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My Experience with the 2020 Summer and Autumn Steam Game Festivals

This summer Steam introduced their games festivals, tri-annual events on Steam where users could try out demos for upcoming games. Anyone who’s a Steam publisher can enter them and the demos are featured on Steam. For indies, it’s a win-win.

However, with the second Steam Game Festival now coming to a close, it’s clear this isn’t the marketing goldmine we’ve all been looking for. Today I’m going to quickly go over my experiences with both game festivals and what I hope to see in the future.

Summer Game Festival

When it was first announced I quickly put together a demo for the Summer Steam Game Festival. There were several steps to it but overall not that hard, which was great. The first festival started on June 16th, 2020, and lasted until June 22nd- as soon as it started, my game Asterism was on the visual novel tab.

Asterism had a demo out before this but this version now included RPG battles. I didn’t do much for this festival. The GUI for the battles was placeholder so I didn’t email press. I had a small Q&A session in my Discord server, but that was it (aside from posting about it on Twitter & Instagram). I also didn’t do any other Steam events with it and didn’t try broadcasting.

However, as you can see, my game was part of the Featured section on the VN tab. It became pretty clear that this section was a rotating collection of all/most of the demos in this section.

Since I didn’t do much to promote this demo release and the game festival was new, I was pretty happy with the 150~ extra wishlists I got (as I was waiting to contact press and make a bigger splash with the finalized GUI).

It wasn’t too long after this that Steam announced that several more game festivals would happen and would be a regular occurrence.

Autumn Game Festival

The Autumn Game Festival happened from October 7th, 2020 to October 13th- it just wrapped up as I’m writing this. This time I entered my game Drops of Death, which is prominently both a murder mystery and a romance VN. I polished the demo a fair amount to make sure it was my best foot forward.

Problems

For starters, when the festival started, my game was no where to be found on it. Not in the Featured section, not in the Mystery section, not even in the longer list if I searched. Note: My game was opted in, and the game festival banner appeared over it on the Steam page. I let an hour or two go by to see if the problem would correct itself (we all know how fickle Steam servers can be) but when it didn’t I had to contact them. Several acquaintances complained about the same thing- their VNs were nowhere to be found. It took several hours but finally our VNs were added (not all at once). However by this point it was past 5PM CST, meaning I’d lost several hours on the launch…

I didn’t initially have any events for it planned but I quickly wrote up an Artists’ Statement (a festival exclusive event) and then set a time for a broadcast. Thank you Chris for the extremely helpful guide on Steam broadcasting! I played live for 2 hours until my internet had enough and then played a prerecording for 3 hours afterwards. My peak viewership was around 15 with a steady 7-8 for the duration. However, Steam only starting featuring my broadcast during the last 15 minutes I was live. When I started broadcasting there was only 1 other person broadcasting on the VN tab. When I was almost done with my live portion there were 3 other people broadcasting on the VN tab. I had made a festival-specific event, but yet Steam didn’t feature me until 2 hours in.

The last part is more of a curious thing- my game was and still is only visible in the Mystery section despite having several romance-related tags highly ranked on the backend. I don’t understand why Steam was trying so hard to suppress views on several VNs, as again I knew others with the same issues.

Doubles?

As you can see in my first screenshot, several games that were part of the Summer festival popped up again in the Autumn festival. In fact, the Summer page is still up. For some reason Steam allowed it this time around but have put a limit on future events. This doubling up is frustrating namely because those were the games on the Featured section in the Autumn festival, the same section that was selective this time around. During the Summer festival the Featured section had 6 pages; during the Autumn festival it only had 2. Meanwhile myself and several other devs couldn’t even get anywhere on the page without begging Steam.

Wishlists

To reiterate, for this game festival I:

  • Wrote an Artists’ Statement
  • Broadcasted for 5~ hours

But yet, despite this, I got the same amount of wishlists I did for the previous festival.

This is the lifetime wishlists for Drops of Death- as you can see, I got more wishlists by announcing the Steam page was up than from broadcasting during the festival. My peak day during the Autumn festival, where I streamed on Steam for 5~ hours, got less wishlists than launching the Steam page. In total I got 153 wishlists this time around.

What happened?

I can’t help but ask why. Why did the first festival run (seemingly) so smoothly but this one didn’t? Why did I and others have to message Steam just to get our games, which were opted in, on the page? I don’t have a good answer why this previous game festival felt rushed. I didn’t hear any complaints about the first one but I’ve heard countless this time around.

If you’re an indie dev considering entering a future Steam Game Festival, go for it. It’s easy to enter and unless your game doesn’t end up on the page for some reason you will get extra wishlists. However, I can’t say this is the goldmine for wishlists as it could have been.

I hope in the future Steam automates the system to some degree. My game and several others should have been automatically included in the proper sections due to tags. My events also should have been picked up and auto added to the events calendar (which they never were). Hopefully Steam will make some (good) changes to the festival system, as it has potential to be extremely helpful to indies.


Thanks for reading my quick thoughts on the previous 2 Steam Game Festivals- I hope they went better for you! If you want to read more of my ramblings on indie game marketing, you can check them out here.

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