Launching Steam Greenlight & KickStarter: One week in, top 25, and 50% funded
The thoughts and opinions expressed are those of the writer and not Gamasutra or its parent company.
I hate marketing.¬†I hate talking about it,¬†and I hate doing it.¬†I do however¬†like to be helpful to others in the indie developer community, if¬†in some small way¬†I can.¬†So here I am, talking about my¬†marketing experiences.¬†There is already so much advice out there on how to create successful Steam Greenlight and KickStarter campaigns.¬†I want to just plainly tell you what I have done, my thought process along the way, and the results I have seen in the form of actual analytics.
I am a solo developer that has¬†run a failed KickStarter, and a successful Greenlight campaign in the past. Both had zero marketing effort put into them, aside from the campaign pages¬†themselves. Both of these experiences have taught me a good amount about each platform's processes, which has helped a lot when developing my currently running campaigns for my newest game,¬†Trial by Viking.¬†One thing that¬†I have learned for instance, is that a KickStarter campaign¬†requires a huge amount of effort in order to reach your goal, and that Steam Greenlight depends almost entirely on your Greenlight page. Aside from the obvious reason, that one is soliciting money, and the¬†other is only soliciting votes, another main reason for this¬†is where your campaign's traffic comes from, which I will get into more detail about later in¬†this post.
I have been planning Steam Greenlight and KickStarter campaigns for¬†Trial by Viking¬†for close to a year now. I had planned to run the campaigns back in late 2014, but there has always been a reason to hold off for just one more month.¬†I firmly believe if I had launched back when I had originally planned to, I would not have found the level of success I have had so far. The game was not far enough along, and I don't yet have the¬†reputation that let's people know,¬†this game will eventually look better. I think¬†the less history you have, the farther along in your project you will have to be in order to prove to your backers that this game will be good. They need to see it. You need to show it to them.
If you are planning campaigns, hopefully you have been building some support for the game¬†long before your launch date. I have been trying to get the word out about Trial by Viking¬†since I started development in December of 2013, by sharing images and clips on social media, updating forum devlogs, and even going to tradeshows like GDC and E3. I've joined social media groups, like Indie Game Developers on Facebook, and made sure to keep my friends and family in the loop about what I have been working on as well.¬†It's a slow process, usually, but even a small initial blast of support can help snowball your project into a slightly bigger spotlight.
I, and probably most of you,¬†tend to believe the most important part of preparation, is putting together a really great looking video. I am lucky to be good friends with a really talented video producer, Joey Fameli (@joeyfameli¬†of tested.com), who helped me put together Trial by Viking's campaign videos. Everything from the music pacing, to how to draw audiences in to the game's world were carefully considered. I probably captured game footage¬†for this video 5 or 6 times, because I kept adding new things to the game that I thought looked cool, or were otherwise¬†important to show. Luckily I had invested in an¬†Elgato Game Capture HD device, which allows me to record HDMI video from one computer¬†onto a second computer somewhat painlessly. We used Adobe Premier to edit the footage and music into a pretty cool looking video of the game.
Another incredibly important, but sometimes neglected¬†piece of preparation is your "branding" images. This is the cover art of your project. It's the small image that people will have to click on in the KickStarter lists¬†or Steam Greenlight queue in order¬†to find out more about the project. Believe it or not, some people only¬†click on the ones that catch their eye, so this can be very important. If you are receiving less than stellar organic traffic for your projects, it may be due to your cover artwork not connecting with viewers. The cover artwork for Trial by Viking was created by the talented Nerijus Civilis (@FrontNC), and I feel very lucky about that.
I reached out to press and game casters (YouTubers, Twitch Streamers)¬†before launch. You should probably be building a press contact list all of the time. Very few press emails get opened, and even fewer get a response. The more people you send your game's news out to, the better. Just be sure the people you send emails to, cover the type of news you are trying to spread. For instance, don't send emails about a KickStarter project, to editors at sites that don't do KickStarter coverage. Be succinct, but include everything they will need, especially¬†a link to a presskit for press emails. While this could be a fluke, I find that plain text emails have better open rates than HTML formatted emails.
I used to send emails one by one, all individually written and personalized. I later realized that only 10% of my emails were even getting opened, and I am a one person studio with only a small amount of time. I finally gave in, and loaded everything I had into MailChimp's free version, a web application for managing mailing lists. It has a lot of helpful tools that allow you to categorize sections of your list, for instance marking contacts that would be interested in a crowdfunding campaign, or separating game broadcasters from press. It allows you to target your emails better, and even gives you some analytics about open and click rates.¬†I also made sure to have all of my launch day emails drafted before hand. Launch day is¬†a hectic day, and you won't want to waste any time.
One of the people I had reached out to, Vinny Parisi at Indie Game Mag, let me know about a great program they run for indie developers. About twice per month, they select an upcoming¬†KickStarter campaign, where if you allow them to tack vouchers for a free digital copy of the magazine onto one or more of your reward tiers, they will keep your KickStarter tracking/linking¬†widget on the side of their¬†website, as well as help promote your project through social media and the magazine. The catch is that they get¬†$1.50 of the raised money per Indie Game Mag voucher given, so you wouldn't want to tack this reward on too low of a tier. It's a great idea, because you pay nothing up front, and nothing at all if the campaign doesn't fund. It's the best kind of advertising, if you want to think of it that way. You and the magazine's interests are aligned.
Much like your game, get as much feedback as you can about your KickStarter and Greenlight pages. People will point out things that you never would have thought about yourself, because you have been working so closely with¬†the project for so long. It's almost like you have been looking at this thing through a microscope, but don't always see the big picture without a little help from someone who knows nothing about the project, except what they read on your page. This can be huge.
I have been building up a collection of¬†animated gifs, screenshots, and video of the project. Campaign pages with lots of great media look way better.¬†Consider saving some of what you have for your campaign updates as well. People generally don't want to share just your campaign text on their site, blog, or social media, they want to share a cool looking image, or awesome new video.
If you are a single unknown person¬†asking for more than 10K, you are going to have a very tough hill to climb. If you need to ask for more than you think you can raise, you may need to hire help. I've known fellow indie developers that had a good amount of luck using well known PR Firms to promote their campaigns. Hiring help is a big risk of course, because you will have to pay them whether you fund or not. I decided to take the hard road and not hire any help, but I am seeking a relatively small amount compared to many other campaigns. My campaign is more of a KickFinisher than a KickStarter, so my funding requirements are luckily pretty low.
Launching Your Campaigns
The start and end of your campaign will be the biggest in terms of backer¬†pledges, and it's well known that the most organic pledges on KickStarter happen in the afternoon Tuesday through Thursday, so it's a great time to start and end your campaign.¬†People also often mention trying to schedule campaigns with payday dates in mind (the 1st and 15th for a lot of people), as well as events that relate to your game's content. For instance, it may have been smart for me to schedule my campaigns in October during¬†Leif Erikson Day, an annual American observance honoring the first Norse explorers to set foot in The New World. You may be able to relate the story of your campaign launch to news about the national event, making your campaign more easily write-about-able. Also be sure to give yourself a 3 day buffer, as suggested by KickStarter, in case they need to review your campaign page before launch. Steam Greenlight¬†doesn't seem to review new campaigns before they launch, so there isn't anything to worry about there.
I launched the campaigns for Trial by Viking simultaneously on Tuesday around 10am PST. I had my website update ready to upload at the click of a button.¬†I entered the link to my KickStarter campaign into kicktraq.com, which begins them tracking your campaign's progress, as well as pulls in a few visitors.¬†I then sent personal emails to everyone who had responded to my pre-launch email. I also sent out an email to all of my friends and family, then to all of my press contacts, and then to all of my game broadcaster contacts with a link to a press demo included, then to everyone else. Be very specific if you have not-yet-public stuff that you are sending out. Some people may post everything you give them right away, whether or not you mention those things¬†are not yet public.¬†I also sent out a press release to the few websites that I know will post¬†game-related press releases for free (BluesNews, IndieDB, GamesPress, and of course,¬†Gamasutra).
My next step was to post on social media, and then share some of those posts with certain social media groups. The better looking your post is, the more likely people will comment on it, and each time people comment on it, it moves back to the top chronologically in people's feeds. Posts with hundreds of comments will have thousands of more views than posts with only a few comments. Sites like Twitter and Facebook are similar to¬†a forum in that way. It may make sense not to reply to comments immediately, solely for this reason. I then made posts on each of my devlogs, and in every forum I belong to that has a space for these types of announcements. There are a lot of forums out there, but many do not like self promotion, or at least want you to be a regularly contributing member of the community before making a self promoting post.¬†The rest of the day involved a lot of responding to¬†emails and comments from all over the internet.
You will want to keep posting updates everywhere you can for the rest of the campaign, at a reasonable pace¬†of course. You don't want to annoy people, and you don't want to keep posting the same thing. You will want something new to show each time preferably, and when you can, retweet/share other people's posts about your campaign. It's a little less spammy when it's someone else promoting your work for a change. My point is, don't stop running.
I had raised 30% of my funding goal in the first 24 hours. Only 10% of this came organically through KickStarter, and the other 90% was from external sources. A large piece of this was from friends and family, but a good amount was by people from all over the internet excited about the game. At some point within the first day, I received a notification that my project was selected as a Staff Pick by KickStarter. This makes a great announcement, but does not bring in a whole lot of extra traffic on its own (Unless this is also what gets you on the New and Noteworthy list, in which case it may get you a couple thousand more views at the start of your campaign). Trial by Viking¬†receives about one backer per day from the Staff Picks section of KickStarter. The majority of organic traffic via KickStarter comes from the regular old Games section, which brings in something like 10 backers per day. These result will no doubt vary wildly depending on your campaign's presentation, but the ratio when comparing one to the other may be similar for most¬†game projects.
The first day is usually the biggest, and the time in¬†between the start and end of your campaign can be a slow-moving slog. Getting coverage from sites and¬†game broadcasters can help however. gameranx.com, a well known gaming website that I had reached out to, posted about the project on their front page,¬†which was awesome! Thanks Ian and Holly! I also got in touch with The Real Indie (@TheRealIndie), an awesome Twitch partner that I had met earlier in the year at GDC Play. He agreed to have me live on stream that Friday while he played the demo and asked me questions. I am completely new to being on live Twitch streams, so it was a weird, but ultimately very cool experience. I kept trying to type answers to questions in chat instead of just answering them with my voice on the Skype call (such a¬†noob). I met some really great people though, and learned that¬†Twitch¬†streaming can be pretty damn fun.
By Saturday, the Trial by Viking Steam Greenlight campaign had hit the Greenlight top 100. So¬†cool! I was basically flipping out at this point. So many positive comments about the game were posted, which trust me, is not always the case. My previous campaign for a different game had a few people ripping in to it pretty hard, and honestly looking back, they were right on a lot of things. Haters gonna...¬†occasionally be right on point in their analysis of your work. By Monday evening Trial by Viking¬†had reached a rank of #22¬†on the Steam Greenlight top 100. I am humbled¬†and amazed that so many people are actually¬†excited about this¬†thing that I have been quietly putting countless hours into¬†over these past two years.
Just look at that the #5 game's trajectory¬†though!
Now for the analytics. I had connected both campaigns to Google Analytics before launch, something I highly recommend. It can give you great insights into which of your efforts paid off, and which have been utterly futile. It shows you where your web traffic came from.
First,¬†let's look at¬†the KickStarter campaign.
Less than¬†65% of the KickStarter campaign visitors were¬†primarily English (US or GB) speaking. This is not to say that the other 35% don't speak English, but just that their OS is set to a language other than English.
The large majority (94%) of campaign visitors were on Windows (80%),¬†Mac (12%), or Linux (2%). It seems that most people viewing the project, and possibly on KickStarter as a whole, are not viewing from mobile or tablet apps.
84% of visitors were classified as Direct Traffic, meaning, they came from KickStarter, or the URL was entered directly into their browser (I believe). You can see that the majority of these views (54%) came from the New and Noteworthy category, so I can't count on that part of the¬†traffic to continue, moving forward.
10% of visitors were classified as Referrals, meaning, they came from outside of KickStarter, but not from a social media website. You can see that the top referrer was BlueNews, coming in at¬†10% of all referrals.
About 5% of visitors were classified as Social Media, meaning, they came from a social media website (of course). You can see that the majority came through Twitter (53%), second place from Facebook (34%), and a good chunk from Google+ (7%), which I never even posted to personally. Google+ might be a place I should put some future effort.
Then just over 1% came from Organic Search, meaning, through search engines like Google.
Now let's look at the same data for the Steam Greenlight campaign.
90% of the Steam Greenlight campaign visitors were primarily English (US and GB) speaking. As before, this is just assumed by the set language of the visitor's OS.
99% of campaign visitors were on Windows (93%), Mac (5%), or Linux (1%). I would expect nothing less, because this is Steam we are talking about after all, and on top of that, the Steam mobile app doesn't seem to have¬†Greenlight access built in to it.
46% were classified as Referrals, but about 90% of those referrals came from Steam, so this is a bit misleading. I believe this was recorded this way, because the Store part of Steam is treated as a separate website from the Community part of Steam, and Greenlight resides in the Community part of Steam. The majority of the rest of the referral traffic¬†came from sources that I had nothing to do with. It seems like if the Steam community likes your project, they will help spread the word a little bit, because they are awesome and want to help games they are excited about.
45% of traffic was classified as Direct, and I believe 99% of that was from the normal Greenlight queue, but I am not 100% sure.
8% of traffic came from Organic Search, but the search keywords don't seem to have been recorded, so this isn't much help.
Only 1% came from Social Media. This makes sense somewhat, since most of my social media posts have been KickStarter related, and KickStarter has the¬†built in advantage of asking people to share the project on social media after they back it. Every article and blog post I have seen so far, had both links.¬†I have the Steam Greenlight link plastered everywhere I can myself as well, including at the top and bottom of the KickStarter page, but people don't seem to click through¬†those for the most part.
Since almost all of the Steam Greenlight traffic was generated by Steam Greenlight itself, getting into the top 100 seems to¬†depend almost entirely¬†on the presentation of your Greenlight page. That's my take on it anyways. It makes sense, since visitors generally need to know what Greenlight is and¬†have an account to log in to, in order to¬†vote.¬†I love the idea of that, because it minimizes the marketing spend factor by a large margin, and ranks games largely on their apparent merits as judged¬†by actual game buyers. That's what I'd like to believe anyways.
TBV KickStarter Link:¬†https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/lastlifegames/trial-by-viking
TBV Steam Greenlight Link:¬†http://steamcommunity.com/sharedfiles/filedetails/?id=499233468
I hope at least part of this was helpful in some way. Thanks for listening.