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