Last week I realized that my website is called “HowToMarketAGame.com” but I didn’t actually have an article that tells you how to market a game. So this week I decided to create one. Here are 10 steps on how to market your premium Steam Game. 

If you are working on another platform (like consoles) these might help but not entirely. If you are marketing on mobile, good luck none of this will work, because from what I know you just have to buy ads and optimize your game so that people buy IAP before they get tired of your game.

10 Things you need to do to market your game (largely in order).

  1. Make the type of game that Steam players want
  2. Understand the game you are making
  3. Figure out how to describe your game
  4. Build your marketing funnel
  5. Network with platform holders and other devs
  6. Optimize your funnel
  7. Get wishlists using festivals, press, streamers, and social media
  8. Launch your game
  9. Update your game and discount it
  10. Prepare for your next game

#1 Make the type of game that Steam players want

Usually these lists start with “Get on social media and tweet about your game!” But tweeting about your game skips over a very important part which is to identify the type of game your target audience wants. I estimate (in a vary hand-wavy way) that 90% of your game’s success is based on the type of game you are making and how good it looks. Seriously. If you try and publish a hyper-casual match-3 game on Steam, it doesn’t matter what you tweet or when you do it, you will not sell any copies. Your game’s genre and visual style is the most important thing when it comes to determining your game’s financial success.

The Steam audience likes some genres (RPGs, City Builders, Crafting Games, 4X, Strategy) and doesn’t like others (Puzzle Games, Platformers, Match 3). 

Picking an unpopular genre isn’t just a bit harder to market, it is a WHOLE LOT harder. No matter how spicy your tweets are you cannot market your way out of a game that the Steam audience doesn’t want. 

Here are some additional resources to help you with this 

Bonsu note:

If you are making your first game or already deep in the development of a game that you have learned isn’t to Steam’s liking that is ok, just be aware of the risks. Don’t mortgage your house, don’t buy an anticipatory yatch, or invest in a lavish office. Keep your nose clean and cut features to get it out and see how the market treats it. If it does well beyond your estimation, great! Congrats you beat the odds! 

However I find that the reason you see so many “I made a great game but nobody bought it” is because it is in the wrong genre and was someone’s first game.

#2 Understand the game you are making

After you do the market research and you make your game you need to be clear what type of game you are making. I know you think you know but I have talked to so many devs who are not aware of the market surrounding the type of game they are making.

To get clarity you need to answer the following questions:

  • What is the biggest, most popular game in your game’s genre?
  • What are the 3 next best selling games in your game’s genre?
  • What are some failed games in your genre and why did they fail?
  • What are the unique features in your game that makes it different from all the games that you identified above (this is commonly called your hook)?
  • What are the genre expectations that the genre super fans have?

To answer all these you will need to play all those games for research purposes (see you do get to play games for your job!) You need to talk to game designers who have made games in your genre. You need to talk to real life fans of the genre. 

Knowing the things that fans like and dislike and what makes your game stand out are VERY VERY important when it comes time to start tweeting about your game. 

Here are some additional resources to help you with this 

#3 Figure out how to describe your game

At this point you have identified what the Steam audience wants, what your competition looks like, and what makes your game stand out. 

Now you need to make sure that you tell people what genre your game is and what makes your game unique among all the other games. I know this sounds obvious but it is very very hard. So many developers are so close to their game they forgot that other people don’t know what you know. 

For instance, I have seen developers say they are making a city building game but all their screenshots, their descriptions, their tweets make the game sound like it is a farming simulator. You have to make sure you are using the right words so that fans of your game’s genre will know that you are making a game for them. If you are making an FPS you need to show screenshots where there is a big badass gun in the middle of the screen. If you are making a visual novel you need to show off dialog choices and beautiful looking characters. 

Test your messaging on strangers who play games. Show them your marketing materials and ask “what games does this remind you of?” 

Are the games they name similar to yours? If their answers are vague or incorrect, you have a problem describing your game.

For Steam you also need to tag your game. If you tag it with the wrong genre Steam will not surface your game to the right people. If you tag your game correctly but your screenshots and descriptions don’t sound like the right type of game, potential fans will pass you by because your game doesn’t look like the type of game they like.

Here are some additional resources to help you with this 

#4 Build your marketing funnel

Very rarely does someone see a game then immediately buy it. That is like going on a blind date and then getting married by the end of the night. It doesn’t happen. Shoppers hear about your game and then need to be regularly updated with your progress so that they slowly fall in love with your game. Then after several times hearing from you they hopefully become excited enough to buy your game on day 1. 

This process of slowly falling in love with your game is called the marketing funnel. It is a strategic set of marketing channels that you put in place to guide someone along to finally buy your game. 

A typical funnel looks like this. A fan sees a game posted on reddit, they are intrigued so they go to your Steam Page, wishlist it. Then a few weeks later you post an update that you have created a discord, so they get notified and join your discord. Then they get notified on your Discord server that you are having a beta. They sign up. They play it. They like it. Then, when your game releases they buy it on day 1. 

Notice that this funnel involved Reddit > Steam Page > Discord > Beta > Buy. Several different marketing channels. Several different things you need shoppers to do. 

To do this part you need to make sure it is very clear that no matter where someone discovers your game, they know what to do next. If you post on Twitter or Reddit you must have your Steam page built. Then if you go viral on Reddit you can post a link that says “wishlist my game on Steam.” Then on Steam you should have a link to your Discord or to a Mailing List that people who are very interested can join.

It is kind of like designing an airport. You know how some airports are so confusing. They have bad signage, meandering hallways, no landmarks. You end up going around and around and get lost and miss your flight. Other airports have very clear signs, wide hallways, and people to tell you how to get to your airplane. You need to test your marketing to make sure it is like the good airport with nice clear signs. 

Here are some additional resources to help you with this 

#5 Network with platform holders and other devs

The vast majority of your wishlists and visibility will not come from you alone tweeting about your game. The most popular games actually get it by partnering with big companies and popular sites. 

For instance, getting into a show like E3 or other popular events usually comes down to knowing someone behind the scenes. I know of games that got prime spots in festivals because the developer or publisher were on a first name basis with the organizer and they had a couple open slots they were trying to fill at the last minute. 

You need a wide network of people who will tell you about opportunities or will introduce you to people who will be able to help you. 

If you want featuring on the platforms like Steam, Xbox, Playstation, Nintendo you need to reach out to the developer partner teams on those platforms.

I cannot emphasize this enough. Most of your exposure will come from partnering with people who have bigger audiences than you and they let you in to share your game. But they need to know you are a good person before they will do that.

In fact, the main reason why most big publishers are so successful is because they have a huge history in the industry. They know every person who works for all the consoles and storefronts. They know the editors and journalists at all the big websites. They are friends with the agents of popular Streamers. They just have connections in the industry. “Knowing a person on the inside” is the #1 benefit a publisher can give to you.

Here are some networking tips:

  • Join development groups for your local IGDA chapter, or communities around your developer tools (e.g. Unity developers)
  • Write blog posts on Gamasutra about problems you solved (industry bigwigs read them all the time and often reach out to you).
  • Introduce yourself to developers who have recently released or are currently making games in your genre. They are not your competition. They can actually help you make connections to people who helped them. 
  • Use LinkedIn to track down the content teams at the big development houses. 
Here are some additional resources to help you with this 

#6 Optimize your funnel

You can never stop improving your marketing assets like your Steam page, your Twitter account, your reddit posts, and your website. 

People who are new to marketing might look at successful indies and think that everything they post is instant visibility and it always goes viral.

In fact, marketing is all about trying dozens of things and only 1 of them will actually produce results. You just don’t see all those dozens of failures because they are failures that go 0 visibility. Marketing is all about trying and trying different messages. We really have little idea why one headline did better than the other. You just need to have a scientific mindset and hypothesize, test, and recalibrate your experiments based on what you learned. Most of your marketing campaigns will fail. You just need to get up again and try try try.

Over the life of your game you will have to redo your Steam page several times over. That is normal. All the big developers do it.

Here are some additional resources to help you with this 

#7 Get wishlists using festivals, press, streamers, and social media

If you are on Steam you MUST collect as many wishlists you can before your launch. Your Steam page should be up for at least 6 months before you release your game. The reason wishlists are so important is they are basically stored potential energy. When your game launches, Steam sends an email to every person who wishlisted your game and says “this game is now out.” Those emails convert at a very high rate so the more of them you have the more people are going to buy on day 1. 

For the most part, the Steam algorithm does not actually provide visibility based on the number of wishlists you have. But don’t confuse this – it is not actually the wishlists that Steam is looking at. Steam cares about the raw dollars that you bring in over a short period of time. The more wishlists, the more likely there will be people who convert, and the more money you will earn. Wishlists are the fuse. Sales are the explosion. The Steam algorithm only cares about the size of your explosion.

But how many wishlists do you need? The scale of your game will dictate this. Wishlists convert at launch at about 10%-20% in the first week. If you are looking at getting on the good side of the Steam Algorithm I would not launch a game without 10,000 wishlists. Steam kind of buries games that earn fewer than that because they just don’t earn enough when they launch.

How do you earn wishlists? Here are the most impactful 

  • Get into a festival like Steam Next Fest, Pax Online, Wholesome Direct, Gamescom, etc. You can find a list of these festivals here at Akupara Games:
  • Get a viral post on Reddit. It is challenging but they bring in thousands of wishlists. Here is an example of one
  • Get a streamer to cover you
  • Get an article in a website
  • Get a viral post on imgur
  • Tweet about your game (seriously though, tweeting about your game is not actually that effective at getting wishlsits)
Here are some additional resources to help you with this 

SPECIAL NOTE:

Marketing a game is actually quite cyclical. The steps #2 through #7 are repeated several times throughout your game’s development process. You will have to adjust your games messaging based on how people react to it. The best games track, adjust, track, adjust. Nobody (even professional marketers) gets it right the first time. 

#8 Launch your game

This is the moment you make your game available for actual purchase. People can now pay money for your game. 

I get asked all the time about Steam Early Access and what it is. THIS IS IMPORTANT:

YOU ONLY GET ONE LAUNCH IN THE EYES OF STEAM.

Launching to Early Access is the same as doing a full launch. Several developers have come to me saying they launched into early access a long time ago and now want my advice when they do their full launch. There isn’t much I can do. They already fired their golden bullet when they did Early Access. 

If you are new to Steam I highly recommend against doing an Early Access Launch. 

Why are launches so important?

It is an excuse to get a bunch of coverage. Streamers, the press, even people on your social media are more likely to react and cover you when you say it is your launch. 

Also Steam does give you extra visibility during your launch.

So use it carefully. 

Contact everyone who covered you, liked, retweeted, wishlisted, and joined your mailing list. Tell them your game is coming out and hold on.

#9 Update your game and discount it

The rise of digital distribution and Games as a Service and free to play games have implanted in shoppers’ minds that games should be updated after the launch. The thinking that a game is “done” is a relic from the physical retail times.

Fans really like it when you patch. And each patch is a chance to do a marketing beat. If it is significant enough you can reach out to Streamers, the press, and your own followers again.

You should use “visibility” rounds after making updates which gives you 1 month of extra visibility to people who wishlisted your game.

If you made a significant amount of money from your game you can ask valve if they would be willing to feature your game in a “Daily Deal.” I am not sure the cutoff to be allowed into a daily deal it is in the hundreds of thousands of dollars in revenue. These daily deals are special featuring by Valve is how you really make money on Steam.

Even if you are not lucky enough to be on the “good side” of Steam, you should always discount your game when you have launched. Never miss an opportunity. Always enter into the Seasonal sales like the Winter and Summer Festival. 

After you launch you will notice that you have a huge reserve of wishlists. What are these people waiting for? Discounts and updates. Get them off the fence by making your game exciting post launch.

Here are some additional resources to help you with this  

#10 Prepare for your next game

If your launch was mediocre and updates and discounts aren’t making a significant impact on revenue it is time to move on to your next project. No matter how much you care about your first game you start to reach an opportunity cost where your effort on your current game is taking away from the potential of your next project. 

Please don’t quit even if your first game didn’t sell well. You need to build up a reputation and a backlog of games to do well in this industry. Unfortunately the vast majority of developers release one game and leave the industry. You have come so far and learned so much. Your second and third and tenth game will be easier. In this GDC talk Put your Name On Your Game they showed a slide that most of all Studios close after releasing just 1 game.

When you create the Steam page for your second (or third or Nth) game, cross promote everyone who liked, bought, wishlisted, reviewed, or commented on your first game.

Building a studio with a hit is a lot like building a snow many: you start with a tiny pinch of snow and you roll it roll it and slowly at first but fast later you get a big giant snowball.

Here are some additional resources to help you with this  

Header Photo by Glenn Carstens-Peters on Unsplash