What does the Unity Dev Report actually tell us?

Unity recently surveyed 1,455 game studios asking all sorts of interesting questions. In case you don’t have time to sit through the entire report, here are some interesting observations. Well, hopefully interesting.

A word of warning: this a very wide sampling of studios, and the numbers are skewed firstly by the inclusion of some massive, non-independent studios and secondly by the mobile market.

Unity tries to fix this by pulling out different stats for their ‘top ranking’ studios, but the lack of separation between mobile and desktop development – vastly different worlds as far as marketing and monetisation are concerned – means some of the figures aren’t as clear-cut as they might appear.

67% of developers will publish independently (self-publish)

Given mobile tends to skew towards 3rd party publishing, this is a very high number. It remains the main route to market despite the rise in indie-focused publishing labels in recent years, and the push from some publishers, like EA, to have an ‘indie’ arm.

As the distance between studio and fan becomes increasingly smaller thanks to social media, early access and events, the need for traditional publishing becomes a tougher sell. Publishing is now often shorthand for ‘marketing support’, and that 30% lifetime asking price for such support is looking very steep for many developers.

These figures don’t show how many studios use PR agencies and freelancers for their launch marketing efforts, but for many studios with the ability to pay for marketing upfront, a one-time agency fee begins to look like a much more attractive proposition for many of the same services.

The bigger studios are failing to adapt to new technology

Top Ranked studios are significantly less likely to use Twitch, Discord and events to promote their game, and significantly more likely to use advertising and email. (Note the slide question is about ‘positive impact’ but the box out talks about actual usage – a little confusing)

The focus on advertising for those with the budget to partake effectively might not be shocking, but I think it’s interesting to see that lack of embracing things like Twitch. Especially in 2018, when we can use the word ‘new’ to describe things like Twitch and Discord only in the very broadest sense.

Some of that may be explained by how Twitch marketing might be defined in the survey. For example, paying a Twitch influencer to play may not be considered “using Twitch”.

However, some of it may also come from the difficulty larger studios face in finding the balance between being approachable and being a corporate entity. Speaking very generally, the newer the marketing method, the more it relies on putting staff in front of gamers, and that’s a very scary concept from a corporate perspective.

And there’s always the fear you try and it goes terribly wrong and you end up in /r/fellowkids.

Less than half of studios use press releases

Traditionally both mobile and desktop games would use press releases, so unlike some more format specific examples (mobile developers trend towards not using dev logs) its relative position in this list can’t be explained by the sample.

“Pewds”, probably not a man who is interesting in the inverted pyramid metaphor

There are a few ways to look at this.

On the one hand, you could argue that the traditional press release is dying because the traditional press is dying, and 17-year-old YouTube influencers are unlikely to want to read your nicely formatted release but instead would like a quick email to explain why your game is, as the kids say, “well banging”.

On the other hand, a press release doesn’t take much time to create, and while influencers have taken centre stage, the amount of work to craft a press release for the potential to get some good coverage from a journalist looking for a story shouldn’t be completely ignored.

The cynic in me would also like to point out that ‘writing and distributing press releases’ has always been an easy win task that publishers can bullet point on their websites, so as they lose dominance over studios, the traditional press release is likely to continue to decline.

The rise of the jack of all trades

Gotta love that 1% of people who have no idea what’s going on

Independent publishing is rising, but that hasn’t given the specific role of marketing, community management or social media much dominance in studios.

This means that more developers, artists and designers have become marketers on the side. This makes sense, considering the above concerns of publisher cuts and the logistical and financial strain of hiring an in-house marketing person in a small team.

Overall I think this is a positive change. In most cases, it’s a lot easier for you to learn how to do marketing than for a marketing person to learn everything about your game. It’s also a great deal more beneficial for your studio in the long term, where 30% cuts and extra costs are being replaced with life skills and market awareness.

There are some dangers of course, mostly from studios unprepared for the sheer amount of work that can be involved or operating under false assumptions about the market.

There we go. Obviously very highly subjective thoughts this time, but it’s nice to see some interesting survey data on this scale even if it’s a little too skewed to provide more specific and scientific conclusions!

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Featured Image: Game Dev Tycoon by Greenheart Games

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