You might have heard that I created an online class all about the things you need to do to create a Steam page. Check it out here: How To Make A Steam Page. A lot of students (before and after taking the class) ask me, ask me “Do I really need to create a Steam page because right now my game is ”?
Yes you need to post a Steam page right now!
I decided to write out the most common reasons why people tell me why they haven’t created a Steam page yet and I am going to give you some evidence as to why these should not be stopping you .
The simple mechanical reason why
The success of your game depends on the number of wishlists you collected before launch. The reason is because every wishlists = an email to the person who wishlisted the game when your game launches. Those emails convert very very well. Steam will give you additional visibility if your game converts well.
Valve recommends that we put up a Steam page right away. In a recent Q&A their resident economist (ya they have one) shared this chart showing that the longer you have your store page up before you go on sale, the better your game will do.
If you are Tweeting about your game, you need a Steam page. You never know if things will go viral, you never know when a journalist will discover your game and write up a glowing preview. If for some reason your early screenshots / gifs of your game go viral you need something to point all those new people who are interested in your game to. Wiishlists are the best way to capture that excitement and harness it when you eventually release your game.
A Steam page makes you look serious. It shows that you are committed to finishing the game. Until you have a page up, the early screenshots you share on twitter are seen as “experiments” or “concept” art. People might be interested but they have been burned by vaporware in the past. A Steam page they can read reduces that doubt.
A lot of people complain about Steam visibility but even if you don’t do much it gives you tons of visibility. For instance, Gun Miner is a game I threw up when I was testing a concept. It is a pixel art platformer and I haven’t updated the page in over a year. I mostly use it as my stand in game anytime I need to show you how to do things in Steamworks. It was in several videos in my How To Make A Steam Page class. Despite not getting much love from me, Steam still shows the Gun Miner capsule to 2,415 people per week yielding 625 page views and 1 wishlist a day. I am literally doing nothing to promote the game and it gets that much traffic. Every week that you do not have your Steam page live is thousands of missed opportunities to show off your game.
Excuse #1: If I don’t launch with a bang Steam’s algorithm will permanently think I suck
The crux of this argument is that if you make your page live and only a few people wishlist it in the first week the Steam algorithm will mark your game as a “dud” and your game is already dead on arrival and you might as well give up. This theory of “poor initial wishlist rate means Steam thinks your game sucks” came from this Talk by Mike Rose at GDC 2019.
Mike Rose has great insights into how Steam works and I think this talk is really great and has tons of practical advice. Furthermore, his argument for launching your page with a bang to teach the algorithm you have a good game makes total sense and I thought it was true for a while.
However, in several subsequent Q&A sessions, the Valve employees who work on Steam strongly assured us that the algorithm does not look at the ratio of visits to wishlists and they do not affect your game’s long term sales or visibility. According to the folks at Valve, there is no “permanent record” for your game’s performance where you could earn a black mark if you don’t have a strong Steam page launch.
That being said, when you do finally fully release your game, the Steam algorithm does look to see how well your game converts visits to purchases. That makes sense because it’s based on a cold hard metric – actual cash money. Before your game is for sale, the world of wishlists and visits are hard to quantify which is why Steam doesn’t base too much on it.
But over and over, Valve has been clear: Post your Steam page up as soon as you can.
Excuse #2: My art isn’t final
Many people worry that in the early development phase of their game the art style is in flux. It could be cell shaded, or maybe realistic, or maybe low-poly? Or maybe your graphics aren’t that great yet. The art you make at the end of the game’s production is going to be so much better than your early work.
If your game art changes, that doesn’t mean your early wishlisters are going to leave you. It is kind of like that dumb “if you don’t love me at” meme.
And as your art does get better it just means your game’s daily wishlist rate will go up and up and up as you show more of your gorgeous game.
Also people love to see how much you improve. It is an inspiring story. The creators of Yes Your Grace went super viral after posting this reddit story about how much their art improved.
So even if your game doesn’t look how you think it looks in your mind, don’t hold back. Post your Steam page.
Excuse #3: People will get bored tired of waiting for my game.
The argument goes something like this: “If people wishlist my game when I first launch the Steam page, then I spend years making it, they will get bored and delete the wishlist.”
First, if they delete your wishlist because they were bored, they were never going to buy it in the first place.
Second, The first people to wishlist your game when it first launches are your biggest fans. They wishlisted it at that early stage because they like you. Embrace them. Show them your journey.
It is kind of like this Tweet:
Jake Birkett, the creator of Regency Solitaire and Shadow Hand, looked at Ancient Enemy’s wishlist history and found that the first people to wishlist his game were also the ones most likely to buy it. Read his post about wishlist age and conversion rate here.
Finally, and this goes for most marketing, you are not doing enough of it. If only people got bored of your marketing. You need to err on the side of being more repetitive and more annoying. You, as the creator, see and think about your game 24-7. But remember that everyone else in the world has very complicated lives. They have kids, they have problems with their jobs, they are thinking about their next vacation, money, school whatever. When I did my Steam study years ago, I observed that people look at a Steam page for 45-60 seconds before deciding whether to wishlist it or not. You and your game take up about 0.000001% of their brain power. You cannot possibly post too much about your game.
Excuse #4: I don’t have a trailer
First, Steam removed the video requirement before you launch a Steam page a while ago. That alone should tell you that a trailer shouldn’t be a barrier for you posting your page. But, I do think it is important to launch with a video asset.
Enter indie trailer mensch Derek Lieu. He just published a post titled The Simplest Trailer to Make for Your Steam Page where he answers my question of “what do you do if you don’t have enough content to make a full trailer?” His solution is to make a simple “glorified animated GIF.” It is a good post and you should take a look.
But a lot of game devs who haven’t put their page up say “I am going to hire someone” or “I have a guy but he is busy right now, he will get to it soon” but usually, that trailer release is perpetually 1 week away. My thought is, if your guy isn’t working on it right now, and won’t be delivering it by the end of the month, it is time to use the Derek Lieu glorified GIF method.
And if “your guy” finally gets you a trailer after you post your Steam page, you can always replace your initial trailer with that professionally done one. See Excuse #2.
Excuse #5: I don’t know how to make a Steam page.
Oh, I have you covered. Check out How To Make A Steam Page
Excuse #6: I am not sure I am going to finish this game
Ok this one is kind of complicated and worth delaying your Steam page on. If you are just a student and you are working on a game for your class, or maybe you have some teammates and they kinda suck, and you are still working with them just because you want to finish the project and you are secretly getting ready to break up with them and publish this game separately, I get it. Maybe hold on your page.
Maybe the game you are working on is just a doodle you are doing it as a tech test. Or maybe the game is the result of a game jam and you are not sure if there is enough fun in it to warrant a full game. That is another reason to wait a second before creating a Steam page.
Here is how to solve Excuse #6: Go to your calendar and 1 month from today, put a reminder that says “Do I still care about my game?” Or if you have an apple phone, say this out loud right now “siri, in 1 month remind me that I should re-evaluate the game I am working on.”
Then when the 1 month that reminder comes up and you are still regularly thinking about that game and still excited to work with the people you are working with, you must drop what you are doing and create a Steam page.
The real reason behind these excuses
There is one thing that is left unsaid that sits behind all of these common reasons why people don’t post a Steam page: fear of showing your work.
This is a very common problem with any creative effort but especially if you are just starting out. It is very hard to show your work because you are new and you are not quite confident about it. You also might not be as proud of it because your taste and judgement out-strip your current skill level. This is called the Taste Gap and was expertly described by Ira Glass in this quote.
When you share images or gifs of your game on Twitter it doesn’t really matter. If someone criticizes it you can always excuse it away by saying “Ya it isn’t great, it was just a little doodle I did in like 1 hour – not a serious project” or you can always delete the tweet if people really hate it.
But not a Steam page. You are putting a mark on it. You are saying, this is my work and I am releasing it! I am proud enough and audacious enough to actually ask money for this. You are committing to that work, it isn’t a doodle, it is a real thing. It is hard to delete a Steam page.
The danger behind this mentality
I know I am being pushy behind this essay. I know I am being curt. But you need this push. There is a real danger in saying “well, I am still working on this character, the art STILL isn’t there, I just need to tweak this one animation. I just need 1 more week and then I will post my Steam page.” Then in 1 week there will be some other problem. It will be the sky box that just needs a bit more polish, or it will be the water shader or the core gameplay loop. Too many potential game devs get in the death spiral of “1 more week” and never put up their Steam page.
To be a successful artist you must overcome this. It never ends. Posting a Steam page is just the first step. Shipping is a skill that you must develop. The same thing will happen when it comes to releasing your game. 1 more bug fix, 1 more puzzle, 1 more asset that needs improving. There is a time in every creative work where you must say, this is good enough. Let’s just ship this.
I sympathize with this sentiment of “1 more thing and it will be perfect.” You want make your game the best it can be and that is a perfectly natural feeling. I feel you. You just need to learn that skill and this Steam page is the first challenge to overcoming fear of shipping. You just have to jump in.
It will be ok
Don’t worry, nothing bad will happen to you when you post your first Steam page. Your game is not going to end up in some youtube video like “Shittiest games of 2021” or “Biggest sellouts of 2021.” The basic fact is that the worst thing that will happen to you is that everyone will ignore you.
There is 1 legit reason for holding back your Steam page
Ok I saved this to the end. Here is the one time I give you a free pass to hold your Steam page… you have already shipped something awesome.
The reason is that the announcement of a new game is “token” that you can use to generate free publicity. PR and marketing is all about getting people excited about stuff at the same time and so you have to come with excuses to do that. It is like why you can’t just have a party, you have to base it around something like a birthday, or it is Christmas, or it is graduation day. For some reason we humans need a reason for this stuff.
So if you have had a previous game that did fairly well, or you came from a big studio and you are starting a new thing, or you are well known in the industry, the news of you making a new game and publishing a new Steam page is newsworthy.
You can contact press people and tell them “I am releasing a new game, would you like to be the one who gets to announce it? Would you like to be the first one to show the launch trailer?” If they say yes, you should hold the launch of your Steam page until they do the announce. Sometimes they might time it to coincide with an event like E3 or some other festival.
The launch of a Steam page is basically a token that you get to cash out for free publicity. But that token is only valuable if you have done something awesome in the past.
If you are a first time dev who has never released a game before, that token isn’t worth anything. I am sorry. That is because releasing games is hard and the most likely scenario is that the game will never come out. That is not a personal dig, that is just the fact of making games. So IGN is not going to dedicate the front page of their website for a project or person who doesn’t have a track record.
So if you don’t have that magical token from a previous hit, or you are not well known, there is no reason to be strategic about your Steam page launch, just post it already.