Discover more from The GameDiscoverCo newsletter
Who's top of Steam Next Fest for October 2023?
Also: the indie game 'bubble' & lots of game discovery 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.]
Welcome to a brand new discovery week, GameDiscoverCohort. You’re here for the focused info on the PC/console game discovery market, and we’re here for the dad jokes. (TBH: we were going to tell a time-traveling joke, but you guys didn't like it.)
But separately of any temporal disruption gags, we have plenty to cover this week, since Steam Next Fest is coming to an end as we speak, and, much as we did back in June of this year - and in February, too - we’re going to take a detailed look at its hits.
[NEW & HOT: our upgraded Plus PC game data suite is here - you can subscribe to Plus now to get full access to it, weekly PC/console sales research, an exclusive Discord, six (!) detailed game discovery eBooks - & lots more. Check out this newsletter for details on new features.]
Steam Next Fest: the top games for October 2023!
Since Steam’s latest Next Fest demo showcase is over now, we’re able to take a proper look at the top titles for the Fest, which Valve runs three times per year - and is a high-profile way to play limited-time demos of new PC games before they release.
As previously, there’s a few different ways you can see this data, and we made a mammoth Google Doc tracking all of the 900+ October Next Fest demos. But let’s start with ‘total Steam followers added during Next Fest’ (above). Some notes on these:
The top games are a surprisingly diverse mix of genres & styles: the breakout game was ARPG x survival standout Enshrouded (+14,300 followers!), but car racing/drifting titles Japanese Drift Master (+7,400 followers), surprisingly good licensed shooter Robocop: Rogue City (+4,600 followers) and Vampire Survivors-style IP spinoff Deep Rock Galactic: Survivor (+4,100 followers) also performed.
Trends? Deep building and crafting gameplay mechanics abound: not a surprise, if you’ve been following us, but games like city-builder Pioneers Of Pagonia (from the original creator of The Settlers), first-person factory builder Foundry, and survival strategy title Last Train Home all did well re: new followers.
What aren’t we seeing? Many 2D or super ‘cozy’ titles atop Next Fest: we’re not sure if this is related to how cozy gamers discover titles, and there’s some cozy-adjacent titles in the mix, like Another Crab’s Treasure or Little Goody Two Shoes. But most of the Top 50 games are 3D titles with ‘gritty’ or realistic art.
Continuing like last time, we have another interesting view available, by ‘highest Steam demo CCU during the festival’, which looks something like this:
Sure, it’s a lot of the same games! You’ll see a few titles jumped higher up*, though, like ‘peaceful MMO’ Sky: Children Of The Light (which is already huge on mobile in China), and Chinese roguelite autobattler Legendary Creatures 2. (*Probably higher-ranking on CCU because the Chinese market is less-prone to following games than the West?)
And that’s not all - GameDiscoverCo Plus subscriber Michael from Behaviour Interactive popped into our Discord & generated us a graph of the Top 5 tags across the Top 10 Next Fest games by CCU, using a Python library called pyvis:
Oh, and a couple of housekeeping notes. First, Valve started the Festival by highlighting Most Wishlisted Upcoming Games as the lead Next Fest tab (to guard against ‘pre-gaming’ of the tab?), switching to ‘Trending Upcoming’ midway through.
And secondly, the Next Fest page is now displaying the Top 50 games by unique player, which do match up with ours (phew.) Games in the Top 50 got a special note from Steam saying the Wrap-Up page will be “promoted through various Steam channels for one week” and then stay up until the following Next Fest. (This is new!)
Final reminder: if you want to see how a specific Next Fest game ranked in CCU vs. other demos on Steam, go to our Google Drive Next Fest doc & check out the ‘Day 1 CCU’ tab. This is adapted data from SteamDB’s demo CCU page. Just ‘CTRL-F’ and search for your game’s rough rank on each subsequent tab/day.
Is there an ‘indie games bubble’? (Is it just indie?)
Former Motherboard/Kotaku writer Gita Jackson recently wrote an excellent piece called ‘Is there an indie games bubble?’ for Roadmap. And it deals with issues so close to the core of this newsletter that we wanted to give it its own newsletter section.
Specifically, we thought framing these issues with the state of the market was a great way to understand where we’re at for PC/console games:
Funding for new games is getting tricky due to high interest rates: Hannah Nicklin from Die Gute Fabrik (which just shipped Saltsea Chronicles, and is now looking for its next $) told Gita:“There’s been a huge amount of investment and people recognizing [that] indie things can take off… All of these bits of money you can trace back to cheap debt. It’s also why the bottom is now falling out of indie funding, quite honestly.”
The game market has been ‘overcrowded’ with games for years: the piece cites Jeff Vogel’s ‘bubble popping’ article from 2014, and Tess Snider from Hidden Achievement adds re: supply & demand: “I don’t know how anyone could perceive our current situation as a bubble. It is utterly bleak out there, and it has been for years now”, adding: “most games aren’t making enough to be sustainable.” (Contract work is the solution for Snider, though we wonder if the ‘no cheap debt’ factor slows that too.)
The ‘indie games are cool’ angle doesn’t sell games on its own (anymore): it’s kinda unclear if it ever did, but as Among Us’ Victoria Tran says: “If you showed me five cars and told me one car was made by super cool independent mechanics in Italy while the others were made by Toyota, my response would be ‘Oh. So which one should I drive?’” (In other words, it might be a factor, but the main factor is the game.)
Concluding, Die Gute Fabrik’s Nicklin says: “The big conversation on the street - on the Discord - is very much that [indie developers] are finding it really fucking tough right now.” Which is true. But we’d like to add two other things.
First, more games are being modestly successful overall - we recently ran stats that 1,271 Steam releases in 2019 grossed >$10k in the first 3 months, and that increased to 2,067 games in 2022. So: there’s more ground-level bootstrapped success, but ROI on ‘doing games for a living’-level investments? Much less certain. (Though a few big ones!)
Secondly, we’ve had the question ‘what happened to the boutique indie game hit?’ a few times recently? The answer is two-fold: all the old boutique indie game hits are still available on PC/console for a fraction of the cost thanks to discounts, and the game-playing market is sometimes favoring other styles of game, now it has more choice.
Finally, ‘poor ROI’ affects large companies as well - this isn’t just an indie problem. It’s just that some big firms have long-running GaaS hits to help bankroll smaller titles. (Or deeper investor pockets, we guess.) But recent larger-scale layoffs are also due to the slowdown from a pandemic/cheap money boom & too much player choice. Sigh.
The game discovery news round-up..
Although that was a lot, we have a bunch of other game discovery and platform news to chunk through, so let’s get right to it:
Yes, Microsoft finally closed on the Activision Blizzard acquisition, with the UK clearing the deal, not without some CMA tantrums: “Businesses and their advisors should be in no doubt that the tactics employed by Microsoft are no way to engage with the CMA… Dragging out proceedings in this way only wastes time and money.” (Also weird: B. Kotick’s internal ‘victory lap’ via a James Corden interview.)
Relatedly, Ubisoft added a FAQ on the ActiBlizz cloud streaming deal, which they are (obviously!) using to push Ubisoft+, though they “have the rights to be able to license them individually to companies as well.” Also an interesting side-note on physical game sales in here: “Do I think physical sales might get lower over time? Sure, but will it ever completely go away? I don't think so.”
Looks like Sony is starting to test PC trophies for PSN, with a console game achievement fansite spotting “a new PS5 trophy list with an interesting additional platform listed alongside it: "PSPC." The trophy list… was simply titled "Trophy Set" and wasn't attached to any particular game, appearing to be a test list of some kind.”
Minecraft news? The giant sandbox success revealed 300 million copies sold (above) in the latest MineCon keynote, also showing off that every day in-game during September 2023, 15 million pickaxes were crafted, 915km was traveled on the back of pigs (!), and 15 million skeletons were killed. That’s.. a few.
Epic added a ‘Getting The Most Out Of Epic Games Store & Epic Online Services’ video lecture given during UnrealFest, which includes the newly announced ‘Now On Epic’ program, a ‘put your back catalog on EGS’ program which “gives participants the opportunity to boost their net revenue…. from 88% to 100% in their first six months on the store on all payments processed by Epic Games.”
Other notable things in that Epic Games Store talk, as summarized by GameDiscoverco’s Alejandro [.DOC]? The ‘EGS game giveaway’ program will “continue through 2023 and beyond”, EGS’ aim is “to contribute 30% of your title’s [PC] unit sales” over time (this is aspirational, for now!), and there’s a list of feature updates for 2024/2025 that includes a new ‘hero carousel’ & store ‘takeover’ events.
The folks at Die Gute Fabrik worked with Ben Abraham to do a report on the climate impact of Saltsea Chronicles’ development, noting: “There are no videogames on a dead planet. Net zero is an urgent target not just for big companies, but… smaller companies like ours need to act too. The report makes a number of recommendations for other indies, and shares resources for them to track their own impact, set targets, and track their progress.”
PC Gamer contacted Valve after our recent report on Steam dev security changes, with Valve confirming that so far, “fewer than 100 Steam users had the games installed when the malware was added”, but that there’s been “an uptick in sophisticated attacks” on Steam devs that are necessitating these changes.
Looks like Epic’s move to 5.0 is upon us, with a big Fortnite UI redesign with the Halloween update that “aggressively pushes players toward creator-made experiences and spending money in the in-game store”, and Rocket League eliminating player item trading, with the note: “this opens up future plans for some Rocket League vehicles to come to other Epic games over time, supporting cross-game ownership.”
Want to understand Steam’s ‘Discovery Queue’ functionality better? The HowToMarketAGame folks are on that, with some real-world examples: “Let’s look at the number of wishlists you need in a 7-day period to trigger the DQ… they all seem to group around the 1,500 to 4,000 wishlist range.” Extra visibility for 2 weeks!
Microlinks: U.S. retailer Best Buy is ending its physical Blu-Ray/DVD sales in early 2024 - but not video games; here’s a run-down of Netflix’s most-downloaded ‘free’ iOS/Android games; Panic’s niche handheld the Playdate now has 24,000+ units out there, with 49,000 copies of games sold on Playdate Catalog.
Finally, being fans of Game Center CX/Retro Game Master, we’re delighted to see that Kirby & Super Smash Bros creator Masahiro Sakurai has a witty ‘try classic games together’ team-up with GCCX’s Shinya Arino on Sakurai’s excellent YouTube channel:
Oh, and late-breaking update - Part 2, on games from 1982-1985, is already up…
[We’re GameDiscoverCo, an agency based around one simple issue: how do players find, buy and enjoy your PC or console game? We run the newsletter you’re reading, and provide consulting services for publishers, funds, and other smart game industry folks.]