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Avoiding ineffective (or scam!) discovery interactions with influencers

A surprisingly complex situation, explained.

Simon Carless, Blogger

August 8, 2022

8 Min Read
A screenshot of Brigador. It's an isometric top-down view of a red Mech wandering through a city.

[The GameDiscoverCo game discovery newsletter is written by ‘how people find your game’ expert & company founder Simon Carless, and is a regular look at how people discover and buy video games in the 2020s.]

Suddenly, it’s a fresh new week. Which is why GameDiscoverCo is back in your inbox with some fresh new content. And this time we’re looking at real (and imaginary!) YouTube and Twitch streamers for your games - and the best ways to deal with them.

Influencers for yr game: which ones are even real?

A screenshot of a YouTuber's videos.

As any of you who have published a game on Steam knows, after it comes out, you’ll get a LOT of key requests from streamers (& press and Steam Curators!). And you will also know that a great deal of them are not legitimate, unfortunately.

Why so many ‘fake’ requests? Well, as Thomas Altenburger from Flying Oak Games - whom we’ve featured before talking about ScourgeBringer & Neurovoider - explains in a Twitter thread and subsequent clarifying article:

“The reality, is that more than 95% of them are scam attempts (based on my own manual verifications and contacting scammers). It often is from people trying to make a profit by reselling the keys on gray markets such as G2A or Kinguin, but it also is from people who have a compulsive need to collect all the games on Steam.

While the latter is mostly harmless, the former is contributing to the precarity of developers because keys sold on gray markets (besides not giving any cut to the developers and selling games without distribution authorization) are usually sold much cheaper than Steam, which means less sales and contributing to the ever lower price trends of other legitimate stores.”

Even if you don’t believe that ‘gray market’ stores negatively affect price trends - I’m not 100% sure either way - it’s still depressing and dispiriting to fulfil hundreds of keys to people who then don’t talk about your game, and perhaps even resell the keys.

Just dealing with the various types of people you’ll get asking for a key to your game - and you should never give out more than one Steam key at once, btw, even if asked for:

  • Steam Curators: this Valve feature with individuals highlighting discovery exists, but is not so well-regarded in the dev community. Last year in our Plus Discord, here’s what I said about it: “General perception I've seen on other Discords is that Steam Curators are pretty low ROI - lots of people asking for free keys, not many with a lot of followers who change their picks regularly to new games, etc.” Also, there’s a feature called Curator Connect where you can send access directly to a Curator. (Many ‘Curators’ asking for keys may even not be who they claim.)

  • Amateur/professional editorial sites: those people are saying they may do a written review of your game. (These might especially be good if the site in question is counted in Metacritic/Opencritic!) But again, incoming requests can very often be scams, with slightly edited email addresses, etc. It’s often best to reach back out to the outlet, if you’re unsure.

  • Twitch streamers/YouTubers: this may be the majority of your key requests, and it’s devilishly tricky to sort out the real ones. Some YouTubers don’t use the exact ‘biz contact’ email on their YT channel, some may be unknown to you but actually huge, some may be all of the above BUT actually a fake version of said streamer… it can be the worst! (Again, reconfirming or sending a key with outbound emails to an official contact address may be the best approach.)

Anyhow, Thomas Altenburger’s original Tweet series had some concrete suggestions to avoid low-quality key requests, including changing the Steam support page email address to a different one (or removing it!), putting a hidden HTML ‘fake email address’ on your contact page for spambots to scrape, and “avoid using generic addresses like ‘contact@’ or ‘press@’“

BTW, I think Thomas was way nicer than he needed to be in his follow-up article after some Steam curators complained. It sounds like there are hobbyist Steam curators who review games for fun, but aren’t ‘illegitimate’, as such. But they won’t help your game much - and they really shouldn’t be mass emailing hundreds of people.

Seguing into the second part of this article, Thomas does note in his follow-up: “Tools like Keymailer, Woovit, or Terminals.io are great. They also come with their own limitations, they use keys, and they are also fighting with tremendous amount of scam attempts/fake accounts. But they make the reviewer’s discoverability much more convenient and they provide tools to verify identities in the event that we have to check.” Which leads us on to…

Third-party key distro services - do they work?

We were recently clued into this excellent article (Google Drive link) from Benjamin Glover of Stellar Jockeys (Brigador) which actually argues that ‘key distribution services’ don’t work effectively, based on a paid campaign he tried recently with one.

It was inexpensive, and for a game that had been out for a long time. But it didn’t seem to work: “When there was an occasional spike in hours watched or concurrent players, it seemed to be coming from other streamers playing the game who had absolutely nothing to do with the key distribution service.”

There are two issues here, though. There’s the campaign ‘not really working’. But there’s also the amount of bogus streamers who tried to get keys, even via the key distro service. Benjamin says it’s not really the service’s fault, and “short of manually investigating the reputability of each account seeking a key (which is what we did) you are exposing yourself to very large numbers of bogus content creators and streamers.”

So the implication is that even key distro services are flooded with ‘streamers’ who’ve managed to fake their way to getting free keys, on both paid and unpaid campaigns. This includes bogus YouTube subscriber counts (paid for via bots), fake Twitch follower numbers, & more. (There’s startlingly detailed ‘tells’ in the article.)

On the ‘not really working’ side of things, Benjamin believes that even legit paid streams don’t really work: “With [#ad] labelling, the type of content produced [by paid streams] is already going to be skewed in a particular way and no amount of smoke and mirrors will mask this, because an audience will see through it.”

To which we’d say - maybe? But if you pay the right streamer to stream the right type of game at the right time, it can work. Above you’ll see Blitz’s video for ‘Overcooked x rogue-lite’ PlateUp!, as sponsored by Yogscast Games for the title’s debut last week. The comments are super positive, and the game is doing… great! (3,500 CCUs, nice.)

So this individual paid streamer inclusion - perhaps in a minority - seems to have been a net positive. (It was probably negotiated directly, I’d imagine.) But in general - if you’re paying less money from smaller marginal streamers to promote an old game, yes, it’s unlikely to move the needle.

And as for these key exchange services in general, we talked to Devolver’s influencer strategist Clara Sia about them in our May podcast (transcript available). And she ain’t impressed either:

“Despite [these sites] all claiming that it's impossible to spoof identities of influencers on there, I have been shown by influencers how easy it is to pretend to be them asking for keys on those platforms. I have… countless times asked someone that I actually know, sent him a DM: “Did you request this key?” And he’s like: “I've never signed up for that platform.”

It got to the point where I didn't send any keys at all of those platforms. I'd reject everyone, and then send the keys… directly, to their DM and email. So it at least got to the right place, whether or not they wanted the key in the first place. At least I'm not neglecting them if it happened to be them, and it's not going to somewhere else.”

In the end, we’re not saying that using third-party key exchange sites is dumb. Clara put it well: “I don't ever blame anyone for using those services. And in most cases, it's probably better than nothing at all.” They are dealing with rudimentary ‘fake email’ key requesters, although more sophisticated scammers still find ways around.

Concluding: people on the Internet are terrible, but ’real’ influencers are in our view the #1 way to get a catchy, hook-laden game to break out. So - it’s time to hire an influencer strategist, hand-collect relevant streamer details, build relationships, and find ways to filter through the crud to reach streamer nirvana. Phew.

[We’re GameDiscoverCo, an agency based around one simple issue: how do players find, buy and enjoy your premium PC or console game? We run the newsletter you’re reading, and provide consulting services for publishers, funds, and other smart game industry folks.]

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Simon Carless


Simon Carless is the founder of the GameDiscoverCo agency and creator of the popular GameDiscoverCo game discoverability newsletter. He consults with a number of PC/console publishers and developers, and was previously most known for his role helping to shape the Independent Games Festival and Game Developers Conference for many years.

He is also an investor and advisor to UK indie game publisher No More Robots (Descenders, Hypnospace Outlaw), a previous publisher and editor-in-chief at both Gamasutra and Game Developer magazine, and sits on the board of the Video Game History Foundation.

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