Which platforms should you launch your video game on first?
It's not as obvious as it looks. Plus: Roblox analysis & latest news.
[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.]
We are getting there, folks. After a holiday start to the week, it takes a while to get back into the swing of things. Which is why this newsletter is a day late (and not a dollar short, we reckon!)
But we’re in the building, and have twin focuses for main stories today - game launch platforms & Roblox. Though to be clear, we are not claiming you should be simul-shipping on Nintendo Switch and Roblox. (Well… maybe we’d like to see someone try?)
Oh, and a final reminder: the ‘$100 a year for GameDiscoverCo Plus benefits’ offer - only made twice yearly - is over in 36 hours. You’ll get an extra sales insight & analysis newsletter ever Friday, plus exclusive Discord & data perk: here’s signup deets!
Which platforms should you ship yr game on first?
A few days ago, Patrick Klepek put out an excellent piece on VICE called: ‘One Dev’s Xbox Struggles May Show How Game Pass Is Already Changing Games’. In it, he chats to The Game Bakers about their experience shipping rather beautiful ‘love adventure’ Haven, and how it affected platform choices for their new Furi DLC.
Basically, since Haven was Xbox Game Pass on Day 1 (and standalone Xbox sales weren’t awesome), and Furi was featured on PlayStation Plus at launch back in 2016 but also never sold great on Xbox, The Game Bakers’ Audrey Leprince says:
“We talked to the team at Xbox to see if there was a way to get some support, but Furi didn’t align with the Game Pass strategy focused on new titles… This is why we took the decision not to bring the DLC to Xbox at launch: the chances the investment was not going to recoup were high.”
What’s particularly neat about the article is that it snapshots units downloaded/sold per platform for both 2020’s Haven, and 2016’s Furi (before this new DLC hit.) Here’s Haven’s players, both including and not including Game Pass:
So this shows the power of Game Pass in terms of sheer players. Heck, 73% of all LTD folks who downloaded Haven did so via a Game Pass subscription. And then, here’s the Furi stats, with the caveat that 2016 was a loong time ago, and PS+ is changing:
Leaving aside the fact that doing DLC for a game released in 2016 is unusual - to say the least - it’s interesting to me that The Game Bakers would skip only Xbox for the Furi DLC, based on these stats. (It was presumably PS4 and PS5 combined for Haven doing 4x the paid units on Xbox that partly convinced them?)
If you look back to the original Furi release, there wasn’t that much paid difference between Xbox and PlayStation. And since the team ended up having to do a public statement re: ‘DLC is on all platforms except Xbox’, it elicited some grumpy responses online. We think we would have just shipped on Xbox too - and hoped to recoup longterm. (But we don’t know how large DLC port costs would have been.)
Anyhow, you do have a lot of choice, as a developer or publisher, about which platforms to ship on. And The Game Bakers were 100% right that ‘ship simultaneously on all PC/console game platforms’ is not the right approach for many, nowadays. Here are some alternate configs we’ve seen:
PC first, and then console for (or after) 1.0 release: for example with Skul: The Hero Slayer and especially with a lot of more complex PC titles like Rust, which needed time to come to console. Big advantage: you can get the community to knock out early bugs & improve (and ‘prove out!’) the game. Disadvantage: you can’t do ‘one big launch push’, traditional PR-wise.
PC and Switch only at launch: we’ve seen some publishers such as Devolver doing this, for example for upcoming pixel-y title Gunbrella. You need a lot more paid QA in order to pass Switch cert sufficiently ahead of time. But - at least until recently - the two-platform push could be worth it.
PC & whoever pays you to be in a subscription service Day 1: see Xbox/PC Game Pass in particular! Also PlayStation Plus - maybe not Apple Arcade any more. Money talks here, and of course you’ll make sure a console version is ready Day 1, if you get the correct payment and reach for it.
PC (and console?) & mobile at the same time: with the advent of games like Genshin Impact, it really does seem like you can make a truly platform independent game that isn’t Fortnite or Minecraft, if you get it right. There’s not a lot of these that work without a lot of tweaking, tho. More often, games come to mobile later, like with Apex Legends. But it’s worth considering…
There’s some big questions around this subject. A lot of old school folks will presume that simultaneously shipping on all consoles and PC is best - also in part because it can justify higher upfront game budgets.
But the ‘simul-ship at all costs’ approach is more expensive and complex. And your flops can be even larger and more painful as a result. To us, it’s also redolent of the ‘freeze all content 4 months before release’ approach - which isn’t so compatible with multiple pre-release demos, tweaking the game constantly based on user feedback, etc.
So we do think everyone should be asking what you lose and what you gain by debuting on lots of platforms at the same time, in terms of both opportunity cost, flexibility & money? And we commend The Game Bakers for being up front about it.
GameDiscoverCo explores… Roblox!
On occasion, we at GameDiscoverCo like to poke around on platforms that we don’t know enough about. Which is how our data/ops co-ordinator Alejandro got the ‘job’ of playing the top CCU Roblox games. So we’ve made the above video, showing sample gameplay from Roblox’s top dogs - from Brookhaven RP through Adopt Me & beyond.
We previously wrote about taking Roblox seriously as a game development platform. And in delving a bit deeper, we found lots of interesting data on the top Roblox games as showcased by third-party monitoring sites like RTrack, RoMonitor Stats, or Rolimons.
Just as a reminder - the biggest titles like Brookhaven RP can have as high as 400,000 CCUs at times, and even lower-ranked titles like the SCP Foundation-themed 3008 see more than 50,000 CCUs on many days. It’s a massive market, even if the third-party dev cut isn’t the best.
Here’s some of the things we learned from our trawl through the platform that over half of U.S. kids under 16 were apparently playing back in 2020 - and presumably similar numbers now:
A lot of Roblox’s top titles have ‘hangspace’ vibes: much as in Fortnite, the ability for friends to chill out and do ‘stuff’ together in these metaverse-like spaces is key. Alejandro notes of Brookhaven RP: “players can meet and play together in a similar way to other services like Second Life or Playstation Home. Jobs can be taken, houses can be bought and daily life activities happen.”
Monetization is deeply embedded in most top Roblox games: in the conclusions of his analysis for us, Alejandro noted: “With such an aggressive monetization emphasis, I feel like kids are becoming more used to heavily monetized systems. These tend to limit the experience by tying a real money transaction to the gameplay loop.“ (Parents of kids who play Roblox may be familiar with this!)
Roleplaying is massive in Roblox: if you look at the list of top Brookhaven RP videos on YouTube, you’ll see recent videos like ‘my emotional first gymnastics competition’, ‘moving to Brookhaven’ (probably the best video to get an idea of the full world), and even, uh, ‘I spied on online daters as a box’. The most open Roblox games are platforms for regular life events to happen, more than games.
Some of the top worlds have complex gameplay mechanisms: for example, Blox Fruits is a pirate-themed open world adventure with leveling-up/grind as a key retention mechanism; Pet Simulator X is an idle/farming game with ‘collect ‘em all’ gameplay and virtual pet trading with other players; BedWars is actually a ‘defend your bed!’ PvP game which started out in Minecraft and has wandered across to Roblox. All known gameplay mechanisms, Roblox-ified.
Relatively adult things can happen in this kid-centric world: though Roblox has robust safety mechanisms in place, you’ll still note that this Common Sense Media FAQ on Roblox has a section explaining ODers (online daters!) - mapping the non-small kid friendly phenomenon. Perhaps Roblox has thrived because they’re willing to be reasonably open, versus companies like Nintendo - who massively limit online interactions? (Unlike the rest of the Internet.)
When we talked about Roblox last time, we came to the conclusion that professional game developers have things to bring to the platform. But we also thought that the loose, sandbox-heavy nature of top Roblox games imply that a perfectly polished title isn’t necessarily what players are looking for.
Our trek through the top Roblox games has reinforced that. We also recommend you re-read Marigold Bartlett’s ‘explainer’ on the Roblox space, which brings a game dev’s eye to the “extremely weird and slightly unsettling flavor” of the games on the platform. But it’s working! And the Roblox Connect 2022 virtual conference is happening starting tomorrow, for those interested in understanding the dev scene better…
Finally, we’re also pretty sure there are bigger Roblox monetization/discovery experts than us out there. So if you’re one of those folks, please hit us up to write a guest column, so we can shower all that untold knowledge on our delighted heads?
The game discovery news round-up..
Finishing off this particular newsletter, let’s take a look at some notable news in the whole game discovery and platform space. As well as the ‘grumpiness about loot box’ space, actually, which is first up this time:
There’s a lot going on with loot boxes and governments - Spain is planning new legislation about the issue, Finland has new research pushing for legislation, Diablo Immortal’s skipping the Netherlands and Belgium due to (contested) loot box laws, and U.S. child advocacy organizations are petitioning the FTC for restrictions. Overall, gov interest continues to increase…
Take-Two Interactive CEO Strauss Zelnick says that Day 1 subscription service launches for T2/Rockstar’s games aren’t good business for them: “We can’t afford to turn our business upside down in a way that doesn’t make sense economically… It can be potentially great for catalogue properties.” Completely agree, for the big dogs who have much-awaited games.
Some good extra detail from Axios’ Stephen Totilo on the ‘not-E3’ streaming showcase blitz: “Ubisoft won't hold its traditional June showcase, but a company rep tells me they've got one planned for "later this year"… Still unclear if Nintendo is skipping. They announced last year's 6/15 show on 6/2!” Oh, and is Devolver Direct (above, in 2020) really happening, too? (Magic 8-ball says… maybe?)
GameDiscoverCo newsletter reader Robby Zinchak pinged us about an interesting game discovery issue - email deliverability! He wrote a rant about it on his blog that may be situation-specific. But the issue remains - as an indie dev with an email list, how do you inexpensively send emails without bounces?
A survey from the UK’s OFCOM says that “58% of UK players were subscribed to a games subscription service during Q4 2021… PlayStation Plus is the most popular paid-for subscription service in the UK, with 3.2 million subscribers at the end of last year, followed by Xbox Game Pass at 2.6 million, Xbox Live Gold at 1.5 million, and Nintendo Switch Online at 1.49 million.”
Steam Deck things: the device’s docking station has been delayed “due to parts shortages and COVID closures at our manufacturing facilities”, though Deck shipments are unaffected; the ‘quieter fan’ sofware update actually appears to work well: “In my short and extremely unscientific testing, my impression is that Valve has made some great improvements.”
According to Hot Dogs, Horseshoes & Hand Grenades dev Anton Hand: “Valve FINALLY added a 'usage' column in their build back-end that shows you the percentage of people who have run in the game in the past week that have used a given branch. So you can actually see how many peeps are using your beta.”
Microlinks: veteran indie Jeff Vogel says he doesn’t know how much video games should cost; Apple Arcade’s June has new games by Japanese creators, including Yu Suzuki; Xbox’s latest update allows players to reveal hidden achievement info if they want to.
Finally, we always keep an eye on the ‘moral panic’ meter, since we’re in the video game biz (ohdear). And historical moral panic-wise, we recently stumbled on a U.S. ‘60 Minutes’ TV report on Dungeons & Dragons from 1985. (CW: suicide, demons, Gary Gygax looking upset.) There - but for the grace of Mario - go we:
[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.]