How DekuDeals creator helped his community do save millions of dollars – Interview with Michael Fairley
What are the most valuable data projects? The ones that impact the community (huge or/and niche), can diagnose obstacles and find a way for improvement. They are passion-driven but can serve a business(creating a new product for a company etc.) or a semi-business purpose (the project can become the sole source of income for a person and, at the same time, life-changing experience). In short – they are beneficial for the user and the creator. The undertaking I will be discussing today, ticks all the boxes when it comes to VDP1. And still, it has a lot of room to grow!
If you are a Nintendo Switch owner and an avid game buyer like me, there is a chance you’ve stumbled across DekuDeals. The website was launched in 2018 and since then has improved the shopping experience for tens of thousands Nintendo Switch users. The purpose is simple – the user can search for games that are on sale, create their wishlist and collection or get recommendations based on the titles in his/her’s collection. But there underneath the „sales” aspect, DekuDeals is aiming to be something more.
It’s a project that was brought to life to solve certain problems – high game prices, weak game discoverability on Nintendo’s eshop, and lack of time when it came to discount searching (Nintendo’s own eShop works more like a point of sale, rather than a full-blown-marketplace). In my opinion, DekuDeals does what Nintendo’s own digital store supposed to be doing. And what is more suprising, DD is a brainchild of a certain developer and a one-man army based in Seattle, USA.
The man is Michael Fairley. Inspired by PC deals recommendation site, he decided to build one that focused on Nintendo’s newest platform, Switch. As I began using the webpage more, I saw Michael’s creation fix many of the inconveniences I stumbled upon while using Switch. It had a real impact on my wallet („lack of time to search for cheaper games” problem solved). I stopped using Airtable for wishlist creation („need to save time for spreadsheet input + using another tool to do this” problem solved) and additionally DD became my second biggest game discoverability tool, after Youtube („spreadsheet input + game discoverability” problem solved). My wallet and productivity gene loved it:
And this is not the only good thing Michael’s work done for an individual gamer. He is currently rethinking and remodeling the future of the great Deals of the Deku.
Intrigued by the concept, I reached out to Michael to ask about the process behind the project (both conceptual and technical), his views on its future, and his love for the Switch console.
How many users does the DD platform have and how much money they have already saved thanks to it?
There are almost 100,000 people signed up to get notified about sales from Deku Deals. (That’s way more people than I ever imagined would be using this site when I started it). There are also at least that many people who aren’t signed up but just use the site anonymously to browse for games. Deku Deals users who track their collection on the site have recorded a total of ~$20 million in savings, but I certainly can’t claim credit for all of that.
With 100,000 people – how much of them are paying users? And how are you working on the DD’s growth or is DD just based on worth-of-mouth marketing? And with that kind of community support – are you considering DekuDeals becoming your full-time job?
I’ve done basically no marketing for Deku Deals, relying entirely on its users for word-of-mouth growth. Improving the product itself is my main approach to growing. Currently, there are 170 folks supporting Deku Deals via its Patreon, which I am incredibly appreciative of.
The site also makes money from affiliate links (a few of the retailers give me a small cut of that the purchases that DD refers to them) and advertising. It’s begun to pull in enough recently that I’m starting to focus on it full-time, and I’m excited about being able to use that dedicated attention to make the site even better.
What was the building process of DD and how your tech stack looked like?
Building the initial version of Deku Deals went something like this:
1) Figure out how to get the list of games and prices out of Nintendo’s website
2) Get the prices for Switch games from US retailers, and associate those with the eShop listings
3) Make a website to display all of that
4) Allow signing up and wishlisting on the site
5) Make a thing to send out emails when wishlisted games go down in price
The road looked like that:
The first version of the site was very basic. It had almost no data other than prices, and wishlisting was the only user interaction. Here’s a few screenshots of what it looked like in May 2018, a few months after I first launched it. The homepage is very similar, though with lower quality images and no „lowest price ever” badges:
Browsing/searching just showed everything in one long list:
The page for a single game had almost nothing on it! No price history graph, and almost no metadata:
The core technologies in my stack are PostgreSQL (where all of my data lives) and Ruby (Deku Deals is a single Ruby application). The main app is split into 3 main parts: the user-facing website (i.e. what you see at Dekudeals.com), an admin website (where I have a bunch of tools to deal with data that needs some sort of manual intervention), and a collection of background jobs for scraping and importing data, sending price drop emails, validating the data in the database, and so on.
The big one is linking things up by name: when DD’s automated processes find a new item at a retailer (or a new game on Metacritic, etc.), they try to match it with an existing game on Deku Deals that has the exact same name. 99% of the time, this works great. But sometimes the names don’t exactly match up for various reasons (e.g. a typo in the name on the retailer’s site, regional naming differences, „2” vs „II” vs „Two”), and so I end up having to manually associate it with the correct game.
I also have to manually add special boxed editions of games, new accessories, and anything else that’s not listed in the eShop itself. And even for games that do come out on the eShop, the retailers often list the physical edition many months before it shows up on the eShop, so I manually add those as well so they’re wishlistable as soon as possible.
And as I mentioned before, I’ve built tools to make all of these processes quick and easy. Automation can’t solve everything, so I have to make sure the manual work isn’t a huge burden on my time.
What is the publisher and developers' approach towards sites like Deku Deals? While it’s a blessing for the wallets, some users may wait weeks or even months to buy the desired game, hence cutting down on the creator’s fee.
So far, every developer I’ve talked to about Deku Deals has had nothing but positive things to say it. (I’ve even seen some devs publicly recommend wishlisting their games on Deku Deals.) For better or for worse, sales are a part of video game marketing these days, and discounts are often a way to get a little bit of extra attention for a game. Here’s the most recent one I could find:
Despite the name, Deku Deals is also about more than just deals these days. A lot of the browsing functionality on the site is there to help people discover games to play, and so I’m sure DD has helped its users find games they otherwise would have missed out on.
I’ve also heard from publishers that Deku Deals’s price histories are helpful for them when researching the impact of discounting games and investigating other publishers' discounting strategies.
I was comparing DD with Nintendo’s own eShop – apart from the deal factor, the discoverability of the games is better. I’ve been talking to friends who are also DD users and they say that DD helps them with recommendations – mostly with niche / indie games. DD also feels like a product that have been born out of indie dev movement so I think it is a good connection. With Nintendo’s negligence towards indie gaming, DD might become one of the place that boosts discoverability of niche titles. I like to think of DD more like a Switch-version of Itch.io – only lacking the community aspect.
Are you thinking of any partnerships in terms of game recommendation with publishers or devs?
Connecting players to lesser-known games that they’ll enjoy is definitely one of my goals with Deku Deals! When designing the „Hottest Deals” section on the homepage, I made sure that it would have a broad set of games included in it, and there’s almost always some great indie games front-and-center. I also have the Michael’s Picks page where I recommend some of my favorite games, most of which are from indie teams.
Partnering with smaller developers to help promote their games is something I would love to do in the future, but I’m not sure it’s the best use of my time right now.
DD is still in development and new features are popping up. What are the biggest changes to the service in the coming months?
The biggest thing I’m working on right now is adding PlayStation and Xbox. Both of them just launched a new generation of consoles, which seems like the right time to think about expanding DD’s focus. I’ve been hearing from many Deku Deals users who bought one of the new consoles and would love to have a single place to track their games.
After that, lots of „the usual” small improvements: aggregating more data for the site, improving the UI, adding new stores, and implementing user suggestions.
You’ve been an owner of the Switch for more than 3 years now. What’s your overall feeling about the console?
The Switch is great!
– Portability is a huuuge feature for a ton of people and is the reason I originally bought the console
– Nintendo’s first-party games are consistently good. They’re not all 10/10s, but many of them are reason enough to own the console
– It’s an amazing multiplayer machine: A single Joy-Con is unintimidating for a non-gamer to pick up, you only need to buy one extra Joy-Con pair to be able to have 4 people playing, and Mario Kart is everyone’s favorite.
I’m curious to see what becomes of all the Switch Pro rumors. The current Switch was already a bit underpowered compared to the PS4 and Xbox One, and the new generation has only widened that gap further. Many of the recent games that have targeted all 3 platforms have ended up with the Switch version being delayed, canceled, or released with a noticeably worse experience, and it seems like that’s largely been due to the difficulty of porting to a less powerful console that has a different architecture. Hopefully a new revision of the Switch could remain a viable target for these high budget cross-platform games.
10% of the money you make through DD are sent to video-game oriented charities. Can you tell me more about them?
The purpose of Deku Deals is to help people find and access video games, so I’m thrilled to be able to support charities who have related missions:
AbleGamers helps people with disabilities acquire the specialized equipment they need to be able to play video games.
Child’s Play provides children’s hospitals with video games for kids to play with as distraction or as part of therapy.
With that – are you thinking of turning DD more of a mix of collection list / wishlist? And what about the community aspect? Are you planning this also?
Yeah! There’s already the ability to track your collection on Deku Deals, but it has not gotten as much attention and love from me as wishlisting. Improving it further is definitely on my to-do list.
Community stuff (reviews, discussions, etc.) is on my „probably someday” list. It opens up a whole can of worms around moderation, usernames, avatars, etc, and that feels like a pretty big distraction from aggregating.
If we take into consideration that DD has around 100k users, even with half of them devoted to paying 1$ monthly (and it would be around 15$ yearly per user, including tax), that would make a hefty sum for Michael to solely focus on the DekuDeals project and creating a small team focused on digital and business/community growth of the product.
The focus for Michael at this moment should be:
◾ concentrate on engaging Deku community into becoming patrons. Deku has a great potential to become an important landmark and example of applying passion economy principles to a gaming project. Passion economy is heavily influenced by Kevin Kelly’s „1,000 True Fans” essay and has seen many iterations of the idea (recommended reading here is Li Jin’s pieces on passion economy as a disruptor: click here for part one and here for part two).
◾ DekuDeal’s evolution of features (from algorithm creation to content) connected to game discoverability.
◾ building a community around the site and its features – particularly the game discoverability aspect (from Metacritic ratings, which are already on the site, to game recommendation algorithm). Remodeling the Reddit profile would also be quite an undertaking. With the growth of the webpage, there should be a separate person devoted only to this part – a brand ambassador and a community manager.
I’m looking forward to DekuDeals becoming not only Michael’s sole source of income (as is the case with other indie devs like the ones behind Checker + or Raindrop.io) as the initiative has a great potential to become a leading service when it comes to signaling users when to buy and what to play and a „glue” for a community that’s engaging and helpful.
- Valuable Data Project.