I’ve worked with a number of game developers over the years to launch their games, hundreds of them at this point. Over the years, digital platforms like Steam have become increasingly important and have become the main way to reach the majority of the audience for PC games (in the Western World). There are a number of things that you need to think about in order to have the best possible launch on the platform though:
Steam Greenlight– This can be a long process. Depending on the quality of the art and gameplay you can show, the reputation of the team, and the reaction from the Steam community, your game could be approved in a week, a couple months, a year, or maybe never. There is no set time frame to be approved and many developers find they need to keep updating their Greenlight campaign to get to the level where it can be approved for sale in the store.
Early Access – Being able to expose the community to your game early is essential to building up supporters and getting valuable feedback about the fun and features of your game. It also lets you test out balancing issues, network and online functionality, matchmaking, and hardware compatibility. There are many perceptions of what Early Access is, so you need to be prepared for some negative reviews since people show up expecting a completed game. This is unfortunately part of the way it works today, but perhaps Valve will remove the ability to review games in Early Access. Personally, I would like to see some sort of a questionnaire/test where people have to state that they know what Early Access is and that they understand the purpose is to find and weed out bugs. But that’s not how it works today.
Community is Key– You need to listen to your community, engage them in conversation, and give them the opportunity to interact with you via developer streams, chat sessions, forum conversations, etc. If they know you are listening, responding and bringing their feedback into the game development process, you will eventually have evangelists that will support you when trolls appear. And yes, trolls will absolutely appear. For some reason, there are people that feel the need to start fires, stir the pot and go down in flames. It’s something you have to deal with, so be prepared, but be polite and factual in your responses.
Marketing/Promotion – We all want to come out of the gate with a lot of sales and buzz around the game, but promoting your game too much entering early access has the ability to bring in a number of people that might be too many. If you are launching an online game, you want to be able to test out ever increasing groups of people. It might be better to have a couple hundred people in before you get to the 1,000 or 10,000 person level. There’s also the expectations that a game is complete when the media reaches a wider audience. Again, Early Access isn’t well understood or defined, so bringing in a wider audience means there will be more people disappointed that the game isn’t complete. That leads to negative reviews and the game might suffer.It’s best to make the biggest media push as you progress through Early Access, and feel good about going broader. That said, you should let your launch actually be your launch and personally reach out to the hundreds and thousand of media, blogger, and streamer contacts you have developed (Or you can get in contact with someone who has these already)!
Streamers/YouTubers and Key Requests – Once you announce your game, or once it is listed in the Steam Store as coming soon, you will receive requests for free keys. These will come from traditional media, bloggers with URLs that are not top level domains, YouTubers, Twitch Streamers, and others. I like to manage most of the keys through a google sheet so I can track them and pull keys while on the go if we need to. Oh, a quick note regarding Steam Reviewers (Along with the Steam Reviewer offers to post positive reviews) do not send these people keys!My preference for managing and tracking all of the Steam keys for Streamers and YouTubers is a platform called Keymailer (www.keymailer.co). This tool is invaluable for teams looking to self-publish their games, since it vets the requesting streamers/YouTubers and verifies they are who they say they are. It also shows their level of influence, and coverage is posted as they talk about and stream your game. You can tie this back into your social media outreach and post up supporting videos, opinions, and re-tweet their content to your (hopefully growing) audience.
You Need to be Listed to Get on the Front Page of Twitch and YouTube – Finding out this little piece of info is literally a needle in a haystack. I originally found part of the info from a Reddit forum post and the other part came from my friend James Beaven, another industry veteran, who is a fantastic persona and resource, as well as the driving force behind Keymailer. You need to add your game to two key databases.Twitch.tv – Giantbomb (http://www.giantbomb.com/games/) – make a new account, and then type up a description. NOTE: You can’t just copy and paste your description and features from you press release here. It has to be original writing, just for the GiantBomb Game Wiki page.YouTube – You need to mark-up your game landing page with the proper annotations from Schema.org and then give YouTube the right to use the info. This is the page that explains it (https://support.google.com/youtube/answer/6150676?hl=en).
That’s it for now. I’ll post more soon, and if you want to get in touch, drop me a line at: sean<at>ide-agency.com.