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[The GameDiscoverCo game discovery newsletter, which you can subscribe to now, is written by ‘how people find your game’ expert Simon Carless, and is a regular look at how people discover and buy video games in the 2020s.]
Welcome back to the newly rechristened GameDiscoverCo newsletter! This time around, I had a chance to talk to Pawel Lekki of EXOR Studios, the veteran Steam dev that’s also put out titles like Zombie Driver HD and X-Morph: Defense. We specifically talked about his upcoming game The Rift Breaker, which has amassed nearly 250,000 pre-release wishlists on Steam to date, a very impressive tally.
Historically, his studio’s titles haven’t, perhaps, been the kind to get artsy indie kudos. But they have been rather successful with the core Steam audience - enough so to keep Pawel’s studio based in Poland ticking over just fine.
And it looks like with The Riftbreaker, which is an intriguing mix of genres backed by a relentless promotional machine, EXOR is taking things to another level. So I thought I’d quiz Pawel on how he did it (so far - the game releases later this year, and he’s sure to be honest about the post-launch results!):
Q: Tell us a little bit about The Riftbreaker and why you think it might be standing out in the market? (Is it fans of your previous titles, does it have a unique proposition, etc?)
The Riftbreaker is a combination of multiple game genres - action RPG, hack & slash, base building, survival, exploration, resource management, and tower defense. Our fans describe the game as an intense mashup of Starcraft, They Are Billions and Diablo.
The Riftbreaker is built using our proprietary game engine - The Schmetterling. It allows us to deliver swarms of thousands of enemies, huge sprawling bases with hundreds of defensive towers, as well as very precise and responsive direct hand-to-hand melee combat.
I think that the current generation of gamers is looking for games with very broad possibility spaces. If you take a look at Fortnite, there’s precise combat, some base building, and a lot of customization. One of our primary design goals with The Riftbreaker is to let players do a lot of fun stuff in the game. I think that constraining games to singular genres is outdated.
Q: From initial launch of Steam page to the launch of the Prologue, was the game already tracking well - and if so, can you identify things you did to help that?
We announced the game on March 8th, 2019 with a CG teaser trailer that we published on the PlayStation Blog, Xbox Wire, and sent out to traditional press outlets. The trailer was well received and the initial reception was really good.
A day later we had a Daily Deal on Steam that pointed to a custom Steam Curator list that featured all of our games, including The Riftbreaker. We accumulated ~8k wishlists in the first month after announcing. We were very happy with that result as we compared it to our previous game - X-Morph: Defense - which had 10.5k wishlists on launch after nine months of marketing.
The results of the first 2 months of marketing The Riftbreaker.
We continued supporting the marketing effort by participating in trade shows (PAX East, GDC, E3, Gamescom, PAX West), constant social media presence (at least 2 updates per week, plus targeting Imgur) and interactive gameplay streaming (through Twitch and Mixer extensions). Our marketing goal from the start was to constantly release smaller updates about the game, intertwined with larger news.
One of the most important marketing pillars was sharing the game with streamers and YouTubers. Trade shows didn’t translate directly to wishlists, but they helped us in establishing contacts with a number of influencers that have played an early build of the game during these events. We sent out the first preview build on November 14th to a small group of people that we’ve met directly during these events.
The initial videos about the Riftbreaker were very positive and helped us gather additional 12k wishlists over the next 2 weeks. By the end of 2019, we had accumulated 50K wishlists, our initial goal for the game’s launch.
[SIMON’S NOTE: obviously, wishlist quality can vary. But partly what I take away from this great 2019 start is that Exor had a naturally attractive game to ‘core’ players, and were trying all kinds of different things to bump the numbers aggressively. And it worked.]
Of course, we didn’t stop there. In 2019, press coverage resulted in minimal wishlist gains, but in 2020 we finally got some positive results. Up to March 2020, we didn’t even have a gameplay trailer. When we finally had it ready, we decided to release it through PC Gamer as a 24 hour exclusive.
It turned out to be a very good move, as we received a lot of high-quality traffic directly from the site, as well as from other follow up articles. Another press coverage surprise was a glowing Eurogamer preview that came as a follow-up article to our presence in the Digital Dragons Indie Showcase.
Once again, participation in that show didn’t provide direct day-to-day results, but the exposure that followed after more than made up for that. All of those actions helped us to accumulate a total of 95k wishlists up to June 15th, 2020 - the day before the Steam Summer Festival.
The Riftbreaker’s wishlists graph from January 1st 2020 to August 14th 2020.
The Steam Summer Festival featured upcoming games based on the number of wishlists that they had already accumulated and this is when our grassroots marketing efforts have really paid off. In order to participate in the event, we had to prepare a playable demo of The Riftbreaker.
We created a tailor-made experience, spending about 2 months on polishing the vertical slice demo. In the end, The Riftbreaker was one of the most popular games during the festival, and we accumulated additional 42k wishlists thanks to the event.
The demo’s reception was very positive, but it was available only during the Festival. The results that we achieved motivated us to release a standalone game prologue which would include additional game lore and story build-up for the full game.
We decided to spend an additional six weeks on polishing the demo to the standards of a normal game launch. We also translated all of the in-game text into 10 languages. The day before we released the prologue on Steam, we had accumulated over 146k wishlists, and The Riftbreaker was in the top 50 most wishlisted games on Steam.
Q: Explain your planning around the launch of the Prologue alongside a Daily Deal - how were you able to set that up and what effect did it have?
We launched The Riftbreaker Prologue on August 5th at 22:00 CEST without any special announcement on our channels and without prior marketing of any kind. At the same time our partners in China (Surefire Games) started a marketing campaign in mainland China in their local social and media channels.
On August 6th we launched a custom built EXOR Studios Developer Sale as a Daily Deal, with 24 hour front page featuring on Steam. The entire sale would be set to run for 14 days. At the same time, we also updated and enabled The Riftbreaker Demo as part of the main Steam page. Both the Prologue and the Demo are now identical.
Since August 5th, The Riftbreaker Prologue was downloaded around 180,000 times. Other notable milestones:
- The Riftbreaker Demo was downloaded 115,000 times (EXOR Sale 20k + Summer Festival 50k + via an AMD newsletter 13k times + 23k organic downloads)
- In total, over 295,000 peaople have downloaded the Riftbreaker Prologue experience
- The Riftbreaker Prologue has an Overwhelmingly Positive rating with 95% positive reviews.
- During the recent EXOR Developer Sale, we gained 56,000 wishlists for The Riftbreaker, with a total of ~235,000 wishlists as of September 21st, 2020.
- The Riftbreaker: Prologue gained 18k wishlists and ~7,900 followers in its own right
- Revenue across our existing products during the EXOR Developer Sale was 30% higher than for our previous Daily Deal, which was on December 4th 2019.
- The exposure that we received on Steam also drew a lot of external traffic like this Twitch stream by Lirik (2.6 million followers on Twitch).
Q: After this all happened, what 'base rate' of wishlists did the game settle back onto, and was it more than before? Do you think this is down to Steam visibility, more people seeing the demo via streamers, or both?
To be honest, it’s hard to pinpoint a base rate for wishlists after this event because we’ve been running all kinds of promotions since then. But as of September 21st it looks like it’s settling at ~400 wishlists per day, vs ~80 wishlists per day before The Prologue.
We’ve had some visibility spikes when The Riftbreaker was covered by a major Chinese influencer on Bilibili, or during Gamescom. There’s also been a lot of additional external organic traffic that is hard to pinpoint. It looks like a lot of people are simply talking about the game to their friends, plus there’s increased organic traffic from Steam.
[SIMON’S NOTE: I think a real sign that a game may do well isn’t just ‘do you get a spike from a feature/demo?’, it’s your natural daily wishlist rate when not much is happening. And both those before and after numbers are pretty good on that front!]
Wishlist graph for The Riftbreaker after the release of the Prologue.
Q: You seem to have a very co-ordinated and multi-channel approach to game promotion. Can you talk about how many staff you use to do that, do you just do everything, do you ever try to prioritize?
Since the beginning of the project, we have a full time Community Manager (Piotr Bomak), who creates regular development updates and posts them on all of our social media channels.
We also run regular development build streams (straight from the development trunk) two times per week. We dedicate time from the development team to create some of the ‘in-development’ content - e.g. Piotr sits down with a programmer for a few hours to grab some cool screenshots. In addition to myself and my brother, there are at least 2 persons from our 14 strong development team directly working on marketing all the time.
From the beginning of the project, we also work with external companies - in particular PR Outreach. Agnieszka Szóstak’s team takes care of all of our press releases and handles most of the contact with traditional media and influencers. Since the release of The Prologue, we’ve also started working with SureFire Games for PR and influencer outreach in China.
Q: What are your hopes/plans for launch and what kind of wishlist to sales rate are you aiming for?
Our previous game, X-Morph: Defense had 10,500 wishlists at Steam launch with an 0.7 wishlists-to-sales conversion rate in the first week. For The Riftbreaker, our initial goal for the launch of the game was to reach 50K wishlists with an 0.4 wishlists-to-sales conversion rate for the first week.
We’ve already surpassed our initial Steam wishlists goal almost fivefold, and it looks like we may do even better than that. The final conversion rate is of course unknown, but it looks like we should be fine.
[SIMON’S NOTE: thanks to Pawel for being so transparent with his numbers and progress so far, and good luck on the launch. I know some of this might feel like ‘game lots of people like gets lots of wishlists’, but I think there’s some learnings in here - Imgur posts, good Chinese outreach, being relentless & wide with promotions - that are worthwhile to all!]