How to Build a Steam Marketing Strategy for Your Game
Steam marketing is essential to your game’s success, but how do you optimize it?
With an enormous 120 million active monthly players, you can’t ignore Steam. And it’s not just about reach and awareness—Steam users are purchasing more than ever. In 2020, Steam customers purchased 21.4% more games than the previous year. And with promises of an improved experience and new features—plus the launch of Steam China—this momentum isn’t slowing down.
So how does your game take advantage in an increasingly competitive landscape? The good news is this: The number of games finding success has increased year-on-year. Sea of Thieves recorded more than 3.3 million active players in June 2020. The game’s executive producer, Joe Neate, credited Steam as playing a huge role. Steam blows games up and—crucially—it keeps them there; Steam marketing has never been more important.
How to build a Steam marketing strategy for your game
Your Steam marketing campaign should start long before your game is released. Here are some tips on how to market your game on Steam during the pre-launch phase.
Get your game listed on Steam’s Coming Soon Page
The earlier you start your Steam marketing strategy, the better. Steam recommends you list your game as soon as possible using a “Coming Soon” page—all you need initially are screenshots and a game description. A Coming Soon page gives users who hear about your game elsewhere an immediate place to land and begin engaging with you. Your Coming Soon page is also vital because it allows Steam users to add your game to their Wishlist, which is essentially Steam’s version of a mailing list.
Roughly a third of Steam users have one or more titles on their wishlist, demonstrating their relevance. But what makes them so useful? Players who add your game to their Wishlist will automatically get an email upon your game’s release, and also be notified of future announcements like sales or major game updates. The Coming Soon page is essentially your website on Steam, everything happens here, including your Community Hub.
Be active on Steam Community
Your Community Hub is just that; it’s where Steam users can upload, discuss, and dissect every element of your game. It also offers the perfect place to announce and discuss your alpha and beta testing, in addition to your social media channels. Testing is a major part of building your audience in the first place, and there’s no better place for feedback and discussion than Steam directly. Still, make sure to read Steam Community Guidelines for discussions and user-generated content.
Steam recommends you let Community Hub conversation take its course naturally, and only interject when you’re genuinely adding value. The logic is that responding to negativity is typically futile, and the best way to answer is to use the feedback and work on your game.
Hit the front page
Getting on the front page of Steam’s website is massive for raising awareness around your game. One front-page banner worth paying attention to is the Events banner. The events banner is dedicated to active gaming events, and clicking through takes users to a dedicated landing page highlighting all the games present at a particular event with a link out to each game’s page. Optimize for this with attractive, engaging banner art for your game to encourage clicks. You can also embed a stream of the event your game is at (which includes an essential “Add to Watchlist” button) on your Coming Soon page to further encourage engagement.
Partner with Steam Curators
Though all the tactics we’ve discussed help create visibility for your game, sometimes that’s not enough in a competitive landscape. That’s where Steam Curators come in. A Steam Curator is an individual or group who reviews games on Steam, accessible through Curator Connect. Curators are well-known, established individuals or organizations in gaming, so a positive review goes one step beyond users simply knowing your game exists.
Steam Curators have a significant part to play in the overall media coverage of your game. When it comes to video game PR and Steam, be mindful. Steam has expectations regarding how you go about press covering your game, and shady tactics are frowned upon.
Run a Steam Key giveaway
As you build up to launch, there’s arguably no better way to market your game on Steam than have people actually play it as a finished product. And that’s where Steam Key giveaways come in. Steam Keys provide access to your game—for free. Here’s a list of leading online communities eager to consume great games:
Steam Key giveaways have been instrumental to the success of major games such as Fall Guys. The logic is simple: Removing the most significant barrier (price) allows people to play for free, and a positive gaming experience does wonders for word-of-mouth marketing.
Launch and Post-Launch
Game developers often invest so many resources toward pre-launch, they neglect everything that comes after. While pre-launch is critical, if your video game marketing grinds to a halt during post-launch, you’ll quickly lose any momentum you gained. Future-oriented thinking and player retention is essential to long-term success—let’s explore why.
The top-grossing games on Steam hold the attention of their fans for years. Steam publishes a yearly ranking of the top-performing games according to gross overall revenue, and for 2020 only 31 out of 100 games were released during that year. So while you need a successful pre-launch to attract an audience, that’s only half the battle.
Get your game discovered
Discovery on Steam is vital. And one of the most significant discovery tactics is directly built into the platform itself. Every game that launches on Steam receives a “launch visibility round”—a period where it’s pushed to different areas of the store, including new releases lists, trending games, specific genres, and even the front page of Steam if it’s popular. Similar to this, discovery queues (15 new titles a day) are presented to individual users, personalized based on their preferences and habits.
While launch visibility rounds happen by default, you can qualify for up to five more visibility rounds by updating your game; these are known as “update visibility rounds”. Updates have organic benefits in terms of attracting new players and keeping an existing audience engaged, but they’re also looked upon favorably by Steam.
Video game PR
Outside of Steam’s visibility rounds, your PR strategy will be vital to drive traffic to your game. Many game developers don’t do their due diligence when it comes to PR companies, and we hinted at how this can go horribly wrong earlier. The gaming community is typically heavily engaged and well-educated—if something doesn’t meet their expectations, you may have wasted your only chance to impress.
And that’s exactly what happened to indie studio Kickbomb Entertainment, who risked their reputation with Steam by employing a PR company with a history of shady tactics. The PR company was soliciting Steam Greenlight votes with free game keys, something extremely frowned upon. To avoid picking a bad PR company, leverage your network to better understand which you can trust based on positive referrals.
Once you do get in contact with PR companies, make sure they explicitly lay out to you what they’ll do and how they’ll do it when it comes to promoting your game. With so many options for gamers to choose from, one slip up could be all it takes for members of your target audience to rule out playing yours.
Collaborate with gaming influencers
We’ve talked about giveaways and other Steam advertising tactics. But how do you promote outside of Steam itself? Gaming influencers are the answer. Partnering with gaming influencers whose audience matches your target audience is a great way to expand on positive reviews of your game by Steam Curators.
We discussed the foolproof Steam game marketing strategy of giving away Steam Keys. The perfect way of leveraging Steam Key giveaways is with influencers, either through Curator Connect or externally. Much like the logic behind Steam Curators generally, influencers offer access to an audience who trust their every word. Influencers playing your game on Stream and having fun doing it—while offering Steam keys for players to play themselves—makes it difficult for gamers not to take interest in your game.
Gleam.io is a great platform to implement these giveaways with influencers in an accessible way. Let’s look at some examples of Steam marketing using influencers.
Warlords Awakening—a Korean MMORPG game—wanted to enter the US and Canada markets, specifically via Steam. Recruiting hyper-targeted YouTube and Twitch micro-influencers to produce content in a variety of formats (dedicated video, short integrations, etc.) generated an impressive 4.5% clickthrough rate, with an engagement rate of 6.5%.
See how Platinum Games recruited gaming influencers as it aimed to reach gamers across Steam:
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Influencers can also amplify other actions you take on your game, such as discounts or updates. Steam promotes these actions via Wishlists and discovery, but leveraging influencers will drive even more awareness and purchase intent to your game.
Plus, a recent Steam development has drastically improved your ability to measure the success of your Steam marketing campaigns. UTM analytics support has been added to Steam, allowing developers to see how much traffic their marketing campaigns are directing to their games’ store pages, and how many of those visitors buy the games or add titles to their wishlists.
There’s no doubting the importance of Steam marketing, particularly as the platform’s user base reaches record highs. As a direct response, the number of games on Steam is rapidly rising too. Steam itself does a good job of supporting your pre-launch, launch, and post-launch marketing efforts, but that can only take you so far without external amplification.
That’s where gaming influencers come in, creating momentum and hype around your game which in turn propels your game up the Steam rankings and creates explosions in awareness, Wishlists, and ultimately purchases. To maximize the reach of your influencer tactics, a comprehensive PR strategy is essential. Leveraging Steam Curators and respected voices in gaming media further fuels your momentum and also helps ensure you avoid common pitfalls which could damage your vital relationship with Steam and the wider gaming community.
CloutBoost is a full-service game marketing company driven by data. From PR to influencer marketing, we’ll leverage our gaming industry experience and insights to amplify your Steam marketing and drive success—long term.