Before you consider releasing a game on Steam…

… please take a few minutes out of your day to read what I have to say.

I am writing this as a bit of a guide of what you have to take into account before you publish your project to steam. There are a few points I would like to mention, feel free to disagree with me, after all I am not here to tell you what to do. All I want to accomplish here is share some of the common pitfalls developers, and GG users in particular, face when releasing on that platform. Now this is generally valid for putting a game up for sale anywhere, but it seems that people always aim for Steam so I focus on that.

Now, I don’t have any commercial games out nor do I intend to develop one in the future but I have over a decade of experience in the indie scene and have seen every FPSC / GG game page on steam and thus have a pretty good intuition on how people react to certain things.

I’m writing this because Duchenkuke recently revealed his current project on Steam and not only is it a decent GG project on Steam, which is something about as rare as a golden tiger, but it also has a pretty good store page and description.

Now some things I mention might seem a bit condescending or far fetched, but trust me, everything I reference on here has actually happened.

Before I get into my list, you first must be aware of what releasing a commercial game on steam means. Its fundamentaly different to releasing a free game on or indie.db in that you now no longer present a hobby creation / an artwork to somewhat like minded people but a product to the general public. Once there is a price tag on it, everything changes.
Steam also has a lot of traffic, lots of folks from different walks of life and your first game on steam will be … well, there is no second chance for a first impression! If your game first game is terrible, that will forever be associated with your name and its hard to recover from that. Now we are indie developers, hobbyists…so some downsides are to be expected but a lot of content on Steam, especially stuff made in GG is just plain insulting.
Also if you release something in early access and its borderline unplayable, be aware that few people can be bothered to return after you updated it. Generally speaking, you should look at your creation objectively and ask yourself: “Is this engaging to another person? Is it fun? Does it have something special about it to get someone to play it rather than one of the thousands other games out there with bigger budgets, better tech, better graphics, smoother game play and more content? Would I buy this myself?” All good things to at least think about it before you put something on the market.
There seem to be a new breed of developers that seem to be convinced that something is worth money because they, themselves spent time and effort on it. So naturally they should be paid for that, regardless of outcome. Then you have people who are just getting started and have the audacity to find that their first steps in a 3d editor should not only be available to everyone but should also come with a price tag.

Now if you are reading these lines, its save to say that you are not one of these people…simply because I don’t think that they do a lot of …err…reading.

* 1: Performance and Stability!

The first thing you need to be absolutely sure of is that your game actually runs…at least for most players. You can do this by testing it on various systems and sending it to your friends or this community first. Frequent run time errors, crashes during loading sequences and in-game glitches/missing content are a kiss of death for your games success. You also need to consider performance. How does the game run on a mid-range gaming rig? You need to get at least 30 FPS for your game to be accepted. The truth is, no one will enjoy even the most custom and lofty game play if it clunks along at 15 fps. Trust me, poor performance are the very first thing reviews will mention if you don’t put in the work here. LINK to a tutorial about basic optimization here.

It is unfortunate that GG does not come with a decent options menu. The lack of detailed graphics settings and the lack of an ability to choose resolution is often lamented.

* 2: If you blink, you’ll miss it!

Regardless of how long it took you to finish your game. If the player can play through it in 20 minutes or less and you ask 5 bucks for the experience, there is a problem. Now I am aware how hard it is to get good game time…but hey, you want to SELL your game so you better deliver. You should aim for at least 1 hour of game play (not including loading screens) preferably more.
Just imagine yourself paying for a game, having rather long loading times only for then having about 5 minutes of game play per level.
Total game play amounting to 20 minutes for 4 levels. You’d have to have absolutely riveting features to justify that.

* 3: Be honest about your game.

This is a point that I find of uttmost importance and something that bothers me personally. The rampant dishonesty you see in project descriptions on steam can go so far that it borders on fraud.
You’ll see bare bones, stock content game guru games with half a dozen maps, a few zombies within these maps and maybe one or 2 notes to read described something like “Dive into a deep, well written and engaging story filled with unique characters and exciting game play” “Stunning visuals” “hours of fun”. Now I always have to chuckle at descriptions like this when its obviously not even remotely in the game but your customers will not.
I could also go on a tangent here talking about how generic games obviously inspired by resident evil or fallout are a dime a dozen in the indie sphere and usually in no way deep, well written, engaging or unique.
So don’t advertise your game like its the next fallout! Your customers will find out the truth once they hit the play button and will feel cheated even if your game is somewhat decent. Instead: Be honest, describe your games strengths!
Point out the strengths and features that make your game good. Describe the game play that the player will really encounter and tell them what really is unique or engaging about your game. If you find that your game doesn’t really have anything these adjectives apply to at all… well then you might not want to sell it yet.
You can even go as far as openly say that you are just a hobbyist, or a beginner. People usually respect that. Now, taking this into consideration you also need to know an ancient rule of game development in general: Never shine a spotlight on a turd. Now I often riff on the flaws when I release a new game, but I also don’t sell them. Don’t draw too much attention to the downsides of your game either!
Now, I’ve seen some people making truly teeth grindingly atrocious GG games bribing people to leave them some good reviews because they know their games are horrendous. I know that some of these tactics are effective just…please don’t be that guy. Its dishonorable.

* The Price is Nice

I understand that some people only gotten into this having profit in mind. While I was never able to enjoy any type of art form if I make money off of it, this is a big draw for many folks and I can’t really blame ’em.
So, to continuously make money: Put a fair price on your game. Its a free market, so you can do what you want but 8 bucks for an early access GG title is generally a bad idea. Try to remain within the 4 to 6 Dollars a pop price range and you won’t see complaints. Its also the type of money many people are willing to dish out on an impulse buy.

* Consider networking with the community

Most low quality GG games on steam come from people that are not an active part of this community. I find that the people on here are generally helpful and knowledgeable when it comes to making games and their feedback might help you elevate your game to higher levels. The community here also tends to provide pretty good feedback on wether something is ready to be sold or not. All parents exaggerate the achievements of their offspring and you might look at your game in a similar way. You spent a lot of time and energy on it and might see things in it that aren’t there… so feedback from complete strangers is valuable. As long as you can differenciate between haters and people with good constructive criticism I recently saw a youtube video of someone lamenting how nobody cared for his (rather terrible) game after him working on it for an extended period of time. He was the type that was mostly talking about how his game would have been better if GG was better and yet the missing features he brought up where all things I have seen members of this community pull off. So talking to the people that use the same software as you do might help you overcome some road blocks fairly easily. Teamwork is very important, said the giant CGI dinosaur!

* Make sure you at least mastered the basics before you charge!

We all got started somehow but if you think a game with stock assets, dragged and dropped together without clear art direction will do well on steam… well it won’t. Not only will it not do well but your efforts will also be branded an asset flip! Best practice is making a few simpler games, smaller in scope, before you tackle a commercial project. Learn re-texturing to maintain a consistent art style throughout your game. Mixing and matching store assets by many different artists with different styles and abilities seldomly works! You will then also be able to optimize your props as many are sold with rather high-res textures that might cause you issues in the final build. Learn basic modeling… a lot can do once you can combine meshes, make basic architectural props and add/remove parts to animated models. You will have way more possibilities and people tend to notice these things. You don’t need to be a master coder to make a decent game but make sure that you are at least able to read and understand what a script does and tweak values. There is so much you can do with basic images showing on screen alone…

* Is it even legal?

The internet is full of amazing game related resources. Free scripts, models, textures, music,sound. Naturally a lot of these things are ripped directly from other games. Now, if you release free games or if you are modding something, its not the end of the world but if you have content like this in your game, wether intentional or accidental, you might even end up in court or at least have your game taken down! Because a lawsuit isn’t cheap, you better double check that you own the rights to every prop you use, every sound you play and every image you put into your menu screens. Also be vigilant if you use free packs! I’ve downloaded an extensive prop pack for FPSC once only to find out way later in life that all those models where actually ripped from Deus Ex and Soldier of Fortune I also released a Horror game later only to read in the comments that the free horror sound effects I downloaded where actually ripped from older resident evil games. Alas! Just something to be aware of

* Early Access but only if its at least a beta.

Hold back on releasing your game until its at least somewhat finished. A beta state would be quite right for a public early access. If your game has promise but needs some touching up its ready for early access. Players aren’t stupid and can see potential. However, if its just plain unfinished in every conceivable way and you have already cornered yourself by promising changes that you might not yet know how to implement you just make a bad impression. You can get valuable player feedback by releasing something early …but not TOO early

Thank you for reading! Now I have written this to encourage people, despite the rather negative tone this has in places because I have seen how crushed a lot of young devs felt after they released something on steam, only for it to be panned. This post here is my ditch effort to kind of prevent this happening to future developers.

About serygala

Who really has time to think about a summary of himself on the internet? I like art, women, gamedesign and I love coffee. Everything else is too much information.
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