This is the introduction to a full FREE deconstruction written for Naavik, a research, consulting, and advisory firm which enables their clients to master the business of gaming.

A New Era of Self-Publishing

Wednesday, 5th of June 2024, 12:21 +02:00

Early this year, Palworld was released and took the world by storm. Its overnight success set records left and right. It became the biggest third-party game launch ever on Xbox Game Pass and the biggest craze in the monster taming genre since Pokémon Go. What makes this story even more special is that Palworld's developer, Pocketpair, is an independent studio that released Palworld without a big marketing budget. And Pocketpair is not alone; already in 2023 and 2024, we've seen a pretty clear uptick in self-published hits. What is going on?

With a current estimate of 19 million Steam sales at about $30 a pop, Palworld easily crossed the threshold of $400M in gross revenue on this platform alone. This massive number, which doesn't include Game Pass revenue, 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.

One of the most fascinating aspects of this game's story is the team and company behind it, which claims to be relatively inexperienced, and while the game's development has been expounded upon a lot already, it does deserve a mention here as well.

Palworld has seen a lot of coverage. In February, it became one of the best-performing Steam releases ever with over 2M concurrent players on Steam, and an update posted to X one month after its release confirmed the game attracted 25M players in one month. Recently, Palworld is planned to be released on more platforms, and Pocketpair is flirting with the idea of acquisition, preferring it over a public offering. With this amount of attention the developer has been getting, parts of it have unfortunately also been unpleasant.

If a game doesn't revolutionize anything in terms of platform (like Pokémon Go did 8 years ago, for example), most hypes 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 hype, Helldivers 2.

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 again moved on. New potential hypes include Balatro and Hades II, although as of yet, neither of these seem to have generated the type of appeal the previous two hits did.

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

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.

Palworld's impact in search results. | Source: Google Trends

While Palworld's hype has long subsided, it's become clear that in terms of financials, Palworld is still the biggest launch that happened among recent self-published games, and therefore a great case study into what makes a one-in-a-million marketing message.

Introducing a New Era in PC Gaming

While others have been touting a new era for indie games, I'd caveat this by saying that defining which companies are (or claim to be) "indie" is not always easy. Since this is a notoriously difficult to define market segment that keeps proving to be quite polarizing, I'd rather talk about self-published games (on PC) today.

Some early adopters - like Giants Software, which took the leap as early as November 2021 with the release of its first self-published game, Farming Simulator 22 - made the choice to try to keep a bigger share of their revenue.

Giant Software's self-published milestone. | Source: Gamesplanet

It seems that a surge of self-published games has taken public opinion by storm, but is this just perception, or is there actual, hard data to support this claim? And, if so, why is this happening? Today, it's time to find out!

It's not just marketing and distribution that are behind the dawn of this new era, though. A well-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, it also covers:

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