Today I wanted to share with you the inspiring story of how the developer of Kingdom Workshop methodically updated his Steam page’s tags and capsule art to improve from a meager 5-wishlists-a-day to a healthy 20-a-day. Look at this graph of his game’s wishlist history during 2020. Can you see when he started making his capsule and tagging changes?
All of this upswing was done entirely by fixing his Steam page. Dmitry said that he has not done any other major promotion during this time – no streamers or viral imgur posts. Just updates to tags, trailers, and capsules.
Dmitry is the sole developer on this game and has been sharing his progress over the last few weeks over on the HowToMarketAGame Discord which you can join by clicking here. He has been very open with his experience and I wanted to dedicate a blog to his work. He deserves our thanks. You should give him a follow at the following places:
- Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/dmitry.gamedev
- Vk: https://vk.com/dmitry.gamedev
- Discord of game: https://discord.gg/zQQpnGHHtw
This post will detail how Dmitry pulled this off. It is best summarized by this annotated graph that he posted:
In late October 2020 Dmitry changed his capsule image from a screenshot of his game to an illustrated portrait of a Dwarf. The traffic improvements were almost instantaneous. The source of the new traffic? Discovery Queue. Note that Dmitry has also changed the game name from Dwarven Valley to Kingdom Workshop.
Why does this work?
This Dwarven Smithy looks straight out of a Blizzard game. He just signals quality. Good capsule art subconsciously tells shoppers that this game has care and attention put into it. It is not shovelware.
The new capsule also follows current capsule design trends. Every 3 months I compare the capsule art of the top-selling games (You can read them here and here). Browsing through those capsules, I noticed that every single one featured an illustration of the game, not a screenshot of it. Whether Steam shoppers have internalized it or not, an illustrated capsule just signals quality. I also noticed that illustrated portraits of in-game characters are very very common. Here are some such examples:
The new capsule also features more subtle clues that this is a crafting / building game. Primarily, there are tools! And a character physically in the act of crafting. If you look at similar crafting games like Shop Titans and Crafting Idle Clicker, they all feature tools. Kingdom Workshop continues this trend.
TL;DR capsule recommendations
- Hiring a high-quality artist to illustrate your capsule is one of the best investments you can make in your game’s marketing. Just because your cousin’s husband once took an art class doesn’t mean they should do your capsule art. Hire an artist who has experience making GOOD capsule art. You can find them by reaching out to development teams with capsules you like or searching on sites like Deviant art.
- Don’t just screenshot your game and make it a capsule. It signals to shoppers that you are cheap (even if your game is beautiful). They are conditioned to associate illustrated capsule art with quality.
- If you are on a budget, see if you can get the artist to give you just an illustrated headshot and you throw a free texture or image behind the image.
- Also, ask your artist to design the title text! I have seen way too many coders hire a great artist then do their own title text. That programmer-created-title utilized extensive gradients and poor font choices. Please don’t design your own text.
- Look at the capsules for other games in your genre. Look carefully at what they have in common. What do the backgrounds look like? What is the color pallet? Send all those capsules to your artist as inspiration.
- Yes, even if you have a pixel art game, you should have a nice, high-resolution illustration. Just look at Celeste or Neon Abyss or Dead Cells.
Kingdom Workshop is a building and crafting game but initially, you couldn’t tell that from the tags. In other blogs about tags I recommended that you determine your game’s genre and really narrow down to make sure your top 5 tags uniquely identify your game. Dmitry took this technique and improved upon it by also looking at how frequently the tag is used by other games. Here is how he describes his tag selection. Note that the numbers in parenthesis are the number of other games on Steam with that tag.
“Tags in positions 1 – 5 are a mix of relevant, popular, and low competition. Here are his top 5 tags and why I picked them:
1 – Colony Sim (252) – popularity + relevance + low competition
2 – Base builder (989) Most relevant to my game
3 – Automation (176 other games) – popularity + relevance + low competition
4 – Medieval (1176) – Popular tag
5 – City builder – Relevant to my game”
Dmitry determines the “popularity” by going to the tag page on Steam and looking at the number of followers those games had: https://steamdb.info/tag/255534/
Now this is where Dmitry really expanded beyond my strategy of most similar tags: the rest of the tags in his selection are ones that are popular and lots of other games use them (aka competitive.)
From Dmitri: “My thought is that I am trying to get my game in front of as many people as possible – even if they might not be entirely into this type of game. I do this to avoid concentrating only on a certain type of interest. There might be some people who are into strategy games but might not be totally into builder games like mine yet but are still curious about them. Here is the list of tags I picked to be in rank 6-10. They are all very competitive but have a lot of traffic.
- Strategy (5000+)
- Simulation (5000+)
- Resource management ( 1156)
- Management (2034)
- Crafting (1304)”
As you can see from his chart, that mix of relevant tags and broader competitive tags really worked well for him.
The red areas in the chart are times when Steam kind of bugged out on his tagging. He said that despite running tho tagging wizard and removing all user-added tags, a few unwanted tags re-emerged in his tags list. Those stray tags were: Indie, Action, Singleplayer, Adventure, and Casual. He filed a support ticket with Valve but the crappy tags kept re-emerging. As you can see from the dips in the chart they really hurt his traffic.
Thankfully he finally got those errant tags removed and his wishlist rate returned to the higher levels.
Always Have A Call To Action
As you know from my GDC talk on copywriting, a call to action (CTA) is a little blob of text that you use to tell shoppers exactly what you want them to do next.
Well, Dmitry took that advice and put a CTA right there in his latest capsule “ADD TO WISHLIST!”
This trick is definitely unique and seems to have worked.
Your mileage may vary
Dmitry has found incredible success by fine tuning his tagging, his capsule, and his Steam page. However, it is worth noting that he is working in the strategy / builder / crafting genre which is one of the most popular in all of Steam. It has some of the most voracious fans.
By optimizing his tags he was tapping into a rich vein of players. If you are working in a less popular genre (like puzzle or platformer) there might not be such a potent vein for you to tap. If you do manage to hit it with some page updates, let me know on my discord.
Finally, THIS is marketing!
I hear from a lot of game developers who are self-proclaimed introverts. They tell me they hate marketing! They hate it because they say they can’t stand networking events, talking to strangers at show booths, stupid memes, and being extroverted on social media.
But I hope Dmitry’s experience here has taught you that good, effective marketing is very analytical. It is scientific and built upon evidence-based testing. It is about reverse engineering another coder’s algorithm.
This is marketing (and highly effective marketing at that!) Optimizing your Steam page has a much bigger return-on-investment on your wishlist count than posting another gif on Twitter.