Greenlight on a $0 Advertising Budget
As many of you already know, our first game Dwarrows was voted-in on Steam Greenlight in just shy of 2 weeks! We are, of course, very excited! This is one less thing to worry about in the long road to release. It’s fantastic to see such a positive response from the community and to get feedback. We were pretty confident we would be greenlit, but since there is no way to know how the campaign will play out, we were nervous. We spent a lot of time, before the campaign, making sure we were Greenlight-ready so when it came time to finally build the campaign page and plan, it was pretty simple. I’ll go over our observations, our methods, and what did or did not work for our campaign.
How We Did
When we were greenlit, it was admittedly maybe a slight mix of emotions. Of course we were ecstatic that we were Greenlit, but we were steadily climbing and I guess we wanted to see how high we would go. We weren’t disappointed to be sure, but I guess it was “fun” to watch our baby rise in the ranks. I assume your rank is likely little more than an analytics tool; you don’t get “greenlit better” than other games, but still, We were basking in the sweet, sweet internet-points. Considering something trivial like, “internet points” was what we worried about during our campaign, I have to say, that seems pretty privileged.
We were greenlit in the #20 spot after 12 days. I do believe there are certain exceptional games that break the mould, but Steam appears to Greenlight batches in two-week intervals. So, we were included in the first batch of games to be greenlit after we put Dwarrows up. Looking at the dates of games that were greenlit just before us, it would appear that we launched our campaign exactly 1 day after they did their last batch. Since Steam keeps everything so secret, I couldn’t tell you how often they ACTUALLY do it, what their processes are, how many they choose to do each time, but I can atleast say that there was a two week interval pattern for at least the 3-4 batches before us.
It’s common belief that once you are in the top 100 you are potentially greenlit, though there is no hard word on that from Steam as far as I know, I noticed a lot of indies live by it and so did we. After we reached the top 100 (in a single day!) we were uncertain as to when we would get official word. Because I followed the two-week interval pattern I successfully predicted the date. This isn’t so much a tactic to get Greenlit, as much as it is a way of curbing your sanity while you wait in the void.
How We Did It
I think when it comes to this kind of campaign, there are probably a million Gamasutra articles that explain what I am about to say. I don’t think there is any secret or mystery to the success of games that are greenlit. Greenlight is about gauging community interest. Steam just wants to know if this is the kind of game that the community specifically wants to buy and play. This is where you have to be really honest with yourself about the quality of your marketing and the game itself. When building the campaign, we weren’t willing to publish it until we could say (honestly) “Yea, I’d buy and play this!”; otherwise, we couldn’t really expect anyone else to say it.
I am not saying anything new here, but this is what a campaign needs:
- Beautiful screenshots, ideally with actual gameplay
- A trailer: ideally gameplay
- A clear, concise, easy to understand explanation of your game
- Some kind of social media presence
I realize there will always be an exception, a game that will get by on concept alone, or a game that is in such early development that all it has is great concept art. I wouldn’t benchmark myself against the exceptions, though.
I think numbers 1-3 are pretty self explanatory. Social media presence on the other hand can be difficult to understand and I am no expert, but I have made observations and learned a few tricks that may or may not be common knowledge to the average twitter user. Since there are plenty of people who struggle with getting any amount of attention on twitter, I’ll share a few things I picked up in my short time doing this.
Facebook: For us as a start-up, it’s difficult enough to get followers, so it might be a good idea to create just one page for your company and keep all of your game specific updates on that page. Also take part in groups. There is SO MUCH SUPPORT from other devs. Start with Indie Game Developers (that’s the group name) and you’ll find links to all of the sister pages.
Twitter: Hashtags are your friend and there are a lot of them; here are a few: #indiedev #gamedev #indiegame #ue4 #screenshotsaturday. There are also twitter accounts whose entire purpose is to retweet anything tweeted at them or under a certain hashtag. Usually called bots, keep an eye out for them, they are really handy in getting new followers and boosting the visibility of a post. If you are lucky, you may get retweets or features by some generous accounts. I was personally helped by @ProjectMQ and @TorontoGameDevs. Shout out to them!
Indiedbb: Definitely make a page each for your game and company, there is a surprising amount of activity on this website with a good amount of moderating.
TigSource Forums: Great place to speak with other devs. I specifically recommend keeping a DevLog.
And there you have it: A beginner’s guide to basically being a beginner at Social Media written by a beginner.
What We Did Right
We tweeted and advertised as much as could. Doing this could get annoying, so we were careful with how and when we used it. We chose to start the campaign just before a Saturday. This was advantageous because we took advantage of #Screenshotsaturday on Twitter. We posted brand new screenshots all day under the hashtag with a little plug for our greenlight campaign in celebration of it’s launch. Because we posted a completely new screenshot each time, I feel audiences could digest the fact that our message was consistently about our greenlight campaign. We got a lot of attention, retweets and clicks and by the end of the day were in the top 100. We slowed it down, but continued to do this throughout the week, 1-4 times a day.
What We Did Wrong
The Diversity of Little Green Elves
One oversight that was pointed out by a user on Greenlight was that our screenshots and videos showed a lack of diversity in our game. Because there are townsfolk and it would be easy to show diversity, it seemed to them that we were purposefully avoiding it. In actuality, not only did we already have a diverse range of characters, but the townsfolk having different skin tones was always a planned feature.
At the time, there were only two townsfolk meshes and they were all sharing the exact same texture. Why? Because I’m one person and it was non-essential to building a playable demo. Going into the campaign we thought very much like devs and our aim was to show off gameplay and environment. It was never our intention to be political and make a point about social issues, so it hadn’t even occurred to us to show diversity in screenshots on a greenlight campaign.
It was only one user to have complained, but it worried me that there were others who noticed and just didn’t say anything. The last thing we wanted with a happy, colourful, and peaceful game was to alienate anybody. Especially since, dammit, we were mindful about it in the design process.
So I still like it. I think it’s hilarious. I can see how it isn’t a great representation of our game, but since we didn’t really have any trouble with our campaign I don’t feel too bad that it wasn’t well received. Let’s just say, that after all of the very nice comments and compliments, the most talked about thing on a greenlight page was how much everyone hated our icon.
I’ll take this opportunity to explain our decision on this, because I still think it was a good one. I have no real way of knowing how effective our tactic was, but I suspect it didn’t hurt it as much as these people in the comments (who claimed they voted “yes” anyway) believed.
- The icon had absolutely no visibility when we posted the link to our social media and therefore could not deter anyone
- Anyone following their queue on Greenlight who did not like the icon would also see at the same time our beautiful screenshots.
- When browsing Greenlight titles, there is a wall of beautiful icons. It’s hard to stand out. I don’t click most of these icons, no matter how nice that they are, because they don’t catch my attention. They get lost in a sea of nice icons. This was all that we wanted to do with this Dwarrows icon. My guess was that people would notice it, they might have a poor impression of it, but when they saw our trailer and screenshots they would change their minds. There were actually a few comments that implied this worked. Ha!
So there you have it, beyond maybe being deterred in that one scenario, I don’t really think the experimental icon choice could have hurt us, but maybe it did? There was no real way to tell, but people definitely didn’t like it.
I think the best advice I can give to an indie dev rearing up for a greenlight campaign is this: Be prepared to spend quality social media time before starting your campaign, gain a bit of a following and get the hang of things; and make sure you’re ready with new media content to show off your game as often as possible (within reason, of course).
Greenlight was a bit nerve racking for us, since it was the first real reveal of our game to a large audience of gamers, but we gained many new followers from it, and a powerful new distribution partner: Valve/Steam!