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August 19, 2017
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Game Bundles – Steam key tagging
by Bruno Cesteiro on 08/10/17 09:55:00 am

The following blog post, unless otherwise noted, was written by a member of Gamasutra’s community.
The thoughts and opinions expressed are those of the writer and not Gamasutra or its parent company.

 

Hey everyone,

This post talks about game bundles, redistributable keys, and how all that works with Steam.

With the end of Steam Greenlight and the floodgates now completely open – with so many games available
daily –  one way developers can always use to monetize their games, is with game bundles.

There are many game bundles sites around. The most famous is obviously HumbleBundle, but there are many others like Indiegala, Epic Bundle, Cubic Bundle, Bundlestars, DailyIndieGames, etc.
You can be sure that once your game shows up on the upcoming releases on Steam, you will be contacted by several of these indie game bundles.

The deal usually this: your game goes into a bundle with several other games; the bundle store keeps a smaller percentage of sales, and splits the rest among all the developers.
If your game is having zero sales, then this might be an interesting way to make some profit.
But if your game is still selling, then you’d better wait until putting your game on a bundle.

The main issue with bundling a game, is that it downgrades the price tag.
If your game is available at “pay what you want, minimum 0.99 cents” with another 9 indie games included in the bundle, how much do you think gamers will pay when the game is on Steam?
Probably not much.

So we’re going to talk a bit about our own experience, with a small casual game called Orczz by
Camel 101.

Orczz was developed in 2010, and was originally planned for the mobile market.
The mobile release was scratched (for a number of reasons), and we signed a deal with GameHouse (a big casual game portal at the time) to release the game there with a frontpage takeover, special features, etc.
Later on, we sold the game on other digital stores.

Then in 2015 we tried submitting Orczz to Steam Greenlight.
To be honest we weren’t expecting the game to be greenlit, but it eventually was in 2016.
In November 17th 2016, it was released on Steam.

Our main objective to get the game on Steam was precisely to target game bundles, so that we could monetize the game in other markets.
Having a game on Steam allows us to create batches of keys that can be distributed much easier that without them.

By November 17th the “Indiepocalypse” was already a thing, so we had an amazing launch. On day 1 our expectations were surpassed: Orczz had sold a total of 9 copies on launch day smiley
To date the game sold 139 units, but we have over 11k activations on Steam. These activations are all coming from Game Bundles.
As of today, the game has earned much more on bundles than on Steam.

But there are also some negative things to be taken into account.
First is: you need to be very careful about who you work with.
Look at the contract the bundle store sends you, and see if it’s specified what happens with the unsold keys.
They will usually ask between 5000-10000 keys,  but these numbers are rarely reached.
What happens with the remaining keys ?

Orczz has been in a few bundles so far, and everything has been smooth except for one time.
We always create different batches of keys with unique tags for each store. This way we can track how many keys of different batches are being sold and activated.
In this bundle – let’s call it “Bundle Y” – Orczz sold around 1400 copies.
On the first month after the bundle was running, we had around 1000 key activations with the “Bundle Y” tag.

We requested the remaining keys back (as was specified in the contract), but never got them back.
(we forgot to ask a second time, our mistake)

Fast forward 4 months, we start to notice an unusual amount of keys being activated.
In one single day, around 2000 keys were activated in China and Russia alone.
And all these keys were tagged as sold to “Bundle Y”.

After talking with the bundle representative, we were told that this was most likely a reporting error from Steam (he said Steam is known to have report errors), or keys that were sold in other bundles.

We checked with our Steam contact, just to be sure, and as expected we were told that Steam has no errors regarding keys activations. It’s very precise.
It can happen that there are more sales than key activations, because a buyer can buy a game and activate it months later.
But more activations than sales… not possible.

We then got in contact with other developers that had games on that same bundle with Orczz, and even on other bundles in the same site.
Everyone got back to us and no one had any complains. But what surprised us was that no one was tagging their keys in different batches, so it was impossible to track where each key was being sold.

We got in contact with the bundle representative again, and they replied that we were indeed correct. There was a mistake on their end – the bundle had finished a few months ago, and it was not on their main page anymore, but someone from the team forgot to disable the “buy” button, so it was still accessible from social media. And this was how the game was still being sold.

No explanation as to why there was a space of 4 months between any key activation after the bundle was over and all these recent key activations.
So essentially, from the 10.000 keys originally sent, 1400 were considered sales, and over 5000 keys were keys activations that they forgot to report.
We only noticed this because we tag keys, and we actively check when new activations are reported on Steam.

I believe that as Steam is now open to everyone, the majority of indie developers won’t make a profit on Steam anymore, which means that a lot of them will try game bundles.
Game bundles can be interesting in a particular time of the life cycle of a game, but please be careful with who you work with, always tag your keys and demand the unsold keys to be returned to you.
Games are already too devalued, let’s try not giving them away for free.


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