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The Ultimate Guide to Steam Wishlists and Gaming Influencers

Steam, a digital PC game storefront launched over two decades ago, is arguably one of the most well-known online gaming platforms and distributors worldwide. In 2023, Steam was estimated to sell over 400 million games in total.

Hosting nearly 70,000 games from over 44,000 developers, Steam is a highly competitive marketplace. The statistics are telling: only about 10% of developers on Steam have managed to earn over $100,000 in gross revenue, and an even smaller group, around 1,600, have surpassed the $1 million mark.

To achieve success on Steam, developers need to combine various strategies effectively. This includes building a diverse portfolio of games, forming partnerships with  publishers to leverage their strengths, focusing on developing games in popular genres, among other tactics. However, one crucial component in this recipe for success is strategic marketing. 

What are Steam Wishlists?

Introduced in 2010, Steam wishlists have evolved into an essential tool for developers to access a game's potential on Steam. Steam wishlists offer several benefits for developers:

  1. Marketing Tool: Wishlists function as a mailing list, with Steam notifying users about game launches and sales.
  2. Analytics: Developers have access to wishlist data such as additions, conversions, and regional breakdowns. This data helps assess market demand, evaluate marketing efforts, and inform pricing strategies.
  3. Sales Prediction: Wishlist numbers are a strong predictor of sales. According to Steam, on average, 19% of wishlist additions convert to sales within 12 months, with over half of these conversions happening during discount events. However, this average includes AAA titles that often have higher initial sales due to pre-existing recognition beyond Steam. Indie game developers generally see lower conversion rates from wishlists to sales.

The Impact of Wishlists on Steam Visibility

Steam's discovery mechanisms are influenced by various factors, including wishlists. According to Steam, the number of wishlists doesn't determine visibility on the front page, and there's no specific wishlist requirement. The only section directly affected by the number of wishlists is the Popular Upcoming section, which is based on the number of wishlists over the last two weeks; games have to pass a certain threshold and then they are sorted by release date. While Steam hasn't disclosed the exact threshold, it's estimated that approximately 10,000 wishlists ensure appearance in the Popular Upcoming area on Steam's front page during the launch week. Being featured in the Popular Upcoming games list can in turn drive more wishlist additions, which is exactly what developers need.

How to Increase Wishlist Numbers

Key strategies for engaging potential players and driving traffic to a game's Steam page pre-launch include:

Cross-Promotion: Leveraging developer's existing games to promote new games can be particularly effective when the games share a similar target audience.

Reddit: Utilizing Reddit’s specific subreddits related to gaming genres, indie games, or game development can be valuable platforms for engaging with an interested audience.

Social Media: Platforms like TikTok and Twitter offer vast opportunities for viral marketing. Sharing engaging content, game teasers, and updates can spark interest and discussions among potential players.

Gaming Press: Engaging with gaming journalists and media outlets to feature articles, interviews, or reviews about the game can reach a wide and varied audience.

Gaming Shows and Festivals: Participating in gaming shows and festivals is a great way to get your game in front of enthusiastic audiences. These events often attract media attention and can lead to increased visibility.

Influencer Marketing: Collaborating with gaming influencers can significantly boost a game's visibility. Influencers can play demos, promote the game on their channels, host giveaways, and distribute Steam keys to their followers. This approach can rapidly increase the number of users adding the game to their wishlists, leveraging the influencer's established audience and credibility.

How to Leverage Gaming Influencers to Drive Wishlists

The impact of influencer marketing can be significant. For Twitch streams, a 30%-40% conversion rate to wishlists is common, meaning that if a streamer averages 1,000 views, developers can expect about 300-400 wishlist additions. YouTube videos usually see a 3%-10% conversion rate. To maximize the effectiveness of influencer campaigns, developers should focus on three key aspects: targeting, timing, and content strategy.

Targeting

  • Identify influencers who specialize in the game’s genre. Influencers with a history of playing similar titles will likely have an audience that aligns with the game's target market.
  • Start with a focused group of influencers and then gradually expand to include those with a broader audience. 

Timing: 

  • Begin influencer marketing efforts well in advance. The effectiveness of pre-launch campaigns is often linked to how early influencers are brought into the game development cycle.
  • Align influencer activities with key milestones in the game’s development cycle, such as beta releases, demos, and the final launch.
  • Plan influencer outreach during quieter periods in the gaming industry. Avoid times when major announcements or releases might overshadow the campaign.

Content Strategy:

  • Encourage influencers to create diverse content such as 'Let's Play' videos, behind-the-scenes looks, Q&A sessions, and interactive challenges to keep the audience engaged and excited.
  • Encourage influencers to make adding the game to Steam wishlists the primary call to action in their content. Ask them to explain benefits like updates and exclusive offers to encourage viewer action.
  • Implement an “Add to Wishlist” button directly on the landing page for people who look up the game online after seeing it on an influencer's channel

Key Phases of Influencer Engagement

Let's explore strategies for effective collaboration with influencers, starting from generating initial buzz in the Pre-Beta Phase to heightening excitement around the game launch.

1. Pre-Beta Phase 

During this period,  developers set up a Steam page and start gathering wishlists to build community anticipation, even though the game's release is still far off. At this stage, developers are deeply engaged in the development process, focusing on designing, building, and refining the game, without a playable version being available to the public.

Objective: This phase aims to generate early buzz among gamers who are actively looking for new games, especially those in the game's genre.

Target: Focus on YouTubers who create lists of top upcoming games to tap into audiences eager for new and upcoming titles. 

Strategy: 

  • A compelling game trailer is the key element for this phase.
  • Release exclusive previews or teaser content to create intrigue and excitement. These can include sneak peeks of game art, characters, or snippets of gameplay.

Example Channels: 

2. Beta Test Phase

The Beta Test Phase is a limited-time event where developers release part of their game for public play. This stage is vital for gathering player feedback and marketing the game, helping to refine and build anticipation for the final release.

Objective: Begin the gameplay-centered phase of the influencer campaign to create anticipation for the game's full release. Involve creators in key decisions about game development to foster long-term partnerships and brand ambassadorship.

Target: Focus on YouTubers and Twitch streamers who specialize in beta testing and niche influencers playing similar games. Invite influencers who have previously shown interest in the game.

Strategy: 

  • Arrange sessions where influencers can provide direct feedback to the development team, making them a part of the game development journey.
  • Create challenges or competitions within the beta version that influencers can participate in, which can drive engagement and highlight game features.
  • Maintain timely communication, ideally reaching out at least one month before beta and sending reminders one week before and 24 hours prior to the beta release. 
  • Share game keys for community engagement and provide detailed sign-up instructions.
  • Publicly acknowledge the contributions and feedback of influencers in game updates or social media posts, which can strengthen the relationship and encourage continued support.

Pro Tip: Ensure that all game keys are functional before distribution

Example Channels: 

3. Public Demo Phase

The Public Demo Phase is a significant milestone in game development, offering a free playable sample of the game to the public. This phase not only allows players to experience a portion of the game firsthand but also unlocks additional marketing opportunities for developers.

Objective: This is a key phase to generate a substantial number of Wishlists. 

Target: Approach a wide range of popular influencers, using platforms that allow filtering by gaming preferences (like genre, platform or recently played games) to identify and connect with several hundred suitable creators.

Strategy: 

  • Partner with influencers to create a series of playthrough videos of the demo, showcasing different aspects and features of the game while boosting wishlist additions
  • Encourage influencers to host co-streaming sessions where they play the demo with other influencers or selected fans, enhancing interaction and reach.
  • Host roundtable discussions with influencers post-demo play, where they can share their experiences and feedback. This can be a live-streamed event, encouraging audience participation and engagement.
  • Participate in gaming festivals as they often attract streamers who could discover and showcase the game. 
  • Provide comprehensive game information in the outreach emails, including the Steam page link, trailer, release date, press kit, screenshots, and high-quality capsule images for thumbnails.

Pro Tip: For top influencers, consider creating custom in-game content like special skins or items, which can be exclusive to the influencer’s audience.

Example Channels: 

4. Game Launch Phase

This final stage marks the culmination of the game development process, where the fully completed game is released to the public. This critical phase involves extensive marketing and promotional efforts, as it's the time when the game becomes widely available for purchase and play. The success of this phase is determined by the reception from both critics and players, and it sets the stage for the game's post-launch support and updates.

Objective: Focus on maximizing the game’s reach. This crucial phase combines the final push of the wishlist campaign with the broader launch campaign. Recent wishlist additions are typically more likely to convert into actual sales.

Target: Connect with a broad range of influencers, ensuring inclusion of YouTubers and streamers who have previously engaged with the game.

Strategy: 

  • Collaborate with influencers to release exclusive preview content from the full game, encouraging viewers to add the game to their wishlist for immediate access upon launch.
  • Run countdown campaigns with influencers, where each day leading up to the launch reveals new aspects of the game, keeping the audience engaged and prompting wishlist additions.
  • Have influencers share final teaser trailers that highlight the most exciting features of the game, building anticipation and urging viewers to wishlist the game to not miss out.
  • Utilize influencer platforms for special promotions, like discount codes for early wishlisting, adding a sense of urgency and exclusivity.
  • Initiate your outreach efforts at least a month before the game's launch. 
  • At this point, consider offering payment to influencers who have a track record of effectively promoting the game.
  • This is a good time to engage a specialized influencer marketing agency to help streamline influencer collaborations

In summary, for game developers navigating Steam's competitive marketplace, influencer marketing has emerged as a pivotal strategy to drive wishlist additions and, ultimately, game sales. By leveraging the clout of gaming influencers across platforms like Twitch and YouTube, developers can tap into established audiences, enhancing their game's visibility and appeal. The key lies in a well-crafted approach involving targeting the right influencers, timing campaigns strategically, and creating engaging content that resonates with potential players. This targeted influencer engagement, from the pre-beta phase to the game launch, is not just about increasing wishlist numbers but about building excitement and anticipation for the game.

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