How to choose the right time to publish a game page on Steam

For God’s sake, don’t announce your game and start a Steam page for it as soon as you start development.

Over the past year, I’ve been thinking a lot about the best strategy for announcing a new game. There seem to be two opposing views on this. On the one side, Mike Rose gave a detailed talk at the GDC on how to run a page effectively: Steam Wishlist GDC.

In this talk, he listed many different reasons to put a lot of effort into creating a super-quality Steam page and even localizing it. He theorized that the Steam algorithm “looks at your game” after it’s announced, and that it needs to be shown in a good way.

On the other hand, the marketing specialist Chris AdventureMtn wrote an article “Yes, you need to create a Steam page right now,” in which he essentially recommends publishing the page as soon as you start tweeting about the game, even when it does not have final graphics, etc.: Yes you need to create a Steam page right now.

Chris says that Mike’s theory about the algorithm learning the game is wrong, and this has been confirmed by Valve. Chris’ calculation is simple: the longer a game is on Steam, the more time it has to get into wishlists. Valve has even published a graph that statistically confirms this.

But I’ve come to a fairly confident opinion that while it’s better to have a Steam page well in advance, it’s almost never a good idea to announce a game and create a game page that looks underdeveloped. Here are some reasons:

1. While the algorithm does not “punish” games that perform poorly at release, it does rewards games that are currently popular. High-traffic games are organically shown to more users in different places on Steam. Silent appearance = no free recommendations.

2. First impression matters. If potential players, the press, platforms, and influencers see a mediocre-looking version of your game, then some of them necessarily will decide that they are not interested in it (see the cognitive distortion “the effect of the first impression”). You are putting yourself at a disadvantage in the fight to get them to change their mind.

3. Launching a page on Steam gives you an influx of initial traffic because the game shows up in user searches and the like, and Steam literally gives them the tools to show they’re not interested. You need to try to attract as many of them as possible, because some of them will never see your page again!

4. Nothing is more demoralizing than launching a Steam page for a game and then watching it hit 0-5 wishlists a day and knowing that it takes tens of thousands to have a chance at success. Being demoralized is not a very good state to run a game release marathon.

The fact is that there is a paradox here: you want to launch the page on Steam as early as possible, but you want it to look as high quality as possible. I think the solution here lies in actively investing in the appearance of the game already in the early stages of development. For many of us, especially for me, this will be a major shift in worldview!

When developing my next game, I will be investing more heavily in core graphics, in a “vertical slice” containing enough polished content to record video and screenshots that look like it’s ready for release. Until then, my Steam page will not work.

Are there any exceptions? Yes, it’s likely that some games win or lose by concept rather than appearance. But I don’t see any benefit in posting a mediocre looking game on Steam.

Summarize:

Costs: Announce your game at least a few months before release.

Costs: wait until you have great main graphics, great screenshots, great description text, and ideally a great trailer, and only then officially announce the game and publish the page on Steam.

Costs: carefully consider and plan the announcement of the game and do everything possible to simultaneously attract the attention of the press, streamers, existing audiences and all those who are ready to hear this news. This stream of concurrent traffic can make a big difference.

Not worth it: Publish a page on Steam with a few first drafts of graphics, a first draft of the description, and low-quality screenshots. Chances are good that your ad will go unnoticed and you will find yourself in a vicious cycle of depression.

Additional tips from Mike:

— On average, old wishlists convert into sales much worse than new ones

– Publishers don’t want to publish games that already have a Steam page

— Among the audience there is fatigue from the hype

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