What makes a game visible on the Steam marketplace?

The simple answer: a game that is selling well is more visible on Steam.

The full answer lies in a number of tiered brackets that your game will want to land in. The higher it can land, the more visibility it can net, creating a snowball effect that can turn minor indie gamejams into a world-shattering success!

Here we’ll go over the factors that can influence how well your game does on Steam, and then group them together to form an overall plan.

Quality Steam Page

A Steam Store page is a game’s primary marketer. All other marketing, all other conversations, and everything about a game before or after release will inevitably lead to its Store page before a Wishlist or purchase.

It should go without saying that it needs to be of the absolute highest quality!

When to make a Steam page

As absolutely early as possible. As Chris from How to Market a Game says, you should go public with your Steam page the moment you have the genre confirmed and enough biomes to cut a cinematic or gameplay trailer.

This feels too early, you say! We’re not ready, you say! You can postpone creating the page on the Steam Store, however, this is missing out on potential wishlists and followers, which, as we’ll see, are everything to a Steam game. Steam demands that a page be public two weeks before launch, however, successful indie titles often post their Steam page only 20%-25% of the way through total development.

Apply that formula to your own game’s Design Document and roadmap, and see if it is, indeed, too early to post a Steam page.

Trailer & Screenshot Carousel

A trailer is the first actual media a potential player sees about a new game. On YouTube, on the Steam Store, on TikTok, or anywhere else. Steam suggests it shows direct gameplay, gets to the chase quickly, and accurately portrays the game at launch. This may be difficult to create only 20% of the way through the development cycle, and yet, gaining traction early is vital.

Not all trailers are identical, however. While your game’s first trailer might be cinematic (see the common complaint in the gaming industry about cinematic trailers that showcase little of the game) it should not be the same on every platform. On TikTok, one of the best places for indie game marketing in the modern age–whether you like it or not, get on there!–you only have 1 second to hook the viewer. Even half a second of fading from black can lose a potential viewer.

A similar case is true on your Steam page, though less harsh. Steam customers want to see gameplay and should be hooked fast, and will then investigate more through your Screenshot Carousel, and maybe, if you’re lucky, the description too.

Graphical Assets

Previously mentioned was that a trailer was the first media a potential player might see of a new Steam game, and this isn’t technically true. The images known as graphical assets are often seen first and are of the utmost importance to the success of a game on the platform.

In fact, the Steam Capsule, a small 616px x 353px image which is one of nearly a dozen you must create for your page, is so important, that it is strongly recommended that you do not make it yourself and hire a professional artist. How to Market your Game recommends spending $500 on this image, as it is the absolute first thing that markets your game, either on other Steam pages as the only thing drawing a customer to your own, or in the moments before your trailer loads while sifting through the Discovery Queue.

Other graphical assets are important, though not nearly that important. One last thing to mention on the Steam page is that long blocks of text are to be avoided like the devil, and using graphics or gifs to break up the game description is an excellent technique to ensure the customer is not immediately turned off from the novella just below the trailer.

Pre-launch

Before launching your game, Steam simply does not have sales data through which to measure your game, so it uses the next best thing: wishlists. Wishlists are key. Wishlists are comparative to sales in the first week of roughly 20% (the true range is 1.5-40%, but nearly 20% is always a safe bet). If five wishlists can all but guarantee a full sale in the first week, as long as the game doesn’t dramatically underdeliver, you’ll want as many as you can get.

Base Steam Visibility

This is the “cosmic background radiation” of Steam, to put it in perspective. It is the absolute minimum traffic your page will receive, and it is somewhere from 1 to 150 Wishlists a day. For a first-time developer’s game, unless they’ve managed to target a perfect niche or made something beautiful, 1-10 is most likely.

As you gain more wishlists, Steam will recommend your product more. If more external traffic comes to the page, Steam will push the page more. If many people follow the game on Steam, Steam will turn around and spread the news as well.

And so the snowball begins… and if it keeps rolling, Steam might just start pushing your game in the Discovery Queue.

Discovery Queue & More Like This.

This is a widget on the front page of Steam that gives the user a curated list of 10 games that the algorithm believes they will like. This is based on their previous playtimes, their recent purchases, and their other followed games. However, it only saves 1-2 of the 10 spots for unreleased games, so this will not be a major source of traffic. It is easier to get into than the next, however.

The More Like This widget is at the bottom of every Steam page, and if a game is doing decently well, it will begin to appear in this widget on other similar games on Steam.

Tags & Genre

Marketing a Steam game does not begin with the Steam page. It begins immediately with the very choice of game genre and game idea! Horror games will sell like cake on Steam, no matter how terrible, and party games and puzzle platformers will fall flat unless the developers completely reinvent the genre. This is the rule, though there are exceptions to be found in games like Blasphemous, whose art style alone garnered them incredible attention.

This is primarily because of the player-to-game ratio. If there are more games, each game is buried within the search filters further and further. If there are fewer players, there is less overall traffic to that genre or niche. Tagging your game effectively, or rather, creating a game whose tags are in high demand, will guarantee greater support for its inevitable launch.

Steam Next Fest

Almost every indie game will want to participate in the Steam Next Fest. Unless your game is entirely ruined by putting out a public demo, such as some styles of visual novels or other linear narratives, this is the point where that background traffic of organic Steam visibility can explode into constant Wishlists a day from 50-2000 or more, if you get featured on the front page, on IGN, on PCGamer, etc.

The Steam Next Fest requires signing up four or five months in advance with a full Steam page and trailer, which is often the bane of some indie developer’s projects. It also requires a public demo and 1-2 live streams of the developers playing the game, though it is recommended to pre-record these for safety.

At Launch

Everything leading up to launch is just speculation. There are many formulae with extensive and fluctuating research upon them, such as:

  • 1 Wishlist equating to 0.2 sales in the first week
  • 1 Follower equating to 2.5 sales in the first week
  • A Wishlist to Follower ratio of 9 or lower indicating hard but narrow support from fans
  • Week one sales translating to one-fifth of the sales in the first year on Steam.

All of these are estimates that lie in the middle of all released indie games and are just suggestions, and not rules. They are, however, not likely to be broken dramatically, and so Wishlists are the next best thing to a sale.

Once you do have sales, however, the Steam algorithm changes.

Popular Upcoming

If you cross a magic threshold of 7000-10,000 wishlists, depending on how much competition there is in that specific week, your game will land on the Popular Upcoming widget on the front page of Steam. Landing here can net you thousands of additional wishlists each day, and so that magic threshold can earn an equivalent number of sales.

The greatest widget in the first week, however, is based on Sales alone.

New & Trending

This widget is not only on the front page of Steam, it is visible by default and not through subheaders. If a user opens up Steam, then your game will be immediately in front of them. It is not hard to say that if your game has made it here, it has truly become a massive success.

To get there, however, is not an exact science, as Steam does not release their internal algorithm (because we developers would manipulate it to our benefit). Generally, crossing $250,000 USD in revenue will put your game on the US market’s front page, so this widget is not typically achievable by first-time developers.

Good luck all the same!

Discovery Queue

Remember the Discovery Queue? Now it is ten times as strong, and though it will push games that are already selling, it will continue to send your games to any player that the algorithm thinks might just be interested in it. Now that the game is released, it has ten times the chance to land in the Queue!

Post-launch

The first week of sales is massive, and in the vast majority of cases that will be the biggest day for the lifetime of the game. There are exceptions to the rule, and no game better represents that than Among Us, which attracted millions of players years after release. That first week, however, is often around 20% of the first year’s sales, and each year is, on average, more profitable than the next.

Getting the most out of the game after launch is key, however.

Sales

Wishlists do not lose all their value after that first week of sales, far from it. At launch, an email and Steam notification will be sent to every user who has wishlisted the game, which drives this first week. Afterward, the primary method of getting the remaining wishlists to convert (which may double in the first week) is by running significant sales.

Sales of 1-19% are useful, but these will not send any notification to your Wishlist roll. A sale of 20% and greater will cause this roll to become an automatic Steam newsletter, bringing a great deal of traffic to your page outright. The Steam marketplace is devoted to sales, and there exist many users who will only ever buy a game when it is 30%, 40%, 66%, or more discount!

Note: You cannot raise the price of your game and then discount it, and you cannot run two sales in a 30-day period. The exception being, of course, Steam’s worldwide sales!

Seasonal Sales

Four times each year Steam runs a massive sale in which all games are invited to participate, regardless of individual sale cooldown. Even if you do not, this will drive traffic to your page by the simple fact of there being more users on Steam. This sale is more powerful than individual sales, though if your game is priced above $20.00, individual sales such as the Summer Sale might see lesser returns. This specific sale often sees discounts of 75-95%, and your game might be undercut by another.

Announcements and Updates

As for the actual content of each game, each update can be combined with a notification and post that is sent to each game owner’s Library and the game’s Steam page as well. Additional traffic to your page, even from owners, can moderately boost Store performance, and frequent updates to a game show that it is a serious developer dedicated to their work, rather than an asset flip that is one-and-done.

Final Notes

The Steam marketplace is tricky to navigate, and first-time developers will often find at least one of these steps quite difficult. To summarize, to maximize visibility on Steam and the game’s eventual revenue, you should:

  • Pick a game in a genre with a good player to game ratio.
  • Create a Steam page early, with high-quality trailers and graphical assets.
  • Collect Wishlists like they’re as valuable as gold.
  • Publish a demo.
  • Participate in Steam Next Fest.
  • Announce and update your game regularly.

With each of these steps in mind, however, you can guarantee, at minimum, a great indie success!


 

Fungies.io helps game developers create their own storefronts or marketplaces to sell directly to players. Web2 and Web3 compatible.

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