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Selling Games
by Adam Saltsman on 05/24/13 01:57:00 pm   Expert Blogs   Featured Blogs

The following blog post, unless otherwise noted, was written by a member of Gamasutra’s community.
The thoughts and opinions expressed are those of the writer and not Gamasutra or its parent company.


Numbers and language are funny. For example, while the chance that YOU specifically will win the lottery is quite bad, the chances that SOMEONE, somewhere, will win the lottery, are almost 100%. Likewise, while it is very much in Steam’s (or any other distributor’s) best interest to sell loads of games all the time, there is absolutely no imaginable reason or justification for them to want to sell loads of copies of YOUR game specifically.

I am probably repeating myself at this point, but this is so important. When you are thinking about working with any distributor, take the time to put yourself in their shoes - does your game’s banner/logo/etc appeal to their core audience? Do you have impressive quotes from aligned press to show the appeal of your game? Figure out how to communicate to the distributor why your game will make THEIR service better. Most distributors want their app stores or whatever to improve, and so if you can align your game with that, then it should improve your chances at being recognized by them.

Basically, for most games, I do not think it is enough to just say “here’s my banner ad. where’s my free dump trucks of money??” I think it is better to say “hey, here’s this thing we’ve been working on, here’s the response its gotten so far, here’s some special art we designed especially to look amazing on your app store, here’s why your players will love this and share it with each other.” Essentially, here is why prominently displaying our game is good for this platform. Boiled down even further: featuring us will make your service better.

There are lots of ways to accomplish this; maybe you’ve homegrown your game to so much buzz that your game and its community have reached a point where they actually do speak for themselves pretty well. Maybe your game has some traits that really speak to the service’s core audience in an obvious and direct way. But if you don’t have a substantial community built up before you approach a distributor, and you don’t have a staggeringly obvious hook, then I think you should anticipate a lot of effort to get into and keep the spotlight.

This doesn’t have to be done in a gross, pandering or pejorative way, either. You can figure out how to do this in a way that makes sense for your game. This isn’t about trying to like invent some bullet points that you think will “sell” or whatever. This is about figuring out where the overlap is between what you care about and what the money-paying audience cares about. You can do this in a genuine and honest and heartfelt way.

You can figure out a way to communicate the value of your game in a way that is organic and completely authentic. I think it requires some patience and ingenuity, but it’s totally doable. And if you are trying to make money from your game by putting it up on some third party platform somewhere, then I think getting into this mindset early and often is … it’s very important. I don’t think I can overstate its importance.

Making a great game is, I think, a necessity for commercial success.But if you don’t bother figuring out how to tell both your audience and your distributors WHY the game is so great, then you are leaving a LOT up to chance. You may not have much (or any!) control over what people actually buy at the end of the day, but you have an enormous amount of control over whether or not you even try to talk to your audience.

So, tell us about your game. Just telling us it exists is probably not enough anymore. We’re busy and lazy. Pre-chew our food. Put yourself in our shoes, and figure out how to say something that somehow recreates in our minds part of what makes this thing so special in your mind.

Keep in mind, too, that the folks that run these distribution services are just people. So if you can figure out an efficient way of commuting the special something about your game to internet people, chances are you’ve just taken a big stride toward communicating with distributors too.

Finally, obviously, none of this is a necessity. And depending on your niche and your audience and your approach to making commercial games, maybe working with a distribution service is not even a part of your game plan, which is awesome. And maybe you’re not even interested in selling games, which is totally awesome too.


If you DO want to sell your games, I urge you to at least consider this view when you are moving forward with your business. Consider your own game from your imagined audience’s perspective, or even better, put it in front of them, and see what they think, see how they talk about it, see what THEY see in it. Consider your game from a distributor’s perspective. Find the sweet spot where your own personal interests and the interests of money-paying humans overlap. Spend time figuring out how to talk to them. Design your “marketing” the way you design your game, with love, and attention to detail, and humanity. Be honest and creative. Help the people who need your art to find it.

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Felipe Budinich
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I think this is important even when you don't want to sell your work, the last sentence sums it up.

Ryan Creighton
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Fair advice, but when you're talking about distributors like Steam and Apple, how do you talk to the platform owners? As a rule, Steam doesn't return calls or emails to unknowns, and Apple's an even tougher nut to crack.

Adam Saltsman
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this is a good question! it's actually pretty easy, in the scheme of things, it just takes a long time. there are a few different approaches to getting in touch with platform holders even if you are worried about being an "unknown":

1 - create your own buzz. build your own community, build things that are in some way inherently social or playful (maybe that means building one idea you love before another?), attend conferences/festivals, build as much hype as you can before launching, and do what you can to synchronize impact around your launch day. even without the platform holders blessing you may be able to chart, and get the platform holders attention that way.

2 - many of these platform holders are just humans who like videogames. talking to press, and obsessing over not just what you say about your work but how you say it, can catch people's attention. remember, a platform holder's job is to make their platform better. if you keep showing up in articles talking about your game in a way that makes it seem like a great find, i think platform folks react to that stuff.

of course, that begs the question "well how do i talk to the press then", and so on... turtles all the way down, in a sense. but that was always true for everyone at some point. i think this originally started on a gamasutra blog, this quote "miyamoto never had to work for press like this"? but of course he toiled in obscurity for like a decade or more, even at Nintendo!

So the lame but probably true answer is keep making things that a lot of people love, and being nice, and communicating as best as you can about your work, and eventually you WILL find your audience and people WILL respond. whether those people are in charge of Steam or the App Store or whatever is hard to say.

Fortunately, the indie game community has enough friendly people, and little enough competition, that when a game maker who DOES have hookups finds a game from an "unknown" that they want to champion, generally they'll do it. i ended up meeting apple because canabalt launched well even without their features or whatever, but i've been able to introduce a lot of indie devs to them. this starts to overlap with my last blog post though!

this was pretty rambly i apologize but hope it helped!

Ryan Creighton
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Thanks, Adam!

Ivan Hagar
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I don't even think it's just about indie games, or Steam, or Apple... I'd seen a lot of advertising for Fuse, from Insomniac. They changed the style, it looked like it was turning quite generic... I saw trailers, videos, and didn't know what to expect. Lots of people even gave up.

Forward to a few weeks ago, a demo is released, and it turns out to be a lot of fun. But people just didn't know. And we're talking about a console game, published by EA.

Adam Saltsman
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yea i think big games and big companies have this problem a lot. one of my favorite games of the last 5 years, VANQUISH, i completely ignored for the first couple of years it was out. what a waste!!