It’s astonishing how many game developers have no idea when to send Steam Keys out. Some send them before the game is launched, while others wait until a few months after. And truth is, both approaches are wrong.
The thing about Steam keys is that they work, but only to a point. They’re not meant to elevate your Steam score, which actually isn’t even affected by key reviews. As such, they’re solely sent to gain exposure for your game, which you ideally want to cultivate either right before or right on launch day.
Let’s dissect this further to get this all sorted out!
The Point of Steam Keys
Before explaining when to send Steam keys, it’s important to understand why this is all so confusing. Steam keys are important, because they’re sent to industry professionals, like journalists, YouTubers, and streamers. People who can give your game more exposure. These people get tons of Steam keys all the time. They get emailed about the latest releases, including both AAA and indie—especially indie.
As such, it’s a double-edged sword. On one hand, they can help, but on the other, they can just as well overlook your game. This is why it’s important to send many Steam keys out. The more you send out, the more chances of getting someone’s attention. This can lead to articles, interviews, or even reviews.
The thing few developers understand is that sending these keys out at the wrong time may hinder the amount of exposure a game gets. Too late, and the hype train is slowing, so few influencers will take interest. If a developer chooses not to do Early Access, then things get a little messy.
Solution 1: Wait Until Release
One of the effective timings is to wait until release, as long as you don’t go beyond the first week. Influencers love being able to stream and showcase games that everyone is curious about. If everyone already has it, it’s not as many views for their content.
The best course of action is to aim to send all the Steam keys out in the first three days. That means even if someone gets one on the third day, they still have time to create a quality video or article, and publish it all in the first week of release.
This means developers would be wise to organize this into their schedules and get the entire studio on board. The more people sending out the keys, the more ground covered in a shorter period of time.
Solution 2: Do Early Access
Early Access is something every game should aim to do if at all possible. It allows immediate access to games that are being developed and uses community involvement to improve the game and build hype. That means people can play them, give feedback, and developers can update and add content. All before an official launch!
If you’d like to join Early Access, remember, your game needs to be Greenlit first. Get in touch with your Valve release team and let them know of your interest in Early Access.
Another Idea: Events
Finally, whatever approach you choose to do, it’s always nice to host an event for your game. Launch parties allow journalists, streamers and YouTubers to try out the game in a social setting. Developers can do Q&A, while YouTubers record the footage from their play sessions.
This is a useful approach for many reasons. For one thing, it’s great marketing and a genius way to change up your work week/weekend. You gain exposure while having fun. Feedback is easy to get, and the studio team can regroup afterward to really discuss everything. It’s hype inducing as well.
But there’s still a more important reason: Steam key scams. Many scammers pretend to be industry professionals just to flip keys. Hosting an event can weed out the key sellers from the genuine YouTubers and Twitch streamers.
As developers, the best approach to take is to send the Steam keys out either right on release day, or within three days of release. This helps cut down on possible scammers and gets your game into the hands of influencers. If possible, consider doing Early Access, as this can help generate feedback and gauge interest in the game.
And remember, when in doubt, always host an event! Even if it’s on a Discord board or on Twitch. People love to feel like they’re a part of something.
As always, happy development and best of luck!