Part 12 – Getting through Steam Greenlight

Today’s topic… getting to your game through Steam Greenlight!

We’re switching it up a little bit this week in light of my studio, Donley Time Foundation‘s game getting through Steam Greenlight. We are going to breakdown what we did and some thoughts on getting yourself through.

As you might already know we were Greenlit earlier this week and thank you so much to our friends and fans who supported us. It took approximately two weeks from the time we hit publish to till Greenlight and in our mind that was a rousing success for our game, Boss 101. We received a few questions about the process and what we did so we are putting together this week’s dev blog to cover what we felt were the most essential parts of our process. This is by no means a guaranteed blueprint of success for every game to get Greenlit, but we think it covers many questions you may have.

1.  $100

The fee from Valve for Greenlight is 100 US dollars. No getting around that but once you pay you can apparently start as many Greenlight campaigns as your imagination will allow. For us – we paid the fee and setup Boss 101 way back in October 2014. Of course, we didn’t publish anything until nearly five months later.

2. Setting up the page

The first thing you will probably do will be to fart around with the page to see what you can add. I recommend checking out things like the way to add pictures, edit the description and format things. You might want to make a test post (you can delete it) to see exactly how formatting will look in the page. DO IT! It helps and you want to get practice in before you publish.

3. Your Video

You should have some sort of Greenlight launch video. This is the main thing you will show people outside Steam to get them into Steam for a vote. This will be posted on YouTube and you can send the link around to the media and your friends. Here’s a list of things that seem to work well (at least they did for us)

  • Variety of Gameplay  – This in particular is a must. The video goal should be to show a slice of your game and all its aspects. Do you have story? Show it! Do you have high action? Show it! Cool characters? Show them. Show things in context and in action in your game engine. Mockups and rough art are best avoided. This is your first shot at making a great impression and you want your best work forward.
  • Variety of Game screens – Along with the gameplay, look to sprinkle in a variety of the kinds of UI the player might navigate if you think it’s significant to the project you have. For instance – you might have a feature where the player can customize their character – SHOW IT!
  • Music and sound FX – There are a ton of great free online places to get music and sound fx. A little Google research can probably get you going here. If you don’t have any money you can still get free music and SFX for your video. You will want to pick something reflecting the mood of the game or use actual game music if you already have it.
  • Length and Pacing – This is REALLY tricky but the best rule is short and sweet. You can always flesh out extra gameplay and stuff in subsequent videos or descriptions on your Steam page. We kept ours at the two minute mark and it was a good Hollywood trailer amount of time. You can go longer of course but every time you do something long you run the risk of people turning you off and missing something amazing at the end of your video.

Our final video

4. Animated images in your Greenlight gallery

It’s not exactly advertised, but you can use animated gifs on your Steam page gallery as long as they are under two megs. It’s probably worth tossing a few up if you have them of things like UI’s working or simple gameplay demonstrations.

5. Regular images in your Greenlight gallery.

Of course you can upload regular images too. These will want to augment what you started with the video. Variety, composition and interesting subjects are a must. It’s better to show variety than 20 images of the same battle scene.

6. Creating your game description and writing announcements

You will want to create a description for your product (the body of text explain your product and its features. You can also write announcements for your page (like Hello posts and daily updates).

Something I did not know nor was explained… You can link (via BB code) both animated Gifs and regular images from sites like Imgur. If you don’t have an Imgur account, get one. They recently abolishes the paid version and gave free access to all the features. Highly worth it and it makes the whole process easier. This is critical for adding things like banners and animated images to your page. I don’t recommend adding fifteen giant animated Gifs to your product description but certainly add images and nice banners to spruce up the look.

Also good to know… the first paragraph of your description is what Steam uses to blurb your product on the Greenlight page. In other words people will see your animated icon and the read your first paragraph a lot! Make it count.

When you are crafting your description something that may get you in the correct frame of mind is imagine EACH PERSON visiting is a wealthy billionaire and might invest a load of money in your game. With that in mind you will want to do your best work, be precise and promise only what you KNOW you can deliver. HAHAHAH.

In other words, treat people right and don’t start blowing smoke up their rear ends saying you will add risky features. They will smell something fishy right away and likely call you out or ignore you. The goal of your description should be focused on your main features, you unique selling points and why you think the game is special.

7. Animated Steam Icon for your game.

Another thing not really mentioned is you can use animated Gifs for your Steam game icon. They really stand out if you do a nice one and it is one of those touches that will help your game be set apart. There is a limit to the total size of the file but ours was about 700k with about a 150 frame animation. I don’t know how close we were to the limit.

8. Languages

Tell people right away what your language plans are so they won’t have to ask. You will have to address this no matter what since Steam is a huge global community.

9. Platforms you are shipping on

As with languages, you will want to lay out your plans for this. You will get asked regardless.

Getting to Publish

We starting in October 2014 and did not publish till March 19th 2015. The delay was to allow us time to make a nice video and a professional presentation. The best advice here is you are better holding off until you feel great about your Steam product. There is really no reason to just toss up a page with whatever you have. That will just lead to a lot of confusion and possible frustration for you potential customers. Again – think of that billionaire coming to see your page. Think about how many awesome presentation they see every day and how many people are trying to get his or her money. You want to put your stamp on something with quality!

I’m not saying you need to work with the kinds of budgets GTA V uses but work at your highest level of presentation. Do you very best and then stand back and look the whole thing over. Our process went something like this:

1. Create initial to-do list for Greenlight with all video and advertising needs
2. Pay Valve fees and get Steam page
3. Start work on assets for the page
4. When ready, create a cut of the video with your preferred editing software. Lay out the whole thing then let it sit for a couple days while you work on something else.
5. Come back to your video and look at it with fresh eyes. Finish up your editing if you have all your assets and put the video aside for now
6. Create and add art to the Greenlight page. Write up your descriptions
7. At this point if you have all the main things together, let is sit a day or two!
8. Come back and look at it from time to time and re-read it. You will probably find formatting errors or things you want to update.
9. When you are ready, hit Publish!

Note about hitting the “Publish” button

Ok – just so you know. When you hit the Publish button there are no verifications or acknowledgements at least that I saw. I guess Valve assumes you are OK with where you are at and simply dissolves the button and then… really nothing spectacular happens. Your game is published. When I did this I was kinda surprised there wasn’t at least an “Are you SURE Y/N?” type question. Also surprising was the lack of announcement after you hit publish along the lines of “Hey – you are published and your game link is www dot steam dot yourGameLink”.

Just be aware you probably don’t want to dink around with that button until you are sure.

After Publishing

You can find the URL of your Steam project by doing a share. When you first publish Steam doesn’t immediate kick out the URL for you so you will have to go back into the project and look for it with the Share button.

Send that link around!

Start sending out the link to your blogs and sites. Don’t expect everyone to jump all over your game. They likely won’t unless you give them a very good reason to. Most of us aren’t Darkest Dungeon or Crawl. Those games had a really killer video that pretty well stole the show and guaranteed success for the project. Also, they were/are in the vein of what people liked.

Interact with the community

Ok – from personal experience I can say it pays to interact with every person who visits your page. Respond to every person on Steam commenting using the “@userName” reply format. If someone writes a comment – THANK THEM. This is you building your fan base and being grateful to even have one.

Most people will not leave a comment but they will look down in the comment section to see what people are saying about your game. In an ideal world they see a bunch of positive comments and your grateful response!

All right – that sums up the main things we found during our Greenlight campaign. I guess if there was ONE thing to remember is – Treat your friends and fans like the royalty they are. Each one matters and you want your best foot forward!

Getting folks to look at your Steam Page

Let’s assume you aren’t a super-giant indie dev. Perhaps you are a one to five person team (like we are) and don’t have a lot of time or money to spend on a huge campaign. It is all the more important to in my opinion that you show people you are serious about your game. Ideally LONG before this campaign started you are keeping a weekly (or bi-weekly) blog going about your game. If you think you can get away with no dev tracking you will have to be in rarefied air to expect a huge response from the fans. For most of us – it is best to show a commitment to your game BEFORE you ever hit Steam publically. Most likely your roadblock to Greenlight isn’t that people don’t like the game it’s that they don’t know about the game.

Some recommendations:

Development Logs (big updates) – do one on your main site and get into some kind of habit of putting out regular weekly (ideally) consistent updates. Don’t just update when you feel you have something awesome. The point here is you want to get into a habit of talking about your game. Updates are a focus for doing that. You’re a small development group and news outlets aren’t tracking you daily. Most likely you will need to get into the habit of putting stuff out there so when the time comes for people or news organizations to actually check out your site they see a string of solid updates.

Small updates – these you can do whenever. Preferably things like screenshots, animated gifs, etc. This is the kind of stuff you can put on Twitter or your main page and the like. Little things you think are cool or might spark some interest. They probably won’t all be gems but again the point here is to get YOU used to finding what parts of your game show well. Think of it as looking in a mirror before you go out. You are checking for what’s looking good and if you are at your best.

This was our schedule before, during and after Greenlight in terms of updating. For Boss 101 we do two updates a week (a big and small one):

– Small update – one animated gif or a cool screenshot – sometimes a small blurb
– Big Update – weekly devblog usually with a gameplay clip of gif. Also has a long description of what we are working on and why it’s cool. This update also includes the week’s small update.

When we did our Greenlight we tagged every one of those updates with “Hey check out our Greenlight” icons and links. So, to be clear – we did TWO social updates on the following sites EVERY week for months before, during and after Greenlight:

  • Main Boss 101 page (two times a week)
  • Our Facebook Page (two times a week)
  • Twitter – links to blogs and animated gifs are posted here, (two times a week)
  • Boss 101 Newgrounds Devblog (two times a week)
  • Steam Page (once we had the Greenlight page up we updated it twice a week, like all the others)
  • IndieDB (once a week ONLY –big update), we also made a custom animated headline gif for each weekly update
  • TIGForums (once a week ONLY – big update)
  • A few other sites we have devblogs on (normally one big update a week)

From there we would contact people about writing articles for them for free (writing about our experiences) and then they would plug us on their sites. We also did tutorials and things we thought people might find interesting.

Also – all our updates are reposted and reformatted (not linked) in all our main devblogs across the web. It’s not always easy to get people to check out links and mostly we just felt it was easier to repost (with appropriate formatting) all our stuff. It is a lot of work but it’s worth it. They say “if you build it, they will come” but you have to hand out directions to the party IF YOU KNOW WHAT I MEAN! HAAAAAA!

Really – I think the key is to be very active.

If you have any comments or questions, please feel free to mail me at hello @ donleytimefoundation.com (remove the spaces).

And as always – LIVE YOUR DREAMS!

-Tim

  • Hermi1988

    Thank you for the nice read! How long does it take on average from submitting to getting a response from valve?

    • Well, if you’re asking about how long it takes to get Greenlit, that can vary. Valve doesn’t technically respond to anything per-se during the Greenlight as much as they seem to have systems in place to automate the Greenlight process. I think you can expect the whole thing to take at least a couple months if you are taking your time. The setup alone might be a few weeks of work. Of course, if you have a kick-ass trailer that along might carry the whole thing right away in a day or two!

      • Hermi1988

        Thanks for the fast reply 🙂 We think we have a good Setup ready already and will Hit the Submit Button soon. What determines the success? The amount of upvotes alone?

        • Just upvotes over time. Downvotes (or ‘no’) don’t count at all. The way I think it works is this. A lot of yes votes in a very short time *or* a bunch of yes votes over a longer period. I think there is some magic number in there you need to hit but basically you are looking at a hot burn or a long run. Most games seems to see about 2 weeks to 2 months. Your mileage may vary. Best of luck!

          -Tim

          • Hermi1988

            We just hope for the best :-). Is there any way to preview the text formatting before hitting submit? Maybe a workaround with a tool, that works the same way?

          • I think until you it “publish” you will see the site as-is. In other words – it’s always in preview mode.

          • Hermi1988

            Yes, got that figured out 🙂 I thought the submit button on the very first page puts it live already. We published it yesterday:

            http://steamcommunity.com/sharedfiles/filedetails/?id=469646660

            Do you maybe want to have a look and give a bit feedback on what change? That would be super nice.

          • Looks really nice. The page is well setup and overall a very polished look. One thing I might ask about (and this is VERY minor on an otherwise pretty good page) are more screens or clips showing different types of things you can do or see in the game? For instance, nearly all the video and all the screenshots are the same looking in terms of gameplay shown. There is only one different looking screen (the title screen). This isn’t a BAD thing per-se but it is really nice to see as much variety as you can show.

          • Hermi1988

            That’s some great feedback of you, thanks. You are absolutey right of course. The thing is, that we currently only have this one level. We are working very hard on the first level of one of our other game modes, but it is far from ready to being shown. The UI and Menu has made quite some progress. You think that would count as proper update? We won’t have the time to do another trailer until a week from now or so.

          • Show what you can and what you think looks best. My personal preference is to “lay it all out” for the possible customer. In my opinion whenever you have something new and exciting to show a potential client/customer – show it! Show that new UI in an update. Show any and all progress you make and explain why it was a big deal. I know I love hearing about dev progress and if I am on Greenlight looking at games I want to support it really makes a difference to see a dev that is constantly updating.