We did it! We made it through our first Steam festival. We always wanted to take part in one, and we finally did.
I'm going to go rapid fire here since I have a lot of things to share!
-The Steam festivals operate on a specific timeline. Your game's development needs to align with that timeline. You need to publish a game page before the fest, publish a demo for the fest, and release the game within 6 months after the fest.
-Supposedly it's ideal to participate in the fest closest to your game's launch (whoops). There are 2 fests a year at this time.
-The deadlines are absolutely inflexible. If you've been on an indie timeline, it may take some getting used to.
Sneaky Steam timing
-Steam requires you to hit two milestones with deadlines: publishing your page and opting in to the festival, then submitting and publishing your demo.
-You want to hit these milestones as soon as you can, and here's why:
-These milestones have mini deadlines within them. Your page must be published by X date to opt in, but Steam takes 3-5 days to approve a page (if things go smoothly). So to hit X date, you need to submit your page at least 5 days before X.
-Same with the demo, you need to submit your build at least several days before the fest so it'll be approved on time. You don't need to release the demo immediately, and you can make changes to it later, so it's key to get your build submitted asap.
-There's an optional Press deadline which allows journalists early access to your demo, which must be submitted and approved. The journalists were ready to go and started downloading immediately. We hoped we'd have some time, but they dove in right away.
-I kept all these dates and their sneaky extra deadlines on a shared Google calendar so we could both stay apprised of the deadlines. I added email reminders too- didn't want any surprises for this strict schedule.
Demo page & app ID
-When you go to set up your new game on Steam, not only do you need to set up your full game's app ID, but you'll need a second app ID just for the demo. We did not know this, now we do, and now you do too.
-Typically I make a game's initial metadata, and then more polished metadata for launch. For the fest, I had to make more metadata since the demo looks different than the game. It's time consuming to record and edit footage. It was worth it for marketing, but it was an extra task.
-Above everything, the demo must function. We cut features from our demo because of the deadline- the game had to work more than it had to have a lot of stuff. Testing and bug fixing always takes more time than you like, so we had to seriously plan for that time and focus just on the baseline features. Nothing superfluous.
-In our previous game, we added a solutions guide to Steam. We didn't think of that this time, and spent some time helping players through puzzles. NBD, but it would have been nice to have.
Take care of yourself
-This festival seemed to be a bigger workload for us than usual. On the one hand, we were able to really push ourselves to come out with a functional, polished demo in 6 mos. On the other hand, we were both pretty worn out by the end. With so much to do and so little time, I just didn't hit everything on my list, and I was too tired to promote as much as I wanted to during the festival.
-We both took a few days off before and during the fest, and while it bugged me to not be working 100% of the time, we needed some breaks. We're only human.
-I'd really encourage trying to take a few days off before the fest begins if you can to recharge and get ready to pound those drums for the festival week.
When to release your demo
-You can release your demo at any point once it's approved, you don't have to wait until the festival to publish.
-When you release your demo, Steam gives it a promotional boost.
-If you publish it early, you can get people to play it and find bugs before the festival.
-If you publish it right at the start of the festival, you could use that promo boost to your advantage, but any bugs that crop up, you'll have to fix on the fly.
-We published early this time, but will probably publish at the start next time.
-Use Steam's UTM links to track where your traffic comes from. I thought it was complicated, it's not. Get on the UTM train.
-We got a lot of nice promotion from Steam itself for the festival.
-We posted on a few reddit subreddits, did alright, got some nice comments.
-I posted on some discords.
-We sent out a mailing list email, but I was so busy I forgot to do it until the end.
-We got a few playthroughs on Youtube and Twitch! We contacted streamers who had played our other games, and we got some nice responses and plays!
-Steam's livestream events helped visibility as well, but there's a lot to say about those so I've written a separate article about them (coming soon).
I've mapped all our traffic, download, wishlist and sales numbers in an exclusive post for our patrons- subscribe to our Patreon to get all the details!
-This game is a sequel to our other game, "Paranormal Detective: Escape from the 80's". When we started promoting "Paranormal Detective: Escape from the 90's", some people remembered us! They liked our other game, and said they'd check out the new one! So we had some nice familiarity from our previous game.
-We got some extra sales and views for the 80's game, which wasn't even in the festival! We even got a good review, saying the person played our 90's demo and like it so much they bought our 80's game. How cool is that! We were hoping for a halo effect and were happy to see it happen.
I'll cap things off here! We are super glad we participated in Steam's NextFest. Even if we hit some speed bumps along the way, we got a lot of wishlists and visibility for our game.
Keep an eye out for my other posts- one about livestreaming I'll be posting soon, and the full numbers post to see what quantifiable effect the festival really had on sales and visibility.
Big shoutout to the How to Market a Game discord for help and advice through the festival. It's a great resource with a lot of helpful people- come join us if you're a game dev!
Thanks so much for reading, I hope this is helpful for your next Steam festival!
Follow us at @lunabeatgames on Twitter for more game dev posts & for more about our awesome VR escape room games!