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Does a Day 1 Game Pass debut make your game convert worse on Steam?

The GameDiscoverCo game discovery newsletter is written by ‘how people find your game’ expert and GameDiscoverCo founder Simon Carless, and is a regular look at how people discover and buy video games in the 2020s.

OK, so the rise of Game Pass (both Xbox and PC) from Microsoft has been a notable one over the past 3-5 years. We’ve devoted quite a few newsletters to it — and Xbox has been doing a great job of picking high quality games for the service.

But one question that always comes up, talking to devs and clients is: When considering the options, does being in Game Pass lose you any ‘juice’ when simultaneously launching your game on other big platforms like Steam?

It’s very, very difficult to work that out, because you can’t A/B test for, uhh, reality. But GameDiscoverCo has now amassed enough data on Steam pre-release ‘Hype’ and reality that we have a potential answer. (Thanks to the client who suggested we do this, and was fine with us sharing the results!) The way we did this is as follows:

● We’re tracking all 8,000+ pre-release games on Steam, and creating a ‘Hype’ score based on that game’s Steam followers, wishlists, forum traffic and more.

● We then look at the game’s first week Steam review number performance (a decent comparison point for sales for non-F2P games), and create a ‘Hype conversion’ number/ratio.

● The median number — as you’ll see below — is approximately 0.15 for the median game that launched with at least 500 Hype score (maybe 10-15k Steam wishlists at launch?)

● However, there are massive fluctuations for big hits and big flops. (For example, in April 2022 on Steam, The Stanley Parable Ultra Deluxe had a 1.42 conversion rate – 10x median, and Uragun had a 0.01 conversion rate – 15x worse then median.)

One important thing to stress here – these Steam conversion numbers are performance versus ‘expectations’. So they are an amazing tool for seeing whether also being on Game Pass Day 1 affected expected performance, one way or the other.

Without further ado, here’s the full game-specific data (Google Drive link) for the 45-ish Game Pass Day 1 games we found since July 2021. And here’s the topline results of the Day 1 Game Pass titles compared to monthly results for all Steam games with >500 Hype:

It’s interesting that Oct, Nov, Dec 2021 have lower conversion, right?

So, what does this mean? We think this legitimately shows that being on Game Pass isn’t negatively affecting your conversion rate on Steam, on aggregate. There is no evidence across those games that you are performing worse because you also appear on Game Pass. Which is great.

In fact, the ‘also on Game Pass on Day 1’ Steam conversion rate of 0.17 is about 20% above the monthly average for all games of 0.14. In our view, that’s probably down to the Xbox team selecting good quality games rather than any major uptick related to crossmarketing.

(Why? When there were only 100+ games in Game Pass, it was easier to get in a ‘top games’ slot. And there was more visibility since less games were released monthly. With up to 500 games nowadays, 20+ new games per month, and the ‘Most Popular’ list dominated by Minecraft, Forza, ARK & friends, it’s trickier to get sustained visibility.)

Anyhow, the general point here is the markets operate quite independently right now. People consuming your game on Game Pass often aren’t the same people who would have bought it on Steam — especially if your game is a small or medium-sized one. (It’s much less clear for blockbuster AAA games, obviously.)

Of course, what being in Game Pass doesn’t do is guarantee you success on Steam. Here’s a small part of the whole data set, just so we can talk about Steam reviews/CCU:

Contact GameDiscoverCo if you spot any errors in here and we'll correct

Contact GameDiscoverCo if you spot any errors in here and we’ll correct

So, for example, Dodgeball Academia converted its Steam Hype at 0.29, around twice the median on its August 2021 release on Game Pass, Steam and other console platforms. That’s great news, huh? Well, yes and no.

The game only had 90 Steam reviews (3,000-ish units sold?) in Week 1 — even with a better-than-expected conversion. And it only has 234 reviews (8,000-ish units?) on Steam as of this writing. So we’re guessing it’s made the majority of its revenue from its Game Pass deal.

What you’re seeing there is the supply/demand issue for PC and console games affecting some game launches adversely. There’s just so many good quality games on the market that it’s difficult to accumulate ‘Hype’ for all games nowadays. That’s an independent, separate problem to Game Pass.

There’s one other angle to consider. What we aren’t measuring is people who never Steam wishlisted a game in the first place, because they play a lot of their indie games via Game Pass. This may also be an increasing cohort over time — and a difficult one to measure. We do not think it is yet significant, though.

But overall, we would always recommend people taking a Game Pass deal — as long as it’s for a reasonable sum — in today’s market, especially if a small/medium sized game. It helps significantly with dev costs, gets your game in front of more casual players, and doesn’t cannibalize non-Game Pass sales.

[We still haven’t 100% forgiven Microsoft for some of its early “Game Pass players will definitely buy lots more non-Game Pass games on Xbox” rhetoric. But we’re starting to see Game Pass as an increasingly vital source of funding for indies who, well, aren’t going to recoup elsewhere.]

GameDiscoverCo is an 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 weekly game analysis and detailed charts, plus the newsletter, an info-filled Discord, a data-exportable Steam Hype back-end, two high-quality eBooks, and lots more.



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