Your graduation, bat mitzvah, bar mitzvah, your wedding day, quinceañera, confirmation,  gastrulation – life is full of life milestones that mark the passage from one phase of life to the next. 

The first milestone when you release a game on steam is when it earns it’s first 10 reviews. 

I promise that I haven’t hacked the Steam code base but after studying the platform long enough I am 98% confident that the following code is somewhere in there. 

if (reviews.count() < 10) { 
} else { 

Here is what a typical game’s traffic looks like after earning 10 Reviews:

A coincidence? 


Many other developers shared their post-10-review-traffic-boost on the HTMAG discord that I created a special appendix at the bottom just to showcase the variety.

That simple?

Yes. Here are the basic rules:

  • Your game needs just 10 reviews from people who paid REAL money. 
  • People who got the game from a free key can leave a review of the game but their review doesn’t “count” towards the review total.
  • It can be 10 reviews of any quality. It can be 10 positive. It can be 5 positive and 5 negative. It can be 10 negative. Any combination, it just has to be 10 reviews from people who paid money for the game.

Why does valve do this?

Valve listened when we all complained about all the shovelware / asset-flip / junk showing up on the storefront. They probably looked at the data and saw that those “junk” games don’t really have a fan base and therefore nobody reviews them. The shovelware games were like parasites that would just use the free traffic that Steam gave every game.

Valve’s solution was to start every game into a deep dark closet at launch where nobody will see them. If just 10 people purchased, then reviewed the game (playing it is optional), Valve pulls the game out of the metaphorical closet and starts showing it on Steam. Well-made games that have had some basic marketing behind them have no problem getting 10 reviews without Valve’s help and so the 10 review threshold is barely a problem. These games emerge from the closet very quickly. 

Under this new system, those “parasitic junk” games cannot no longer coast on the free visibility that Steam hands out and so they never emerge from the closet and nobody will ever see them and complain about “shovelware” “polluting” Steam. Problem SOLVED! 

Buuuut, small, first time indie developers often have a hard time gathering enough of a community to get that 10 review threshold. That is why I am here to help you get out of the >10 review closet.

What do you mean by visibility?

The main mechanism that Steam uses to give games visibility is the Discovery Queue (DQ). The DQ is a little widget on Steam that a lot of gamers use to find new games. Here is a picture of what the Discovery Queue looks like. If you have never tried it before, open steam, scroll down and give it a try. You should see how it works because it is very important in discoverability. 

Here is data on the DQ in action:

You see that Green line? That is the Discovery Queue traffic.

On May 12th this game got 10 reviews, so Steam started showing it to people by adding it to people’s Discovery Queues.

DQ traffic is significant and high quality. Here is data from one person who reached 10 reviews then had a Tweet that went semi viral with 10,000 views. Notice that the viral tweet provides less traffic than DQ traffic.

But the initial burst of Discovery Queue traffic typically fades after a few days. See the following chart. This graph is from Google Analytics of a Steam page right after it hit the 10 review threshold.

See how after a few days it goes back down? Once you earn 10 reviews, Steam basically gives every game a fair but limited time shot of earning money on the Discovery Queue. The game has to prove its worth during that time. If you make enough money during that “extra visibility” period, the algorithm will either keep showing you. If it doesn’t make money, it will start to turn down traffic to your game.

It is essentially like playing on a sports team and Steam is the coach. Earning 10 reviews means you passed tryouts and you are  on the team. The Discovery Queue is just the coach putting you in the game. If you score a buch, the coach is going to keep you in the game. But if you don’t score or you turnover the ball a bunch, they are going to put you back on the bench. 

Couple side notes:

  • I don’t know how much money you need to stay in “the game” but you will know when you have a game that is earning enough to stay in.
  • The bench is not forever. If after a couple years you come from nowhere and start earning a ton of money again, Steam will put you back in the game. This is essentially what happened with Among Us

How do I get 10 reviews when I launch?

On average 1 out of every 30 people will review a game on Steam (aka the Boxliter method of estimating sales). So basically you must sell 300 copies of your game entirely from your own marketing effort because the Steam closet means they aren’t giving your game much visibility. It is a hard lift. Here are some tips to get your first 10 reviews:

But first some warnings:

  • DON’T PAY FOR REVIEWS – According to the Steam Terms of Service you can’t bribe reviewers “Don’t solicit reviews in exchange for any games, DLC, money, or other rewards.” So you can’t say stuff like “The first 10 reviewers will get a $5 Steam card!”
  • DON’T PROMPT IN YOUR GAME TO REVIEW – Showing a popup in game that says “Review our game” is standard procedure on mobile apps, but Valve has explicitly outlawed this: “Don’t ask customers to review your product from within your application.” So don’t do that.
  • I don’t know what this means “Don’t attempt to abuse or artificially manipulate the review system.” – I think this is a catch-all for any crazy schemes that might emerge that they can’t think of. 

These techniques are allowed because many developers do them without repercussions from Valve:

  • You can use your Owned media like Discord, Twitter, Your Mailing List to ask people to review your game. Just don’t incentivize it.
  • Mention your review count a lot in all messaging as you get closer to your release. You need to tell your fans that reviews make a difference. .
  • Write an update about how important that 10 review threshold is. Or you can just link them to this  blog so they know.
  • Get as many wishlists as you can before launch. The email that Wishlisters get when your game goes on sale is NOT affected by the “10-review-closet.” So the more wishlists you have, the more people will likely buy the game and the more people will review it.
  • If you still don’t have enough reviews after a couple weeks, keep patching your game and adding content. The extra effort can show players and potential customers that you are in this for the long haul. Also call out what bug fixes were recommendations from the community to show that you are a “good dev” who listens to feedback. This behavior encourages more feedback (often in the form of reviews). 

Build a “VIP” Supporters list – A few weeks before your launch start listing out as many people that you think might buy and review your game. Here are some people

  • Your mom
  • Your dad
  • Your extended family who also plays Steam games.
  • Your childhood neighbor who you used to play SNES with and would spam the low kick button on Mortal Kombat. Be sure to remind him of how much crap you had to put up with.
  • People from your old college dorm who you had late night LAN parties with and are now parents wistfully thinking back on the best years of their lives. 
  • That one person in your community who likes and retweets everything you do and you are not quite sure why they are THAT excited about your game and you are a little afraid of them but also a little encouraged by them. That person.
  • People from your local game developer group.
  • Your mentor.
  • Your friend who recently released a game which you bought on day 1 and left a review. Be sure to send them a screenshot of that review reminding them how nice you were to do that for them.

Once you build your list, send each one of them a personal message a few days before your launch explaining how the 10 review thing works and ask them if you can count on their review on day 1. DON’T Send them a free key. Explain to them why you cannot give them a free key.

Then on the day of your launch, send them a reminder of the importance of the 10 reviews.

Then the following week, send a reminder to everyone reminding them one last time about how important the 10 reviews are. 

The first game is the hardest

Usually your first game is the hardest one to get those 10 reviews. You have no community, nobody trusts you. But games on Steam have a long tail. Once people realize you make quality games they will start joining your mailing list, discord, and twitter. Going into your second game you will have a much bigger following and it will be a lot easier to get 10 reviews. 

This MEME was made by HTMAG Discord member LOUD. 

Bonus factoid: Review Quality

As mentioned above, the 10 reviews can be of any quality. In numerous Q&As Valve developers mentioned that the Steam algorithm does not “penalize” games for having “mixed” reviews. They only hide your game if your review scores are Mostly Negative or lower.

Here is a great reference document created by Game developer Rune Johansen

Appendix: Here is a collage of games getting 10 reviews:

Hands Photo by Luis Quintero on Unsplash