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What's the Best Time to Release a Game or Big Update?

The day and month for the GGU are set: 04.04.2024. Let's use this as a pretext to talk about release dates.

The day and month for the GGU are set: 04.04.2024. Let's use this as a pretext to talk about release dates.

The first big Witchfire update, codenamed GGU, should be ready soon but will be released on April 4th.

(Knocking on wood, spitting, throwing salt)

Why? Why not release it as soon as it’s ready?

Let me use this question as an opportunity to talk about release dates and the myths surrounding them.

How important is the release date?

I’m sure your instinct tells you that it is important. Crucial, even. Who would want to release their game when the new GTA launches, or when it’s Election Day or something, right?

What if I told you that data does not support this approach?

But let’s start with the story making rounds lately, about a solo developer who released her game on Steam, hoping that being featured on New & Trending will bring some decent sales. Instead, this is what happened:

We’re not going to go deep into that drama and debate whether Renee even had any momentum to be squashed in the first place (maybe, I have no idea) or shadow-dropping games is cool (it is not). Renee did a nice summary of the whole thing herself:

Side note: I think Renee is wrong, technically you can release during the weekend. It’s not just recommended, as Valve is not working then and would not be able to help in case of any issues.

The whole story shows that these days even the smallest of indies care about the best time to release their game. As I said earlier, this sounds like a smart move, right? And, for what it’s worth, for the release of Witchfire, we — The Astronauts — have looked at the calendar ourselves as well. The release day of our Early Access version was not an accident. I will return to this later.

Wait, before we move on, another side note. I do believe that being featured on an online shop’s front page in any form is important. Honestly, front page trumps most of your marketing efforts. Well-marketed game buried in the shop versus a weakly marketed game featured on the front page? I would not dare to predict the result, but I would not be surprised at all if the latter had won.

A pretty disgusting proof of how precious the front page is are the shitty companies that keep repackaging a game just so they reappear on Nintendo’s eShop.

How do they achieve this? They produce, for example, 20 extra simple DLCs for a game. Let’s number them from 1 to 20. Then they release the “Fun Edition” with a few select DLCs, e.g. 1, 2, 5, and 10. Boom, front page, because “new release”. Then they release the “Joy Edition”, with DLCs 2, 5, 7, and 15. Boom, front page. Rinse, repeat ad infinitum.

Disgusting and depressing.

Anyway, let’s go back to slightly more pleasant things: release dates. Did the release date hurt Titanfall 2 because a new Battlefield was published around the same time? Did it hurt the sequel to Horizon that was released a week before Elden Ring? Etc. — you get the idea.

Simon Carless, a gaming industry veteran and the founder of GameDiscoverCo, says this:

In our view, it is not possible to tank your game’s release by putting it out at the wrong time.

A bold claim.

Simon clarifies that “Steam sales” are the exception, and by “wrong time” he mostly means other titles competing for the gamers’ attention. But still, even with this caveat, this is a pretty big discovery. Simon supports this with the data, and I won’t copy/paste the math here; instead, I invite you straight to the source. But the long story short, according to his research, the conversion rate (wishlists to sales) of good indie titles (10K+ wishlists) does not seem to be heavily affected by the most hyped AAA games. There might be a slight dip due to a busy season, but nothing extreme.

I somewhat agree with his findings. Unlike Simon, I do not offer any hard data, but I do offer 30+ years of experience. So here’s my hyper-advanced take: people like what they like.

All right, that sounds silly, but let me explain. For example, I like mystery/crime movies. On the other hand, I don’t care for drama movies. So if I entered a shop to buy a BluRay for the evening, I would not give a shit that a new big period drama with Emma Stone and Ryan Gosling was just released. I would ignore it and buy that 6/10 low budget foreign murder mystery instead.

And so it goes with online gaming shops like Steam or EGS or PS Store, etc. They are huge, with millions and millions of people. If you have a game that there is an audience for, a bigger game won’t kill it.

However, it all does not mean a developer does not need to worry about the release data at all. Let me pour all the knowledge I have into these five rules:

Do not release your game during a sale.

This is pretty straightforward. Unless you are the new GTA, your game will be buried under all these discounted AAAs and indie hits. No presence on the front pages means a quick but painful death.

Do not release your game near a similar but better or bigger game.

Witchfire, a soulslike shooter, released a day after Lies of P, a soulslike, and a day before Payday 3, a shooter.

This looks like a recipe for disaster, but we knew our audience is different. There is some overlap, there always is, but not a big one. Lies of P had a demo, so some hardcore players have already experienced it and were not in a rush, while Witchfire felt fresh and it being Early Access gave them an opportunity to sample something unique and raw. On the other hand, Payday 3 is a shooter, yes, but an online one; it’s a co-op game. Witchfire is a single-player experience, so it scratches a different itch.

But would we release on the same day as, say, Destiny 3? Hell no.

Try to avoid behemoths.

I know I said that “people like what they like,” but behemoths – true ones, like GTA6 or Skyrim 2 – do suck the oxygen out of the room, starting a week before the release and lasting a week after at the very least. It’s not just the players, it’s also the press, the social media, the streamers, YouTube… Everybody’s living the game. You might still succeed if your game is different enough, but why risk it?

Do your research.

For example, read this from How to Market a Game. Good stuff.

Be ready for damage control.

Sometimes the date is right, no competition, good hype… and then someone leaks Half-Life 3 beta. Yeah, no one is going to talk about your game that day. Be ready to delay the launch, then. In my opinion, it’s better to wait a day or two in such a situation than to lose the freshness. Do not abuse this knowledge, but never ever in the history of the world have players rejected a game because it was a day, a week, a month, or a year late.

All right, so what does it all have to do with Witchfire’s big update releasing on 2024.04.04?

Haven’t you noticed?

It’s Spring Sales everywhere.

EGS Spring Sale ends March 28th. We wait a week so you can have some fun with your purchases…

and then we launch.

Till next time!

Question of the Week

From’s games do spawn enemies live. Watch this fantastic and illuminating video showcasing an unusual bug:

For what it’s worth, the spawns are well hidden in their games simply because on average, these games have way less enemies on screen and around than semi-open world shooters like Witchfire do. And if there’s more enemies, they never chase after the player super-fast, and thus they can be dynamically loaded/unloaded as needed.

However, this is just a tech side of things. Gameplay-wise, players are indeed tricked into believing that the world is 100% populated all the time.

Why won’t Witchfire do this?

It’s because unlike in From games, our enemies are not old, forgotten beings guarding a cursed past. Our enemies are pawns in the witch’s hands. She creates them out of witchfire whenever she needs them, and turns them back into witchfire dust when she does not. They are her tools, and they do not really exist at all.

Well, it’s more complicated than this but we’re entering heavy spoilers territory, so this must do for now.

We could pretend our enemies are persistent. Just turn off all spawn sounds, spawn behind player’s back, etc. etc. But that’s not Witchfire. Witchfire is about you, the preyer, hunting a witch. A witch that uses dark magic to create monsters that hunt you back.

Last but not least, we actually do have some persistent enemies. Like the Warden, patrolling the entire world. And there will be more once the GGU hits.

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