The practice of selling games has changed forever.
Our industry is built on a tried and tested business model – developers make games, publishers market them and retailers sell them.
But digital marketplaces are changing this. Platforms like Steam in particular are providing an alternative for developers by offering a faster route to market and a direct relationship with gamers.
Take DayZ. The horror game went live on Valve's digital store on December 17th and has sat comfortably in the No.1 spot since.
Creator Dean Hall told MCV last week: It looks like we're on track to break one million unit sales within the month from release, which is completely outside the realm of what I thought a PC exclusive title, during a Steam sale, downloadable only via Steam, with a $0 marketing budget could do.
My expectations were that if we did 250k units within the quarter we released in, I would have considered us a success. We did consider that sales could be substantially more than that, but estimating that felt like guesswork so we didn't really try.”
"Traditionally, an unfinished, PC-only title
with a non-existent marketing budget isn't
supposed to reach eight-digit sales figures
– let alone in just its first month on sale. But
we're not speaking traditionally anymore."
And he's not wrong.
Few would argue against setting conservative estimates against a title facing as many obstacles as DayZ.
Traditionally, an unfinished, PC-only title with a non-existent marketing budget isn't supposed to reach eight-digit sales figures – let alone in just its first month on sale.
But we're not speaking traditionally anymore.
The big name publisher and the eye-watering marketing spend it offers just isn't as valuable as it once was, particularly on PC.
DayZ follows in the footsteps of Minecraft. Meanwhile, UK-studio Chucklefish has also chalked 1m sales for its own early-access title, Starbound. Now, anyone has a chance to make a multi-million selling hit.
Where elaborate marketing used to rule the roost, an active social media presence and player engagement have replaced them as the most valuable tools to a game's success.
DayZ isn't finished. In fact, it's far from it as its Beta remains a year off. Asked about the game's open development, Hall said: Being very open with the release helped a great deal. We were as honest as we could be with people about the state of the Alpha so that people could make their own minds up. Our customers are smart, so they are going to figure out the state of the game quickly.”
This open communication with gamers is what has fuelled the success of DayZ.
Hall is active on social media, while his team produces regular dev blogs. Gamers know their thoughts are being heard and built into the game they've paid to help make.
Today, Twitch and YouTube fill the void once filled by expansive marketing.
"DayZ is a prime example of a game selling
itself. Its players are marketing it everyday
as they make Let's Play videos and share
their in-game stories. And it's proving more
powerful than any advertising ever could."
DayZ is a prime example of a game selling itself. Its players are marketing it everyday as they make Let's Play videos and share their in-game stories. And it's proving more powerful than any advertising ever could.
The power of social media, directly connecting with your customer, is proven by our success here. We spent no money on marketing, and we actively worked with Steam to reduce the marketing footprint on Steam itself.”
Hall's right. It's perhaps not advisable to actively market a game that's still not finished and riddled with bugs. But releasing DayZ early has served as its own form of marketing, and the results are clear to see.
DayZ has now earnt its fourth consecutive week atop the Steam chart and has almost certainly surpassed 1m sales.
Through word of mouth, Hall has created his own kind of marketing. DayZ now has a million players sharing their in-game stories online every day – and that's proving far more valuable than any marketing plan.