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  • Writer's pictureAlex Nichiporchik

3 Million Wishlists

From the beginning of the year we've been cooking. Cooking hard. I've been pretty vocal about our 1 Thousand Hour Game strategy.
  • Since the beginning of the year we've generated over 3 million wishlists across the portfolio

  • Over the past month alone we've generated over 1 million wishlists across the portfolio

  • Overall our playable demos got over 10 million views on Youtube

  • Across 3 demos players have spent a total of 1.8 million hours in-game

    • This is over 200 years of in-game time

    • Each demo & playtest had limited time to play

    • Includes Level Zero Extraction, Drill Core, DUCKSIDE

  • tinyBuild has 6 titles on the Steam Top200 Wishlist chart, 3 of which are in the Top 100


Today I want to talk about how Playtests, game (re)announcements, April Fool's (non)jokes, our Publisher Sale, and the Steam Next Fest all culminated in the results outlined.

Video from November 2023 discussing the 1k hour game challenge and opportunity


The hypothesis is simple: if players spend a lot of time in your game, you have a much better chance of long term sustainability and often your initial sales aren't the bulk of your total sales.


If your game is played for a thousand hours, you're doing something right. Time is currency. We are competing with everyone for it. With Netflix, other titles, sleep, etc.


Let's take a dive into individual projects, and how cumulatively we've generated a million wishlists in the past month alone. The best month in tinyBuild's history in terms of game traction, and the best quarter for user engagement through playtests and demos.


For the purposes of transparency I am referencing the Steam Top Played Demos page on SteamDB. The actual Next Fest page doesn't show you top currently played games.


KINGMAKERS Kick-Off Announcement


We kicked off the year by announcing KINGMAKERS.



I wrote a post about it earlier, and the game is currently holding a Top25 spot in Steam's Top Wishlisted titles. The game got another boost during our tinyBuild connect in May.


This tweet alone got over 18m views:


ANNOUNCEMENTS AND EARLY PLAYTESTS.


Outside of KINGMAKERS which is a special case, we decided to test early, as early as possible. A few years back we had to resort to third party distribution tools for early builds. Now that Steam has the Playtest functionality, it's really easy and creates a great CALL TO ACTION on the Steam page itself. The Playtest functionality might be the single most powerful tool to get early hype for your game, and to actually get people to play.


  • Announce your game (this is a whole separate subject, see the Kingmakers announcement roundup post)

  • Open up playtest sign-ups

  • Do not let everyone in straight away (unless it's for Drill Core - on that later)

  • Let critical mass build up

  • When you're ready (a few weeks is usually enough), open up the floodgates


What many don't understand is you can actually accumulate a mass of players interested in the game. A Wishlist is a long-term thing, and players will get a notification once the game is out. A Follow means they will get a notification on your announcements. A Playtest means they'll actually get a pop-up when launching Steam once the floodgates are open. All 3 are important, and we found that getting critical mass into Playtests works like a charm -- especially for multiplayer games.


Do not confuse Demos and Playtests. Demos are different, and do not have any sign-up abilities, they are used mostly for Steam Festivals these days.


Do not forget to create additional CTAs in your Steam description. Things like this works marvels:
A widget like this appears when you just copy a link to the game into the description. You can do the same for demos.

Important - Playtests create a separate Steam Hub.


It's not super clear: when you launch your Playtest, your main Steam App actually doesn't get any activity. Players get a pop-up to join the playtest, they download the build, and then all Steam Hub activity (your forum, screenshots, artwork, even REVIEWS) get posted to the Playtest app's Steam Hub. The easiest way to access it I found is either through the client when you have the Playtest installed, or SteamDB > Search for the Playtest App > Steam Hub.


  • We found it's good practice to post Announcements during your Playtest to both the main app and the Playtest app

  • The Playtest hub disappears completely after it's done, so download whatever materials out of it you may need later before closing it (useful for screenshots, threads, reviews)

  • Reviews! Your Playtest actually gets reviews, just like the main app would upon release.


DUCKSIDE: Announcement & Playtest

I detailed our announcement of DUCKSIDE in this post TLDR:


  • Announced as an April Fool's joke on April 1st

  • Trailer was "too good looking to be fake" -- that was the goal

  • We've already had a playable and were polishing it off

  • At announcement the Call to Action was to sign-up for the playtest

  • Over 70k players signed up to "Join The Flock" as we called it


We opened up the Playtest on April 18th to an immediate player peak of 1.6k CCUs (as of the writing of this post the Demo is peaking at 2.5k CCUs during the Steam Next Festival). And then all servers crashed and burned. Which is great -- that was the goal. With persistent world survival games you need to test early. Good news was that players absolutely loved it, and in real time the team got extremely energized and rolled out patch after patch.

The second peak here illustrates when we fixed server performance issues. What we didn't do correctly is communicate a server wipe schedule.


A server wipe is when the game resets. Unlike most games, in PvP survival sandboxes there is usually a periodic reset of everything. Game design wise it sounds very counter intuitive, how is it that I lose progress? It actually creates more hype, since you can now start your game differently with the knowledge you accumulated from the previous wipe. Your progression is your skill. So by not coordinating this schedule properly, and getting rapid patches, we couldn't consistently keep the online population up.


Lessons learned and applied for the next one.


I got to play for a full 8 hours with legends of Rust -- hJune and Blooprint, here's a video of hJune absolutely dominating in PvP and us getting raided. Yes, I have 17k hours in Rust, stop asking.


With the joke that turned out to be a real game people loved, our Wishlists started climbing rapidly. "Ducks with guns" but the game is actually good. Over this period, 150k players joined the flock.


The next beat happened during our tinyBuild Direct in May.


Level Zero Extraction, the (re)announcement and playtest

Level Zero was announced a few years back as an Evolve-style asymmetric horror game. It got some initial traction, and as I was gearing up for more PvP focused titles, early 2023 we had a few beers with the game's director at DevGAMM Poland -- and realized we all love the same games. Hardcore shooters, survival games with PvP - so why not pivot Level Zero into that realm?


So what do you do to reannounce a game? Playtest and an amazing trailer!



We did an announcement, got close to 100k players to sign-up for the Playtest, and did a speedrun test in mid-March to see what players think. The goal was to check the tech and our hypothesis on the new gameplay direction. Can we make something between Alien Isolation and Tarkov? Yes, yes we can was the TLDR of the playtest.

Overall we loved the core loop, identified many issues with retention and the player feedback was unanimous: great game, we want guns!


Guns you shall have. And more PVE. And more loot.


tinyBuild Connect and Publisher Sale



In May we had our annual Publisher Sale on Steam. We decided to use it to host our own set of announcements, which you can watch in the embedded video above. All games, no fluff, straight to the point.
Big ones were the gameplay reveal for SAND, our highly anticipated "Sand Punk Big Walking Robots Go Boom" PVP title. And closing it out with the Destruction system reveal for KINGMAKERS, with amazing titles sprinkledi n-between.


The video above shows how we used the Steam Publisher sale to not just get sales for games with discounts, but also to promote our upcoming portfolio.


The surprise of Drill Core.

Contrary to what I said earlier about accumulating Playtest opt-ins and opening up the floodgates, with Drill Core we decided to do the opposite: and launch a playtest alongside the announcement of the game.


To me it's Minesweeper meets Kingdom Rush, a really fun systems-driven game about drilling into cores of planets. We've been playing builds of it internally for months at that point, and I clocked in over 40h easy.



We knew it would be difficult to get hype around the title unless it's in player's hands. So we just opened it up alongside the announcement to everyone, resulting in very significant time spent and engagement.


With this surprise, we went ahead and continued to update the build -- enrolling into the Stem Next Fest.


The game is hovering in the top10 most played demos on the festival, which is unprecedented for a brand new indie IP.


3 Million Wishlists


With SAND, Kingmakers, Level Zero Extraction, DUCKSIDE, Streets of Rogue 2, Drill Core, and many other titles features in tinyBuild Connect, we were able to get over 1 million Wishlists in May 2024, and over 3 million Year To Date in 2024.

Let's talk about the Steam Next Festival.

So far this has been a 3 stage plan.

  • Announce & playtest titles early in the year

  • Announce MORE during our tinyBuild Connect, amplified by our Steam Publisher Sale - AMPLIFY! *we made the deliberate decision to not slot in major announcements, reveals, etc during the very busy period of June's industry activities. and focus on our own event in May instead

  • For games that are ready for demos (Level Zero Extraction, DUCKSIDE, Drill Core) see what we can do leading into the Steam Next Fest


Too many developers just launch their demos into the festival and hope for the best. It doesn't work that way. The demo for Drill Core we just didn't switch off from tinyBuild Connect, we kept it live and then transferred it to being an actual demo for the Steam Festival which gave it a boost during said festival.


Note: the beauty of the Playtest function is you can accumulate sign-ups, with a DEMO it just gets out there and the only way to reach people within Steam is through your Followers which get notifications of announcements. What also helps is your Publisher Followers on Steam itself, they all get wishlist notifications and post notifications.

What about 1.8 Million Hours Played?


Indeed, between the Playtests & Demos for Level Zero Extraction, DUCKSIDE, and Drill Core players have spent a total of 1 million hours in-game. That is 114 years.


Level Zero
  • Playtest ran March 15-19

  • Demo for the Steam Next Fest the Demo announcement happened during the PC Gaming Show June 9th)


DUCKSIDE
  • Playtest ran April 18-May 6

  • Demo for the Steam Next Fest


DRILL CORE
  • Playtest ran May 21-May 31

  • Demo May 31- Steam Next Fest


I can give you a hint that this timespent is distributed relatively equally between the 3 titles. All of these are different in terms of target audience, genre, visuals. What is common is they're all designed to be played infinitely, for A Thousand Hours.


INFLUENCER MARKETING



We did an extremely targeted influencer marketing campaign with relevant Youtubers and Twitch Streamers, resulting in a lot of engagement - a total of over 10 million views on Youtube alone.


The crossover between Level Zero and Duckside is significant, while Drill Core attracts a more indie audience. I highly recommend you watch the Level Zero video above, and the Drill Core video below to get an idea why these games engage audiences for a very long time.



And to top it all off, here's our hilarious take on the DEVLOG videos for DUCKSIDE.



Summarizing: it takes a lot of planning and a lot of time.


The takeaway I'd like developers and all readers who got to the end of the post to take home is simple: this takes a lot of planning. I started talking about the Thousand Hour Game strategy years ago, and it does take years to develop video games. The exception being DUCKSIDE which we were able to get going in under 6 months -- due to internally shared technology.


Seeing what works and what doesn't is important, so is adapting your strategy.


  • Leveraging announcements > playtest sign-ups > transitions to demos for Next Fest was the right call

  • Combining our Publisher Sale with tinyBuild Connect gave upcoming titles a lot of exposure, gearing them up for Next Fest

  • Using hard data to make decisions (i.e. Drill Core showing unprecedented numbers and shifting it into a Next Fest demo) is the way to go. You need to be objective when things go wrong, and leverage when things go right. A prime example here is how we messed up the DUCKSIDE server stability, and we knew it was a major point that needed to be prioritized. Or adding guns to Level Zero: Extraction.

  • Plan ahead. Plan smart.


Thank you for reading to the end. Consider a follow on on X - aNichiporchik - I often post about relevant news, and memes.



1件のコメント


Vladimir Coho
Vladimir Coho
4 days ago

Thank you for sharing this. Read until the end.

いいね!
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