There were a lot of indie games at E3 2021. Wholesome Games Direct and Guerrilla Collective both showed over 70 indie games, and there were indie trailers at Summer Game Fest, Future Games Show, Devolver Direct, Upload VR show, and ours. Show computer games. It all went through a blur, but for the makers of those games, was it worth being in it?
trailer for soup bowl From Chikon Club it was a standout one. It is a game in which you follow actual recipes for cooking dishes from all over the world, while dedicating yourself to 3D modeling of a real activity while making it look stress free making it look like PC Building Simulator for the kitchen.
That memorable trailer seems to have done the trick. The Soup Pot has been Wishlisted 9,000 times on Steam after it was shown during Summer Game Fest, according to Chikon Club business developer Gwen Foster. This was the biggest rise in wishlist numbers since the Steam Pot’s page went live.
Adding a game to your wishlist is, of course, different than buying it. Valve’s Aravind Murthy appreciated it 19% of wishlists convert to sales in the first year of the game’s average life, although the exact number can vary widely. Given that it costs $2,000 to build a Soup Pout trailer (“Local creators typically get paid $100 to $300 and we thought that was unfair,” Foster says), I calculated that 117 of those people needed to buy a pot soup to cover its cost. That’s 1.3%, which seems like an easy target.
Direct sales conversions aren’t the only value of wish lists. Steam’s obscure algorithm counts how many people have listed a game as a Wishlist when deciding what to highlight in places like Discovery Queue, Featured Boxes, and the Popular Upcoming section. All of these desirable situations put games in front of customers and can lead to more wish lists, keeping them there for longer. If independent developers seem to be obsessed with wishlist numbers, here’s why.
Pupperazzi By Sundae Month is a photo safari game all about capturing cute dog shots that were announced at Wholesome Games Direct for 2020 and followed by a 30-second trailer for the 2021 edition. Tania X Short, captain of Pupperazzi Kitfox Games publisher, says those 30 seconds resulted from Thousands of new wishlists – double what was originally announced.
“You never know what’s going to happen beforehand, but Wholesome Games Direct has been excellent for us, even though many people don’t consider it part of a ‘main’ E3 for any reason.” The video was clipped together from their Motropolis level footage, “So it was just a few days of effort…at least, after we’ve optimized that level appropriately for shots, which is important work anyway.”
Lakeburg Legacies, is a medieval management simulation focusing on the emotional lives of villagers, not revealed before E3. It was announced during a computer game show, and it seems to have made its way out of it. “We got 8,000 wishlists in less than 24 hours after the game was revealed, and that was great,” says Bruno Laverne, director of communications and marketing at Ishtar Games. “And now, one week after the reveal, we already have over 15,000 wishlists, and we’re very happy with them. To give you a comparison, announcing our previous game, The Last Spell, we only got about 800 wishlists in one day.”
Ishtar Games spent a fair amount on the trailer: €10,000, which is just under $12,000, or about $206 per second. “It’s money well spent on our part, because it gave us the best insight we could ever hope for,” Laverne says.
Like Steam’s wishlists, it’s not the only measure of success for the E3 show. Word of mouth is also important, and thanks to social media, game developers can see this happen. Laverne says Lakeburg Legacy “got a lot of mentions on Twitter from people who said how excited they were about the game,” the soup-bot developer Chicken Club gained 500 followers, while a teaser for a game called Sally appeared during the livestream. Developer Lucid Tales has raised it from “about 200 followers” to nearly 1,000.
Sally paints you as one of the kids made up of a cartoon balloon, looking like Animal Crossing at 30,000 feet. They have “a somewhat experimental and unusual way of marketing” for Sally, says Emile Brodeur, president of the labor cooperative Lucid Tales. It’s still in pre-production, so they’re inviting potential players via behind-the-scenes videos called “Game Dev Tales” as development progresses. “We use devlogs to connect with our audience and our first developer is 8K views on YouTube,” Brodeur says.
YouTube numbers are what counts for Lucid Tales, and the studio drew around 700 subscribers after Sally’s revelation. The small team spent months working on the video, which Brodeur considers useful. “The trailer is completely in-engine and most of what you see in the trailer is set to be in the game at the moment,” he says. “For us that was the reason to produce a trailer without wasting resources.”
to RoboDunk, which is essentially an NBA Jam with bots, solo developer Gabriele Libera, aka Jollypunch Games, has created an inside trailer. “I made everything myself apart from music, so the only cost is the time and labor I put into it.” The music is a track from the game’s soundtrack by Giorgiost, “so it wasn’t an extra expense.”
RoboDunk was one of a few completely new games revealed during a Guerrilla Collective montage, so Libera doesn’t have anything to compare Steam wishlist numbers to, but says, “I’m very happy with the way Wishlists are going. It’s not a quantitative game.” Earth-shattering, but healthy.” RoboDunk looks like the kind of game that would be a good fit for local multiplayer and would do well at conferences, but Libera hasn’t been able to show it in person due to Covid-19. E3 filled that gap. “I was happy to see people’s reactions exceeded my expectations.”
For these indie developers, the promotion work doesn’t end when E3 ends. Next came the Steam Next Fest, and several trailers instructed viewers to download a demo when the event kicks off. wolfstrade, a junk-machine RPG with an amazing black and white trailer featured by Guerrilla Collective, was one of them. It has been downloaded “more than 10,000 times, and the Steam discussion board has been increasingly active,” says Elena Christensen, a PR strategist for Raw Fury. It’s done pretty well in the wishlists in the back of that, having doubled in number over the past week.
Another game that benefited from additional promotion after being put into montage is Jugglers. The trailer for the life management game featured house builders, featuring a grid-free mode and curved walls to make The Sims players drool over. Paralives Studio immediately posted a more in-depth 11-minute home build video that takes you from buying a property to its rooftop.
“As a fully crowd-funded studio, it is imperative for us to continually increase our visibility,” says Kristen Garibi, Director of Communications at Paralives Studio. While it’s nice that Paralives was added to 9,000 wishlists within 24 hours of the two trailers going live, what really matters is that subscribers pay for a team funded by Patreon. In the week following E3, they saw more than 700 of these take out, “which represents an increase in monthly earnings of over $5,000.” Both trailers were created in-house with assets planned for inclusion in the end game. “There was definitely a good return on investment!”
The number of games shown at E3 2021 can seem overwhelming at times. How can anyone remember the details of 70 consecutively shown tracks, let alone 140? But it is clear that a number of viewers noticed and remembered the games they were interested in, and the more games were shown, the more likely they were to cover a variety of areas. A third of the games shown at E3 2021 were non-violent, and seemed like a good year for games about mail delivery and birdsong as it did for traditional video game components like radiation-saturated wastelands, or Rocket ships and four-player co-op with aliens or undead that can be shot.
When it was founded, E3 was working for the gaming industry. It has changed over the years, opening up to the public, computer gamers, and smaller developers. It’s still a corporate event at heart, but if there’s been a week of focused marketing hype, it’s only fair that indie developers be a part of it. Thousands of players respond to indie games at E3, whether it’s cooking soup, matching medieval villagers, or taking pictures of dogs. Just like in Junji Ito’s comic strip, there’s a gap in there as appropriate for everyone.
Indie games can struggle to stand out on storefronts, but the E3 montage is an opportunity for them to shine, and put them in front of an audience so big that they’ll hook up with someone. “I feel like we often try every opportunity we can take,” Short says, “and sometimes they just don’t go anywhere…but that opportunity is definitely gone.” We’re really glad we were included and were able to take advantage of all the excitement that’s going on around us, even if we’re not on the giant stage in Los Angeles.”