Greenlit in 7 days, one game's journey
The thoughts and opinions expressed are those of the writer and not Gamasutra or its parent company.
Throughout the development of our game Poly Bridge and in the lead up to pressing that Publish button on our Greenlight page, we found it ever so useful when developers would share their insights and numbers about their Greenlight campaigns, so we thought we'd do the same and hopefully help other fellow developers make more informed choices and give everyone a bit more context when looking at their Greenlight stats.
We're a very small team, I'm the only developer and game designer (and markerting person, video editor, producer, financer and everything else), and Javier is a freelance artist based on the other side of the world who's been doing some amazing art-work for the game part-time.
I'm a stay at home dad of a 1 year old so I have virtually no down time and I'm always tired and, as any other parent will know very well, have to carefully weigh pros and cons when it comes to deciding how I spend my time, both work and personal.
About Poly Bridge
I've always loved bridge building games, and I often quote Pontifex as the main inspiration for Poly Bridge, but also as one of my main inspirations to get into game development myself.
While bridge-building has established itself as a genre over the last few years, I still feel it is an underserved niche and as a fan of the genre I could offer a bit more to players.
So, as you will have surely heard before, I went for the "find niche, do it better" approach, we've yet to see how well that works out but judging from the feedback so far it's proving to be a good choice. Of course the main requirement for this approach is that you MUST know that niche well.
The main points that differentiate Poly Bridge from the rest are the Sandbox mode, where players can pretty much do what they want with the game while also designing puzzle levels, and a strong community focus to allow players to share their own custom levels, challenge others players to solve them, share replays with a single click, leave feedback and so on.
To give better context I'd suggest you take a quick look at the Greenlight page for Poly Bridge, and if you have time watch at least part of the trailer: http://steamcommunity.com/sharedfiles/filedetails/?id=409292391
We went live on Greenlight on April 10th, and just before hitting the 7 day mark on April 17th we received a congratulations email from Steam saying that we'd been Greenlit.
Since we all love stats (I know I do), here's a poorly animated GIF showing our progress over the 7 day period
On the last frame the rank is missing, once you're Greenlit you're no longer ranked of course.
Choices that worked for us
The following is a list of choices we made that I feel were pretty much essential in getting Poly Bridge through Greenlight in such a short time frame, also considering it's a niche game.
- Animated Icon: The icon for Poly Bridge is direct footage of the game, and also a display of one of the features (you can share an animated GIF replay at any time and publish it online with a single click). This is the first thing people see and it really really needs to stand out.
- Trailer: Super important to have a polished looking trailer (and keep it short!). I personally believe that given the short attention span we all suffer from in this digitalized world, particularly if you're browsing through dozens of Greenlight entries, you really need to show gameplay almost immediately and catch the player's attention with something that is unique to your game. No long intro, no long text, no long drawn out opening sequence. You're selling a game, show the game, not some other fancy looking thing, gamers aren't stupid and will quickly catch on to marketing gimmicks in your trailer. If you host your trailer on Youtube you can look at lots of stats, I found the most interesting to be Audience Retention, our trailer was able to retain 60% of its audience for the full duration
- Professional presentation: We got many comments about how professional our page looked, and it really wasn't much effort. Instead of having blocks of text with bullet-list points, we made simple image headers with text images from in-game assets. This little detail reallly makes it stand out from the average Greenlight description and helps players identify key features of the game easily, while making us look professional and legitimate developers that will deliver a polished game with all the promised features
- Animated GIFs: They're so hot right now! With its super limited color palette and huge file size, animated GIFs are still an awesome way of quickly showing little bites of gameplay and showing off those golden moments of your game. Put them in your description using [img] tags
- Languages: We're lucky with Poly Bridge as we have very little text so localization is pretty straight forward, but if you plan to localize make sure you let potential voters know about it. Russia is a pretty large audience on Steam.
So once you've pressed the "Publish" button and you're live on Greenlight, how do you get people to look at your page and vote?
Honestly, I don't know and I wasn't very diligent in this task, not being a big adopter of social media in general I have little presence there and only started building up a fanbase recently, so I didn't have a way of reaching out to many people easily.
That is, until I realized how Twitter works and started using the #gamedev and #indiedev hashtags in our tweets, which made sure we got a fair amount of visibility on social media. Still, in our experience, the vast majority of traffic came from within Steam, and due to the fast moving nature of social media news when we did post something and got a re-tweet wave the spike in traffic would only last 10 minutes and not make much of a difference.
According to Google Analytics only 3% of our traffic came from Social, with the rest coming from within Steam itself, so the points mentioned above (animated icon, trailer, professional description) made sure that people would vote Yes as much as possible.
The main thing that I would have done differently would be to reach out to media and post on social channels a bit earlier on in the game development's life cycle. This is a hard one to balance, of course you don't want to show stuff off too soon and have it dismissed for not looking good enough, while also you probably don't want to spend years and years working on the same title. In our case the dwindling finances coupled with a desire to push forwards lead us to start the Greenlight campaign just a few weeks after we published our first public trailer and got a little bit of media coverage.
Also, obsessively refreshing the page will get you nowhere, but do make use of the awesome webpage that David made available to everyone, https://greenlightupdates.com , to keep an eye on what is getting Greenlit and get a feel for how long they've been up for. I'd recommend doing this weeks before you actually write your own Greenlight page, it will help you identify pages that you think look awesome and take inspiration from them.
We learnt many things from this experience, and of course as everyone else we can only guess as to why we got Greenlit, but I put it down mainly to the relatively high ratio of Yes/No we had. Poly Bridge was Greenlit while sitting a rank #22 with a 66% ratio, while the average submission in the Top 50 was less than half of that, 32%.
Engaging with supporters during Greenlight is also a golden opportunity that is often missed I feel, identify players who seem to be really enthusiastic about your title and reach out to them, some will possibly have started a discussion thread. Forming good relationships with early adopters will potentially form a very solid foundation on which to build your online community.
That's pretty much all that comes to mind, if you have any questions please feel free to post them here and if you would like to keep an eye on Poly Bridge you can follow us on twitter https://twitter.com/drycactusgames or reach out by email.