As you know, it is very important to launch your game’s “coming soon” Steam page at least 6 months (even better, 1 year) before your game’s launch so that you can slowly build interest and collect wishlists. When you launch your “coming soon” page, Valve actually gives you a little bit of visibility.
But how much? What is normal? If you launched a “coming soon” steam page did you do well or average, or do you need to rethink your game’s marketing?
Let’s take a look. Last year I collected wishlist data from 60 games that varied from triple-I studios making games perfectly tailored to the Steam market, to established indies working on their 3rd game, down to first time indies. In this week’s blog I compared their numbers so you can assess how your launch went and what the top-performing games did to improve their numbers.
TL;DR What is normal in your first 2 weeks?
Looking just at the first two weeks of wishlists in the games I surveyed I found:
- The average game earned 1008 wishlists
- The median game earned 149 wishlists
Here is a graph of what all the games looked like ranked by number of wishlists earned in their first two weeks:
Next, I looked into each game along this spectrum and realized at each level, many of the games had the same things in common that partially explained how they performed. In the rest of this article I will explain what I found.
The 4 main visibility tiers
- Underperforming (25 – 148 wishlists)
- Natural visibility (150 – 269 wishlists)
- Great hook / great marketing (270 – 965 wishlists)
- Top tier (1000 to 18000 wishlists)
Games in this tier earned between 25-148 wishlists in their first two weeks on Steam. Compared to the other games I analyzed I consider this “underperforming.” Here are some of the reasons a game might be underperforming:
Unpopular genre – The type of game you make is the most important decision you can make when marketing your game. Steam shoppers like some genres more than others. It is just a fact. Unpopular genres include puzzle games, match-3, platformers, couch co-op, vr, and kids games. If you want more information on what genres Steam players like, check out my article here.
Bad graphics – Looks do count on Steam. Players buy games based on how good they look. Your game doesn’t have to be photo-realistic, but it must look like there is a consistent, intentional, and interesting art direction.
Unprofessional capsules – In this tier, I commonly saw games that had capsules that didn’t look professionally illustrated or had title text that looked like it was done by someone without a background in graphic design. The capsule is your most important marketing asset because more people will see it than any other thing you create. It is your first impression to potential buyers. If it doesn’t look professionally done it will have the same effect of showing up to your first job interview in cargo shorts and a dirty t-shirt. You MUST have a high quality capsule and title text that matches your game’s genre. I know they can be expensive, ($500-$700) but it is worth it. For more information on why improving capsules is so important read this article I wrote about it.
Low-quality Steam page – Games with low initial wishlist rates also had screenshots that didn’t properly illustrate their game. It either had screenshots that looked similar (indicating the game had very little content) or it was hard to see what genre the game was. Games in this tier also usually lacked gifs that showed off cool explosions and animations.
If your game earned fewer than 150 wishlists in the first two weeks I would be concerned. It is time to take stock and truly think about the future of your game. This is an indication that there is something that is not connecting with the Steam audience. Look at the type of game you are making. Is it in one of the unpopular genres on Steam? Maybe your graphics just aren’t interesting to Steam and it is time to hire an artist or change art direction.
If your graphics and genre are competitive on Steam, maybe you should try a new capsule or have someone review your Steam page. Maybe it is hard to understand what type of game you are making and you need to improve the messaging.
Yes I am being blunt here but even if your game’s “coming soon” launch did not meet expectations, don’t fret. This lackluster start isn’t on your permanent record! In several Q&As the folks at Valve have explicitly said that the algorithm does not flag your game as “bad” and hide it if your “coming soon” launch was bad.
In fact, I know first hand that a game that earned only 106 wishlists in the first two weeks turned things around and launched with incredible sales, was played for hours by streamers, and they now sits at over 1000 steam reviews.
You can improve things, you just have to step up your marketing game.
Games in this tier earned between 150 and 269 wishlists in their first two weeks on Steam. I call this tier of game “natural” because I think if you have a decent looking game and it is in a genre that Steam shoppers favor, the algorithm will organically share your game at about this rate.
The games I saw in this tier also had good capsules, their genre was popular on Steam (strategy, RPG, Action RPG) and their graphics were decent.
The developers in this tier did not have any previous games and so were typically starting their marketing off with 0 following. Their marketing outside of steam was not particularly large which is why I consider this the algorithm’s “natural visibility.”
Great Hook / Existing Audience
Games in this tier earned between 270 and 965 wishlists in their first two weeks on Steam. These games had all the qualities that I mentioned in the “Natural Visibility” tier (good graphics, good capsule, right genre) but they had 2 very slight advantages that pushed them to higher wishlist rates. Those advantages were a good hook or an existing audience.
Good Hook – Games in this tier often had a very unique hook that caught on with audiences. The hooks were typically funny and had a good gif and were easily reshared on social media. These games are the ones that when you see them you mutter under your breath “Damn! Wish I thought of that.”
Existing Following – Some of the games in this tier didn’t have an amazing hook but made up for it with an existing following. A couple of the developers here had previous games or had run a successful Kickstarter, or were already popular on YouTube. In marketing speak we call this “owned media” because you worked hard to get people to follow you and essentially “own” the right to reach out to them on a 1 to 1 basis. If you have a clear call to action you can activate your followers to hit that wishlist button.
Games in this tier earned between 1000 to 90,000 wishlists in their first two weeks on Steam. The games in this tier had all the qualities that I mentioned in the “Natural Visibility” tier (good graphics, good capsule, right genre) and “great hook / existing audience” tier. But what got them into the “top tier” category was that they had a huge viral marketing campaign. These folks won the game development lottery.
One such game was Wandering Village. The developers Stray Fawn games have a huge following thanks to two previous hit games (Niche and Nimbatus), two previous hit kickstarters, and Wandering Village is in the very popular City Building genre. But what sets Wandering Village into the next tier is the amazing hook: you build your city on the back of a giant creature.
But all of that wasn’t all the Stray Fawn team – they paired these natural advantages with some amazing viral marketing. They got a viral reddit post on r/gaming that amassed 133,000 upvotes and made it to the front page of r/all. Here is a link to that post:
They also had several viral tweets about the game.
And they paired it with a very successful kickstarter that earned over $176,440.51. Link to the kickstarter:
90,000 wishlists in 2 weeks
Choo-Choo Charles did an even more amazing job with their marketing earning an eye watering 90,000 wishlists in its first 2 weeks.
This feat was accomplished by having an existing audience from previous games, a great game in the right genre, and a hook that was inspired by media that had proven to have viral potential (an evil Thomas the Train). Plus they announced their horror game at the right time – October 1st. Check my full writeup of how the developer behind Choo-Choo Charles accomplished this here.
All the games at this top tier had everything going for them: Beautiful games in top genres on Steam, established following from previous games, and highly coordinated marketing efforts that resulted in viral content on big platforms like Reddit or with streamers.
What you can learn from this
Based on the two week wishlist data that I aggregated there are a couple lessons for you
- If your two week wishlist rate is sub 150 I think it is time to take stock of your game. Things need to change because it indicates that something isn’t connecting with your target audience in your game’s current state.
- You can use your “coming soon” page launch as a free excuse to get extra visibility. Wandering village and Choo Choo Charles got a huge number of retweets for their “announce tweet.”
- An existing following can greatly help your game so keep making games.
- A really good hook can propel your game to another tier of wishlists
- Just because your first 2 weeks were bad, it doesn’t mean you can’t turn things around. You just need to get busy and start improving your marketing.
A wishlist isn’t a promise – they are just an indication of interest. There isn’t a clean or consistent conversion factor for wishlists to sales. It is too unpredictable. However, I feel wishlists are a better indication of what is working. If you run a marketing campaign and don’t see an impact on your wishlists, that indicates the message wasn’t the right one or aimed at the right audience.