[Hi, I’m ‘how people find your game’ expert Simon Carless, and you’re reading the Game Discoverability Now! newsletter, which you can subscribe to now for free, a regular look at how people discover and buy video games in the 2020s.]
For this issue of the newsletter, I thought I’d tackle an old chestnut (!) which has been discussed a bunch of times before - but possibly not from this angle.
There’s been a lot of discussion on best practices for your video game store page (whether that be console, PC, or even mobile.) And yes, it’s quite important. Your store page is how browsing players first see your game, and they’re looking for a reason to buy. Give it to them.
Right up front, here’s two very helpful pieces you should read:
Firstly, the GI.biz Academy piece on getting the most from your Steam store page, which has a great deal of good advice. It also widens the aperture to talk about video trailer content, etc - which we’ll also cover below.
Secondly, Failbetter’s Hannah Flynn has slides/notes from a conference talk on ‘The Store Page: Your Best Marketing Tool’, which is much more focused on communication & intent. (Hannah also covered this in a recent Future Friends podcast, in a more conversational manner!)
But I wanted to roll things back to the absolute minimum. Here’s the pitch - store pages need to highlight your game. Your game is either attractive, or not. (Or somewhere in between, I guess!) Nonetheless, if you get things wrong, you can bury the relative attractiveness of your game. That’ll make people way less excited to buy.
For me, it’s not really about ‘how can I fine tune my store page, to get 2% extra clickthrough to buy?’, but it’s more about ‘did I do the major stuff that makes a difference?’ So let’s list those things:
Does your store page have a representative video? (Or any video!)
This may seem like a silly thing to say. But I’ve seen quite a few pages - on both Steam and also on console - with no video. Sometimes devs are ‘too early’ in development, so are comfortable with screenshots, and not with video. Other times, they just didn’t get around to it.
I don’t think you should launch a store page without a good quality, 45 seconds to 1 minute long video that shows gameplay. For example, the newly announced No More Robots-published title TombStar has the following ‘reveal’ trailer which immediately went up on its Steam page:
You can argue it’s perhaps a little slow on the ‘gameplay’ reveal for a lead Steam video - you only get to see what the game looks like after 16 seconds. But as long as it’s evocative & gets there fairly swiftly, I think it works. Keep a video like this in prime position for new potential buyers at all times in your game’s lifecycle.
Did you use graphical elements on your Steam page?
On consoles, sadly, you’re limited to a text description in addition to your media assets. (Which, frankly, I don’t know many people read in much detail - they just look at the pretty videos and pictures.)
But Steam gives you a lot of latitude to embed pictorial headers or even GIFs in your game description. Hannah Flynn specifically calls this out as a major interest driver, and indeed, if you look at the Steam page for Sunless Sea, you’ll see multiple GIFs in action.
The header screenshot for this newsletter is from beautiful PC meditation game Playne. I’ve been helping out its creator recently, and we decided to shift its Steam description to showcase the lush art via GIFs - I think it works well!
Just static art can work, too - for example, Endlessfluff Games & Humble’s Fae Tactics (pictured above) has done a good job of pretty-ing up its Steam page with concept and character art.
Did you ‘sell’ the game with calls to action, not feature lists?
This is the final major point, and an important one. Many people don’t know how to talk about their own game. I get it, it’s tricky. And there’s all kinds of ways to improve your prose.
But the key thing is to make your descriptions into active ‘calls to action’. Talk about what you do in the game - not simply a list of features, which is what game marketing tended towards 20 or 30 years ago.
Platform game of exceptional size. More than 900 screens on 15 levels with 54 extraordinary enemies.
Secret rooms, hidden bonuses and deadly traps.
Options: level codes, continue, adjustable multi-directional scrolling.
Let’s not do that! How many enemies a game has doesn’t sell it in 2020, I’m pretty sure.
Instead, our amended capsule Steam description for Playne is now: “Grow a beautiful forest and build a daily habit of meditation in this beautifully relaxing game. Watch as the game world grows and transforms daily with your meditations. Care for your mental well-being, experience calm and explore growth with meditation.”
You can get into a bit more detail. But in general, keep it light, snappy and short on the word count. Concentrate on what is unique about the game and what you actually DO in it, written in an action-oriented way, and not with a passive voice.
For another example, scanning popular new Steam games, I also thought this description for The Henry Stickmin Collection is unconventional but pretty good:
“The Henry Stickmin Collection is a Newgrounds choose-your-own-path classic, reborn and revitalized. This 6-game epic culminates in multiple entirely canon, extremely different endings. Each step of the journey has you choose from options such as a Teleporter or calling in your buddy Charles to help you out. Correct choices will move the story forward, but incorrect choices lead to a fail. If you get to the end on your first try, you’re doing it wrong. Failing is half the fun.”
Conclusion - don’t sweat the small stuff!
These are the things I personally think are most important. Some of the things I think are less important are: getting the perfect screenshots, getting the perfect text description, agonizing over small changes and constantly testing and re-testing the results.
But again, rewinding to something I said earlier in the article: Making sure your game is actually attractive & discoverable is far more important than your store page. You can do this by planning around your game’s unique concept, subgenre, features, and graphical attractiveness very early in the game’s development.
And yep, Hannah Flynn notes that a good/great store page can help conversions up to 40% compared to an actively bad store page. But you are still, at root, selling 1 copy a day, 10 copies a day, 100 copies a day, or 1000 copies a day (!) So try to think how you can control that base number, too.