This is an excerpt from a longer Deep Dive. To read the whole article, click here.

Earlier this year, Palworld took the world by storm. It became the biggest third-party game launch ever on Xbox Game Pass, dominated the Steam charts, and spawned a craze for monster taming not seen since Pokémon Go.

What makes this story even more special is that Palworld’s developer, Pocketpair, is an independent studio without a big marketing budget. Pocketpair is not alone; we’ve seen a clear uptick in self-published hits lately. What is going on?

Palworld easily crossed the threshold of $400M in gross revenue on PC alone, based on current estimates of 19M Steam sales at about $30 a pop. This massive number doesn’t even include Game Pass revenue and has even led to claims from Pocketpair itself that it’s too much to handle. The game recouped roughly 2,300% of its $7M development budget in the weeks after its release.

In February, it became one of the best-performing Steam releases ever with over 2M concurrent players at one point. Pocketpair said it had attracted 25M players in one month.

Recently, it was confirmed Palworld is coming to more platforms at some point, and Pocketpair is flirting with an acquisition, preferring it over a public offering. Unfortunately, with the amount of attention the developer has been getting, its popularity has also led to some unpleasant feedback.

If a game doesn’t revolutionize anything in terms of platform (like Pokémon Go did eight years ago), most hype cycles in the game industry are short-lived. Looking back now, the same could be said for Palworld. It’s been a few months since Palworld was the cat’s meow, after which many players moved on to the next big thing, Helldivers 2.

Palworld vs Helldivers
Success of Palworld versus Helldivers 2 | Source:

After the recent PSN debacle surrounding Helldivers 2, which did the exact opposite of revolutionizing things in terms of platform, it seems that around 9% of Helldivers 2’s player base has refunded the game and moved on. Other recent breakout hits include Balatro and Hades II, although as of yet, neither of these seem to have generated the type of attention that Palworld and Helldivers have.

2024 games
The initial hypes of 2024 compared to a few potential replacements. | Source: vginsights (end of May)

Palworld’s hype was especially extreme. For a brief moment, it was even more talked about than Diablo IV or Baldur’s Gate 3 at their peaks. That being said, when compared with these other zeitgeist-making franchises released throughout last year, Palworld’s popularity graph has a steeper tail than the others, likely as the result of a lack of substance in its post-launch content roadmap.

While Palworld’s hype has long subsided, it is still the biggest self-published game launch in recent memory, and therefore a great case study of what makes a one-in-a-million marketing message.

Introducing a New Era in PC Gaming

While some have been touting a new era for indie games, we’d caveat this by adding that defining “indie” is not always easy. Since this is a notoriously difficult to define market segment that proves to be quite polarizing, we’re talking about self-published games on PC today.

Early adopters like Giants Software took the leap in November 2021 with its first self-published game Farming Simulator 22 and made the choice to try to keep a bigger share of its revenue. 

Farming Simulator 22
Giant Software’s self-published milestone. | Source: Gamesplanet

It seems that a surge of self-published games has taken the business by storm, but is this just perception, or is there actual, hard data to support this claim? And, if so, why is this happening?

It’s not just marketing and distribution that are behind the dawn of this new era. A marketable game starts at the product level. This means certain choices need to be made before the first piece of concept art is drawn up and the first line of code is written. For that matter, after revealing the findings of this piece’s research, we will also cover:

  • Product and design takeaways from Palworld and other recent successes.
  • Marketing theories for self-publishing.
  • Looking ahead: What’s next?

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Content Worth Consuming


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How To Start A Game Studio(The Fourth Curtain): “In this inaugural Lunch Club episode of The Fourth Curtain we discuss starting a Game Studio, something Alex has done a few times. We fail to actually eat lunch, but we do talk about the following topics: 1) Why? Why do you want to start one? What are good reason to do so and what’s a game studio really? 2) Strategies. If you are starting a studio, does it have a strategy? Platform, genre, technology, IP? What’s the “sum is greater than its parts” part? 3) Funding. How to get off the ground...

Inside Pok Pok: Reimagining Digital Play For Kids (Rise and Play Podcast): “How to combine games and education, and is there a case for it? We interview Melissa Cash, co-founder and CEO of PokPok, a company creating educational and engaging digital content for children. They discuss the challenges and strategies of developing non-addictive, educational content for young children, focusing on the importance of designing tools that integrate seamlessly with a parent’s daily life.”

Are Conversion Rates Dipping Over Time on Steam? (The GameDiscoverCo): “Back in August 2022, we put out a column asking about the ‘best’ time of year to release a game on Steam, according to our data that looks at how well ‘Hype’ is converted*. Almost two years later, we thought we’d come back and look at it again. (*The data point we’re using in this piece is‘# of Week 1 Steam reviews as a % of GameDiscoverCo Hype launch score’. This is a bit abstract, but roughly equivalent - or at least first cousins - with‘Steam wishlist balance at launch compared to total Week 1 sales’.)

Rise and Fall of Embracer Group | Implications for the Future of Games M&A(GameMakers Podcast): “The GameMakers podcast publishes current, entertaining, and in-depth discussions on F2P game development. Topics that we cover include the business of games, F2P monetization, liveops, game design, game development processes, team structure, and more.”

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