Steam Greenlight: how I got Memoir En Code greenlit in 6 weeks
Sorry for the radio silence, I’ve spent the last week in Norway making games on a cruise ship for the Splash Jam (I’ll write about it soon) and then I spent some time doing paper-work and working on some prototypes. If you haven’t heard of it, the big news is that Memoir En Code will be released on Steam! In this post I’m gonna explain all the details about how my autobiographical game (originally released in November 2015) got greenlit by the community. I’ll share some insight that – hopefully – will be valuable in case you will decide to submit your own game to Greenlight.
As I already mentioned, Memoir En Code was originally released in November 2015, and a possible Steam release was never taken into account. Memoir En Code is a very weird tiny autobiographical game that was appreciated by many players and the press for its personal approach to simple life events that shaped me. I originally released the game on itch.io where the game got a fairly good response in terms of sales. The design of the game (structured as a music album) is something that might stand out, but the game features extremely rough graphics which on one side make it even more personal, but on the other drastically lower the perceived production value of the game. This is a big problem if you want to release on Steam because most players usually upvote games that look good, despite what the game has to offer. The original release was extremely liberating, but I thought I had no way whatsoever to bring the game on Steam. This all changed when I received a confirmation email that Memoir En Code got accepted for distribution on the Humble Store: it meant to me that it was possible for such a small niche game to have access to important digital distribution platforms. I believe Memoir En Code’s target audience is very narrow (despite it’s accessibility, it’s a game that only players interested in this sort of experiments will spend money on), and since that pricetag on the game is very low (3.99€), the highest chance of real monetization comes from game bundles. With Memoir En Code accepted on the Humble Store – the biggest game bundle company on the net – trying to get the game on Steam was a risk worth taking. With little expectations I payed the Greenlight fee of 100 bucks and started working on the submission.
The game pitch
I cannot sell Memoir En Code by its look. Some people will enjoy its honest rough look, but the majority of players will down-vote after just few seconds because the game doesn’t look like a polished Steam game. At the same time I cannot hide the look of the game because Steam requires you to upload a gameplay video of the game. My goal – in case the community managed to support the game – was to offer a renewed version of the game with new graphics, dev commentary and some extras. I figured I could not invest time into developing the new look before opening the campaign, and I found a solution by making a trailer that included press quotes gained after the original launch, while still showing footage of the game in the background. The result is a short trailer with quotes and – guess what? – some secrets that hint at the secrets inside the game (since Memoir En Code has a lot of them in it).
Data analysis: overview
But let’s move to the real deal: numbers! First of all, I’ll show you the generic data at the end of the campaign. As you will see from the table below, Memoir En Code received a fairly small amount of votes (1559, compared to the top 50 average of 5020) but a good Yes/No ration (56/44, exactly like the average top 50). Even in terms of unique visitors, the campaign didn’t reach many people (2490, compared to the top 50 average of 9890).
Why so little visitors?
As I already said, Memoir En Code was already released 3 months ago. This means that the game could not receive substantial press coverage for the Greenlight campaign, therefore limiting the possible reach. I did send a few Greenlight press releases, but I limited myself to very few contacts since game journalists usually hate reading Greenlight press releases (unless for a just announced title).
A good yes/no ratio
The fact that Memoir En Code was already released influenced the (little) amount of visitors, but at the same time allowed me to back the game up with some really good press quotes from IndieGames.com, KillScreen, HardcoreGamer and others that could give a better idea of the quality of the game. I think this strongly incluenced the perceived value of the project.
Now let’s move on to the analysis of the traffic and the votes. Below you can see the graph with the complete overview of the Greenlight campaign, from the 14th of January to the 25th of February, when the game got greenlit. You will see that it’s a very atypical kind of graph (if you’re familiar with other successful Greenlight campaigns) because it’s only made out of few spikes and it never really grew in momentum (quite the opposite).
Data analysis: the peaks
I’m going to describe the main peaks that you can see in the graph above, giving some details about the circumstances and effects of some decisions I took during the campaign.
Peak 1: Day 1
Day 1 was clearly the most important part of the campaign. I launched it in the afternoon of a Monday, trying to reach people from both sides of the Atlantic Ocean. Timing is always tricky and – to be honest – I never fully understand what works. I guess that window of time could be useful for reaching people in Europe as well as the US, and the analytics show that most of the traffic was generated from the US (which I assume is the standard for every Greenlight campaign). I did most of the promotion through Twitter and Facebook. I made an announcement tweet including a gif of the project to grab the eyes on people’s feed, and pinned it to stay at the top of my profile.
— Alex Camilleri ✌ (@AlexKalopsia) January 14, 2016
One thing that you have to take into account is that – if you want your Greenlight campaign to work out, you have to be ready to spam it to your network. This is something that I still struggle a lot with: when I contact someone in private just to spam something I care about I feel like a fraud and I start worrying about what will that person think of me. This is something that you need to take into account, but you should definitely understand that if your contacts are mostly game developers, they will know exactly how you feel about this. We all share similar experiences and this is one of them. To make things slightly better, I always wrote specific messages rather than copy-pasting the same thing over and over again. It helps showing that you’re actually putting effort into it.
One extra thing that I did was to contact all the customers that already got the game after the original launch in November. I wrote a newsletter explaining the current situation and asking to upvote the game if they liked it and to share/retweet the announcement.
The first few days were great (considering the type of game I was pitching) but the momentum quickly faded away, and Memoir En Code silently got stuck at 40% through the Greenlight top 100. At that point the only thing you can do is trying to spam more to your network (never easy) and to engage with the Greenlight audience through some updates of the campaign (super boring). I did both of those things.
Peak 2: Bundle
The momentum was lost and I felt like Memoir En Code couldn’t make it. It is not the kind of game that people can find out and upvote after some time, it’s a game that requires very focused support in a short amount of time. Few weeks before launching the campaign I got contacted by Groupees: they wanted to include Memoir En Code in a game bundle. At the beginning I didn’t like the idea since the game only recently released, but at this point of the campaign I had a tiny epiphany. All the bundle customers could potentially become upvoters. Everyone wants to have their games in their Steam library, so this could be the chance to gain new momentum. We discussed a deal and the plan perfectly worked out. In only few days Memoir En Code jumped from being 40% on its way to the top 100, to the 80%! Joining the bundle also meant having 2000+ more players who (potentially) played the game and will (potentially) write nice things on Steam after the new version comes out.
Just to make thing clear, I‘m not trying to say that if you have a game on Greenlight you should put it in a game bundle, far from it. This is something very circumstantial that changes from project to project, and there are many many factors that have a major role in this scenario (current curve, momentum, price tag, release window, social media reach, target audience, and so on). Think about all those things and decide what’s best for your project.
Peak 3: last (tiny) push
Memoir En Code – once again – lost its momentum fairly fast, and since I was spending way too much of my time taking care of this campaign, I decided not to look at it anymore and to actually focus on working on something else. The worst thing about Greenlight is that you don’t have direct control over most of the factors and you end up spending entire days passively looking at graphs and data, hoping to find the key to the greenlight. The truth is that there’s little you can do apart from giving your best at promoting your project and using all the means you have to do so. I spent few weeks doing some client work and working on some new prototypes, when all of a sudden I realized I had a Greenlight campaign to take care of! I checked the data, and the game was 96% on its way to the top 100! At the beginning I thought this was because of some other kind of peak, but I think it was just because Steam greenlit a bunch of projects so Memoir En Code went further in the chart. This gave me a strong moral boost and helped me to promote once again the campaign on social media (a special thanks to all the kind devs who spread the word in those days). After a very minor peak (see graph below), the game lost momentum once again, the game went back to 84% on its way to the top 100 and there I thought “ok, I’m done with this shit”.
Few days later, I was watching Ex Machina with Michelle when around midnight I got an email notification on my phone: Congratulations, Memoir En Code has been Greenlit!
The game got greenlit 84% on its way to the top 100, which I assume means that the system is not fully automated but is actually curated by the Steam Greenlight team.
Now I am going to work on the new Steam version, with revamped graphics, some new secrets, the dev commentary and few other things. I hope this blog post was informative and perhaps made you understand that – despite the experimental nature of your work – you can still make it on Greenlight if you play your cards the right way. Thanks for reading this, for helping through the campaign if you did, and remember you can subscribe to my blog and receive weekly updates (only if there are any!).