Last Friday, Invert got greenlit on Steam! It was quite a surprise to me. I was definitely unprepared when I initially put the game up for greenlight, and I made a ton of mistakes in the process. Compared to some of the articles I read, my game had nowhere near as many votes; it didn’t even reach the top 100! Here are the stats for my game (click for full size):As you can see, my game only has 581 yes votes compared to the thousands of votes that others had. So how did my game get greenlit? I tried various things to raise the publicity of my game, including participating in Ludum Dare 34 at a local gaming group and contacting a Twitch streamer who offered to comment on my game. It’s not clear how effective these attempts were (nothing came close to the traffic that Steam gave in the first few days), but by going through the entire process, I gained some insights that I otherwise wouldn’t have gained.
It Takes Effort for People to Play Your Game
Before I put my game up for greenlight, I thought, “if I put up a playable demo for my game, it will make up for my lack of a good video trailer.” I could not have been more wrong. It takes effort for people to play your game, especially if your game is a download. Many people won’t want to spend that effort to get to your game, especially if they don’t have a good reason to.
I experienced this for myself during the Ludum Dare game jam mentioned above. As a part of the judging process, I had to play other entries to raise my own entry’s “coolness,” which determines how visible my game is to other contestants. During this process, I realized that I liked the entries that offered web-embedded games much more than the entries that didn’t, simply because I could get right into those games without waiting for them download. (And also, I wouldn’t have to delete them after I was finished with them.) I still tried out games that were download only, but only because I understood the effort that goes into making games. I’m sure the Ludum Dare community also understands this, but the Steam community is dominated by players who have never developed games before.
Below is a list of a few things to keep in mind when offering a playable demo of a game. Your overall goal should be to make it easy for your audience to obtain your game.
- Web embedded games are better than downloadable games. Playing in a browser is much easier than downloading a game.
- Some skeptical people will think that your files will harm their computers. This is especially true if your game involves an installation. (Installations are also harder to remove, which might deter more people.)
- If you are going with downloads and you have multiple builds, they should be kept separate. It’s easier to upload a zip file containing the Windows, Mac, and Linux versions, but it also increases the size of the file, which in turn, makes the download take longer.
- Itch.io is a good site for hosting your game. It can increase the publicity of your game, and it also gives analytics, which let’s you see how many people have downloaded your game. I regret not uploading to Itch.io at the start of the process because now I don’t know how many people have downloaded my game.
- People won’t always be on computers when they see your greenlight page. Some people might browse greenlight on their phones or other devices that won’t be able to run your game. If they don’t like your game at this point, they’re not going to come back to your page later when they’re on a computer.
The Video Trailer is the Most Important Part of the Pitch
There is definitely a reason why Steam requires you to have a video before submitting a pitch. It is one of the first things that people see when they reach your page, and first impressions are important. You want to have a good video before you start the greenlight process for a few reasons.
As soon as you start the greenlight process, Steam puts you in a “new games” category, which gives you a ton of traffic. This is very apparent in the graph above, and you want to take advantage of this traffic as much as possible. After the initial period of 3 days, it is much more difficult to get views to your game. Having a good video early makes a larger portion of the initial traffic interested in your game.
The trailer is also a way of getting people to want to play your game; it’s your chance to convince the audience that your game is fun. While it’s true that the trailer should show people what gameplay feels like, providing a playable demo will not make up for a lack of a good trailer. If the trailer isn’t good, then people won’t want to play the game, which defeats the purpose of providing a playable demo. This leads into my final point, which is…
Give People a Reason to Play Your Game
As I said above, it takes effort for people to play your game. If your greenlight page doesn’t look good, people are less likely to spend that effort for your game. After all, why would someone want to play your game when there are literally thousands of other shiny games just a few clicks away?
So your one and only goal during greenlight should be to get the attention of your audience, and keep their attention long enough to persuade them to play your game. Obviously, having a good trailer helps a lot, but there are other things that are important.
The branding image is what represents your game on Steam’s greenlight pages. It is the first thing that people see when they see your game, so the branding image is your way to catch people’s attentions before they even visit your page. I did not create an animated branding image, which I regret, since having an attention-grabbing animation is a good way to get more views on your page.
The best branding image that I have seen was for a game called Inversus, which I first encountered in this article. Here is the branding image for that game:
Doesn’t that just make you want to click on it?
The description is where you can say anything about your game. If you’re providing a playable demo, you can put a link to it in the description. What’s more important though, is to make the description look nice. Having nice images and formats will make your page look better, which in turn, makes people like your game more. (Having too many animations in the description can make it take longer to load, so be careful.)
As an aside, if you don’t know what to put on your greenlight page, just take a look at some other good looking entries. If you think that another game looks good, then it’s really likely that those developers did something right.
So How Exactly Did I Get Greenlit?
Unfortunately, I don’t really know myself. The stats on my game seem way too low compared to other games that have gotten greenlit, and the things that I attempted to raise publicity didn’t seem to have much impact. Interestingly, my game was greenlit a few days right after it was streamed on Twitch. Maybe that had something to do with it? Or maybe that was a coincidence and I got lucky. In the articles that I’ve read, a common theme was that nobody knew the exact criteria for passing. I have a feeling that it might depend on the mood of the person in charge of greenlighting games.
If you’re a one person team like I was, and you think that doing all of this by yourself is daunting… it kind of is. At the beginning of the process, I had no marketing skills, no video editing skills, and I had no idea how greenlighting works. At the end of the process, I wouldn’t say that I suddenly have that knowledge, but I certainly learned more about them.
The entire process took 33 days, from December 6, 2015 to January 8, 2016. To be honest, I thought it would take a lot longer. Either way, I think that the greenlight process was a good learning experience.