Marketing Postmortem of Steam Golf
Last year, I helped release the ipad title Steam Golf.(Available on the App Store!) Stop me if you heard this, the game is a Victorian era, Steam punk themed, physics based mini golf puzzler. Haven’t heard of it? Well that’s probably my fault. While I was immensely proud to ship the game with a group of veteran developers, I feel like I failed in the marketing department. To be frank, Apple, Andorid, and any other open platform is a meat grinder. Even if you aren’t asking for a direct sale, the internet can be a lonely place for an unestablished independent developer. See Steam Greenlight for an example of discoverability issues. Below are some things that I’d do better if I was launching the game again.
Would have kept a Dev Log. In November of 2012, I asked a fellow game developer for advice on how to get press attention. He told me that I should keep a log of the development effort of the game. Though it was too late for Steam Golf a game development journal is a great way to promote your game while getting feedback. I wish I knew that, one of the chief complaint that I got from playtesters that the game’s difficulty ramped up too fast. Putting out videos, images, and game demos would have allowed us to get that feedback faster.
I also feel like I sought in person feedback too late in the process. I didn’t start asking individuals to play the game until a few week’s before the game was set to release. It was gut wrenching to watch people struggle to understand how to play the game. What I noticed is, they understood how to play the game until about level 3. At that point, the players got confused because the goal wasn’t on screen. In my opinion this was too soon of a difficulty ramp. If I had players test the game while I was still designing levels, I would have had more time to make them better.
I also would have also recorded a short game play trailer. We did have a few gameplay videos on YouTube. The only problem was that they were 10 minute playthroughs of full courses. This is a lot to ask of busy players, especially if they haven’t heard of you. While the game play was a bit unique, no one has the patience to sit through a long video. Videos need to be 1 minute to 1 minute 30 seconds at most. I did contact press during the launch of the game. I included a long, press release, and a link to the demo code of the game. No one contacted me back(Which is fair for a developer they never heard of). In hindsight, a one minute, polished video would have helped sell the game more than text or images could.
As a bonus. I believe that our game would have done better if it was available on other platforms. Our engine was designed to output to iPad. Steam Golf’s levels were too big to be fun on iPhones. Being on one device, in my opinion limited our market severely. When I showed the game, players would ask when it would come to the Android platform. I don’t believe that every game needs to be on every platform. I do think that our game would have fared better if it was avaialble to a larger audience. The app stores are brutal, its best to give your app as much of a chance as possible.
So how did we do? The game was released in January of 2013. To date, we have sold 170 copies. While this is a disappointing number, I can point to several things that I would do much differently with regards to marketing. I am immensely proud of helping a group of veterans ship a game. Personally, it feels good to say that I have a product on the App store. In talking to the programmers, they pulled off a fun, bug free game with multiplayer. This is no small feat. But having a great game is only step one. For my future projects, I will talk about them as early and as often as possible. Everyone is a publisher now. Game development is truly democratized. To stand out, you need to get as many eyes on your games as possible. I do believe that you can sustain a career in this new age. Hopefully my future progress will find an audience. What I’ve learned with Steam Golf, is Marketing is everything!