As it turns out, it helps to be first. And good.
Image courtesy of Image & Form
SteamWorld Dig 2 launched on five platforms at roughly the same time—Switch, PC, Mac, Linux, PlayStation 4, Vita—in September, but one platform in particular really took to the underrated digging simulator: Switch. SteamWorld Dig 2 was developer Image & Form’s most successful launch, and it sold 10 times as much Switch as it did on Steam.
This wild detail showed up on a news video by German YouTube channel Game Two, and to learn more, I got in touch with Image & Form CEO Brjann Sigurgeirsson.
“The Switch is a new and hot commodity—everyone's want object,” said Sigurgeirsson.
That much is obvious, given how quickly Switch has continued to sell since its March launch, but more crucially, with Switch still being in its first year, there are millions of players desperately for new games to play beyond Mario and Zelda. Sure, the eShop is filling up with new games each week, but compared to the glut of games available on competing platforms, especially Steam, the eShop is practically vacant.
SteamWorld Dig 2 hasn’t been the only game to reap the rewards by prioritizing Switch . In the same video, one of the developers behind the Wonder Boy remake revealed the 100,000 units sold on Switch is more than every other sale combined. (Wonder Boy: The Dragon’s Trap was also released on PS4, PC, Xbox One, Linux, and Mac.)
Image & Form has been rewarded for being an early adopter in the past, too. Just months after the PS4 launched, they ported the original SteamWorld Dig. It was a hit.
“We had no idea what to expect in terms of sales,” said Sigurgeirsson. “Also, at that time Sony's tracking system was down and they had to tell me the total figure over the phone. I remember being pleasantly surprised! In general that means that having a game ready when a new platform rolls out is very important, a key factor to good sales.”
Sigurgeirsson isn’t disappointed by how SteamWorld Dig 2 has performed on Steam—”Our sales figures are might fine”—but it underscores the fragility of the marketplace.
“It means we have to get better at understanding Steam,” he said. “We've learned a great deal since we released SteamWorld Heist, but we've also learned lots after releasing SteamWorld Dig 2, and I wish we'd known more earlier.”
The amount of games released every day on Steam has grown exponentially even in the past few years, the time between SteamWorld Dig (2013) and SteamWorld Dig 2 (2017).
Allowing just about anyone to publish on Steam has benefits—reducing arbitrary gatekeeping on what is or isn’t allowed into the Steam economy is good—but it puts an enormous burden on the platform to help people sift what’s worth buying and playing. Over the years, Steam has been historically bad at this part, leaving a mess.
“It's harder these days for a broad range of titles to achieve really great sales on Steam at the same time,” said Sigurgeirsson, “as the visibility algorithms tend to spiral truly successful titles forward, and grossly simplified, it's self-perpetuating. At the same time, new titles hit Steam all the time, soaking up attention at the other end of the spectrum: your new title will pretty quickly disappear from ‘New’ listings. So if you don't reach the stars, you're not even flying—rather, you're probably stuck up to your knees in guck.”
Part of the problem, theorized Sigurgeirsson, was that by trying to launch on multiple platforms at the same time, you end up undercutting your ability to succeed on some.
“You shoot at anything that moves,” he said, “but when everything is moving at the same time, you're bound to miss quite a few shots.”
Image & Form has yet to announce their next game, but chances are they'll be thinking about Switch, whatever it is.
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