The Steam Summer Sale is a big deal. Both for gamers who go crazy with all the discounts, but also for developers who see their sales skyrocket. It’s such a big deal that we actively take the Summer and Christmas sale periods into account when making plans. We did sell more copies than our other three games when they launched on Steam, but it wasn’t smooth sailing by any means and I hope this post will help others who are thinking of doing the same.
Before I continue, it’s important to note that developers can get some inside information on the Summer Sale, but even in this case Valve Time kicks in and there are no guarantees. The original plan was to release Toki Tori 2+ on July 2nd. We added and tweaked quite a bit to make it worthy of the + monicker over the original Wii U release and felt comfortable that we would make that date. We did not know when the Summer sale would be when we announced that date. It could have been late July or even August, but once we learned it would be July 11th, we had a problem.
The biggest thing during the Steam sales is always when your game is promoted as a daily deal. The clearly visible front page mention of your game is the single biggest factor in driving sales. A new game has a bigger chance of hitting this spot, so we knew we had to go for it. The thing is, Valve needs the daily deal to be a really good deal. They haven’t said this in so many words, but my take is that it has to have the highest discount on your title yet in order to be considered. And we knew we had a shot of being featured on the opening day.
If we would have launched on the 2nd, our launch discount would have to be lower than the one offered during the Summer Sale just nine days later. Basically this would mean our early adopters, the ones who stuck with us during our protracted development period, would be screwed over. We couldn’t tell them to wait until the Summer Sale because we cannot disclose that information before it starts. So we had to pick between skipping the Summer Sale altogether and hope our initial sales spike on the 2nd would be enough, or we had to combine the two, which is what we decided on in the end.
I strongly believe that the most important marketing you do is during development, to get into people’s minds and make them want the game. The launch moment is mostly just letting already excited players know that they can press the buy button. This was going to be a challenge because our launch would definitely be less interesting than the news of the Summer Sale starting.
The Summer Sale starts a bit after the people at Valve wake up, which In Europe is during our early evening. We decided to focus on the moments before the summer sale, since we knew the rest of the development community wouldn’t use that time, giving us a shot at getting the word out. So instead of ‘out now!’, the news we brought was to be ‘out today!’. We asked reviewers to post their reviews the day before, so most people knew about the release beforehand.
We also planned on making the most out of the fact that we have existing players on Steam. We’ve got three other games on Steam, which have given us about 300.000 unique customers. We updated those games with Toki Tori 2+ banners and about 50.000 people are in various Game Groups that we can use to send direct messages to. To make sure we got the word out to the rest as well we decided to reward every single customer with one or more 10% off coupons, based on how many of our games they own on Steam, to be given out the moment the game went live.
Unfortunately almost nothing went according to our carefully laid out plan; only a few reviews were posted ahead of the game’s launch, the summer sale date being the 11th was leaked, Steam’s servers were down for most of the evening, the coupons were sent out at a snail’s pace and there was nothing we could do about any of those.
- do not rely on outside technology when promoting your game
We went through what we refer to as Coupon Hell during the duration of the Summer Sale. For some still unknown reason, the loyalty coupons we had promised our existing customers were going out just a few hundred or so every hour. It was excruciating to watch the numbers of granted coupons shown on Steam’s back-end almost match the amount of complaints we received. It took about two weeks to get mostly everyone their coupons, so in the end I believe it actually hurt the sales momentum as people started waiting on their coupons to arrive instead of buying it instantly.
- try to turn a potential problem into a marketing tool
Instead of seeing the fact that no-one knew when the Summer Sale would start as a problem, we could have turned into something good. We could have communicated that we’d launch the game at the start of the Summer Sale, linking the two events in people’s minds and perhaps generating some interest ahead of time. I am not sure if Valve would have agreed but:“Toki Tori 2+ to launch at opening day of Steam Summer Sale” is a heck of a lot more interesting than “Toki Tori 2+ delayed again, but trust us it’s for a good reason”.
- communication in a time of discount madness is difficult
While we had sent out press releases and prepared our fans for what was to come, we did not communicate to the rest of the public that we had launched a new title during the Summer Sale. People scan the front page for deals and although our 34% off is a great deal for a just launched game, compared to 66% or even 80% off it doesn’t look that desirable. Perhaps a banner ‘NEW RELEASE’ would have helped, but it’s still a tough sell I think.
- take the steam sales even more into account when planning
Even if we had launched on the 2nd of July, my guess is that many people would be saving up for the inevitable Steam Summer Sale to arrive. We could and quite frankly should have considered this more, perhaps launching a few weeks earlier to avoid the conflict. Having your first day sales spike and the Summer Sale spike separate is definitely the preferable situation in my opinion.