First anniversary of our indie game on Steam. What have we learned?
A year ago today we released our first mini indie game on Steam, Desolatium: Prologue, and as many of you will know (and if not, you will find it out now), launching a game on Steam can be more like an odyssey than a bed of roses.
So, taking advantage of this first anniversary, we tell you our experience: what we think we did well and what we would change for the launch of DESOLATIUM.
But let’s start from the beginning to put in context. After developing our first demo two years ago, which worked very well and gave us the opportunity to create a great community, we decided to develop the Prologue of the final game as a gift, to thank our backers and make them the wait for the final game most enjoyable.
Our backers loved the game, so we thought it was a good idea to release it to the general public, putting it up for sale on Steam to see how well it was received.
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No Wishlists on Steam, no sales
Here comes our first stone on the road: being the prologue of a game that already existed on Steam, the platform did not understand that there were two independent pages on the same game. So when we had everything ready for the launch on June 4 (trailer, creatives, ads and a lot of enthusiasm…), Steam decided to put us to the test for almost three more weeks until they finally validated the page on June 22 of 2021.
This caused us to launch the game with about 500 wishlists. First error! (Although justified): Start as soon as possible to promote your page and get wishlists. According to Aravind Moorthy – Economist at Valve – only 10% of wishlists turn into sales, so this way you can calculate and anticipate.
After so much work, Desolatium: Prologue was finally out! Now what?
Get feedback on your game, get reviews!
It’s not just about trying to find sales, but reviews. Important! Try to get 10 as soon as possible (and not from gift keys, but from people who have bought it). From those 10, the “positive” tag (or the corresponding tag) is added, and taking into account that Steam gives more intensity to the promotion during the first days, take advantage of this period to get the maximum number of positive reviews so it has an impact on more sales (it is clear that we all take into account the opinion of the user before making a purchase).
In our case, we got many reviews from backers, but since it was a gift to them, they didn’t count (even though they did appear). So, as much as possible, focus on getting that positive review tag as quickly as possible.
Do you know the program “Curator Connect”? It is a Steam tool that you can use for free: It brings together all the “curator” on Steam, organized by categories according to their interests, to whom you can send a copy of the game (allows up to 100), and have them rate it. This comes in handy if they are curators with an active audience and community: if they recommend your game, potential players will see it on the main page of their store.
This feedback not only helps to get more (or less) sales, but receiving criticism – constructive – also helps the development of the game itself. In our case, it helped us a lot to completely change one of the main strategies: price.
What is your indie game worth and what is your goal? Think carefully about the price
We started by selling the prologue for €4.99, which seemed like a reasonable price for all the work that had gone into it. It was a mistake? Depends on the goal.
We got very good reviews, but also other negatives telling us that it was quite expensive for the duration of the game (about 30/40 minutes). For us, it wasn’t just about the length, but about the story itself and every feature it offers (hyper-realistic graphics, 8D sound, immersion…), so we weren’t overly demotivated. Here we tell you a little more about it.
Still, after a few months, we decided to listen to our audience, as we have been doing all along, and also listen to ourselves: Was our goal to get sales or to promote Desolatium and generate expectation? Obviously sales are always good, but we decided to focus on our final game, and coinciding with our sixth anniversary as a studio, we decided to make it free so everyone could enjoy it.
This made the reviews increase and many more people tried it and added Desolatium to their wishlist, so we believe that, thinking about the future, it was a wise decision.
Also, we didn’t think about the Steam refund, something very important to keep in mind: Steam allows refunds within 14 days of purchase, if it has been played for less than 2 hours . This made it easy for everyone to return the game, since it didn’t take more than an hour. We didn’t really get many refunds, but it’s something to keep in mind as a developer before releasing a short game for sale.
It’s time for post-releasing promotion!
In addition to the social networks and the media, streamers play a very important role in promotion. It seems like a no-brainer, but submitting your game to streamers who have played similar games (just search on YouTube or Twitch for those games and discover like-minded streamers), can go a long way to increase wishlists, whether they’re smaller streamers or more famous ones. In fact, don’t go by the numbers: in our case, we’ve seen more conversions from a streamer with 50k subscribers than from a other with 500k. The community they have created says more than the numbers they have achieved!
Another staple is Steam events. Not only the festivals, but the small events that are organized, and that usually have a common theme. Do you believe if we tell you that we got more wishlists in The Big Adventure Event, than in the Steam Next Fest itself? The first was dedicated to graphic adventures (our case) and it was much easier to reachour potential players than in the SNF, where thousands and thousands of games participate and it was more difficult to stand out (hey, it was also very worth it!). This excel online can help you to find them 😉
Getting back to social networks, are you taking full advantage of them? And we are not talking about posting a lot, but posting where your content gets more interest. Have you included Reddit or Tiktok in your strategy? Maybe you didn’t think about the second one, as you expected it to be for another type of content, but give it a try, you can get more views than you think 😉
At this point, we are going to summarize a little everything we have learned during this year:
- Try to exceed 10 reviews (from purchases) in the first few days of release.
- If you are going to publish a short game, keep in mind the price and, above all, the objective of the game.
- Once you have the demo, start moving it through networks, press media and streamers with similar tastes to your game.
- Be aware of all the events that take place on Steam (whether small or large), they give a lot of visibility and help your wishlist a lot.
- Investigate which social networks suit better for your game, and don’t be afraid of trying new ones!
If you’ve made it this far, thank you! We hope we have helped you. We are only going to steal another 30 seconds… Can you help us by adding Desolatium to your wishlist, or by leaving us a review on Desolatium: Prologue? As you know, it’s the best way to support an indie game on Steam 😉 Let us know at Twitter your game and we’ll add it to our wishlist too!