Last week Valve Did 2 Q&As. One at DevGAMM (where I also gave a talk) and one at Indie X.

Alden Kroll, Kaci Aitchison, and Tom Giardino all represented Valve this time. Here are the questions, their answers, and my commentary. This is not a direct transcription of their quotes and it is an amalgamation of multiple answers from the Valve folks who answered. 

Q: How do you get on the front page of Steam?

Valve Answer: The important thing to know is that the front page is different for every single person. The front page is generated based on what games you typically play, who you follow, and what region you are in. 

What Valve recommends is watching this for more info:

Zukowski Commentary: The front page is simultaneously very complex and simultaneously very simple. It is complex in that there are a ton of widgets that each have their own algorithm. Just as Alden said they are based on who you follow and what genre you play a bunch of. But the simple part of it is basically: sell a ton of copies of your game, tag your game correctly, and the algorithm will start showing you on the front page widgets.

The front page is mostly reserved for games that have made hundreds of thousands of dollars. Before you can get to the front page, you need to use other methods such as making a very good game, building up wishlists (to get to popular upcoming), and encouraging people to buy it. Then, when you sell enough that way, you end up on the front page which really supercharges sales. Basically think of the front page as the reward of selling a bunch of copies using other means. 

Q: Will online-festival featuring on Steam continue post pandemic?

Valve Answer: Yes! They got a bunch of great feedback from developers and players that they really liked the Steam Next Festivals. They will continue doing Steam Next Fest.

Zukowski Commentary: I was the one who asked this question. Festivals like Next Fest but also unofficial ones like Tiny Teams, and GamesCom are the single best way to get visibility and earn wishlists. My fear is that when physical conferences come back Valve will raise the drawbridge and will not host 3rd-party conferences on their storefront. 

The Valve-reps answer was intentionally specific here. He said “Steam Next Fest will continue.” Which is good! But he specifically didn’t mention all festivals run by 3rd parties. I don’t know if that means they are deciding whether to host them, or maybe he just doesn’t know if the 3rd parties will continue to submit them for Valve featuring. 

So good that they see the value in Next Fest but still a question mark about the other festivals. If you run one of these festivals like Wholesome games, or Gamescom, please, please continue to push Valve for Steam page featuring. They are the most valuable way to get visibility on our games. 

Q: If you want to set up our own front page event on Steam like “Games from Quebec” or “Latinx Game Developers” how early should you approach Valve?

Valve Answer: 3 Months in advance. 

But they will not just approve just any event. There needs to be some organizing theme, some reason that everyone would want to see this festival. What is the call to action? Think of it from the customer perspective: what is the point of the event and why does it exist? Games go on sale all the time. There has to be something more exciting than, “this game is cheap right now”

You also need a few big games that will bring people to this page. 

Zukowski Analysis: I think organizing a festival or some sort of event on Steam is time consuming but one of the best ways to get a ton of visibility on your game. But you can’t just go to Valve and say “can you put me and my friends on the front page?” You must have 2 things:

  1. A central theme like “Games made from <X region / background>” or genre based like “Game with level editors” or “Roguelite festival.”
  2. At least one game (but probably more) that Valve knows will sell if they give it this spotlight. And the way Valve knows that is by looking at past sales figures. In my experience you need a game that has earned over $350K USD on Steam. This isn’t a hard and fast number. It isn’t official from Valve (so don’t ask them, they will never tell you if this is the line). This is just my experience: when asking Valve for special featuring for these events, they usually grant it to games that have earned more than $350K.

So if you know a bunch of people who make similar games, and you know someone who sold a ton, organize something and 3 months before you want it, open a support ticket in steamworks telling them what you intend to do.

Q: What are the most common mistakes developers make?

Valve Answer:

  • Not putting up a store page early enough. Too many games put it up for 2 weeks and then launch. Not good.
  • They also don’t put up a store page that has the minimum requirements: no trailer, just 5 screenshots, no interesting text or graphics in the About this Game Section.
  • They don’t share their game in places external to Steam.
  • Only shipping in 1 language. Translating your page is super important. One idea is right at the start you should translate your Steam page into multiple languages even if you don’t fully intend to launch with them. Then use the tools on Steamworks to check what regions are wishlisting it the most and use that information to determine if it is worth translating the rest of the game into that language.
  • You can use this tool to see the most popular languages on Steam: Steam Hardware Survey.
  • Not having controller support.

Zukowski Analysis:

All this is important! If you want to see how to setup your Steam page as Valve recommends, I made a whole free class about it called How To Make A Steam Page.

Q: Were sales affected by the pandemic?

Valve Answer: It didn’t change the landscape but it did accelerate things. Steam is growing but covid moved the trendline up. We saw a rocket ship spike of traffic during lockdown but the spike never went back down. The new concurrent baseline is now 26 million. It isn’t going down.

The one thing regionally that is interesting is they are not all growing at the same rate NA and Western Europe had high speed internet and we supported it the best. Then in 2015-2016 we invested in regional currency and regional payment methods that helped newer markets like Japan. Now in the Middle East and Africa where PC gaming has a shorter history, those territories are growing tremendously. Latin America is the new hotspot like Columbia where PCs and high speed internet are newer. Steam is global.

Nothing is limited by us because we are hardware agnostic. It isn’t like Sony or Nintendo or Microsoft that are hampered by supply chains and how much hardware they produce. You can use a 5-year-old laptop and play Steam games. 

Zukowski Analysis: This was a strange chest thumping from the Valve team where they were bragging about how much money they were making and how much better they were than the other gaming hardware companies. I mean it wasn’t like a WWE wrestling but they were explicitly calling them out. It was just a very subtle bragging about the past year sales figures.

Q: Are people playing different games during the pandemic?

Valve Answer: There were a few games that had a social shared experience like Among Us and Fall Guys that did very well. 

But should you build a 200-person game like Fall Guys? Probably not. The dynamics are changing already.

Q: Do you plan to update international pricing because they seem a bit off?

Valve Answer: They have done a bunch of research to figure out what are reasonable local prices per currency. There can be significant currency adjustments that get out of whack maybe their currency is temporarily inflated compared to the dollar. Valve is very cautious about making those adjustments because the currency can swing wildly. They do make adjustments from time to time but they don’t make them quick because the swings of valuation can happen at any moment.

Zukowski Analysis: If you feel very strongly that your game is priced wrong in a different territory, you can change it manually. But don’t. Trust Valve on the pricing. There are bigger marketing things to worry about than the minutiae of currency and regional economies. You are a game developer not an economist. You will probably end up hurting your sales more than earning a few bucks because of some sort of currency arbitrage. 

Q: Are you going to do any in-person Steam Dev Days?

Valve Answer: If they have enough to say and they think it would be worth your time then they will do another one.

They are thinking of doing a virtual Dev Days soon. They did just do a virtual meeting for Steam Deck Which you can watch here.

Zukowski Analysis: Neat.

Q: What are you going to do about games spamming Popular Upcoming?

Valve Answer: They have made it so your game can only appear in popular upcoming 1 time. So if you appear in it and then try to game the system and move your launch date back again, you will not appear in Popular Upcoming again.

Zukowski Analysis: Neat, good to see they made a change. I still think developers spend too much time worrying about whether other developers are following the rules. Playground rules apply here: worry about yourself not the other kids. You have enough to do marketing your own game much less what everyone else is doing.