Since Switch launched back in March 2017, we've spoken to developers several times about the eShop, its discoverability problems and the tactics being employed to get noticed and sell games on Nintendo's digital storefront. At launch, the eShop was very much in line with the console's no-nonsense Home menu — simple, functional and decidedly unflashy.
However, as time has gone on and thousands of games have dropped on Switch, the eShop operates largely the same as it did on launch day, which has become a big issue for publishers when it comes to simply getting noticed on Nintendo's store.
"The issue with the eShop is that it was never built for discoverability, which is a bad thing for both devs and consumers," says Mike Rose of publisher No More Robots. Rose posted a Twitter thread in the last week of September that went into quite some detail regarding his experience publishing on Switch eShop, and we caught up with him via email to find out a little more.
In the long thread (above), Rose spoke about the comparative sales performance of four No More Robots Switch releases this year: Not Tonight, Yes, Your Grace, Nowhere Prophet and Hypnospace Outlaw. His findings make for fascinating reading, especially alongside SMG CEO Ashley Ringrose's comments from our interview earlier in the year on the effect eShop discounts have on indie game sales. We'll touch on the main points here, but we recommend taking a few minutes and reading the entire Twitter thread.
Rose has been outspoken in the past on his frustrations with other online storefronts, not only the "heartbreaking" Switch eShop, but having had the opportunity to experiment on Switch this year, he's drawn some interesting — and somewhat depressing — conclusions.
For instance, he believes that Metacritic scores matter on Switch more than other digital game storefronts. We’ve certainly noticed games displaying their Metascore prominently on their main Switch eShop images. "As far as I can tell, it's partially to do with how people find discounts and deals for Switch games," says Rose when asked to elaborate. It appears that huge discount + decent 'green' Metacritic score = insta-buy for many Switch gamers browsing the eShop. "I know a lot of Switch users utilise sites like Deku Deals and the like, and those sites tend to display Metacritic score prominently, and even allow you to filter by MC scores. So that's likely a big part of it."
After previously imploring indie devs to not "devalue [their] work! Don’t deep discount!”, Rose wrote about reaching the end of his tether and having to make a tough choice. With Nintendo's charts dependent on the number of units sold rather than the revenue generated from sales, No More Robots made the decision to put Not Tonight on sale for 90% off.
"Yeah it was not a fun decision to make," he reiterates. "As I mentioned in my Twitter thread, I kept holding off and holding off on such a discount, but then I kept seeing the same games and the same publisher appearing in the top sellers charts over and over, and they were obviously manipulating the store to make a ton of money. I mean, how many times do we need to see Thief Simulator before we're sick of it? Apparently not enough, given how often it's 90% off at the top of the eShop!"
eventually I had to grit my teeth and try a 'can't beat them, join them' approach... if everyone else is breaking the store, what else can you do?
"So eventually I had to grit my teeth and try a 'can't beat them, join them' approach. I should say, I don't know if I actually plan to do it with any of our other games yet, and it's likely that I'll keep it as a continuous experiment with Not Tonight. But in the end, if everyone else is breaking the store, what else can you do?"
The benefits of the deep discount were very quickly reflected in sales. In the Twitter thread, Rose wrote: "In 24 hours, we entered the top 30 charts. In a week, we'd topped the charts. We sat there for 2 more weeks before the sale ended. The game nearly sold as many units during those 4 weeks, as it has sold in its lifetime on Steam. It made 6 figure revenue.".
In a way, it feels like learning to sell on eShop has become it's own little meta-game; Rose had finally discovered how to 'play' the eShop. "To be honest that's how I see all marketing and publishing, and it makes it a lot of fun. The success of the 90% off sale was certainly eye-opening, as you might expect, and it's actually led us to explore future plans with Not Tonight. But there was also quite a lot of feelings of 'eugh' with it too, realizing that 'joining them' meant selling my soul a little."
No More Robots went on to experiment with a smaller discount with Yes, Your Grace which performed well enough, revenue-wise, although it couldn't touch Not Tonight in the charts. Yes, Your Grace was also a featured game on the store, although featured status on the storefront didn't translate into sales like the publisher had hoped. Rose was also concerned that deep discounts on eShop would tank Steam sales, but they seemed entirely unaffected — in fact, they enjoyed a very small increase.
When it somes to Nintendo's competitors, Rose has nothing but positive things to say about Microsoft's Game Pass. No More Robots is in the position to compare sales across multiple platforms — a comparison which smaller developers and publishers might not be able to make. We asked him if devs who aren’table to launch across all consoles would be better off ‘gaming’ the eShop with discounts first, or putting their game on Game Pass initially and coming to Switch later?
I would strongly suggest that deep discounts should not be any developer's go-to strategy... We definitely will never do deep discounts on any other platform
"It's tricky, because it all really depends on the game, the genre, the price point, etc. Xbox Game Pass has been a blessing for us, as the revenue that comes from that makes our console ports immediately profitable — but that's not to say that it can work for every game and developer."
Despite success with the tactic, he remains cautious in his approach. "I would strongly suggest that deep discounts should not be any developer's go-to strategy. Perhaps when your game has been out for a little while and sales have dried up, that might be an avenue to explore specifically on Switch. We definitely will never do deep discounts on any other platform — we usually do discounts between 15-40% on Steam, Xbox etc, and those work out great for us."
We wondered how Rose might tweak the eShop if he were put in charge of a redesign. Could Nintendo adopt approaches from other storefronts to improve the eShop situation?
"Devs struggle to utilize the eShop to sell their games," he replies, "and consumers struggle to find anything on there, other than games they literally went looking for. What other stores have accomplished, such as Steam, is to learn what a consumer likes in their games, and then gently offer them similar games, or recommend titles that fall in the same genre, price band etc. Obviously the eShop does nothing like that right now — the Discover tab is simply what Nintendo has decided to push that week."
"So I think the two main points I would hit would be creating some more discoverability outlets on the eShop, while also ranking everything by revenue rather than units, to stop all the deep discounts easily floating to the top."
Nintendo's approach on Switch is a far cry from the eShops on the platform holder's previous consoles, and idly scrolling through the long list of discounted games has become a weekly occurrence for many of us. We asked if Rose himself wades through the eShop for bargains.
I'm a strong believer in supporting smaller dev teams, so sometimes I like to just pick a few games up and see what the chat is
"I do wade through the eShop quite frequently, it's how I choose the game I buy a lot of the time, but recently it has become harder and harder to do so. You usually have to scroll through pages and pages of deals before you even find one or two interesting-looking titles, just because of the sheer numbers of titles that you've already seen a bunch of times for 90% off. I still try though — I'm a strong believer in supporting smaller dev teams, so sometimes I like to just pick a few games up and see what the chat is."
No More Robots has a fifth game hitting the eShop this November: downhill biker Descenders lands on Switch on 6th November. We asked if he feels in a better position with that upcoming Switch launch; does he expect it to follow the trend of previous titles or throw another curve ball?
"Descenders is a bit of an odd game, in that it just doesn't follow the rules when it comes to what sales figures should look like. Because so many people know the game now, and because it's done so well on other platforms, at this point I just kinda know it's going to do well on Switch. We saw this with the PS4 launch last month — with not a huge amount of platform push on launch week, the game still sold like crazy and continues to do so, simply off the back of its previous success. Having more than 3 million players for your game before you even launch on Switch, is always going to leak into the new platforms. So I'm fairly confident we'll see the same success on Switch too."
Given the precarious nature of things on the eShop for many smaller companies, 'fairly confident' certainly sounds like a win for a growing publisher, and Rose knows he's in a fortunate position. "As you'd imagine, it's a pretty nice situation to be in, and it does kinda take the pressure off us quite a bit. Which is very pleasant, because 2020 has been a loooong, tiring year haha."
Our thanks to Mike for his time. Descenders is finally launching on Switch on 6th November, and all of the other games mentioned above can be found on eShop right now — if you look hard enough.