On December 29th, game programmer Maciek for Laysara: Summit Kingdom uploaded a 30 second clip of his game’s trailer onto Reddit’s r/gaming. Within 12 hours it had gone super viral and earned his game 3.2 Million Views, 73,000 upvotes, and over 11,000 wishlists in less than 24 hours. In today’s blog I am going to explain how it happened and what you can do to learn from this.
Here is his viral Reddit post
How is this possible and how do I do it?
The trick? Laysara: Summit Kingdom is a city builder which is one of the most favorite genres on Steam. Steam fans love, love, LOVE complex, deep, strategy games and r/games is pretty much entirely PC gamers who play a lot of Steam games.
The last time I saw a game go this viral on reddit it was another beautiful city builder: Wandering Village. Here was the Wandering Village viral reddit post which earned almost twice as many upvotes.
Second, Laysara: Summit Kingdom is beautiful. Absolutely stunning. Just look at it.
This game is made by a 2-person studio with decades of industry experience. The artist has worked in games for over 10 years. His last project was as 3D lead environment artist for Dying Light 2.
The developer and studio head has been a gameplay programmer since 2012. He spent the last 4 years as the gameplay programmer for Ancestors Legacy an RTS on UE4. But they both quit their day jobs to work on Laysara full time.
90% of your game’s success is determined by the type of game you are making. So unfortunately, if you are working on your first game and it is a relatively unpopular Steam genre like pixel art platformer you probably won’t replicate the success of this reddit post. Picking the right genre and having unbelievably good graphics make marketing so easy.
Happening across a winning genre wasn’t an accidental thing. The Laysara: Summit Kingdom designed it to be marketable from the start. This is a direct quote by Maciek on how he and his artist fine tuned the presentation of their game:
“The one thing marketing-wise, that we actually manage to do correctly, is to have a game with a clearly defined identity. Established genre with a unique spin, which really affects the gameplay (isn’t only a visual gimmick) and is easily visible from the first gif, screenshot, or first seconds of the trailer. Actually, at the beginning of 2020, we’ve got a playable technical prototype of a city builder with some verticality mechanics. We spent a full month exploring the possibilities for the game art style and universe. We discussed around a dozen of concepts (building on a lake, in a cave, building circles in hell, medieval village in a volcano crater, the balloon-punk universe, the list goes on) looking for the one that will be the most consistent in terms of vertical gameplay and art, but also showing the game idea at the very first glance. I ended up rewriting a lot of code to adjust my prototype to this “mountain” idea, even scrapping some of the cool gameplay concepts, but man, now I feel it was totally worth it.”
Also side note, look at this comment under his viral reddit post
This commenter liked one city builder and mentioned how it makes them also excited for this new city builder. Don’t ever think that games that are similar to yours are your competition. They are not! Fans of one game are more likely to buy another just like it. For more information on this, read my blog post about Economies of Agglomeration.
If you want to hit it big, like 73K upvotes big, you have to post to r/gaming (31.4 MILLION members), r/pcmasterrace (5.6m), or r/pcgaming (2.7m). r/games (3.1m) is big too but it is mostly industry news not actual games (ironically).
Those top line gaming subreddits are the only ones with a big enough population that can propel you to the front page of all of reddit (r/all.) Those are the subs that really put you in front of gamers.
Indie favorites like r/indiegames (124k), r/IndieGaming (262K) are tiny in comparison. Sure you can post there and you will get some wishlists but if you really want to move numbers like this, you have to go for the big subreddits.
A lot of indies like to post to r/gamedev (616k) but it doesn’t impact wishlists as much because most readers are interested in how to make games, not playing them.
The problem with the big 3 gaming subreddits though is they are VERY VERY strict about self promotion. Getting past the moderators is usually a miracle and Laysara found that miracle. Here is how…
Your title is just as important as what you post. Here was the one for Laysara:
“I spent a whole year and all my personal savings making this game (with a friend). I love city-builders, but I also like climbing… so how about building towns in high mountains? Laysara: Summit Kingdom will be out on Steam in 2022 :)”
First off, if “all my personal savings” scares you, Maciek assures me that he is fine. He is not living in a van down by the river. He is spending responsibly and is a game programmer, if this fails, he said he can go back and get a high paying programmer job again.
This classic “sob story” headline is a tried and tested winner on Reddit. Marketers know it. Readers know it. It is a cliché, but it works. It is like playing the same old top-40 musical hit. We have all heard it but we still like to sing along at Karaoke. This title has earned the reputation of being a headline for beginner-quality indie games. I love this reader’s comment about it. See, a good game is required first, before the marketing can work.
If you want more examples of classic reddit headlines, I put them in my gamemarketingideas.com database. Just filter for “reddit” posts.
Under your post’s catchy, but informative title, you can post images, text, or video. But Maciek was smart, he didn’t just repost his trailer, he re-edited it to be catcher. Watch the difference.
Here is the trailer
Here is the abridged gif he used on the reddit post:
Let me give a quick run down why this shorter trailer is so awesome
- (0 seconds) See a grid layout with buildings, farms, people, mills, instantly indicating this is a city builder or a RTS.
- (5.29 seconds) Then the camera pulls back revealing the hook: Build cities on the side of GIANT beautiful mountain.
- (6 seconds) shows verbs of placing farms
- (10 seconds) shows verb of placing walls.
- (13 seconds) shows antagonist: nature in the form of an avalanche. The avalanche also clarifies that the genre is a city builder and not an RTS (which would have been clear if the antagonist was an invading army.)
- (20 seconds) shows depth of the game by providing environmental variations such as rain, snow.
- (24.93 seconds) Glory shot showing more depth that you can build a crowning temple above a cloud-filled vista. AWESOME
- (28 seconds) Call to action + title card “Wishlist Now” + Steam
I have seen lesser trailers still showing title cards, non-gameplay cinematics, and studio logos in the same 30 seconds. In that short amount of time Laysara: Summit Kingdom was already winning people over. YOU MUST HAVE A SHORT-TO-THE-POINT trailer.
- Cut out everything that isn’t genre, hooks, and verbs. Show don’t tell. No logos. No slow panning environment shots. No title cards that say “in a world.” No cinematics.
- Read this blog by trailer master Derek Lieu about creating a trailer that gets right to the action.
- Watch this great talk on gifs which inspired Maciek to make his gif.
- Also have a call to action. Tell them to wishlist. Tell them it is on steam.
The hardest part of reddit is the moderators. You have to walk a fine line between promoting yourself and not triggering each subreddit’s moderators – they usually rule with an iron fist. I know of several indies who have submitted a trending post only to have it killed just as it was getting popular.
They were bit by this too. 5 hours after Maciek posted, he had about 11,000 upvotes and it was removed with a message about a rules violation. He kindly messaged the moderators to ask what happened. 30 minutes later one of them responded that the post was incorrectly struck down by the automod and he restored it. They were back to collecting thousands of upvotes and wishlists.
- Really watch your self promo ratio. The moderators do check. Maciek has a fairly new account and had 11 non-promotional posts spread out over several weeks (You can see them here.) I think the moderators checked his profile, realized he had never done a self-promo before this one and realized he wasn’t a spammer. Here is what he said about his account “This is my first Reddit post about the game. I created an account two months ago with intention of using it for promotion but decided to put the time into understanding how it works first. After an initial week or two, when I only wrote comments, I started posting some stuff (random gamedev thoughts, Rocket League clips, my cat cute pictures) to [not] violate the 10% self-promo rule when the time comes.”
- Be nice! I know that it is ridiculous how much power the moderators have but don’t let that affect your attitude. Be nice. Be polite. Just ask what the problem was in a nice way and don’t be accusatory. There is no guarantee but here is hoping they restore your killed post.
- I think the moderators probably liked Laysara: Summit Kingdom too. Again have a game that appeals to your target audience.
The Reddit post generated nearly 11K wishlists within a day. The scale of of it is pretty amazing to see.
The Laysara: Summit Kingdom steam page went live a few weeks before the post. He gathered about 1800 wishlists by sharing his trailer and getting press from Polish gaming site gry-online.pl (which earned about 100 wishlists) as well as a Japanese gaming site (500 wishlists).
The wishlists you earn during your first 2 weeks of your Steam page can really tell a lot about how the public is receiving your game. Based on my research, earning at least 500 wishlists in the first two weeks indicates that your game really has some potential. So when they earned 1800, it was a sign that a viral post on Reddit was within reach.
But the viral reddit posts and the 11K wishlists were just a start. Valve representatives at Q&As have said over and over that if you bring outside traffic to Steam, they will reward you with more high-quality Steam traffic. And it is true: here is a graph proving that. See that Brown line? That is Discovery Queue and is the primary way that Valve directs valuable traffic to your game.
There is a second green line that represents “Direct Navigation traffic.” Maciek can’t pinpoint where it is coming from (even though he has Google Analytics rigged up to his page).
All that additional traffic is really bringing in more wishlists. They are now averaging about 2500 wishlists PER DAY. As of last week they have a total of 30K wishlists.
There are two main things I take from this adventure.
FIRST: your game and it’s genre are the main driver of your success on Steam. Please reread Maciek’s long quote on the effort they put into crafting their game’s identity. When you have a game in the right genre it is so fun to market. It makes every step in this marketing process so much easier. So much more FUN. Yes it is actually fun. It isn’t a slog. You aren’t begging people to wishlist your game. They are just out there BEGGING you for more.
You can read more about this phenomenon in my article about bowling balls and feathers.
SECOND: Reddit is intimidating but it really is worth the effort and I don’t think enough indies are spending enough time on it. Twitter rarely pulls in numbers like this yet remains fixture of studio’s marketing efforts. Why not a larger share dedicated to Reddit? I keep thinking about this guy’s comment:
In my experience working for both publishers and small time indies the super small teams use reddit a lot but their games are usually smaller scale so the impact isn’t as big (thus the guys quote.) The bigger triple-I scale studios tend to shy away from Reddit for whatever reason.
When I look at r/all there really aren’t that many posts about tripple-I games that reach the front page. You can see it filtered here. However, I know of several top-tier indie games that could totally replicate Laysara’s success.
I think there is a real hunger on Reddit for really high-quality games and it is totally worth bigger studios learning the voice and strategies behind Reddit.