Inside a Steam Free Weekend
The thoughts and opinions expressed are those of the writer and not Gamasutra or its parent company.
In the last eight months my team has run a Kickstarter campaign, a month long open alpha event, launched on Steam's Early Access and done our best to market and promote each of these events. The Kickstarter tanked, the open alpha started strong but lost momentum quickly, and we entered Early Access with a whimper, rather than a bang. No matter what we did there didn't seem to be any way to attract large numbers of players to our multiplayer game. Finally, last week we caught a break. Grimoire: Manastorm enjoyed a free weekend where tens of thousands of new players tried our game. Today, I will share our free weekend numbers.
Before we dig into the numbers I want to explain a few things: Grimoire: Manastorm is a multiplayer-only indie game (strike 1). It does not target an existing die-hard market like Insurgency (strike 2). We have absolutely no money to market it (strike 3). As you might imagine these factors have lead to a journey of hardship and woe. Despite this, we've found people who absolutely love the game, playing for hours each day for weeks at a time. There are more than a few of these people, and they are the reason we've continued developing the game. Please keep those factors in mind when reviewing the numbers.
These are Grimoire's free weekend traffic numbers measured against other efforts we've made...
The free weekend drove more traffic to our store page than the previous six months of effort combined.
Interestingly, we had an essentially stealth free weekend: no news post from Valve and extremely limited press coverage (one RPS article, no streamers/lets players). Which means that traffic is almost purely from users finding the game through their Steam Library. In fact, we had many players e-mailing us to complain that they didnt even know they could play our game. One steam user e-mailed, "If you have another free weekend please have Steam do some promotion beforehand. If they were supposed to this time round, it didn't happen and you should get your money back." and he was hardly alone. Of course we don't blame Valve for this. We were told before hand that we would need to market this weekend ourselves, and we did our best via press release earlier that week. Staying true to our track record, not much came of it.
Next lets look at the download numbers...
Even though the timespan for the Open Alpha was longer. better marketed through news site postings, and had an incredibly popular lets play video: the free weekend results completely eclipsed the open alpha effort. It is worth mentioning that we ran out of keys mid-month for the alpha, but even with that limiting factor its clear the free weekend far outperformed a better-marketed event.
I won't share specific sales numbers at this time (although I may in a future post), but I will say that during the Steam Free Weekend we sold nearly triple the number of copies we sold in our first week on Early Access. If you're a struggling Indie developer and your game has a strong multiplayer player component that warrants a free weekend, definitely try to secure one. I won't go over how to achieve this here, please contact Valve if you have questions about how and when you can run free weekends. And good luck!