Indie Advice: Getting Your Game On Steam Takes Press And Persistence

Steam. If you’re an indie developer then you’re most likely aware of the benefits it can have, at least in terms of sales, for your game. Steam has become so important to some indie game developers that their biggest pursuit becomes getting a game of theirs distributed through it. While it doesn’t mean failure if this never happens, the rise in sales and notoriety that comes from a Steam release cannot be denied.

There’s one problem though – no one seems to know how to get a game noticed by the assessment team behind Steam. To alleviate this a little, we’ve decided to collate various bits of information and advice on how to do just that by the people who have managed it. This is not definitive of course as no one can guarantee that following a certain series of actions will get your game on Steam. You should certainly use the following information when considering how to pitch your game though.

First up, let’s lay down a few facts about the game assessment team responsible for making your dream come true:

  • They are a very small team
  • An overwhelming amount of games are sent to them every day to assess
  • Likely chances are they won’t even look at your game if you give them no good reason to

It’s sad, maybe even disappointing, that this is how the system works at the moment, but Valve seem to be planning ways of improving this in the future. Saying that, there has been a bit of an influx on the amount of indie games that Valve have been distributing, particularly during 2012, so things are starting to look up.


Persistence Pays

The first bit of advice that seems absolutely vital is to remain persistent. It’s very likely that your game will be rejected by Steam, we’re sorry to say, but that doesn’t mean you can’t change their mind. Like we said, they may not even play your game the first time, so keep submitting and aim to improve your chances each time – more on how to do that in a bit. You may feel like you’re fighting a battle that is impossible to win, but that’s simply not true. A few developers have taught us that being persistent can pay off.

Let’s look at a few examples quickly. Wadjet Eye Games are renown, at least these days, for their quality point and click adventure titles, even helping out other developers working in the genre with parts of development and publication. One of those is Joshua Nuernberger’s Gemini Rue. Dave Gilbert of Wadjet Eye had to re-submit Gemini Rue again and again for it get a Steam release, despite his own Blackwell series already being on there.

As Dave said in this tweet: “Steam has always rejected everything we’ve done once or twice before accepting it.” The exception he refers to in the rest of that tweet is Resonance, which Wadjet Eye are publishing this June. Quite simply, Dave didn’t give up on Gemini Rue or any of his Blackwell games and he just kept submitting them over and over until they had their own little spot on Steam. Now, it seems that his established relationship with them makes it easier to secure releases through them – breaking that initial contact barrier has a long term benefit.

Another great example of persistence paying off is Kyle Pulver’s effort to get his game Offspring Fling on to Steam. Before his puzzle game was released unto the world, Kyle did send it over to Steam for a good looking over. Unfortunately the response was negative.

“I can understand why it would be initially rejected though”, Kyle said. “The people working around the clock for Steam seem to be always pushed to their limit, and their submission process is always completely overloaded, so its easy for them to dismiss or pass on a game at first glance.”

As Kyle revealed to PA Report, the game was later accepted after the game had been released and he re-submitted it with all of the positive feedback the game had since received.

“You have to keep in mind that these people are getting possibly hundreds of emails a day, and most of the time you don’t hear back because they simply didn’t have time to respond, or they saw your email and forgot about it later”, Kyle claimed. “If you keep emailing, you’ll eventually catch them at a time where they do have a chance to check it out, and it might work out in your favor.”


Voice Of The Crowd

The other most vital point that keeps cropping up again and again when discussing effective tactics regarding getting your game on Steam is to not rely on your voice alone. If you have positive user feedback and press reviews then you should most definitely use it to your advantage. Throw it in their face, in fact. As was just said, this is exactly why Offspring Fling was actually accepted after the initial rejection.

“After the game came out I had a lot of positive reactions. A lot of really great press and articles and interviews about the game and all that good stuff. I eventually started rounding up all the articles I could find, especially ones that mentioned Steam specifically, and began my precision strike on the Steam business contact.”

Kyle also used tweets and forum quotes to give the people behind Steam a sense that people really wanted to see the game on the service – of course they actually did so don’t just make things up in an effort to replicate this. Another game that had a similar but arguably more flattering experience is Lone Survivor by Jasper Byrne. After launching the game from his own site and receiving a lot of praise, Jasper was contacted by Steam who wanted his game on their service, and he’s not the only indie developer this has happened to either.

That in itself proves that getting good press and a community upvote can be enough for your game to appear on Steam. Certainly, when we spoke to Phil Hassey about Dynamite Jack, he mentioned that he is lucky enough to have a pre-existing relationship with Steam and so was confident enough to pitch his games to them and get a response, hopefully a positive one.

“If you’re an unknown developer then it’s probably better to take a different approach. I see a lot of indie developers taking a game to shows and competitions and building up awareness as well as a following of it and that seems to work pretty well. Building awareness is a huge step towards getting your game noticed by Steam and other resources.”

So if you are starting fresh, you should know that you’re going to have to put a lot of work in before you can expect to get an answer from Steam. Speak to people, spread your game around, get the press to write about it and then think about submitting it to Steam. Your faith in the game is important, but it’s not going to mean a lot to a small group of people who constantly get told to look at yet another good game. You need to use the ever-growing indie game community to convince them that your game deserves to be on Steam. If people are asking for it without your intervention then make sure to show them this; it’s probably the most effective way of wooing them.


Be The Harshest Critic

There’s also another vital lesson to be learned, and that is to know what kind of game you should submit for their assessment. Though we say to be persistent, an often overlooked skill is to ensure that you put all of this effort into a game that at least stands a chance.

As Phil explained to us about game marketing in general:

“The thing is, I only bother to market and really push the games that I feel are something special – the ones that I think that players are going to really like.”

This is why you need to assess the game yourself. Is it worthy of Steam? Do you like it? Have you tested it with other people and found out if they like it? These are the kinds of questions that you need to answer, otherwise you’re just going to waste your time and effort. An article that highlights this as a necessity is Scott Tyoski’s Steam submission tips which were also informed by Valve themselves.

Most outstanding from the pretty obvious list was the need for quality. When you submit your game, send in a really polished and fun sample and not an unfinished whole – they won’t have time to play it all anyway. Also make everything as easy as possible for them, the slightest annoyance in getting started or something in-game which isn’t explained properly could be the difference between a positive and negative response.

Steam isn’t the end of all things, but those who have had their game distributed through the service have noted a huge increase in sales, for some it has changed their life. You need to be sure that your game has a chance of getting a look in by building awareness and submitting a quality sample for the assessment team to judge. Bear all of these things that we have covered, take your time and practice different techniques when attempting to build interest in your game before your submission. We can’t promise that any of these tips will get your game distributed through Steam, but if you follow them and are successful then history tells us that your chances of getting a Steam release are significantly increased. Good luck!

Valuing gameplay and innovation over everything, Chris has a keen eye for the most obscure titles unknown to man and gets a buzz from finding fantastic games that are not getting enough love. Chris Priestman, Editor-in-Chief of IGM

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