Data dive: anatomy of a Steam game launch


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[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.]

And welcome back to your second GameDiscoverCo free newsletter of this week. This one is going to go long on our traditional thing – sharing numbers and performance on premium video games in a helpful, data-centric way. Look, we’re not going to lie – there’s spreadsheets. But they’re friendly, nurturing spreadsheets.

Steam launch retrospective: Hundred Days

I’ve chatted with the Broken Arms team, creators of neat-looking winemaking simulator Hundred Days, a few times. They’re GameDiscoverCo Plus subscribers and I also helped them out with some pricing questions before their Steam launch on May 13th.

So it was great to see them share a Twitter thread about their launch experience. I followed up with some direct questions to company CEO Elisa Farinetti to get some extra graphs and data transparency. So let’s take a look at the game, how it did, and lessons.

Firstly, Broken Arms revealed they “launched with around 60,000 wishlists – we grew the last 10,000 wishlists in 6 days when we entered the ‘Popular Upcoming’ chart [on Steam].” Looking at the game’s follower data, that means it had around a 7.2 follower to wishlist ration before it hit Popular Upcoming, which is on the low side if you look at our surveys.

(Lower ratios are indicative of decent quality wishlists – or at least, people curious to follow along with detailed news updates for the complex PC-centric game, and not wanting to just hit the ‘wishlist’ button and walk away.)

Here’s Hundred Days’ wishlists since its June 2019 Steam page launched. It’s been medium-paced and steady additions to get to that 60k, with spikes for demos in three Steam Game Festivals, pre-restrictions on frequency (March 2020, June 2020, February 2021.)

Ignoring the spikes, we also see some decent daily follower/wishlist additions. Looks like the game was generally adding 25-50 wishlists and around 3-6 followers per day, through almost the entire period. These regular organic wishlists are key.

Broken Arms then revealed: “From launch day – May 13th – until the end of May we sold 12,500 copies: 89.5% of them on Steam, and 10.5% on other stores combined (EGS, GOG, Stadia, Itch). The top 3 countries for the game are US, China and Germany … we are super happy with the result.”

We’re happy that they’re happy. It’s a great result for a smaller team in continental Europe, actually. I checked with Broken Arms and they sold around 9,700 copies in the first week – so about a 16% wishlist to first week sales conversion rate. (It’s essentially the median of 20% if you ‘ignore’ the Popular Upcoming wishlists, which I think are often variable quality.) Here’s the sales chart:

The nature of the curve is interesting – the Broken Arms team notes: “During the first weekend we had ‘Mixed’ and ‘Mostly Positive’ review days. During Mostly Positive days we had 2,5M page views, while Mixed days dropped to 300K.”

I looked at their impression graphs with them. There was definitely a lack of visibility on Steam – less referrals from front page, etc – at the same time their reviews were Mixed.

But we couldn’t work out if it was review score-related or just external traffic-centric. I will note that NorthernLion dropped a popular video on Hundred Days on the 16th. So it’s very possible a spike of external traffic boosted their internal Steam referrals again, since we know that’s how the Steam algo works.

So I would definitely describe this as a good launch! The one place the Hundred Days team had some expectation/reality issues was in the story mode. It had some dialogue style and density that some players reacted poorly too, if you look at the reviews. (BTW looks like 278 reviews for 11200 Steam sales, which is 40.2 sales per review, almost exactly the middle of our expected range.)

But since Hundred Days is quite a unique idea, very deep, and has extra content planned, they should be able to improve from a 72% Mostly Positive ranking over time! Thanks again for letting us see behind the scenes, Broken Arms crew.

Is X Steam wishlists on launch enough for you?

Look, nobody likes data more than us at GameDiscoverCo. Well, a lot of you like data too, so that’s a gross exaggeration. Let’s start again. Many people like data, and so do we. And one of those people are Brave At Night, who we featured recently discussing their debut published game, Mind Scanners.

And here’s what they put up on Twitter the other day: “#Gamedev reality check: is 10k wishlists really enough to sustain yourself? There is no easy answer, it depends on many factors. BUT we made a tool to help calculate wishlists to sales conversion & how much can you expect to make.”

The Google Sheets spreadsheet, constructed from a ‘dev having signed with a publisher’ perspective, uses some of the data GameDiscoverCo and others have put together (‘first week to first year’ revenue multiples, the ‘wishlists to first week sales’ conversion we were talking about earlier) to sketch out multiple possible scenarios. It does have publisher ‘markup’, but doesn’t do variable recoup percentages.

As Brave At Night note: “This spreadsheet includes costs that people often neglect or are not aware of, like actual game price differs in various countries, there are discounts, chargebacks, sales tax etc. All of these add up to quite a big difference compared to just doing $20 x 5,000 = $100,000 – 30%.” Anyhow, duplicate a copy and fiddle with it at your leisure – I’m sure feedback would be welcome!

The game discovery news round-up..

And we’re just about to peace out here. So let’s have a hack at the frankly large amount of other news out there in the world of ‘people typing things about trends around game discovery on the Internets’:

  • Feedback: after I complained about it in the last newsletter, I did hear from folks who were in the Indie Live Expo showcase who said they still picked up 500-1,000 Steam wishlists. This is despite it not being featured on Steam, and showcasing a mindblowing 300 games across 5+ hours. (One of them said Chinese wishlisters were particularly strong!) So maybe it’s.. fine since it’s reaching different markets? The volume of reveals were overwhelming for me, at least.

  • We don’t talk about PS4/PS5 game sales numbers enough, partly due to lack of data. Which is why the official monthly Sony sales charts are very useful. Standouts this time: Housemarque’s PS5-exclusive roguelite shooter Returnal has really been doing great on the limited installed base. And I haven’t heard much on ‘the Internet’ about Rust Console Edition, but it’s clearly been a big smash on PS4 (and Xbox) – congrats to Facepunch, Double Eleven and friends.

  • Platform microlinks: the planned Stadia device expansion is happening – Stadia on Chromecast with Google TV, Stadia on compatible Android TV OS devices launching June 23rd; Apple’s WWDC keynote announcements were largely not incredibly relevant for games, but here they are; massive U.S. telco AT&T and Google are hooking up for 6 months free Stadia Pro for wireless/fiber customers.

  • The fun funders (!) at Kowloon Nights have been talking about funded dev Sabotage Studio (The Messenger). Here’s a really good Twitter thread about “community building on Twitch: utilizing their broadcasts as community content updates”, and now there’s a Discord blog post about “strategies, best practices, tools, bots, and how they’ve grown from a small community to over 15,000 members” for Sea Of Stars & other games. Handy!

  • Microlinks: most of you don’t work on iOS, but yum, soon you’ll be able to A/B test store page performance on the App Store; outside of games, here’s a trend piece about how “rivals circling Apple and Google are courting developers and creators who are growing increasingly frustrated with the fees those tech giants charge in their app stores”; Panic’s Playdate handheld reveal included a really cool ‘no code’ game editor, Pulp.

  • Kitfox Games big boss Tanya X. Short did a useful Twitter thread recently on Steam marketing/visibility, in particular showing Boyfriend Dungeon impressions, visits, and wishlists, to which French man-about-town Stephane Rappeneau made a nice distilled spreadsheet – “every 1000 views you’ll get 1 purchase” if a 20% wishlist conversion (which is probably a tad high, but you get the general idea.)

  • Do you have attractive art in your indie (or non-indie!) game? The Game Maker’s Sketchbook has submissions open until July 1st, and “aims to highlight and celebrate all forms of art related to the craft of making games.” Categories include character, environmental art, concept art and even iconography, and it’s organized by cool people(TM) – the AIASiam8bit, and FortySeven. Consider submitting?

  • Microlinks, Pt.2: the Roblox CEO is staying vaguely neutral on platform cut – “I think it’s fair to say we haven’t filed a lawsuit… and I think it’s fair to say we would like to give more money back to the creators”; user-created content x gov censorship in Chinese games is rouugh, as even Super Mario Maker 2 demonstrated last year; ‘marketing insights/connections for game streaming market’ crew Lurkit are now doing analyses of game launches like Biomutant and Knockout City.

Finally, Devolver Digital is, as per normal, not doing things in a sensible way. And so they apparently paid Wario64 to intentionally leak a game to him ahead of their E3 announcements. I guess that is an easy way to worry less about leaks!

In replying to this, I remembered to check Devolver finance guy* (*fictional) Fork Parker’s Twitter account, and OK, this is a pretty good meme from a few weeks ago. (Though perhaps only funny if you’re not the developer who’s waiting for the answer.) Happy Wednesday!

[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.]



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