Making a game is hard work and an incredibly risky undertaking. Indie games can take months or years to develop and risk making little to no money. From 2015 to 2020 the indie game market has exploded, with the amount of titles increasing by about 10 times. It is important that studios do whatever they can to set themselves apart.
As a game studio, you know how to make games. But there is a lot more to a successful game launch than a good game. Sure, you won’t get far without a good product, but a good launch plan can reduce your risk of a financial failure.
At Playsaurus we have had our share of failed launches some of which cost us a lot of lost revenue. With each one we spent time figuring out what went wrong and improved our strategies. After several successes and failures we learned what to invest additional time and money in for a successful launch.
Here’s what we found to be of the greatest importance when launching a game, especially on Steam:
- The game trailer is the first thing players will see when they visit your game’s store page. Often this is where a player will decide whether the game is for them or not. The trailer should quickly capture the player’s attention and show them what the game is about. Movement and action is important; if your game doesn’t have much of this you will want to find a way to add it through visual effects or screen transitions.
- Players want to see gameplay, show it to them.
- The music sets the speed of the trailer. This should match what your audience expects from your game. If your game is not extremely action based then you probably want a slower-paced song. Often (but not always) you will want specific music for the trailer separate from your in-game music.
- If your game budget permits it it is always worth localizing text in your trailer to all the major languages you are launching with.
- We have found that quotes and ratings from third parties work extremely well especially when they are from reputable sources.
Game Store Page Headline and Copy
- Your game headline or “short description” is arguably as important as the trailer. It is the sales pitch for your game. It should set the tone for the rest of your copy. If your game is funny and playful it should be funny and playful. If your game is a dark and mysterious adventure game it should use language which communicates this. Do not write a plain boring “matter of fact” headline.
- It is incredibly important to have this headline translated well. Have multiple translators review this for each language if you can afford it. Properly communicating the tone and intent is of paramount importance.
- Besides the headline Steam also requires a long description. This can more formally cover your game’s major mechanics, although it is still beneficial to throw in some personality here as well.
- After the trailer, players will naturally look at screenshots. We recommend these screenshots be as visually different from each other as possible. They should show the major parts of your game that are the most visually appealing.
- You will want to localize these screenshots, setting up a utility in game to switch languages and export a screenshot at a current point in the game in all languages can help speed up this process.
Game Creatives (Thumbnails and Banners)
- The click-through rate or “CTR” you receive to your game from other game pages or from Steam search is incredibly important in determining your game’s outcome. You want eyes on your page, a higher CTR on your thumbnails accomplishes this.
- Higher CTR isn’t always better! Understanding who your target audience is and what they are looking for will help filter who lands on your page. You want your target audience to land on your page, not “everyone on Steam”. This is important because properly filtering will lead to higher ratings on your game.
- Stand out! While keeping the previous point in mind you want your thumbnails to visually stand out. Contrast helps a lot with this as does incorporating unique shapes into your thumbnail. By standing out you have a higher chance of players taking notice of your thumbnail or banner leading to a higher CTR.
- North America only accounts for ~38% of Steam revenue. We estimate that English speakers only account for 55% of Steam revenue. Additionally, the market for games released in other languages is less competitive. In other words, you will have less competition in other languages due to a lack of titles released in those languages.
- Here are our recommendations for languages to localize at launch:
- < $100k total budget – If you are making a game that costs under six figures to develop, launching in English only might be ok.
- $100k – $1mil total budget – If you are over the six figure mark you will definitely want to consider launching in the top 6 languages for your game. This may differ, but typically you will want to consider English, German, Simplified Chinese, Spanish (Spain), French, and Italian.
- > $1mil total budget – If your game costs more than $1mil to develop we recommend targeting as many of Steam’s supported languages as possible. You can find the most popular Steam languages here: https://store.steampowered.com/hwsurvey/Steam-Hardware-Software-Survey-Welcome-to-Steam
Game Launch Timing
- Release timing is a tricky thing but getting it right could be the difference between a big feature on Steam and a complete lack of traction. Launches often can account for 80% of a title’s revenue so getting this right is extremely important.
- The first thing to check is that you are not launching during a steam sale. Steam has seasonal sales and launching during this time can kill any chance of a feature from Steam. You will want to keep an eye on the dates published by Steam and not decide on a launch date until you know it is not during a seasonal sale period. If you choose a random date there is a roughly 20% chance it will land within a sale.
- Look at other games within your genre. Look at when they have the most players on a seasonal basis. It is ideal to launch during a seasonal uptrend.
- Make sure to leave a page on Steam for a while to gather interest and wishlists before launching. A rushed launch can cost you big time.
Game Marketing & Wishlists
- Getting your store page up early is important for one big reason: wishlists. Getting players to subscribe and talk about your launch before it happens can help propel you into a feature spot. This initial interest can often decide the financial fate of your game.
- Make sure your description and trailer have a call to action (“Wishlist Now!”)
- Setting up accounts on all the major social media sites so that people on these sites can tag you will help with Search Engine Optimization or “SEO”. It will also help control the narrative about your game. You want what shows up on the first page of Google to be content you control.
- Try to post regularly to the social media accounts with small sneak peeks or other interesting content. Gaining a following on social media will help with your launch push.
- Setting up a game site or a landing page on your company site with an email collection system (Such as mailchimp or sendy) is a cheap and effective way to build an audience. Email marketing is still the most profitable and personal form of marketing. Just make sure not to spam your subscribers.
Form a Community Early & Get Feedback
- Many unsuccessful developers work on a game in private for extended periods only to launch their game and realize it wasn’t good enough for their audience. Even we are guilty of that. Forming a community on Discord or Reddit with a small group of Beta testers can help provide you with invaluable feedback early in the development cycle. After launch this community will (hopefully) grow and will be a source of marketing in itself.
- Your early community members will become your biggest advocates, providing you with a source of positivity that will help convince new players that your game is worth playing .
- We recommend linking to this community within your game and on your social media profiles and steam page.
- Launching on other platforms can have a synergistic effect, growing the player base across all platforms. For example, when we launched Clicker Heroes on Android and iOS our Steam user base increased.
- If you have already launched on another platform that can also provide a ton of value—notifying this audience of your intent to launch on Steam can provide you with an immediate boost in installs at release. Adding a notification popup in game of your expected release timeframe and then notifying them once you have launched will help get you additional launch traction. Additionally, Steam absolutely loves to see new users join their platform and rewards games that lead to this outcome.
Pricing and Sales (For Paid Games)
- Launch sales are an easy way to increase urgency. Many players like to wait for initial feedback before committing to a purchase. A launch sale can help them commit early.
- Getting your pricing right is important. You will want to make sure you set a price that you can justify. In the past we have polled our fans and it comes as no surprise that they were willing to pay more than a typical user. Make sure you aren’t pricing your games for just your fans. You want to make sure the entertainment value you provide is well worth the price and don’t want a high price to hurt ratings at launch.
- Look at other games in your category and price accordingly.
The amount of time and money spent on the above should be a decent share of your overall budget and time. Only you can decide what is right for you and your game but we have found spending less than 10% of the overall budget on these items can be harmful to game success.
What is important is to remember that each of these leads to compounding effects. Each ties into the other and spending the time to do it right will pay dividends in the form of a larger more successful launch.
If you are looking for a strategic partner to help you publish a game on Steam we would love to get in touch. Whether you are an indie studio or a large publisher we would love to help you turn your game into a success on the Steam marketplace.