I just completed another round of Steam User observations. I am writing up my notes now and there will be a new analysis article very soon.

For this round I ran it during the Halloween Steam Sale. Store-wide sales add a whole new layer of urgency to get people to actually buy and I got to see the thought process buyers go through before they actually lay down their money. The thing that struck me this time was how much their friends play a role in their purchases.

What I saw was what many people refer to as “word-of-mouth.”

If you talk about marketing with indies long enough eventually someone will say “yah well really word of mouth is the most important form of marketing” and everyone one else nods in agreement.

But what is word of mouth? Where and when does your game have “word-of-mouth?” How do we cultivate a better word-to-mouth ratio?

I think I actually witnessed it several times in this round of testing.

What word-of-mouth looks like

During one session the participant and I were reviewing her wishlisted games. She was considering Sundered Eldritch Edition because it was 75%. Just before she added it to her cart she took a look over at the “is this game relevant to you?” section.

She looked at the friends who wanted the game. She confirmed that they had similar tastes as her.

Then she looked at who already owned the game and clicked the link to list them out.

She quickly looked to see who had the most hours with the game. Then messaged him on Discord.

She grabbed a screenshot of Sundered (tricky because Steam doesn’t have an easy rt+click copy screenshot option) then sent him this quick message through Discord. She wanted to know if she should get it.

He said yes and she added it to her cart.

That right there is word of mouth.

Let’s think about this. All the marketing that Sundered did. All the development and graphics and promotions come down to the final gatekeeper. Some guy somewhere saying 3 little words “go for it”

God, this job is hard.

So how do you cultivate word-of-mouth?

One is of course have a good game. But also making sure that people who did buy your game are well taken care of. Your job is not over once they buy the game because they are now going to tell their friends whether or not to buy it. Did you patch it regularly? Provide good updates? Were you friendly on the forums so they feel respected?

Steam Elites

Another participant said that she has a friend who regularly recommends games to her and her friends. He is her social group’s super taster.

Why is knowing this guy so important? Because you market to this guy and your efforts are multiplied by the number of friends he has. He is Steam’s equivalent of the “Yelp Elite.”

If you have never heard of Yelp Elite, they are folks who leave at least 40 restaurant reviews a year. They are bestowed with this title by Yelp and it is by nomination only. Their influence is so important that restaurants host exclusive invite-only dinner parties open only to Yelp Elite. Restaurateurs go through this extra effort because they know how powerful these folks are. Check out this article

We need to spend some effort identifying and marketing to the gaming elite. One thought is PAX. For the most part I don’t think having a booth at PAX or any other show is worth the schlep. The only benefit I see though is that every fan you meet at those shows are likely to be elite super tasters for the rest of their friends.

So, if you do get the contact information of a person you meet at PAX, put a special tag on their info and market to them as if you are marketing to a Yelp Elite. Give them exclusive looks at your game. Send them free stuff. Spend more on these people because they will be the ones who are speaking the words in the mysterious “word of mouth”

What next?

If you have any ideas to boost word-of-mouth please let me know.


I am going to leave you with this positive thought I read on Twitter over the weekend. If you are a new developer still working on your first game this is especially relevant advice. TL;DR, don’t think you only get one shot at this. Real progress is thousands of tiny actions over many years. Read it now

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