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Following up on my recent newsletter discussing a move to ‘editorial showcases’ and virtual events on Steam, I’m delighted that Chris Wright of Fellow Traveller - the head organizer of the LudoNarraCon Steam showcase/sale for 2019 and 2020 - was kind enough to chat with me for a detailed Q&A.
This includes a whole bunch of useful & exclusive info on the (virtual) event, which featured “over 40 game exhibitors, 14 [streamed] panels, a sale featuring over 50 games, and 20+ playable demos”, and ran on Steam from April 24th to the 27th - with the sale itself lasting a full week.
Here’s the Q&A - I’ll pop in at the end to wrap things up:
Q: Can you introduce your company and explain how you ended up running LudoNarraCon on Valve's platform originally last year?
Fellow Traveller is an indie games label focused on narrative. We work with small indie teams developing innovative narrative games and help fund and publish them. We're best known for Hacknet, Orwell, Neo Cab and recently In Other Waters.
LudoNarraCon was a concept born in 2018 as we became increasingly disappointed with the results we were getting out of major physical conventions. We wanted to get off the physical event train but didn't really have a good idea of what to do instead.
Then at PAX Australia in November that year we were at a developer event with Valve and they were sharing information on how their new store page streaming feature was going. It was still very new at that point, but teams using it were seeing really good results. We started talking about how we could work with our developers to start experimenting with the broadcast tools.
These two trains of thought collided in a eureka moment of "what if we organised our own convention on Steam?". We fleshed out that idea, listed out all the elements of physical conventions, and how we could replicate them using - either Steam's features or something off-store like a website. We realised we could do almost everything we wanted to. We also listed out all the results we'd normally get from a physical event, to see whether we were confident we could beat them with a digital event.
It was surprising how low all the numbers were once you listed them out. For example, a typical single player game with a couple of demo stations and a 15 minute demo would max out at 256 players during a four-day convention, assuming it was busy from floor open to floor close each day.
We decided to put the budget and time we would have spent on attending PAX East 2019 into organising the first LudoNarraCon, then fleshed out the plans a bit more and pitched it to our account manager at Valve. They were really supportive, and we pulled the whole thing together in about four months.
Q: How did you end up picking the game that were included in the second Ludonarracon this year - what percent of people actively pitched you, vs. you picking out titles you dug?
We had some loose criteria for selection. Aside from looking for interesting, narrative driven games, we were looking for which teams could commit to providing a demo, and which would be able to create great content on their exhibitor streams.
Beyond that, we also wanted to ensure there was good diversity of content in terms of genre of gameplay, themes, location of developers, the make-up of the development teams and having a mix of upcoming games and released games.
Everyone went through the same application process. But we did reach out to a number of teams directly to encourage them to apply, especially those teams that had been part of the pilot event in 2019.
Q: Can you talk a bit about the tangible results you saw for Ludonarracon in general in 2020? (How many page views, rough averages of demo downloads, number of people 'watching' streaming talk sessions, etc?)
Absolutely. one of the great things about digital events is that you can get all sorts of data either live or soon after the event. It's not perfect - but between Google Analytics and Steam's own backend, we are able to get a lot of info on how it went.
The topline visitation figure for the Steam event page came in at just shy of 940,000 sessions, according to Google Analytics, which was a lift vs. 850,000 for LudoNarraCon 2019. Another number indicating the scale of the reach was the unique viewers of the day one panel stream. These then looped throughout the weekend, and was the primary stream on the event page for much of the event. Steam's broadcasting data put that at 1.43 million.
The event banners on Steam received 61 million impressions, so the exposure on the store was huge. This was a big lift on 2019's 13.5 million impressions.
Traffic to individual exhibitor pages was 20,000 on average for games that had not yet released, and 45,000 for released games. Released games saw more traffic, as they appeared in the exhibitor section and also the sale section. Many of them were also in special bundles we curated. Games on sale also see a boost in traffic generally on Steam, as they show up in other places and get pushed to people with them on their wishlist.
Games that were unreleased saw an average of 3,000 increase in their wishlist balance during the LudoNarraCon weekend.
Demos averaged 4,624 activations. Games that had already released saw higher numbers than unreleased games, which would be a factor of the higher traffic numbers I mentioned earlier. Demos saw an average of 2,000 actual players over the period they were available.
Looping back to the panel stream stats - that 1.4 million uniques is a huge number. The max concurrents were 4,780 and were highest on day one (when there was no second panel stream up). Once the second day of panels went up, we saw the combined concurrents across the day one and day two panel streams at over 3k for most of the weekend
A total of 134k minutes of panels was watched. These are now available on Fellow Traveller’s YouTube page, if you want to check them out. Doing some quick maths, dividing that by the 86 hours of the event and factoring in that each panel was broadcast 12 times around, we can estimate that this is the equivalent of 18k people watching each panel.
That's a massive number compared to the couple of hundred attendees this kind of panel typically sees at a physical event. [NOTE FROM SIMON: since the panels autoplayed from the LudoNarraCon sale homepage, I presume a certain number were passing through the event page - but impressive numbers nonetheless.]
Looking at individual exhibitor streams [which autoplayed on game pages] we're still gathering that data but the data we have is around 30k unique viewers over the weekend and maximum concurrents of around 100-120. We saw some of the exhibitors getting around 200 concurrents at some points during the event and most had a minimum of 20-30 concurrents.
Those concurrents don't sound huge, but they're huge if you think of them as the equivalent of having 30 people at your physical event booth at the same time at the quietest point of an event and 100-200 at the busiest.
Q: More specifically with your own games - how did you end up doing on wishlists for unreleased games, etc, or sales on released games? (You noted that there were more games than last year - perhaps that had a slight dilutive effect on individual titles?)
Our three unreleased games did between 2,800 and 3,100 wishlist increases each. This is a little lower than last year - we had one game at 5,000 wishlists last year for example. But given there were more than double the number of games exhibiting this year, we're really happy with this result.
Our revenue from the sale did see a big increase vs last year. Across our portfolio, we grossed $96k more during the LudoNarraCon sale than we did during the equivalent preceding period.
This was a great result for us and was more than double the lift we saw in 2019. This is partly down to having released a few great games in the last year, and we also experimented with some bundles of exhibiting games, including some of our own, which we saw help with the sales.
Since we basically foot the bill for all the organisation and costs for LudoNarraCon and don't charge any of the participating exhibitors, the lift in revenue from the sale is a big help in offsetting those costs. As a publisher we only see some of the revenue on our games, of course. Most passes through to our developers, but our cut is more than the budget we used to spend on our presence at events like PAX East or Gamescom.
[NOTE FROM SIMON: Another success story - Tom Vian from SFB Games, a LudoNarraCon exhibitor, revealed that“Day 2 of #LudoNarraCon was the single best day for sales we've EVER had on Steam, even beating Tangle Tower's launch day!!”]
Q: Being included in a discounted week-long sale seems like a major plus for Ludonarracon, since people get emailed that the game is on sale from Valve (if it's already released).
Are there any emails that go out from Valve about the other elements of the sale like the pre-release demos/panels, or is it mainly just through people seeing it on the front page?
Valve were very supportive and help us promote the event in various ways on the platform. That is primarily through banners, rather than emails or messages going out.
Using the Steam event system you can promote the event in advance, and users can set a reminder for the event and get notified when it goes live. That appears as a small pop-up when you open the Steam client.
We also had a regular pop-up marketing message when people opened the Steam client that used the event banner artwork on top of the Weekend Deal banner on the front page and a spot in the main carousel.
And with 50+ games on sale, that's a lot of people with those games on their wishlists getting notified the game is discounted.
Q: Going forward, is there anything that you are considering doing for upcoming LudoNarraCons that are different from this year? Or do you think it worked out as you wanted?
We have a long list of ideas for next year that we'll be looking at in the coming months. We're really happy with how the event went this year, in particular how great Steam's event tools are. That was a massive leap from last year.
For example, we had direct access to edit the event page and customise it, changing it live. So we were really able to tweak and polish the design and layout, and add information explaining what the event was.
There are a few big ticket items on that idea list for next year, one of which will be figuring out if there is any way we can support some form of localisation, given our top three attendee locations after the U.S. are China, Russia and Brazil.
Another is to keep working on the way that the media engage with the event. We saw a big step up this year in terms of the number and size of the media registering for the event, and also some great coverage of the games in the event.
For example, there was a roundup of six games that went to the front page of GameSpot and PC Gamer ran several pieces about the event, as well as previews on specific games. That was really encouraging - and we want to keep building on how the event works for media to deliver more press outcomes for the exhibitors.
We're also looking forwards to seeing the Steam [Summer Game] Festival and other similar events this year to learn what we can from the way other people tackle the concept.
[NOTE FROM SIMON: Thanks again to Chris for this great interview. One of the most exciting things about LudoNarraCon is that many of these week-long or weekend-specific Steam showcases are only for medium/big publishers.
These editorially-driven showcases are creative, interesting, & provide a way for the average indie to get a fairly large boost - even pre-release - in a way it’s very difficult to do otherwise on any PC or console platform. I hope these kind of showcases continue and expand on all platforms.]