October 26, 2012 1:00 PM | John Polson
Developers behind three of the second round of Steam Greenlit games believe you get what you give when it comes to cultivating a successful campaign. Contrast, AirBucaneers, and Secrets of Grindea succeeded, like all other games, in spite of not having access to traffic stats or sources. This led to a bit of guesswork determining from where visitors were coming, if not casual Steam community browsers.
None of the titles prescribed to popular PC gaming tropes. They were not FPSes, Minecraft-likes, nor zombie-filled survival horror games. Secrets of Grindea and Contrast even seem like retro and next-gen console experiences.
Some of them also succeeded despite having seemingly low social media support. While Secrets of Grindea has 562 followers and AirBuccaneers has 268 on Twitter, Contrast only has 94. Facebook stats are a little higher with 1,064; 508; and 258 respective likes.
What's the trick then? From icons and Kickstarter-inspired trailers to "Valve Super Drives" and media outreach, the developers share their observations here.
Compare and Contrast
Sam Abbott, a developer of Contrast, stated that Greenlight is pretty light on traffic data, aside from getting "unique visitors" and "favorites." He described a manual logging process for Contrast, using his own eyes and fingers with the F5 key to collate those figures at approximately 10am and 5pm each day.
But he soon realized Greenlight is not about stats; it's about community. "Our social media efforts were far less important than having a great Greenlight page - in fact, we think Greenlight has directed more traffic to our other social media than the other way around," Abbott shared.
Traditional media also proved a marginal success. He said there was a big rise in viewers around the time GameInformer featured them in a print/digital issue, almost doubling the daily views and lasted for 3 to 4 days. "[T]hat was the only significant spike for us," he reflected.
He attributed a bigger part of spiked viewership to changing Contrast's thumbnail on Greenlight "to a much more appealing picture." The icon is the first thing people see when browsing through hundreds of titles, and like the AppStore's tiny icon, this can be crucial for casual browsing.
Valve Super Drives
Nothing seemed more crucial to Contrast's success than what Abbott called Valve Super Drives. The weekend before the second batch of games was Greenlit, Valve featured Greenlight on the Steam client and store front. Specifically, the client and the website included it as the first of the "Featured Items" at the top of the store, and the client also brought it up in a separate window (the same way that update news comes across now).
Any of Steam's millions of users that logged on that weekend, except through the mobile client, would have seen it, Abbott suspected. "The effect of Valve pushing Greenlight [that] weekend was astonishing to us. It was more effective than all of our previous marketing efforts combined!"
The numbers Abbott provided suggest this to be true. "Ignoring the first week of Greenlight, our average daily traffic increased from 2,500 to 4,500 visitors over the three days [of the Greenlight push]...The actual first day increase was from 1500 to 7000 - which obviously was a huge step up." Their favorites increased to 93 per day from 53. "This tells me that people should prioritize the content on their Greenlight page, rather than spending a whole heap of energy going out to convince people in the social space."
Abbott felt Contrast was Greenlit for two reasons. "First, Contrast rocks. It's an appealing, intriguing game that showcases new gameplay mechanics while exploring an engaging narrative... Second, at the risk of stating the obvious, presentation and polish matter - we can't expect gamers to sift through 800 games and look at much more than a thumbnail, a name and maybe a screenshot/short video. If they look through to your website, you've probably already got their vote."
Think Like Kickstarter
Contrast had two trailers. While the team's first video was traditional with teasing gameplay, the second was more Kickstarter-inspired, a developer's video pitch made specifically for Greenlight. "We think this was pretty effective - we got loads of comments about the personal touch."
Regarding their first trailer, Abbott detailed, "We wanted to intrigue viewers from the outset with the narrative and style, and then draw them in with the reveal about our game mechanics. We weren't trying to tell the whole story - we just wanted to make you say 'I want to know more!' Sometimes, the more you show, the more you give people a reason not to like you."
Greenlight, like Kickstarter, is an elevator pitch that creates a growing community in need of tending. "You have a receptive audience that is really into games, who can applaud, critique and challenge you... I think it will become standard practice for indie developers to begin building communities on Greenlight."
Grinding on Reddit with a Beta
Secrets of Grindea developer Teddy Sjöström said part of his team's success came from hanging out a lot on Reddit. "[O]ur post in the little 'greenlightquality' subreddit was very successful, securing the top spot (somehow even beating giants like Towns and Zomboid). We know of a few instances where our fans also pushed our cause on other parts of Reddit."
His team always encouraged followers across all social media to tell their friends, "which we can sort of tell worked since we received many comments like 'told all my friends to vote for this' on the various communities."
Greenlight also coincided with the team's beta launch, which also created a decent amount of interest. The team actively asked anyone who wrote previews or made videos about the beta to also mention their Greenlight page. Sjöström believed the game's 4 player co-op helped a lot with word-of-mouth spreading, "as players had a reason to say 'hey, check this out, we could totally play this if it gets Greenlit.'"
Like Contrast, Secrets of Grindea employed two trailers. "We put a lot of effort towards having a short but compelling trailer as the first video and then an in-depth gameplay explanation as the second video to seal the deal."
IIRC, IRC and WTF? Worked, too
AirBuccnaeers developer Tony Manninen also felt a beta helped with his Greenlight campaign. "We mainly concentrated on taking the AirBuccaneers Beta to the next level. At the same time, we reminded people about the fact that we're on the Greenlight. This way we showed them that AirBuccaneers is going to be a great game and, thus, gave them a reason to vote for it."
The team maintains its own forums and even an IRC channel. PC-focused game news sites and YouTube traffic helped, too. "We believe that TotalBiscuit's AirBuccaneers videos were the final push that helped us get through Greenlight."
Manninen also did not put much stock in social media numbers for Greenlight success, especially if those followers aren't also on Steam. "Following something based on curiosity is somewhat different than actually engaging into something because of utter dedication. Also, it seems there still are people who are not active in Steam. If your fan base consists mainly of people who do not have Steam accounts, it is pretty difficult to get enough votes."
Constant contact with the Greenlight community was also imperative to Manninen. "Give the people what they want and they'll help you get through. Provide enough insight into the game. If there's a playable version available, throw that in. If you have some interesting reviews, testimonials, or anything that will provide an interesting point-of-view to your game, make sure that you have that material on your page."