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Tips for getting your Game On Steam (from Valve, no less)!

I recently had the opportunity to chat with some Valve representitives about the process of game selection and what the average Indie Developer can do to nail their submission.

Scott Tykoski, Blogger

May 25, 2012

3 Min Read

Steam: the Holy Grail of Indie distribution.

You've see it discussed on any game development website, from the Unity forums to the Xbox Indie community to Newgrounds. If devs are talking about PC projects, then devs are talking about getting onto Steam.

This most lucrative digital distribution platform has become a mysterious fortress, only breached by a lucky few of us. What exactly are they looking for in a game?
After talking with some folks at Valve, and others who have reviewed submission for Impulse (aka "The Gamestop App") it comes down to some very simple traits that, while many will scoff at their obviousness, most of us would be wise to consider.

Here's what Steam, Gamestop, and other digital distributors are looking for in submitted games:

QUALITY: Worry more about a polished slice of your game rather than a bug-free version of an unpolished-yet-complete game. They want to see what the final product is going to look and feel like, and understand that bugs will be squashed and more content can be added before release.  

Many agreements are signed before the final product is made, so make sure what you send them is polished to perfection.

FUN: You have around 15 minutes to make an impact. These guys have a MOUNTAIN of games to sift through, so hook 'em hard, and if they're still playing your game after 2 hours then you're good to go!

My personal thought would be to include a cheat key or even a saved game that gets the reviewer into the action ASAP. Forcing them to endure a tutorial for "how to move" in a Mario-eqsue sidescroller is just wasting that immensely precious time.

THE BASICS: Include a short description, control scheme, cheat keys, system specs, screenshots...basically a one-sheet of your game to perk their interest the moment they open the submission.

Even if you feel information is redundant or obvious, spell it out, and if your game isn't unique enough to require explanation, then you have another set of problems...

ORIGINALITY: Clones of popular games are traditionally frowned upon, while unique games can quickly win them over. You can imagine the lightning speed at which a VBasic Minesweeper clone gets rejected (but you'd be surprised how many get submitted).

AN OUTSIDERS PERSPECTIVE: Just like a game ad or box cover, always use review quotes, positive press, awards, and community following to show your game not only has potential, but has already impressed people other than mum.

PRICE FLEXIBILITY:  Once approved they'll work with you on hitting the perfect price point for your game. They have TONSSSSSSSSSS (yes, thats with 10 S's), just tons of data on what genres sell well at various price points, so try to be flexible with your expectations there.

PATIENCE: Your game is being reviewed by a small team that gets bombarded with submissions daily, so, unfortunately, you may end up playing the waiting game while your masterpeice makes its way through the queue. 

The thing that struck me about the Valve representatives was their empathy for the Indie's plight. They were the first to acknowledge that the current submission process must feel 'black box' to us, and hope to implement a more transparent solution in the future.

Until that time, and with my second-hand knowledge spent, I genuinely wish my fellow Indie developers the best of luck in breaching those mighty Steam/Gamestop/etc. walls. May you one day sit amongst the Kings of PC gaming, bask in the golden light of digital success, and delight as your work is viewed by millions of eager players, each waiting for the next-big-game and/or weekend sale.

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