So you have finally finished your game and released it on Steam. Congratulations! All those months, or years, of grueling work in the early hours of the morning are over and players all over the world are finally enjoying your game. There’s nothing left to do but sit back and enjoy the fruits of your labor . . . right? While the common opinion is that the bulk of the work is done, there is actually quite a lot still on your to-do list.
Game development is a business after all. And if no one knows about you—or your product—you won’t make sales. Steam is filled with competition, and plenty of crevices for your game to get completely lost in. So, how do you fight it? What can you do to generate sales?
After launching your game on Steam, you should ideally be prepping for launch on other outlets, such as your own landing page, or digital game stores, all the while marketing your game. This ensures your game is being actively played and even expands your potential player base. Because let’s face it, there’s nothing worse than launching a game nobody cares to play.
Using Your Own Website
The key to success is really getting your game in the hands of as many players as possible. To do that, most indie developers pick a platform with the most reach possible: Steam. However, the ideal scenario is that you are able to release your game on all of the major platforms, including your own website/landing page, with your own storefront, as well as third-party digital game stores. Don’t make the mistake of placing all your eggs in one basket. You don’t want to rely on one platform for your success. Why should you do that when there are so many potential players out there?
So, for starters, consider using your own website as a store, with a landing page that contains all the information that players could ever want regarding your game, including screenshots, game trailers, access to social media channels, and a clearly defined call to action—”Buy Now!”
A prime example is Ubisoft’s landing page for Far Cry 5. Even though the game is a year away and there are no official trailer or screenshots on the landing page, the team went above and beyond providing everything else. It’s clear the missing material will make an appearance when it’s closer to launch, so if anything, this helps with mystery and encourages players to seek more gameplay information from outside sources, like press releases and interviews.
Right at the top, after an eye-catching image reminiscent of the Last Supper, there’s an option to pre-order the game. The game’s motto, or simple description, follows it: ”Save the land of the free.” All of these elements give clues as to what to expect, without giving away too much. Then, it’s all about the game cover design and basic information like platforms and release date, in bold, so you can’t miss it. There’s a game overview, key features, links to the gold and deluxe editions, and links to older franchise content that players might want to pick up along with their copy of Far Cry 5, such as Far Cry 3 Blood Dragon and Far Cry Primal. Finally, on the bottom of the page, there are social media links.
Another example is the landing page for Middle Earth: Shadow of War. The game’s motto, “Nothing will be forgotten,” and release date, 10/10/17, are on the very top, followed by amazing artwork and a call to action to pre-order.
There is also a captivating open world trailer, basic information on the various editions of the game including standard, silver and gold, a game overview and details on the collector’s edition, titled Mithril Edition, which is now sold out. This landing page is complete, featuring platform and publisher information, as well as easy access to social media channels and gameplay trailers.
Of course, a landing page serves as an avenue to get players to click that “Buy Now!” or “Pre-order Now” button. The call to action should lead the players to the storefront, your own storefront. In this fashion, you get to keep 100% of the profit, rather than share your revenue with a third-party seller.
Logically, this means your official website needs to have eCommerce capabilities. There are several methods you can use to achieve this, including using payment processors like PayPal, or even better, using game launchers. Launchers are specifically used by developers to not only process payments, but to distribute things like game keys.
One option is Xsolla, the game publishing services provider known for working with companies like Ubisoft, Twitch, Crytek, and Steam, primarily because it helps with more than just one thing. While it does help with game distribution through a service called Pay2Play, Xsolla partners also benefit from a large affiliate network, metric analysis tools, and a sleek dashboard to keep track of everything.
Pay2Play gives developers the freedom to distribute games and DLC directly from official websites without having to be bound to any specific system or marketplace. But assuming you launched your game on Steam, you can work in tandem with that as well. Easily, developers can sell activation codes for marketplaces like Steam, Origin, and uPlay, or offer direct DRM-free downloads. This makes it possible to run your own game store, fully-functional, easily and efficiently.
Another option is Solid State Networks, which has been improving the way developers and players download online games since 2005. They are attributed with creating the industry’s leading solution for release automation, making it an obvious choice for development teams that want to work with the latest tech solutions.
The company’s answer to game delivery and updates is DIRECT, which eliminates the amount of time you spend on tools, scripts, and infrastructure. One script integrates DIRECT with an existing build process, and moves everything over to the Amazon Web Services cloud. It is the only solution that allows you to push a release to production button at any time, so you can deploy game builds to players the minute you’re ready.
And these are just two of the many launcher options available. You can check out our article on the 7 Best Launchers to Use for Game Delivery & Updates for a list of pros and cons!
Of course, the trick to making your own storefront work is to let people know about it so there’s a nice traffic flow. And for that you need tactical marketing, but we’ll discuss that shortly.
Selling Your Game On Digital Stores
From HumbleBundle to Nuuvem, selling your game on third-party digital stores has never been easier. While Steam might be the largest platform available today, it’s not the only solution to game distribution. In fact, selling your game on a variety of platforms helps to expand your outreach, cater to niche audiences for your game (primarily useful once you define your target audience), and generate more sales.
HumbleBundle alone is a phenomenon selling AAA games, books, and even music. This popular platform has grown exponentially over the last few years and donates about 31% of sales to charity, while giving developers an average of $166,000 in sales. It works geniusly, by offering bundles of games sold at prices determined by the players, hence the “humble.” A portion of sales go to charities like Child’s Play and the American Red Cross, while the rest is split between developers and the platform itself. There are three tiers players can choose from: pay what you want as long as it’s $1 or more, pay more than the average (usually $7-9), and pay $12 or more. With each tier, more games get unlocked. Those who pay $25 can get up to 10 games and a plush, coupon, or other glitzy incentive.
Clearly, selling your game on HumbleBundle is a smart idea. Create your own game page to showcase and sell your game. Hosting is free, and you keep 95% of the proceeds after payment processing and taxes. If you’re feeling really inspired, use the design as a template for your own storefront on your website too. There is also a Humble Widget, which you can add directly to your site to sell your game. Developers keep 95% of the proceeds this way as well. Humble Store offers new games and discounts on a daily basis, outside of the bundles, giving developers 75% of the revenue and 10% to charity. Otherwise, you can ask about humble bundles and see if you can be featured!
Meanwhile, Nuuvem has sales going on all the time, including on newly released AAA games, making it appealing to the stingiest of players. In a span of only six years, they’ve become one of the largest digital games retailers in the world. The Brazilian company’s strong global outreach makes it a wise candidate for any developer looking to expand beyond the American market.
Assuming you’re selling a game for PC, Mac or Linux, Nuuvem can help distribute games through download. Rather than just be a key reseller, the platform sells the complete game with everything players need for activation, download and installation. They also allow pre-orders, so that once the game is released, players can download it right away.
Obviously, third-party platforms have a catch: you’re leaving some profits on the table for them. Whether it’s 25% or 5%, the fact of the matter is you’re not the one selling your own game, and therefore, fees will be paid. That being said, when used to increase sales, while selling on Steam and your own website, you’re making the best of every possible outlet. You’re effectively using what is available to make more of a profit off of something that took you a long time to create.
Don’t Forget Marketing
Of course, releasing your game on Steam, your official website, and third-party digital stores is still only part of the process. The final touch is marketing. It’s common for developers to groan and protest that they don’t excel at promoting their own game, which is why many choose to outsource this step. For instance, traditional publishers take care of marketing, but in doing so, they ask developers to meet certain marketing deadlines, like announcing their game release and any updates. As backers, they also reserve the right to suggest changes to the game, which makes many developers feel like they’ve lost sight of their own game.
Meanwhile those who choose to do their own marketing have the pleasure of either honing new skills, or perfecting what they already know. Developers have to keep track of traffic data and metrics, handle business decisions like what to ship out as promotional material, and how to engage their audience and keep them invested, for the sake of player retention.
To cover the basics of marketing, developers should have trailers, screenshots, press releases and press kits, a landing page, a development blog, and a target publication list filled with writer contact information. This will cover most press inquiries and hopefully line up interviews. Setting up social media channels, being active in forums and blogs, participating in events, and letting players know when there are updates is essential. Posting things like insights or opinion pieces, perhaps interesting articles or occasionally funny posts helps convert visitors into fans.
Obviously that’s just the barebones structure of marketing. Think of marketing as a science. Every game appeals to a different group of players, and therefore, each marketing plan must adhere to certain styles and ideas to generate the most feedback. There is no one clearly defined approach—you just need to try a little of everything and see what works best. So, don’t limit your social activities to just one outlet, or account. Don’t assume you’ll be fine with just a blog and the occasional Discord post. A good game marketing plan ensures the faces behind the game are well-known and approachable. Use Steam forums and a blog on the main studio website. Use Twitter and Instagram as well, as these outlets have a lot of player users who love to stay updated on the latest news.
Also, use valuable tools to help you along the way. Influencer marketing has grown over the last few years, mainly due to the popularity of Let’s Play videos: 90% of players watch Let’s Play videos and consult them for gaming advice. Smart developers reach out to these YouTubers in the hopes that they’ll get more exposure. Unfortunately, not only are influencers generally difficult to contact, it’s a time consuming process that requires a lot of effort.
The good news is there are companies that help connect developers to a network of influencers. Those partnered with game publishing services provider Xsolla get to use the company’s own influencer network, Xsolla Network Solution, which consists of over one million influencers.
If you prefer to work alone, you can find a list of influencers or find influencer networks, like Upfluence, Ader or Game Influencer, which conduct marketing campaigns for PC, console and mobile games.
Whatever tools you end up choosing, and whatever approach you take, make sure your marketing plans help you engage with your audience. At the end of the day, it shouldn’t just be about the sales, it should be about community engagement and feedback. By making the players the focus, you establish bonds that will last throughout your career, rather than just achieving sales on a single game and making it about the short term. Don’t forgo a stamp on the industry.
A Game Launch Is Only Half of the Story
Launching a game is no easy task. It requires several months, or even years, to properly finish and polish a game enough to make it sellable. But once it’s done, it’s not really done. To enhance things like player acquisition and retention, marketing is in order. To expand your player base and land more sales, it’s crucial to sell your game on third-party platforms as well as your own website.
While this may all seem like plenty of confusing work, it’s important to remember that it’s all leading up to a more successful game, and business sense. After all, game development is a business, and to be fruitful, the work needs to be put in.
If you’re overwhelmed, remember to first set up a landing page and storefront option for your game on your own website. Create social media channels and a blog to make it more searchable. Send it out to press, and try to land more exposure through exclusive articles and interviews. While working on this, submit your game to third-party platforms, like HumbleBumble. Although participating in the bundles themselves is perhaps one of the best business decisions you could make, it’s not necessary. Just using their widget on your website, or launching your own game page with them is enough to generate more sales.
And remember, it’s not just about sales. Game development is a business, and sales are essential, but building a following is what makes you successful long-term.
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