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Greenlight, fighting indifference and building your audience as an indie

As an indie game developer your main goal can't be to just get your game on Steam. You want to build an audience that will follow you but unfortunately many people submitting their games to Greenlight don't seem to realize this.

I'm constantly baffled by how many indie devs posting games on Greenlight are not doing anything to build their audience outside of Steam. It's not like there's a lack of "you should do this or that" posts addressed to indies out there.

Yet, for many of them getting on Steam seems like an end while I only see this as an additional tool to help distribution. Of course, since many people only see Steam as some sort of gold mine, the moment I tell people I want my game to appear on Steam they think it's my only goal so I constantly have to tell them that it's not the case ...

If like me you're in it for the long haul you won't be happy with just having your game pass Greenlight. You first want people to know they can buy your game directly from you. You want them to follow you directly and not just see you as another faceless Steam entry. You want to build an audience so hopefully your journey as an indie game developer gets a tiny bit easier in the future.

It starts with the "right" game

This is the most obvious and frustrating part. Ideas don't grow in trees and ideas you can complete and release are even rarer. You have to deal with whatever idea you have and just saying something like "make a game as interesting as FTL, Banished or Braid" won't make an idea magically appear. It's always easier to say "oh I could have made that game myself" but then why didn't you? Exactly, because you didn't thought about it.

You can come up with a perfectly enjoyable game, nicely polished and only receive good comments about it but if it doesn't have that "special touch" then it can easily fall completely off the radar..

Waiting for "that" special game won't do any good of course. The only thing to do is to work on a title, complete it, release it and once you're done you move on to the next project and try to learn from your past mistakes.

I can relate to that with my game Bret Airborne. Even if yes it could be better in many ways I have yet to hear someone telling me "it's a terrible game". Critics range from good to great but the game just didn't found an audience. It's a good game but not special enough to match all the efforts I made to promote it. Maybe I didn't try hard enough, maybe there was just nothing to hope from it but hopefully I still learned a thing or two from this experience.

There's nothing unimportant

Unless you have a crystal ball and can predict the future you can't really overlook anything. It's way too easy to say things like "I don't have much followers on Twitter so it's not worth it to post at least one screenshot a week". You have absolutely no idea who might end up seeing that screenshot, that tweet or that post on your blog.

Sure, 99% of the time you won't see any results. You're doing it for that 1% that matters. It's better to try something and know it doesn't work than not doing anything and wonder if it would have made any difference.

Some might argue that you must be wise on how you invest your time but to know how to invest your time properly you must first see for yourself what this means. And let's be honest for a minute here. When you're an unknown indie dev you have plenty of time so use this opportunity to experiment a little.

For example I've been told by some people that they rarely get any press coverage and that it doesn't produce much result anyway. It'd be easy for me to give up on that based on this comment but it turns out that I've been able to get some press coverage and that yes it did have a positive impact in my case. Maybe the person who told me that has 10,000 persons subscribed to his newsletter but me I have 100. If some press coverage gets me 20 more subscribers it's an increase of 20% right there. You have to start somewhere so nothing is not worth it until you say so yourself.

Dig! The information you are looking for is out there!

I swear there are days I feel like I'm the only one who knows how to use Google or other similar tools. Let's say you want to get Greenlight votes for your game. Did you know that Twitter has a search engine?! Just by doing more or less regular search on Twitter for the words "Greenlight" and "Steam" I was able to book an hour-long interview. Without that search I wouldn't even know there was such opportunity.

Are you wondering who might be your best bet to have your game appear on PC Gamer, IGN or Kotaku? Find a game you know has been covered in the past and share some elements with yours and Google "[game name] review". In just a fraction of seconds you'll find a list of persons to contact that might raise your chances of being covered. It's not a guarantee but it's still better than to send an email to the generic [email protected] address.

The same goes for YouTube. You can email a hundred YouTubers with 100,000 subscribers but if they only do Minecraft videos then you are probably wasting your time. Look for those who are playing games similar to yours. That person you found only has 100 followers? So what! How many followers do you have? If the answer is as many or less than don't dismiss that person too quickly.

Interaction

You read a negative article about a game in the same genre as yours? How about contacting the author of that article to mention that your game doesn't have the flaws of the game in that article! Someone just posted a video featuring a game you never heard about before then why not immediately reach out to that person. Maybe the next obscure game that person will talk about will be yours.

It's really hard to make a cold pitch to someone you don't know so when you see a way to link your pitch to something the person you are contacting can relate to then you should jump on it. It's often a shot in the dark that doesn't get you anywhere but from time to time it actually works. If you're struggling to get the word out about your work you can surely afford to take some time to try this.

Nothing happens if you don't try

The point is that you have to at least try. I'm the first one being frustrated by the lack of success of the many things I try but at least my conscience is clear and from time to time it do works.

You'll notice that I'm NOT saying that doing the stuff I wrote here will get you results. I'm saying that MAYBE it will. Maybe only 5% of the things I try are getting me any actual results but without doing 100% of the efforts I wouldn't get that 5%.

It goes further than knowing "how to write to the press" or "how to build a press kit". You need to become aware of the big picture and your long-term goals. Your current game sitting in Greenlight is only a milestone and if you don't try to "exist" outside of Greenlight then you will still be sitting at the same spot for your next project.

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About the author

My name is Dave Toulouse and I'm a solo independent game developer (operating under the name Machine 22) who worked on a dozen projects in the past 7 years. My current project is the turn-based strategy game Human Extinction Simulator.

Twitter: https://twitter.com/Over00
Blog: http://www.over00.com/

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