Greenlighting a Niche Game: The Long Journey Ahead

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Steam Greenlight

Succeeding at Steam Greenlight can be hard, but it can be especially hard if you are working on a very niche game. Mega Dwarf looks back at their campaign and give tips how to get your game on Steam.

I’ll start with a disclaimer, this isn’t a typical Greenlight post mortem, so if you’re looking for basic tips on Greenlight or don’t know what Greenlight is, then I advise checking out some of the other great post mortems before reading this one. This post mortem is to explain how we, Mega Dwarf, got our very niche game through Greenlight in a relatively short period of time; 24 Days.

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God of Word by Mega Dwarf is a word game where you have to defeat enemies by typing words, set with a Greek Mythological theme.

Our game is »God of Word«, a word game where you use words to defeat enemies, set with a Greek Mythological theme. Just to tell you how niche our market was, there are only three other games really similar on Steam: »Letter Quest: Grimm’s Journey«, »Words for Evil«, and »Bookworm Adventures«. All of which are great games, and I really do advise anyone who likes word games to check them out, as they’re more than worth the small price tags. Two of these games, Letter Quest and Words for Evil, went through the Greenlight process themselves and were successful. But in the five months leading up to our announcement on Greenlight, there were only two other word games that were posted on Greenlight: »Slide Ride Arcade« and »Elusive Words«. So this gives you a general idea of how niche we’re talking when it comes to word games on Steam.

Setting up the Greenlight Page

I’m going to work through this post mortem in the same order that we worked through our Greenlight process. So let’s assume you’ve got a niche game that you’re ready to put on Greenlight, you’ve already got your social media set up, a website, press kit, and a small following. The two next steps are to set up your Greenlight page, and prepare e-mails for the press and YouTubers/Streamers.

I’ll start with the Greenlight page, as we have a couple of quick tips for setting it up. Some people may already know, but you do have the option to set up your Greenlight page, and preview it before launching it. The page will be private, so you can modify it and check for errors before putting it live. So feel free to set things up in advance and make sure everything is loading properly and you have all the minimum requirements before actually going live. Secondly, everyone now knows that you should have a gif as your branding image, but we learned an interesting fact about that branding image. Steam claims that there is a 1 Megabyte size limit on that image, whether it’s a gif or picture, but that’s not the real limit. For example, our gif was 2 Megabyte large and worked just fine, and we’ve investigated gifs from other campaigns to find them as large as 3 Megabytes. So if you want more quality out of your gif, want it longer, or generally can’t fit it below 1 Megabyte, don’t worry, you don’t have to. Just keep in mind that the larger it is, the longer it’ll take to load, so people with slower internet connections might have trouble seeing your gif at all if it’s too large.

The fact that the community decides which games are getting greenlight is great for indie developers but at the same time the competition is very hard.
The fact that the community decides which games are getting greenlight is great for indie developers but at the same time the competition is very hard.

Getting Press Coverage and putting the Game live

I don’t have much to add on the topic of sending out e-mails to the press for your Greenlight project, so I’ll just say that although it doesn’t garner many votes, I still think it’s a good practice, if only to read a nice article or two about your game. Though I will say that you should make sure to send out all of your press e-mails together and as soon as possible, because no press wants to cover old news. We’ll include the press list that we used in the section »Further reading« of the article; do with it as you please.

Time to put your game live on Greenlight, before you do, here’s a couple tips for you involving when you should post. We went live at 11am Eastern time on a Monday, and everything went fine, but I feel as though there could be a better time and day to go live. According to Steam stats, the time when the most users are on Steam are Saturday and Sunday around 2pm Eastern time. So you would have to assume that more people would visit Greenlight if there are more people online; but this is just a theory so take it with a grain of salt. The other thing I want to mention here is that older post mortems will say that you stay on the front page for 48 hours, and that’s when you get the most views/votes for your game. However, these days there are a lot more games going live on a daily basis than there used to be, and that our game was only on the front page for 27 hours.

The other thing to keep in mind when posting your game, is where to post it. And by that I mean, what games are before and after your game on the front page. The whole point of making your branding image into a gif is to have it stand out from all the other games on the front page that don’t have gifs. But if your gif is right between two other gifs, well then it will have a lot harder time standing out since there is a lot of movement going on around it. We made sure that several games before us were static images before posting, and unluckily for us, the game that went up after us was a very flashy gif; but of course there is nothing you can do to avoid games posted after you.

There are two other factors you want to try to avoid posting your game after, and that’s an extremely popular/polished game, or a game in a language that your game doesn’t support. In our case, without realizing it, we posted directly after an extremely popular Turkish game. And when I say extremely popular, I’m talking 30,000+ likes on Facebook before even posting on Greenlight. So when that many people are coming to vote for a game on Greenlight, and then stumble upon your game only to find out it doesn’t support their language, you’re going to encounter a good number of No votes.

This image shows the icon for God of Word which Mega Dwarf decided to be an animated gif. This can bring attention to your campaign as long as you are not surrounded by other animated icons.
This image shows the icon for God of Word which Mega Dwarf decided to be an animated gif. This can bring attention to your campaign as long as you are not surrounded by other animated icons.

No Votes and how to deal with them

So speaking of No votes, I want to go into a bit of detail on how positivity breeds positivity, and negativity breeds negativity. When people are looking to vote for a game, a lot of the time they watch a bit of the trailer, and then go to check out the comment section before deciding how they’re going to vote. If they see a comment section filled with positive comments, it’ll increase your chance at a Yes vote, and vice versa. We’ve seen some very solid games that unfortunately got a few negative comments at the start of their campaign, and they’re now buried despite being a solid overall product.

So how do you combat this? It’s not easy, but we’ll start at the beginning of your campaign. Obviously you’re going to reach out to your social media at the start of your campaign. You’re going to want to promote that they not only vote for you, but also leave a comment. You want to have some nice comments to start out your campaign when hundreds of random people are coming to check it out. As for things you don’t want to do, firstly, don’t comment yourself, it’s in bad taste, people can find out and it won’t end well. Secondly, don’t delete negative comments, I know this is common knowledge but just don’t. How do you fight back against negative comments? Respond to them in a polite manner if it’s a criticism you can respond to. If it’s just someone saying something mean, then ignore it and work hard to get other people to come to your page and write positive comments to bury the negativity.

This is a really interesting topic, because we saw a few examples in our Greenlight comments that back this theory up. First of all, we did receive one »negative« comment, telling us that Bookworm was a better game. This fell into the category of comments that we can’t really respond to, we just had to ignore. But unfortunately, the damage was done; after that comment was posted, we saw an increase in No vote percentage that we hadn’t seen before. So trust me when I say you’ve got to work hard to get negative comments off your page fast. The other interesting thing we noticed was twice during our campaign, people wrote rather unique positive comments, which were then followed up by nearly identical comments from several other people. It’s clear that comments, positive or negative, have a strong effect on people’s perspectives, whether they mean it to or not.

This graph shows how visitors and votes developed over time.
This graph shows how visitors and votes developed over time.

Three Marketing Tools to promote your Game

At this point you’re live on Greenlight, sent out press e-mails, done your social media posts, asked friends and family to check you out, all the most basic ways to get views. But it is a couple days into your campaign, and the views are stagnant because you’re no longer on the front page so nobody is finding your game, what do you do? Well, we all know that most of your views come from Steam, so we took a three step approach to getting views and votes on our game, and it worked brilliantly. We pursued three different marketing plans, first was to get our game into as many Greenlight Collections as we could. Second was to have our game advertised in as many Steam Groups as we could. And finally, message as many Steam Users as we could, who we knew liked word games. I’ll go in depth on each of these methods momentarily, but first I want to give a little forewarning about this method.

All of these methods will involve adding random Steam users as friends before you can talk to them about your proposal. A significant number of Steam users won’t add accounts that are level 0 or 1, a lot won’t even add users that aren’t level 10+, so this is important to address as soon as possible. If you’re a small company working on their first game like us, then you probably just set up your Steam account, and your company account is a level 0. There are a lot of ways to get this account’s level up to 10, which is where you should be before you start messaging people. First of all, each account can gain experience by completing the Community Leader Badge, which will grant you 500 XP, equal to 5 levels on Steam. All you have to do is complete 28 of the 29 Community based tasks to get this experience, and 5 levels goes a long way. This costs some money, but then you should buy a few games on the account, even if it’s just a 5 Dollar bundle. You need to have spent 5 Dollars on the account to be able to vote on Greenlight anyway, and every vote matters, so you might as well vote on the company account, too. With those games you now own, you should get the Collector badge, worth another 100+ XP. Then just buy a few sets of trading cards for one of the games you own to get enough XP to reach level 10. Along with looking like a more legit account, every level you gain lets you add an additional five friends. Steam accounts start with a 250 friends limit, adding 50 for the 10 levels you’ll gain, and 50 more for linking your Facebook account to your Steam account nets you 350 available friends; trust me, this will help a lot. I will mention now that we didn’t level up our account before messaging people, so that could explain why a lot of users didn’t add us as their friend, as you’ll see in the stats below.

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The final graph and stats of Mega Dwarf’s Greenlight campaign show that the most visitors and votes are made within the first few days.

Steam Collections

Now that you have a legit account and can add a ton of friends, it’s time to look into the various options to get votes. We started with Steam Collections, as the Collections you are a part of will be displayed on your Greenlight page, and again, give you some legitimacy. We went through every single Greenlight collection that was rated three to five stars, checked to see if the Collection had been updated recently, and if it looked like our game would fit the theme, we added the creator of the Collection as a friend, and waited. We also went through the Popular Lately Collections and added those users as well. All in all, we added 42 users to discuss adding us to their Collections, 18 accepted our friend requests, and of those, 12 added us to their collections. I don’t believe we got a lot of votes or even views based on those Collections we were added to, other than the 12 people who added us, who all voted for us themselves.

Steam Groups

Next up, Steam Groups. There are an immense number of Groups on Steam, some of which have over 100,000 users in them. We actually found out about Groups from an owner of one of the Collections, who offered to make us a Mod of his group and post about our game in an announcement. His group has about 10,000 users in it, and after posting the announcement we saw about 30 Yes votes come from the post. With that success we ended up looking through over 5,000 Steam groups to see if any would be interested in posting an announcement about our game. We sent out 54 friend requests for users who were Admins of various groups, and ended up being allowed to post an announcement in seven groups. Typically, in the other groups we netted about five to ten Yes votes per announcement, for a total of between 60 to 90 Yes votes. The important thing to note here, is that you want to be able to post an announcement in the group, not a discussion or comment. An announcement actually sends a pop-up to every user in the group who is online, letting them know that an announcement was posted; whereas for a comment or discussion post they would have to actively go to the group and look for it. I’ll also point out that there will be groups that will ask for keys in return for being able to post announcements, or even ask for a percentage of sales in exchange for promoting your game. We didn’t personally partake in any of these options, as we’ve seen that come back to hurt some games, since you aren’t supposed to exchange keys for votes according to the Steam Guidelines.

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God of Word is a very niche game and Mega Dwarf could only find three similar games on Steam in the first place.

Messaging Players directly

Then it was on to our idea that we haven’t heard any other Greenlight project do before, and that’s directly messaging Steam users who liked games like ours. Like I mentioned before, our game is very niche, so niche that there are only three games similar. Though there are two Bookworm games, and a Remastered version of Letter Quest for a total of five games. So we went through literally every single person who wrote reviews on those games, and added them to a massive excel sheet. We removed anyone who wrote negative reviews, anyone who had a private profile, and anyone who hadn’t been online in more than a week. All in all, we had an Excel sheet of 530 users who we knew liked word games. Remember how we said you’d need those 350 friend slots earlier? This is why. We sent out friend requests to all 530 people, not all at once, but still. The net result of adding 530 people, and a couple weeks of messaging people to talk about our game, was 152 Yes votes.

I’ll go into a bit more depth about this method, because there’s a lot to talk about, and it’s not something I’ve heard of any other game doing ever. First of all, we were rather concerned that people might be upset at us for adding them and asking them to look at our Greenlight page. It turns out, a significant number of people were really glad we messaged them, and were really impressed by our idea to add people who liked word games. With 152 Yes votes, we only actually had 13 people who accepted our friend requests and weren’t interested. And of those 152 Yes votes, we had a lot of people share our game with their friends, which definitely raised our Yes votes as well. There are three other huge benefits from this method. In messaging people who are passionate about word games, and in directly talking to them, we got a lot of comments on our Greenlight page. We got 85 comments on our Greenlight page, and 55 of them came from people we messaged directly about word games. We think comments are a major factor that Steam looks into when greenlighting games, so this was a big boom for us. We also got more than half of our Followers from the people we messaged directly. Most importantly though, we got an immense amount of feedback and playtesting from these individuals, which is priceless in the game development process. A lot of people offered their assistance in Beta Testing, localizing, or just generally promoting our game. It was a great community building experience, and I absolutely believe that other niche games that need help making it through the Greenlight process should message people that liked games similar to theirs on Steam.

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Only two similar games, namely Slide Ride Arcade and Elusive Words, tried to pass Greenlight before Mega Dwarf.

The Outcome for Mega Dwarf

After all of that work, 24 days of pretty much non-stop messaging users to talk about our game, we were Greenlit. According to GreenDB we were at about 170th place when we were Greenlit, sitting at about 68 percent of the way to the top 100, had 684 Yes votes, 545 No votes, and 26 Ask me Later votes. Do you need to be in the top 100 to be Greenlit? Absolutely not. Do you need 1,000 Yes votes? Nope. Is it a walk in the park to get Greenlit? No it is not. From our first 2ish days of being on the front page we got 328 Yes votes. From collections, groups, and directly messaging people we got somewhere between 200 to 250 Yes votes. So in the other 22 days on Greenlight, we only naturally got 100 to 150 Yes votes. If we hadn’t have spent all the time messaging people, we’d be setting at around 434 Yes votes, and nowhere close to being Greenlit.

I want to address a theory that was mentioned in another Greenlight Post-Mortem, called »The 50 Shades of Green«. The theory is that if you get above 50 percent Yes votes, then Steam will promote your game by placing it in users’ voting queues. We investigated this theory during our campaign and we think it’s only partially correct. The voting queue tends to be ten games for each user, normally with seven highly rated games, and three newly released games. As far as we can tell, all of the highly rated games had very positive Yes/No ratios, and were always part of the top 150 games on Greenlight. We kept a close eye on our views/votes during several key periods of time: when we had more Yes notes than No votes, when we had 50 percent of our overall votes be Yes votes, and when we achieved a 4-star rating on GreenDB (which translates to 56 percent of Yes/No votes combined being Yes votes). We didn’t see any influx of votes or views during any of these moments and we also checked on some other games using GreenDB and saw some games with the 4-star rating only get 4 to 8 views in a 24-hour period. However, games with a 4-star rating that were inside the top 150 games did seem to be being featured and got dozens of views during the same 24-hour period. As far as I can tell, if you’ve got a good enough ratio to be being featured in voting queues, you’re probably already going to get Greenlit, because you’re likely in the top 150 at that point.

Final Words

I want to wrap this up by thanking everyone who helped us make it through Greenlight. It was a long and difficult process, but the excitement that people showed for our game makes us really excited to get it done. If anyone has any additional questions about Greenlight, game development, or anything related to our game, feel free to send us an e-mail at contact@megadwarf.ca or visit our website at www.megadwarf.ca.

To Summarize:

  • You can preview your Greenlight page before having it go live.
  • Your Branding Image/Gif can be more than the stated 1MB.
  • You can use our press list for sending out e-mails (see Further Reading).
  • Pick your time wisely as you’ll only be on the front page for a little more than 24 hours.
  • Avoid posting your game after a foreign game or a very popular game.
  • Positive comments breed positive results, so motivate people to post comments.
  • Create a company Steam account and get it to Level 10.
  • Try to get added to a few Greenlight collections for views and to look legit.
  • Join Groups and ask to be allowed to post announcements.
  • Find other games similar to yours, and directly message people who liked those games.
  • You don’t need to be in the Top 150 to be Greenlit.
  • »50 Shades of Green« isn’t a thing unfortunately.

Daniel Batoff

 

Further Reading
Please find some useful links here:
Mega Dwarf’s press list: https://goo.gl/7lngSF
Pixelprospector – Great resource for all things marketing: http://www.pixelprospector.com/
GreenDB – great site to track your Greenlight progress: http://greendb.net/

 

About the author
mg0416_mega-dwarf-greenlight-post-mortem_daniel-batoffDaniel Batoff
is Co-founder, programmer, and designer at Mega Dwarf.

Daniel graduated from the Game Development program at Algonquin College in Ottawa. After years of working as a Development tester at EA and Ubisoft, Daniel banded together with Evan Buchanan and Steven Grove to form Mega Dwarf. He focuses on making fun games that he would enjoy playing.

 

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