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. Too early, and the game isn’t validated yet, so people may not want to take a chance on an unknown game.
How should developers tackle this issue?
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.
Another Idea: Events
Finally, whatever approach you choose to do, it’s always nice to host an event for your game. Launch parties (even virtual ones on Discord) 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.
Speaking of which, let’s dive into scams a bit more…
Beware of Scammers
There’s nothing better than finishing up game development and getting ready to launch. All of the tweeting, extensive blogging, and website maintenance. So much hype! That is until you send out your Steam keys (and we’ve written about the best time to send those out) and realize that there are a few people out there who are selling them.
The truth is that with the average game developer schedule, it’s easy to not verify people’s identities. Sometimes, when someone says they’re a popular YouTuber or streamer, a shrug and free Steam key follows suit.
For instance, Leszek Lisowski, an indie developer behind Worlds of Magic dealt with scammers. In the hopes of making his game popular, he sent out Steam keys without checking if people were who they said they were. However, the game was later found on sale on G2A.com for $15, about half the game’s price on Steam.
So, what can you do about it? Can scammers be stopped?
Verify with Little Effort
Believe it or not, verifying someone’s identity is easy and not at all time consuming. For game developers who already feel like there aren’t enough hours in a day, this news comes as a godsend. If you don’t feel like checking Twitter and Instagram accounts one-by-one, simply require YouTubers who want a Steam key to send you a message through their YouTube channels. If they don’t have anything to hide, they’ll not only do it, they’ll have quite a few subscribers.
Verify with a Little More Effort
Obviously, most game developers send out Steam keys to more than just YouTubers. In the case of journalists, there are methods of finding out whether someone is trustworthy, and in fact, a journalist. First off, look up their name and publication. How recent is their work? If the last article they wrote was in 2005, they probably aren’t in the industry anymore. After all, video game journalism isn’t exactly easy to pursue as a career.
If they do have relevant work, and they are still very much employed by a publication that has readership, maybe you might want to check if they’re reputable. Using websites like DeepFreeze helps weed out the troublemakers.
Avoiding Scammers from the Start
If you’re the type of person who likes to do things perfectly the first time, here’s a plan of action for you. Surely, you use a spreadsheet to manage a giant contact list of influencers, journalists, and YouTube streamers. Adding to it day by day, even just 25-50 contacts a week for a few months, makes a vast difference once you’re ready to send out Steam keys. Ensure you create a category in the database for follower count, and then filter it all. The people with more of an audience are your target for Steam keys.
But what does this have to do with scammers?
Simple: Because you’ll be adding to the contacts list on a daily basis, you can use websites like Hunter to find the right people and then verify them on Twitter. Another approach is to simply go to the publication’s website, look up the team, and then click on individual people. If it says they’re still employed on their work profile, then it’s a safe bet. Oftentimes, these profiles will link to social media as well, so don’t be afraid to simply click on a link and check out their Twitter bio.
It might seem like a lot, but it goes fast if you’re just checking 5-10 people per day. By the time you’re ready to send out Steam keys, all the research has been done. Smooth sailing.
Now that you know how to perfectly avoid scammers, here’s what you need to know to spot scammers that might approach you:
First off, never send Steam keys through email. Services like Keymailer are a better option, as this cuts back on scams. It is mandatory for people to verify their social media accounts before being able to receive their keys.
If you do happen to get emails, notice the time. If you get similar emails, with similar wording, at the same time, then it’s probably one person trying to get a few keys to sell.
Furthermore, industry professionals understand that Steam keys are meant in exchange for reviews, feedback, or marketability. They pride themselves on being able to share things first and spread the word. In doing so, they only require one key. Scammers always ask for more than one.
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!
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