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Why your niche game might need survival mechanics to survive on Steam

March 17, 2017 | By Bryant Francis

What components does a game need to have in order to find runaway success on Steam?

It’s the million-dollar question on developers’ minds these days—and truth be told, if we had the answer, we probably wouldn’t be in the business of asking it to every developer we meet these days. But after the recent success of Shiro Games’ Northgard, an Early Access title that shot to the top of the Steam charts a couple weeks ago, we wanted to know what helped guide an unfinished game to that kind of success. 

The truth is, as Shiro Games co-founder Sebastien Vidal told us on the Gamasutra Twitch stream today, they don’t know precisely why Steam players latched onto their game, but they were happy it happened anyway (they barely have a marketing budget, it turns out).

Still, Vidal did make one point we thought was useful for game developers—that it helps to take inspiration from popular games on a platform and try to make them work with what you’re passionate about. In particular, Vidal says that Shiro Games added Northgard’s weather and calendar system to try and add a sense of gameplay pressure that’s similar to survival games popular on Steam. 

Why do that? “If you look at the sales numbers for any game with survival [mechanics] on Steam….that’s your answer,” he deadpanned. 

Slight joking aside (Vidal clarified that he thinks the game's success is also due to an open gap for real-time-strategy games at the moment), Vidal explained that he himself is also a fan of survival mechanics, but just didn’t place high value on the grinding mechanics. Still, he and his team took what they liked from what was popular on Steam, and implemented it in Northgard

If you’re looking for some slightly more practical marketing advice, Vidal says he thinks they got a lot of success by carefully selecting their first screenshots on the Steam marketplace. “It might sound stupid, but the first picture people see, that’s what may make people buy the game.” So if you’re about to try and get on Steam, some A/B testing of the screenshots you choose to use may be advisable. 

Be sure to watch the full conversation with Vidal above for some insights on strategy game balance, and subscribe to the Gamasutra Twitch channel for more developer interviews and gameplay commentary. 

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