First week experiences of a freeware horror game on Steam. Some mistakes were made, don't repeat them!
What is Clown House?
Clown House is a horror FPS in which you are searching for a key in a house with lunatic clowns. Some of them are evil, they want to murder you when you turn your back. Some of them are innocent. You carry a pistol to defend yourself. But you can't shoot any clown you see, because if you kill an innocent clown, you lose the game. So you need to wait till they attack you.
It is a completely freeware game (no ads or IAP). It has been available for computers and mobile devices since May 2015, it reached more than 100K downloads so far.
It received generally good reactions in platforms excluding Steam. It was a good freeware game, but it was still too short. It wasn't interesting anymore after 15 minutes. But the idea is liked very much.
It has been on Steam since a week ago, we made more than 20K downloads there. Here, this article is about our Steam experience.
We have been in Greenlight for two weeks. We got 793 "yes" votes, %46 of voters said "yes". We have been on some Turkish gaming websites, that must have helped us a lot.
I know some other games passed Greenlight only after much more votes, but in a similar duration of time. That makes me think that there is no a strict algorithm that lets game pass, but Valve reviews the games manually and let them pass if the game is not too bad. I believe there will be readers here who can shed light on us with more information by commenting this article.
Steam process and my mistakes
And here comes the stressul times of Clown House.
When you upload your game at the first time, Steam reviews your game before it's published. I made my first mistake at this part, it's about the multiplatform depots. Clown House is a multiplatform game; it also supports Mac and Linux. "Let me upload Windows first, then I can upload Mac and Linux depots later after the review", I said. So did I, Valve reviewed the Windows depot. It was without problem, game was ready to be released. So I released it, then uploaded the Mac and Linux packages.
The problem is, nothing was getting downloaded in my Mac, even after I released the Mac packages. I struggled hard to make the game downloadable in Mac, but somehow the Mac depot was seen as empty by Steam client. And the game was already released, people on Mac and Linux wouldn't be able to play the game they downloaded. Such a bad impression! As an imperfect solution, I created a single depot that contains all the executables of all platforms. This means that a Windows user gets the Linux .x86, .x86_x64 and Mac ClownHouse.app with the Windows files. I will resolve this problem at a time the game gets lower downloads. But anyway, if I had uploaded the multiplatform packages before Valve's approval, the game would be released only after the package problem is resolved.
But that wasn't the most serious mistake.
Do you see the red circled area? I HAD set it as "English". Because, well, the primary language was English. And I didn't create any other depot. It looks okay, doesn't it?
When I advertised the game on Turkish Facebook pages, so many people said that they were getting no files when they tried to download the game on Steam client. I started a topic in a dev group in Steam. Shortly, I learned what I did wrong: The depot's language was set that only English Steam clients would download the depot! Turkish (and other non-English speaking) people would download an emptiness, because no depot was assigned for them. I should had left it as "No language". I don't want to know how many people I losed for that mistake.
What else went wrong?
* Many people complaint that game crashed on Windows (it was a Unity game, by the way). I was unprepared for this, because nobody in Gamejolt had such a complaint. I'm not such a tech-savvy guy for these stuff, I couldn't also find anything useful on Google (it was mostly about Unity editor crashes, not game). I opened a thread on Unity forums to find a solution: Those gamers needed to set launch options as "-force-d3d9". It was bad that I couldn't help those players at the first day of release, but thankfully I didn't get any other crash report that I couldn't resolve. But if it was a paid game, many people (gamers from the first day of release) could refund before I solved their problem.
* I learned that 64-bit Linux wouldn't run x86 executables. x86_64 was necessary. Again, nobody in Gamejolt had complaint about this.
* They didn't like the game in Steam. Only %47 of 162 reviews are positive. Their complaint was on the short length of the game, even the positive reviews said "This game is good, but short". It seems like that Steam players tend to compare your game with other Steam games, commercial or not. But almost every commenter in Gamejolt had liked the game, as they compared it with other freeware games. Game being short was something forgivable in Gamejolt, because it was a free one. Not in Steam. They would probably refund it if it wasn't freeware.
* Not many people in Turkey discovered the game. Only %2.5
Because of our nationalist vision, Clown House has a full Turkish support. Even the game's name contained the Turkish name of the game: "Clown House (Palyaço Evi)". When it was released on Steam, we didn't get a significant press or marketing coverage. These 20K people are mostly the ones who discovered the game on Steam by themselves. So this makes me think that, if you localize your game, you shouldn't just expect local people to discover your game by themselves. But be seen on their local gaming press and do your marketing. Otherwise, localization won't have its effect. I wonder what is the experience of more experienced Steam devs, did you experience like me?
What went right?
* A lot of attention we received. It took us months to reach 3K in GameJolt, despite being on Turkish gaming press. But we reached 20K in only one week in Steam, almost with no press coverage.
* I learned a lot from my mistakes. It would be a disaster if Pawn of the Dead (my big project) was my first Steam game and I had made these mistakes in that, I would lose too much.
* I did not end up gettting crucified by an angry mob of players who paid for a 15-minute game. Almost everyone around me had suggested me to put Clown House on Steam with a little fee, I am glad that I gave my own decision to make the game free. %47 of positive reviews isn't a good number, still; but if it was a paid game I guess you would see us in the list of "Worst games ever in Steam". I had made Clown House for gaining fame for Aslan Game Studio, a paid bad game would only bring notoriety. And once you lose the trust of your players and your honor, you can't buy them back. So don't be afraid of giving your own decisions against what other people suggest.
So what is next?
I am glad that I get these much Steam experiences before releasing a paid, high-cost-production game. Clown House got downloaded enough for us to start a sequel. By user reviews, we know what you players want, and we will give you what you want in Clown House 2. If you are curious with it, you can follow Aslan Game Studio on Facebook and Twitter.