Why TikTok matters for game discovery
And a whole heap of other goodness.
[The GameDiscoverCo game discovery newsletter is written by ‘how people find your game’ expert & GameDiscoverCo founder Simon Carless, and is a regular look at how people discover and buy video games in the 2020s.]
Good afternoon/evening, fellow game discovery cosmonauts. And welcome back to the second free GameDiscoverCo newsletter of the week. (The third missive, of course, will be available to all you kind Plus subscribers!)
This time, we have an entire chocolate factory of game platform and promo info to explore. But we’re starting out by getting wedged inside the pipe that is ‘new social media platforms that can really help your game’, Augustus Gloop-style.
The stealth rise of TikTok as a game discovery tool
I guess it shouldn’t be surprising that TikTok - the shortform video social app which sports hundreds of millions of MAUs worldwide - could be a boon for the right type of game. But I had an intriguing discovery last week which made me think that devs should really be spending a lot more time studying it.
Specifically, in monitoring top Steam sellers in their first week, I ran into Before Your Eyes from GoodByeWorld and Skybound Games, “an emotional first-person narrative adventure where you control the story - and affect its outcomes - with your real-life blinks.” (It’s based on an IGF-winning student game from 2015.)
Great concept, but it didn’t seem to be resonating that well with the public. At the beginning of April, a week before it was due to release, Before Your Eyes only had 90 points and 600 Steam followers in our Plus-exclusive GameDiscoverCo Hype charts - barely in the Top 20 for the games to release that week.
But then - well, I’ll let the SteamDB tracking for followers on the game tell the story visually (below). But there was a big viral spike in interest about 5 days before the game came out.
In browsing the Steam reviews for Before Your Eyes, I saw several that mentioned spotting the game via a TikTok video. And lo and behold, on the TikTok account of ‘cute, friendly, compassionate, cozy video game’ boosters Wholesome Games, I found a TikTok video posted on April 1st which describes the game’s premise wonderfully.
That video has - wait for it - 1.6 million views (!) and counting, with 567,000 likes (!!) We can’t be sure this is the only reason for buzz around the game, of course. But that TikTok’s timing tracks with the sudden upswing in interest. And the game has 579 Overwhelmingly Positive reviews on Steam and is getting wider interest. It was always a great game, and now it’s finding an audience.
I guess the general point here is - video games are a visual medium. So maybe we should all be spending more time using social networks which show off the game in motion to a wider, younger audience than - say - Twitter? You need a different set of viral video skills to make TikTok work, but it can pay off. Some examples/guides:
Look, Future Friends’ Thomas Reisenegger has the definitive guide to TikToks for game devs right now, and I’m not even going to try to quibble with it. Great stuff in there, with a lot of really concrete examples from Clone Drone In The Danger Zone & other games.
If there’s one TikTok account you should look at, I’m going to nominate the Among Us official TikTok - run by Victoria Tran. Sure, the game is massive already - but her videos are funny, creative, and have 10 million likes so far! You need personality/sass to make TikToks work.
Finally, my friends at No More Robots just started their own TikTok and immediately had a hit TikTok (200k views, 26k likes) with a funny Descenders goof with a popular ‘before/after’ TikTok song that I’m doing a terrible job of describing. And Thomas also just pointed out Landfall’s TikTok, which has some pretty successful and neat videos in it from the creators of the totes silly Totally Accurate Battle Simulator.
You may need a game with visual appeal or goofiness to make this work. And there’s other ways you can succeed visually outside of TikTok. Snowman’s Apple Arcade hit Skate City has built up a good-sized Instagram following, for example.
But TikTok is super interesting, and we’re starting to see indications that it can genuinely help your game’s interest and virality. So, uhh, get on that?
What time of day should you release your game?
When working with one of our clients recently, we got asked this interesting question: what exact time of day should you launch your game?
For most Western-centric games, your key markets are the U.S. and Canada (on one hand) and the U.K. and Continental Europe (on the other). They can be as many as 9 hours apart time-zone wise, as you probably all know!
So we used the ‘Steam Trailers in 6 secs’ bot on Twitter - made by Dejobaan’s Ichiro Lambe to check out a few popular recent games. The bot posts just a few minutes after launch, but you can extrapolate the likely launch timing. And here’s the results:
Evil Genius 2: World Domination (8am California time, 4pm UK time, 5pm European time)
Narita Boy (6am California time, 2pm UK time, 3pm European time)
Spacebase Startopia (10am California time, 6pm UK time, 7pm European time)
Genesis Noir (7.30am PT, 3.30pm UK time, 4.30pm European time)
Out Of The Park Baseball '22 (6am California time, 2pm UK time, 3pm European time)
Our collective impression was that most games launched between 6am and 10am West Coast time. That way, you can get a full evening of European sales, then a full evening of North American sales. (Sales velocity is important for appearing in Steam’s ‘New and Trending’ charts!)
And turns out… that’s exactly what most larger games do. So we’d definitely recommend launching in that timing - and ideally not after 8am PT. But if anyone has any ideas on why launching at different times of day is useful, we’d love to hear ‘em!
The game discovery news round-up..
Before we start our larger than normal game discovery round-up for this week: I sat on this link too long, planning to write something up on it, and ran out of time. So I should just post it for you all to read.
The Game Production Community Discord (looks like an neat place!) had a virtual Q&A with Valve a couple of weeks ago about Steam, and somebody did a full write-up of the questions and answers. Lots of very helpful stuff in there, direct from the source! Please read and thank them. And here’s the links:
Fans of well-run Steam showcases, LudoNarraCon is coming up from April 23rd-26th. Not only does it have a bunch of interesting conference-style talks on narrative game content, there’s a LudoNarraCon Supporter Pack on Steam which includes “Cyrano, an exclusive game by the developer of Kind Words, commissioned especially for LudoNarraCon 2021, an album of music and a treasure trove of desktop wallpapers.” Interesting!
Some of the best (limited) info we get on PlayStation 4/5 sales is via monthly charts released by Sony - and DomsPlaying on Twitter has compiled the U.S/European Top 20 for March 2021. Lots of obvious AAA suspects in there. But It Takes Two is continuing its stellar multi-platform performance. Also interesting to see open-world survival horror veteran The Forest in the PS4 U.S. charts.
With only 24-hour notice, a new Nintendo Indie World Showcase streamed this morning. Here’s the stream archive & Nintendo’s YouTube channel is starting to put up individual trailers. The full PR announce details all the showcased Switch titles, with “Road 96, OXENFREE II: Lost Signals and OlliOlli World among the highlights.” Switch is getting hotter for both quantity and quality recently, huh?
Microlinks: Game devs of color, submissions to the GDoC Expo are due April 15th at midnight EST; there’s a long ‘games created in India’ sale on Steam right now, which is neat global diversity-wise; some interesting Amazon Luna analysis - size/type of catalog - from Ampere.
Couple of interesting pieces of VR game news: Oculus is holding a first-ever Oculus Gaming Showcase virtually on April 21st, showing increasing confidence in sales on Quest 2. (Finally, there are people talking positively about VR game sales!) And the company is rolling out Oculus Air Link, “a completely wireless way to play PC VR content on Quest 2 using WiFi, built on the successful Oculus Link streaming pipeline.”
Interesting update from ‘virtual influencer store’ firm Nexus.gg - they’re teaming up with Path Of Exile to let content creators sell in-game items in custom stores - not just Steam keys. “These storefronts will help Grinding Gear Games sell more stuff to more people, and the creators will get an 8% cut of the proceeds.” More info on Nexus’ blog about the subject.
How To Market A Game’s Chris Zukowski is the first out of the gate with Steam UTM-related data, compiling Twitter #screenshotsaturday data to look at visits and wishlists tracked by Valve’s ad tracking system. The hashtag doesn’t seem like a good source of wishlists - though we’re early in seeing what ‘good-converting’ data looks like in the UTM data. And on Twitter, 90% of users aren’t logged in to Steam when they click, which is a big barrier to entry. We’ll see!
Microlinks II: here’s Lars Doucet’s microforensics extrapolating exactly when Steam games were released from existing data; if you’re using UTM data to track influencer results on Steam wishlists/sales, here’s research about the untracked majority; the Steam Open World sale is open for submitting to, if your game is open-y and world-y.
Finally, for a little game dev humor, I really enjoyed this graph wittily created by Riot’s Katie Chironis on ‘every milestone i have ever been a part of on any video game team ever’.
Katie also co-created Elsinore, an excellent Shakespearean indie game! And game development is both a comedy and tragedy, so this all seems to make a lot of sense:
[We’re GameDiscoverCo, a new agency based around one simple issue: how do players find, buy and enjoy your premium PC or console game? You can subscribe to GameDiscoverCo Plus to get access to exclusive newsletters, interactive daily rankings of every unreleased Steam game, and lots more besides.]