Since 2012, Valve has allowed indie developers of all shapes and sizes to submit games to the Steam platform through Greenlight. Greenlight is a community-driven voting system where submitted games are added to the store once they receive enough positive feedback.
Ultimately, the process is streamlined and accessible, but it puts pressure on developers to manage a strong social presence (both online and offline) to procure enough attention for their submissions. Although games can stay on Greenlight indefinitely, the most popular submissions are prioritized in casual browsing, which typically perpetuates a downward spiral for older applicants.
However, Steam Greenlight is going away this spring.
It’s replacement, Steam Direct, is Valve’s response to witnessing the challenges in the Greenlight system. Developers will soon be able to submit games directly to Steam with a per-submission fee and refunding system that is yet to be decided. This new system intends to make Steam a more available and welcoming platforms for teams who can neither afford a publisher nor dedicate full-time efforts to marketing and public relations.
While developers may need to fund their efforts a bit more than the Greenlight fees, this new system should ultimately open the floodgates for new digital content. By taking a proactive stance, you can naturally prepare for upcoming behavioral and marketing changes throughout the Steam community.
Steam is now an app store
Begin to treat Steam like any other app store: design for visibility, create a thumbnail that’s appealing and memorable, and use high contrast but not at the expense of clarity or aesthetics. Ensure your game is categorized correctly, and use relevant keywords in the page description. Steam pages can be powerful results from Google searches, so ensure your copy is powerful and effective. Include a video of actual gameplay on your Steam page, but ensure the first image in the gallery is the most captivating and attractive representation of your game: it’s the most important visual element of the page.
With the average attention span in social media lasting around eight seconds, many visitors won’t wait to watch a video, even if it starts automatically. Follow the first gallery image with one that sparks curiosity, and ensure no image is displayed “just because.” If it doesn’t highlight a USP, it shouldn’t be in the spotlight.
Track your competition
Once listed, track your competition regularly (primarily with SteamSpy) and price your product accordingly. Steam gives developers control over temporary discounts, so if it appears your less expensive competition is gaining traction, experiment with discounts to see if they affect current trends. There are some time limits on applying discounts, so plan with the next couple months in mind.
Define unique KPIs with each discount, keeping current market context in mind. Remember, a top priority should always be getting views on your game’s page. 37% of Steam games have never been played, so reinforce the fact that whether or not your audience wants to play your game immediately, the current price is a fantastic limited time offer.
Steam Direct isn’t just any app store
Don’t be surprised if your page views and conversion rates drop noticeably. Especially with the “Early Access” system (where many developers submit unfinished games for an extended revenue stream), there will be a significant increase in competition once Steam Direct rolls out. Don’t confuse Steam oversaturation with App Store oversaturation however, as the low percentage of free-to-play Steam games have an insignificant effect on the market when compared to mobile platforms. It’s simply a different market with different priorities.
Be visible online
Finally, and most importantly, build a web presence as soon as possible, even before your game is released. There are many quick and free options for developers on a budget (Reddit, Facebook, Tumblr), so there’s no excuse to keep your progress to yourself. Not only do you gain greater insight into audience reactions, but you also passively grow an audience most likely to convert when the game is released (or paid DLC is available).
Regularly encourage your followers to write Steam reviews, as highly favorable ratings will get your title to the top of most lists on the store, resulting in more pageviews, greater conversions, and a higher likelihood to be included in editorial content online, further differentiating you from the competition.
As a brief recap, here are the steps to smoothly transition from Greenlight to Steam Direct. Follow these for any existing titles, and begin promotion early for upcoming releases, especially following Spring 2017.
- Display clear, aesthetically pleasing, and high contrast thumbnails.
- Verify game categories are correct.
- Proofread your page copy and tailor it for SEO.
- Include a gameplay video followed by at least three unique screenshots (of descending importance) in your page gallery.
- Track your competition and listen for new arrivals.
- Offer discounts to affect audience behavior.
- Build social media pages to share content and gain insight on audience opinions.
- Encourage fans to write positive Steam reviews.