Indie sports titles rarely find success in the market, but this roguelite hockey game Tape to Tape is a welcome exception. Marketing expert Chris Zukowski has broken down how small studio Excellent Rectangle managed to find a perfect niche.
What makes Tape to Tape special?
Last week, Zukowski wrote a deep analysis of Tape To Tape on his How To Market A Game blog. The game came out in Early Access on May 3, and here are some key metrics as of May 14:
- 34,020 — units sold in the first eight days;
- 8% — share of returns;
- $635,674 — gross revenue;
- 53,000 — number of wishlists at launch (another 58k were collected after launch);
- 41:1 — sales to review ratio;
- 91% — share of positive reviews (as of May 22).
Sports games are often considered a bad choice for indie devs for many reasons. The genre is dominated by big AAA franchises, plus smaller creators just don’t have the resources to acquire a license to official leagues or tournaments.
However, Excellent Rectangle decided to take the fast-paced “vertical” gameplay of NHL 94 and combine it with the complex mechanics of roguelike hits of recent years (see Slay the Spire). “NHL 94 struck the perfect gameplay balance which is so hard to achieve in a sports game,” Tape to Tape programmer Jean-Nicolas Fortin told Zukowski.
So the idea was to make a game that would be both fun, easy to learn and deep gameplay-wise. “The roguelike meta game adds deep systems that encourage long play sessions,” Zukowski explained, adding, “Canadians love hockey, people love Roguelikes, and Steam players love DEEP DEEP gameplay.”
Tape to Tape marketing
- In Spring 2021, Excellent Rectangle started posting on Twitter, Reddit, and TikTok. The latter helped the team get a lot of playtesters. And almost all social media posts dedicated to the game are focused on gameplay and core mechanics.
- In August 2021, the studio launched a Steam page, but the wishlist rate was low. So in February 2022, they participated in the 2022 Games From Quebec festival dedicated to local game developers. As Zukowski pointed out, it is a great idea to partner with Valve and organize such events if you “live in a region that has several games that have made over a million dollars.”
- In May 2022, Excellent Rectangle successfully raised CA$ 46,711 on Kickstater, exceeding their initial goal of CA$20,000. It brought them over 7,000 wishlists.
- The studio also kept making posts on Reddit, and some of them reached a non-hockey audience that was interested in the unusual concept of Tape to Tape.
- In February 2023, the team took part in the Steam Next Fest, which earned them over 27,000 wishlists.
The spike in wishlist activity between February 18 and March 1 happened thanks to the Steam Next Fest
- Popular streamer Northernlion also helped a lot, with his first let’s play video on Tape to Tape reaching over 280,000 views. In fact, he loved the game so much that he has already made six videos about it since launch.
- Excellent Rectangle started paid ads in the two weeks leading up to the Early Access launch. But the return on them wasn’t great, so the most hype was created using a Next Fest, social media posts, and Northernlion support.
- After the EA launch, Tape to Tape was invited to get the Steam Popup, a special feature that Valve offers for selected games. This is basically a free ad from the platform that shows your project to millions of users.
- According to Zukowski, Valve picks titles for the popup by looking at their numbers, including the way wishlists convert into sales: “If your conversions are good (you make a bunch of money) and your reviews are good, Valve puts your game in the popup.”
More details, including information about the design of Tape To Tape demo and comments from its creators, can be found in the full post.