, arguing that they "have been bad for gaming… It narrows games down, it disrupts and diverts attention, and it eats resources that could have made the game better."
Yep, devs, you’re fed up with ‘fake’ influencers demanding keys? And now the real influencers are getting faked out, too: they’re being hit up with bogus key offers via email for big games like Hollow Knight: Silksong & Starfield - maybe to phish them and steal credentials? (Spotted via the excellent Impress.games newsletter.)
In the background of Ubisoft announcing some disappointing results, just noting that they’re pushing Ubisoft Plus - their platform - for $1 for the first month, and there’s even some ‘indie’ games on Ubisoft Plus nowadays - titles like Legend Of Keepers Collection, Lake, and Calico. (Not sure how prioritized this initiative is, though?)
Microlinks: Nvidia and Valve want to make GeForce Now better on Steam Deck (but no native Steam app announcements!); Xbox is now the first gaming console to offer carbon aware game downloads and updates; the MIX has opened submissions for its GDC-timed Spring 2023 showcase.
Finally, we’re aware he is doing the same thing over and over, but eli_handle_b.wav’s YouTube videos inserting ‘famous characters’ in video games continue to amuse. I loved Leslie Nielsen in Detroit: Become Human - and here’s another recent fave:
[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.]