Friday 27 June 2014

GUEST BLOG: Window Shopping in Steam

My dad used to own a shop. It was a men's clothing store. He was in business for a long time (over 50 years) and only recently retired. I've learnt a few things from his experience managing a small store. One of them I remember quite clearly is related to the shop window. He used to say that no matter what you put in certain spot in the window it will sell well. If you put something good then you'll sell truckloads of it, if it's something mediocre then it'll simply sell better than it ought to.

The store had 2 windows, a big one, where the 'sweet spots' (there were a couple I think) were placed, and a smaller one, on the side. In that smaller one he usually put stuff that was new or on sale, last pieces of last year's items, etc. He changed that one more often because it was there to serve a purpose (increase the sales of what was there) not to attract people to the store (that's the main window's purpose).

My dad's store as it appears in Google Maps. The side window isn't even visible from this angle

I can't but find similarities between how my dad's store worked and how Steam works. You have your main window (the big banner with game pictures that appear when you open Steam) and you have your side windows (the 'New Releases', the 'Top Sellers',...). If Steam thinks your game is a great game (or is going to be a great seller) you'll make it to the main window, otherwise you'll be in the side window ('New Releases') for a while and only if you prove to be good enough, move to the main one.

As of lately we're hearing a lot about nay sayers talking about the indie bubble. They argue that the amount of games published on Steam is going to drown the good indie games. I don't think that's what's going to happen. Indie hits are going to go on happening and Steam is going to support them just as much as they did in the past. The problem is going to affect niche indie games. There are a lot of games being published every day in Steam now. We released Super Toy Cars on June the 7th, along with 27 other games! What's the effect of that? Our side window time was reduced to mere hours (8-10 hours).

When we launched LightFish in 2011 the game stayed in the 'New Releases' first page for over a week. That's 15-20 times longer! That means we found then a lot more people that liked the niche genre of the game and it showed in our sales.

Still, blaming Valve for opening the gates to everyone is neither fair, smart or, more importantly, a solution. Actually, I believe there's no one to blame. How could you blame anyone for doing what you do (releasing a game on Steam) or for giving them that chance? I personally don't like many of the games but then again I'm stupid and I might have the same opinion about Minecraft if I didn't know better. Only the market has the right to decide what's worth it and what's not.

So, what can we do about it? Well, the first thing we should do is make sure we have good games worth playing. Then marketing them the right way. Make sure there's buzz about your game. You've tried e-mailing the main webpages and youtubbers and they are ignoring you? Maybe you need to do something different, something better, more unique with your game or the way you communicate it. Be it releasing the game in additional platforms, polishing a long forgotten genre or adding something unique to it, mixing two genres in innovative ways, creating something completely new, or presenting your game to everyone dressed in a pink suit or, better, do a combination of these.

Alexander Bruce not only had unique style but also an outstanding game in his hands (Antichamber)

You can do anything to try to get our game noticed by the press and thus by the public. Anything but blaming Valve because your window time is now a small portion of what it used to be. Now we have to work to get noticed while before just being in Steam gave you that marketing for free. Deal with it and find solutions to the problem!

Now, if you'll excuse me, I have to go pick my green suit from the laundry.

This blog was written by Eduardo Jimenez from Eclipse Games. Eduardo will be talking in the Production track at the upcoming
Develop Conference 8 - 10 July, Brighton

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