We have just crossed 1 million units sold of SpeedRunners (across all platforms), and the game is coming out of Early Access on April 19th. It's incredible to see a 7-digit number of players, but it's even more amazing when you dive deeper and see how we got there.
We have given away (in bundles, so basically making us next to nothing per copy) over 200k copies of the game. This might sound like a ridiculous number to give away for next to nothing, but here's the thing: Doing this not only helped save the game from falling into obscurity, but it's one of the main reasons why we have such a strong worldwide playerbase approaching the full launch.
Let's talk about how giving away over $2million worth of SpeedRunners into bundles helped make the game a success.
First some quick-facts
1.07m legal units out there
Over 3m unique players (including "pirated" copies)
18% of the total copies have been in bundles
Giving away SpeedRunners for next to nothing in bundles boosted sales of the game heavily throughout 2014-2015
This data applies to SpeedRunners only because it's a mass-appeal online multiplayer game. Odds are doing this for any other type of game would damage it, especially because of black market key resellers.
The strong case for Brazil
Let's dive straight into regional distribution where the most fascinating stuff is! I took the top countries in the last 30 days in terms of sessions -- people who have launched the game. What's remarkable is that Brazil is top 2, and one of the best players in the world is from Brazil. His nickname is Desnamed, and he's been kicking ass in our King of Speed tournaments.
The main reason Brazil has so many players, and a scene for SpeedRunners pro players, is deep discounts. We see countries that have lots of bundle activations climb into our top session charts, and often form communities around them -- you can see that countries like Russia, Turkey and Poland also have some of the most active SpeedRunners communities. These newly formed communities then attract players that buy the game at full price.
Half of our top SpeedRunners pro players are from high piracy regions
Brazil has one of the best players in the world
Even China is in the top10 - not very typical for a Steam game
Instead of trying to cut pirated copies, we went all-in on deep discounts to save SpeedRunners from the Curse of Indie Multiplayer
Fighting the Curse of Indie Multiplayer
The big challenge with developing SpeedRunners was making sure new players have a great experience, while the seasoned players have a great challenge. The nature of the game is very competitive, and the best matches are when you're matched against equally skilled opponents. So this can break in many scenarios:
If you don't have ranked matchmaking, odds are pro-players won't emerge
If you don't have a good online population of players, the ping will suck
Combination of the above
At any given time a number of things can go wrong, and kill the game's community. We decided to align major feature launches and their tweaks with bundles. The community started to really spawn in the Summer of 2014, when we introduced a ranking system that'd match you against similar-skill opponents. This is also when we did a huge push towards Youtubers and stopped bothering with spending time on verifying media people. Just give out keys to everyone was the philosophy, and it paid off - by end of year we had a very strong online community, and that's when the first pro-players started appearing on the scene. By aligning feature launches with bundles, we did extensive tests of the user flows for new players. This is how we found that at some point -- with so many levels, weapons, and characters -- it can be overwhelming for new players to understand the game. It's where our XP system came in that'd unlock everything gradually.
Longtail Sales Rise After Deep Discounts
Doing deep discounts usually results in a rise of the normal longtail sales. The game gets a boost of virality -- from fans, streamers, Youtubers -- and has better full-price sales the weeks after. We haven't really been concerned about "drying out" the fanbase, because SpeedRunners has massive appeal which we've seen at conventions. When your game can be played by a 7 year old and a 40 year old, both competing on equal terms, you shouldn't worry about giving away too many copies. It's the experience of the new players that buy it at full price that matters.
SpeedRunners pirated over 2m times... or was it?
Over 1 million copies of SpeedRunners have been bought to date -- but there are actually more than 3 million unique players in our playerbase, thanks to "pirated" copies. Why do I call them "pirated" copies? Let me explain: We actually leaked a "special" version of SpeedRunners onto ThePirateBay a while back, and watched it spread from there. This PirateBay version was the local multiplayer "Party Mode" version of the game... The same version you can grab for free off Steam. It's basically a really neat demo. Here's how it works:
4 bots spawn and start playing
Connect a controller and you take over control of one of the bots
If you go idle, the bot takes control back
This game mode became very popular as it's ideal for setting up at parties and conventions, and we actively encouraged pirates to download it. There were plenty of attempts to actually pirate the full game, but it takes a ton of effort to get it working online -- you have to run a virtual instance of Steam, and have an online player base with the same instance to connect to. As such, many pirates gave up very quickly, and grabbed the "pirated" copy instead -- and this special version ended up being a sort of SpeedRunners gateway drug for many of them. They wanted to play it online with all the features, but they couldn't get it to work properly... so when they saw it in a bundle, they'd grab it.
We still have thousands of people who go through the effort to properly pirate the game, but compared to normal piracy levels, it's a drop in the ocean. It turns out the best way to beat piracy is to entice them with a portion of the game, then give it to them for next to nothing.
...and then came the bundle saturation
When we just started doing bundles, the Humble Bundle was the big cheese. Everyone knew about it, and it was making shockwaves through the industry. But what happened with bundles is a bit like what happened with businesses like Groupon: Too many product offerings, leading to difficulty in establishing a unique proposition. Anyone could easily replicate Groupon'sÂbusiness model, which led to saturation. A similar thing happened to game bundles. I strongly believe they played a crucial part in the success of SpeedRunners and highly recommend anyone with a mass market multiplayer game to go this route -- but I'd now keep the following in mind:
Every day you will get a bundle offer
The business model is easy to replicate so everyone is trying to get your keys
This has helped lead to the rise of the black market key economy -- many people will try to resell your keys on "eBay"-style key marketplaces
We now work mostly with Humble Bundle and Bundle Stars
We used to see very decent revenue before bundle saturation, but now it's more about boosting our player bases
What I'm saying is that much of what you've just read may unfortunately not apply so well to your own game. SpeedRunners benefitted heavily from throwing Steam keys at players to boost our playerbase, leading to boosts in actual sales -- but that's because it's a mass-market online multiplayer game. If your game is none of those things, you probably won't want to take too much away from this blog post.
I believe this gives perspective to the 1 million units we now have on Steam. SpeedRunners is launching out of Early Access on April 19th, and we are flying out one of the best players in the world (PurpleTurkey) to PAX East for the launch event.