How to gain wishlists for your indie game

The Big Ticket

Wishlists. If you’ve just dipped your toes into indie development on Steam, you might not have heard of them; for longtime developers, they are both the bane of our existence and the greatest desideratum for any game.

Steam wishlist for indie game
You can rank on Upcoming Release high if you have a lot of Wishlists

Just how much do wishlists matter?

When a Steam user adds a game to their wishlist, they sign up for updates and emails following the game’s launch and following sales for all of its time on Steam. As a developer, this is the greatest marketing tool one can hope to harness, and several reliable formulae can accurately predict a game’s sales before launch. Additionally, Steam will direct additional traffic to a page that already is performing well, compounding on success.

For example, a wishlist converts to a sale in the first week at a median of 18%, which means, that if you have 10,000 wishlists at launch, you can expect 1,800 sales in the first week. In truth this can vary wildly, it is much safer to assume a range of 7% – 25%, and even that is a rule that can be broken, but it is extremely rare for it to be broken dramatically. A game can flop and see 1%, and some hits can score 30%+! All of these formulae are averages, and so are highly conjecture, but when a game deviates from the norm, it usually does not do so by much

This compounding effect on Steam’s visibility means that the more wishlists you have, the more Steam brings your way. (See Popular Upcoming)

Wishlist is not everything though, you need an indie game website to rank high on Google’s SEO!

Ahead, we will look at a number of popular methods of accruing wishlists for your upcoming indie Steam title. These are ordered roughly by stage of development, from initial idea to full release. 

Note: Wishlists do matter after release, but sales and the wishlist conversion ratio are more useful metrics once a game has started making sales.

Game Announcement

Trailer & Steam Page

The first time the public will see your game after early development might be in short teasers, hints in trailers, or the like, but you will only start gathering wishlists once the Steam page goes live. You do not need a trailer to post a Steam page, but launching it without one leaves the page ill-fitted to the Steam user’s attention span.

The Capsule Art (the piece on the right, above the reviews) is so important to wishlists, sales, and overall visibility, that the average indie dev spends $300 on commissioning it alone!

Put gifs or fanciful headers in the description. Cut a cinematic trailer of the best bits of your game—ideally gameplay, but it may be too early to show that off at this stage-–and spend some time on this page! All later efforts to gather wishlists will only direct users to this page. They must then still take the final step and press that button.

A Caveat

Some games see breathtaking game announcements, seeing their indie titles garnering hundreds of wishlists in the first two weeks if not thousands. Others find only dozens. In the end, some game genres take readily to fanciful trailers and screenshots, and others catch a player’s attention only when raw gameplay finds their hands.

It may be easy to tell which type of game you have, be it focused on atmosphere and graphical fidelity, or gameplay mechanics and overlying systems, though there are outliers in every case.

Notify the Fans

If this is not your first indie game, or you have a social media following from previous projects, trailers, tutorials, or absolutely anything at all, tell them! 

Tell your family, your friends, discord communities that curate similar games, and any who will listen. Not only will it boost the page’s numbers, but their feedback will help along the lengthy road from here to release!

Additionally, begin collecting those fans that do find your game, so that throughout development and future projects, you can build a following. A mailing list, (I use Mailerlite), a discord server for your community, a Youtube channel, et cetera. A vast majority of indie developers quit after only one game, despite the compounding knowledge and following that accrues for repeat developers. This is despite the statistics showing the reward of dedication.

The mega-publisher Devolver Digital disclosed that an average of 60% of their sales come from games made in previous years. The developers of Wolfenstein at id Software once released multiple indie titles in the same year to little fanfare, banking less than $5000 apiece… and yet, skills were trained and more games were made!


Dwarves, by Ichinhamma

Social Media


This one is random but powerful. You must follow the rules of specific subreddits, and even then, you will have posts removed arbitrarily. Post now and again to the large subreddits, such as r/indiegames, r/gaming, and r/games, but you may have more success targeting specific niches that apply to the specific game being marketed. For example, r/skeletons for a game about the dead, r/roguelikes, r/cozysimulators, etc.


Twitter is hit-or-miss. It is more likely that you will be posting solely to other indie developers and will gain little traction. This is a social media that may significantly boost the publicity of games whose main selling points are visual, and it will be nearly pointless for games that need to be played rather than watched. If you are already making assets for other social media, however, it does not hurt to crosspost here.


This platform is still around and powerful as ever. You may curate a page for your game, for your game studio, or even for your subgenre, and post about it regularly. Think of it as a pseudo-blog that is more official than Twitter but requires less commitment than a full blog, and is less personal than a Discord channel.

Do make a discord channel, however. You’ll get at least one or two dedicated playtesters if not dozens.


This surprised me in my first marketing campaign, but TikTok is singlehandedly the best platform for indie developer marketing in the modern day. It requires some knowledge of the mechanics of the platform, i.e. creating videos that cut immediately to action and gameplay within the first frame, not the first few seconds, but with practice and repeated tries, it can return thousands or hundreds of thousands of views.

What’s more, this platform does not bias suggestions to established accounts, meaning that a new post from a new account has close to the same shot at becoming viral. The drawback, however, is that you cannot put a hard link to your page upon TikTok until you attain 1000 followers, meaning that until then the CTR of this platform will be inferior.


If your indie game has an ad budget, or if you’re still questioning the viability of ads, all of these platforms are good places to start. Test different ads with small buys, try different target audiences, different ad types and visuals, and different prompts. (This is called A/B testing.)

If you can attain a low rate of cents-per-wishlist that is profitable when compared to how much a wishlist might earn you, you are winning the ad game!

Public Demo Release

Talk about how important it is. Indie devs have started in the last couple of years to place the demo release earlier and earlier in their development cycles. The Steam Next Fest has become the single most important marketing beat in the Steam indie world, and despite its recent overpopulation, the median game’s net wishlist is still increasing. 

Unless your game’s experience is significantly hampered by any demo, such as a short, linear narrative experience, release a demo!


The Steam Next Fest requires roughly four months of advance enrollment; the Steam page will need to be approved and published by then. The release of the demo, however, can happen at any arbitrary time beforehand, with the only exception being that a game can only participate in one Next Fest. To maintain a game’s hype and not prolong the development cycle, the ideal time is 1-2 months beforehand.

If your game can attract significant wishlisting from the demo alone, the Next Fest algorithm may just pick it up and place it high on the front page for your respective genre. These numbers vary by Fest and competition, but if you can garner 4000 wishlists in the month before the Fest, you can expect to at least flirt with the front page throughout the Fest! Below is shown data from a game that did just that.

Hit indie ZERO Sievert’s Wishlisting Data

The Five Marketing Beats

Any game will have five major marketing beats. There may be significant moments besides, such as trailer or partnership announcements, significant ad buys, festival participation, or the like, but every game has these five. When they happen, post everywhere, tell everyone, and ensure the maximum possible reach!


When your game’s first trailer releases, you will get initial reactions to your game. Take notes of what stands out to players; post visuals, gifs, and videos of this often. Listen to feedback from players, but don’t take it literally; players know how a game feels, but not what is truly wrong with it.

Crosspost this trailer across multiple social media, cut a version for TikTok, and attract your first following. If these posts begin to go viral, a trick from Chris at HowToMarketAGame suggests that you “trade up” visibility, offering to PcGamer or similar articles to cover the trailer or game information. The more viral the game; the more attention it gets.

Play your cards right and you might trade up to IGN coverage.


For most games, trading up isn’t possible. If visuals aren’t selling your game, it will need to be the demo that does. Games like Factorio, Crypt of the Necrodancer, or similar gameplay-focused games will not explode into viral attention from a trailer alone, rather, they will off of first impressions.

Send this demo to indie streamers, YouTube channels, and other content creators en masse. Be honest and respectful, include a direct link to the gameplay of the game, and for bonus points, provide a link to a presskit in online storage with game artwork that can be used for splash screens or thumbnails. Creators love it when game-devs make their lives easy!

Popular Upcoming

This widget will be the single most powerful source of pre-launch wishlists. If you accumulate enough wishlists to place on this widget a week before launch, your game will appear on the front page of Steam, and you can expect 1000-2000 wishlists a day

Placing on it, however, is not an exact science. The common paradigm among indie devs on Steam is that having 7,000 wishlists is the minimum, but in truth, the competition matters more. If other games releasing that week all have 12,000 wishlists, you will only appear on Popular Upcoming for a short time, if at all. This brings us to the next point.

Release Date

Announce your release date with as much fanfare and celebration and crossposting as the initial announcement, and then some. Be careful, however, to plan this away from other major releases—and particularly—away from groups of releases or large sales. Unless your game is already topping the charts, or you have little chance of hitting 7000 wishlists and just want to release a small game to move on to the next, your chances of placing on Popular Upcoming depend solely on these factors.

You cannot change your release date within two weeks of launch without massive penalties from Steam, so look ahead regularly on to plan the ideal time for your game.

Game Launch

For small games, the launch will more than quadruple all wishlists accumulated up until that point in the first day or two. For larger games, the focus will instead be on wishlist conversion. This is when you see the fruits of your labour, after all!

Hazard Pay, by Smitner Studio

Wishlisting Data

As shown above, it is generally true that wishlists do not “age”, at least, to any significant degree. This lifetime conversion rate, which is how many wishlists gained before and after launch that converts to sales, is cited by Steam to be a global average of 13%. As long as your game did not take years to develop, (which is ill-advised for first-time developers) a wishlist from the launch of the Steam Page is generally as promising as one the day before launch.

That being said, where previously the formula to focus on was wishlists to week one sales, the next is week one sales to year one sales. See some hard data and formulae here, but as a summary, you can expect a median of 5 times week-one revenue in year-one revenue and one review per 33 sales. 

Altogether, marketing an indie Steam game is a time-consuming effort, and solo developers or small times should spend no less than 20% of the development time marketing it and preparing for the final release. By doing this, they can ensure the maximum reach their game can achieve, and with it, a successful launch!

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

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