Deep dive: how game platforms can amplify your game's reach

A handy guest post on how platforms work.

[The GameDiscoverCo game discovery newsletter is (regularly) written by ‘how people find your game’ expert & GameDiscoverCo founder Simon Carless, and is a regular look at how people discover and buy video games in the 2020s.]

Welcome back to game discovery city, folks! This very happy Monday, we have a guest newsletter from the crew at LA-based developer/indie publisher Akupara Games, whom you might know from publishing titles like inspired narrative title Mutazione, and upcoming goodness like Grime & Behind The Frame.

David Logan & Alyssa Kollgaard at Akupara have previously put out informative blogs such as ‘What Publishers Look For In Games?’, ‘How To Find The Best Game Publisher For You’, and ‘Should You Partner With A Game Publisher?’ (and also this great piece on ‘hooks and anchors’ for games).

And this particular piece is interesting because it’s an officially platform-vetted, ‘no NDAs needed’ guide to the ways some of the major game platforms (Steam, Switch, Xbox, PlayStation, Stadia) can help you showcase your game - both before & after it’s released. You get more detail with NDAs, especially with some platforms - and we’d encourage all platforms to be more open about this!

So yes, this is a bit of a laundry list, heehee. But even I learned things from the article - and I spend waaay too much time looking at all of this stuff. Many, many thanks to Akupara for putting it together. Anyhow, we’ll be back with a giant free ‘state of play’ discovery/platform round-up on Wednesday. And as always - thanks for reading…

[REMINDER: we just launched our ‘Complete Game Discovery Toolkit’ eBook, plus some sophisticated new Steam Hype back end features to analyze unreleased Steam games - subscribe to Plus now for access, here’s all the details!]

How to: game platform ‘amplification’

As an indie publisher here at Akupara, we know the process for receiving store page and console partner support can be ambiguous and at times difficult to navigate. Some processes can feel cumbersome with poor visibility, documentation, or support. Others are completely unavailable to small and mid range projects.

There are ways we believe we can collectively make this process friendlier to indies — but that is a separate conversation. In the meantime, we wanted to compile some best practices to help indies navigate these partner relationships to receive more visibility and support for their titles.

Please keep in mind that these are processes that we’re aware of based on our experiences as of July 2021, but they are often updated and refined. This is a living document - we will update it here as changes are made, and we encourage you to email us with any input or corrections at alyssa@akuparagames.com.

Some general guidelines to keep in mind:

  • Exclusivity — partners are more interested in what is unique to them and their platform, especially when being considered for showcase opportunities.

  • What is the benefit to the partner? Are you using their platform in an interesting way (i.e. PS5 special hardware features), aligning your messaging with one of their core tenets (i.e. Microsoft and accessibility), utilizing a feature they want to amplify (i.e. supporting the Microsoft PC storefront alongside the console), etc.

  • Use the tools they provide for self-marketing — partners are more inclined to help you if you are already utilizing the tools they provide you to help yourself.

  • Come to partners with a specific ask — partners aren’t going to create a marketing plan for you; they have a lot of games to support and their own internal marketing to keep in mind. It is incumbent upon you to have your assets, dates, and amplification requests prepped for your pitch. Do not come to them with ambiguous requests or expect your partners to do the legwork for your product — you know it better than anyone!

  • When submitting trailers for amplification, you will need to pass brand approval! This includes having the correct formatting, mnemonics, ratings, logos, terminology, and trademarks/legal displayed. Store trailers may require a different format than marketing trailers. This may not always be well documented or readily accessible in plain sight, so this may take some discovery on your part.

For the purposes of this article, support is defined in the following ways:

  • Sales — Any launch discounts, individual or group sales or bundles, especially as they relate to priority store placement.

  • Marketing — Trailer, blog, mailing list, social media amplification as well as on-device news.

  • Additional Opportunities — Partner showcases, bespoke opportunities, demos, etc.

Steam (PC games!)

Steam is mostly a self-service platform, meaning most of these opportunities are done manually on your own and without the need to involve Valve directly. Their tools and documentation are excellent and always kept up to date, and Valve often releases new tools to make this process easier. You can find all of their documentation here. Much of the below text is pulled directly from their publicly available documentation.

SALES: Discounts cannot be run within 6 weeks of your prior discount, with the exception of Steam-wide seasonal events or other specific Valve-organized sale events. It is not possible to discount your product for 30 days following a price increase. Discounts for seasonal sale events cannot be run within 30 days of releasing your title or 30 days from when your launch discount ends. You may not change your price while a promotion is live. It is not possible to discount a product 100%. Custom discounts cannot last longer than two weeks, or run for shorter than 1 day.

  • Bundles, including multi-publisher bundlesSteam offers discounted bundles in a variety of different ways. You can bundle your own products to create deluxe packages, create “complete the set” bundles, or even bundle your products with other publishers using the new tool recently released to the public. These bundles encourage sales of multiple products by offering them at a combined discount — they can be left up temporarily to run through an event or specific initiative, or they can persist on the page permanently.

  • Self-Serve Discounts: These are all opt-in promotions done through the Steam backend. Generally, you will get an email from Valve letting you know about upcoming promotions and giving you a window to schedule your discounts.

  • Launch Discount: Launch discounts start once your title is released on Steam and will last for 7 days. Generally launch discounts should be around 10% to 15%. There is a limit of 40%. Launch discounts are optional. You can run a launch discount, but once your launch discount ends, you cannot run any other discounts for 6 weeks.

  • Promoted Sales: These are sales that coincide with a Steam event and receive some priority placement on the platform.

  • Weeklong Deals: Weeklong Deals begin every Monday morning at 10AM Pacific time and run for 7 days. Participating titles are featured on the Weeklong Deals landing page and included in a Steam News Post, which is syndicated to Twitter and Facebook. To participate in a Weeklong Deal, you will need to opt in at least two hours before that deal begins.

  • Custom Discounts: You can configure your own custom discounts to align with special events like a major update or the anniversary of your products’s release. You can schedule a custom discount to begin on the following calendar day.

  • Community Coupons: Coupons are granted as part of turning a set of Steam Trading Cards into a badge. You can read about the Steam Trading Cards feature here. A coupon is selected at random for a user, excluding coupons for games they already own. To opt in, select ‘Apps & Packages’, find your game and click on the ‘App Admin’ link, then under the ‘Community’ tab select the ‘General’ sub-menu. At the bottom of that page is a checkbox to opt-in to the program. You can opt in or out of the program at any time.

Promoted Discounts: The following discount types are created and managed by Valve. Valve tries to be as fair as possible and selects titles that they feel customers are most interested in. While there aren’t strict rules, as a base guideline they tend to focus on the top 10–20% selling games on Steam that are positively reviewed and have otherwise proven to be successful. Valve will contact you directly if they want to include you in a curated slot, otherwise it is recommended that you reach out to your rep to inquire about these initiatives. Keep in mind these are all at their own discretion and you have to meet a minimum threshold to qualify — Valve is a huge platform with a ton of titles and limited opportunities for featuring.

  • Daily Deal: These promotions run for 48 hours, starting at 10am Pacific time. Daily Deals are featured on the Steam homepage for 24 hours. See Promo Spot: Daily Deal for more information.

  • Weekend Deal: Weekend Deals run from Thursday at 10AM Pacific time until Monday at 10AM Pacific time, and are featured on the Steam homepage during that time.

  • Midweek Madness: Midweek Madness promotions run from Tuesday at 10AM Pacific time to Friday at 10AM Pacific time. Midweek Madness deals are featured on the Steam homepage from Tuesday 10AM Pacific time to Thursday at 10AM Pacific time.

  • Free Weekends: Free Weekends are promotions where customers have temporary access to your game. Users can try out the game for free, but lose access when the time period expires. This kind of offer is used strategically for certain types of games or circumstances, and is usually paired with a discount to help convert trial players to paying customers.

  • Seasonal Sales: There are several sale events per year, which you may have the chance to participate in. Some of these, like the Summer Sale or Winter Sale, are open to all partners. Some may be only open to products of a certain category, like Anime or VR. You will receive announcements about these events ahead of time, as well as instructions for submitting discounts for your products.

  • Loyalty Discounts: Valve uses loyalty discounts really sparingly, as they don’t typically make much sense unless there’s a huge crossover and a huge addressable audience. They also don’t get messaged or exposed anywhere on the store page. You will need to contact your rep directly to be considered.

MARKETING:

  • Steam — Curator ConnectA Steam Curator is an individual or group of people who are interested in improving the shopping experience for others by highlighting games from within the Steam catalog. Within Curator Connect, you will find the tools to search and filter the list of Curators to find the best fit for your game. Then you can craft a personalized message and send a review copy of your game directly and immediately through Steam.

  • Proper tagging/SEOOnce your game is available for sale, it can appear in many more places throughout Steam. It now qualifies to be recommended to players of similar games. These recommendations can show up at the top of the homepage of Steam, in a user’s discovery queue, on individual tag or genre pages. The only thing you need to do is make sure you have appropriate tags applied to your game.

  • Points Shop Items: Points Shop items come from partners, and are a great way to increase the visibility of your game. So far, millions of players have exchanged Steam Points for these animated, game-themed collectibles.

  • Live Stream: During development and even on release day, you may want to live-stream your game (either yourself, someone on your team, or someone from the community that can show off your game in it’s best light). You can host a live stream directly on your store page, which can be great for demonstrating exactly what it’s like to play your game.

  • Upcoming Release/New Releases Pages: When your game has been posted as ‘coming soon’, it appears on the ‘all upcoming releases’ list, ordered by release date. Additionally, it can appear on other upcoming lists and pages as Steam, based on customer interest in your game, and can be recommended to players based on the tags applied to your game. When your game has recently released, it appears on the ‘all new releases’ list. Additionally, it can appear on other lists and pages such as “new and trending” as Steam notices the games’ relative popularity. Mostly this is impacted by the number of players buying, reviewing and playing your game.

  • Targeting wishlists as CTA (approximately ¼ wishlists will convert to sales): When you hit the release button, Steam will automatically send emails to the players that have your game on their wishlist to let them know your game is available.

  • Emails to Followers of the Developer/Publisher or Franchise Page: If you have created a homepage for the developer and/or publisher of the game, and linked this game with that page, Steam will automatically send an email to any user that has opted to follow the dev or publisher. If you have set this game up as part of a franchise within Steam, then Steam will automatically send an email to any user that has opted to follow the franchise.

  • Visibility roundsWhile every update to your game is a form of communication to players, Steam also has a specific feature for getting word out about the biggest updates you have planned. When you post one of your biggest updates, you can trigger a special visibility option that shows your update and game on the homepage to your players and wishlisters.

  • Announcements and Event Tools: You can make posts or schedule events to communicate with your players about news, live-events, or updates happening in your game. These posts are surfaced to players throughout Steam. Depending on the type of announcement you create, it will be visible through the following channels: Store page, Community hub, Steam Library detail page, Steam Library home page, Activity feed, Workshop hub, RSS feed.

ADDITIONAL OPPORTUNITIES:

  • Steam Next FestThe Steam Next Fest (formerly the Steam Game Festival) is a multi-day celebration where fans can try out demos, chat with developers, watch live streams, and learn about upcoming games on Steam. For developers, the Steam Next Fest is an opportunity to get early feedback from players and build an audience for a future launch on Steam.

  • Steam featured Events: Many showcases, conventions and events come with associated Steam front page featuring. Submit your games to these festivals directly to be considered! Each has their own process. You can find out about upcoming showcases on our page at IndieCalendarBuddy.

Nintendo (Switch)

Nintendo wants to see information about your game combined with a thorough marketing plan with explicit dates, copy and content. It should focus on what you have planned with priority to the 3 “firsts” — Is it coming to Switch first, is it the first reveal of the title, or is it the first time we are seeing something playable? It should not focus on smaller updates or content — Nintendo wants to know “what is the news”.

Most news on Nintendo’s Indie World Twitter focuses on release dates, the title being available to purchase or something actionable by the consumer such as the release of a DLC. They also are looking for games that move more units and consider them on a case by case basis. Numbers that are good for us as indies aren’t necessarily good for major partners like Nintendo, and you have to hit a certain threshold in order to be considered for priority opportunities. When reaching out to your Nintendo rep and/or Third Party Publisher, consider the following best practices for Nintendo of America:

  • Clearly outline dates for when your major beats are dropping — even outside of Nintendo focused beats so they can have a more holistic picture — and they will determine if there are any that align with their own marketing efforts.

  • Emails should focus on a specific title and more digestible actionable items. Their ideal time is 2–4 weeks in advance of the date, as less than 2 weeks is not enough turnaround time for them to be actionable and over 4 weeks their own schedule may be too nebulous.

  • Be sure you are using the features and tools Nintendo makes available such as the games news channels. If you push a blog or post to your own channel, it’s easy for Nintendo to repurpose that content on their own channels.

  • Keep in mind you have to pass Lotcheck with your ROM before the store page can go live. Nintendo sometimes recommends you try earlier so the store page can be ready to maximize the window of pushing out content.

  • This will mostly be routed to the Third PartyPublisher email group.

  • Nintendo offers the following support for any Nintendo partners, and you can find information on how to proceed through NCMS FAQs if you have an approved account. Some of these processes will differ depending on the region you will be releasing too (NOA, NOE or NOJ).

  • Nintendo has good documentation to follow for requirements, timelines and pipeline. You must be an approved Nintendo partner to access explicit details about these opportunities.

SALES:

  • Pre-Orders/Launch & Temporary Discounts

  • Pre-order Discount

  • Launch Discount

  • Temporary Discount

  • Owner Discounts

  • Promoted Sales

MARKETING:

  • Trailer Amplification

  • Social Amplification

  • Nintendo News Channel

ADDITIONAL OPPORTUNITIES:

  • Nindies Showcase Event

  • “Free Week” Demos and Game Trials

  • Indie News Channel

Playstation (PS4, PS5)

Declined to be included in this article due to privilege of information.

Microsoft (Xbox Series X/S, Xbox 360)

Microsoft likes to focus their efforts towards something actionable for the customer, ie pre-order going live or a game launch. Generally they can support a trailer during one of these points or the other. Most marketing efforts should be flagged to the marketing team about 1 month out from launch. Contact ID@Xbox’s marketing department for consideration if you’re an indie and they will route you to the correct people. Microsoft has a very active, supportive marketing group and while some of the documentation on their backend is outdated, it’s still a helpful reference although it requires an approved account to view.

SALES:

  • Pre-Order: Game must be through certification before you can set up a pre-order. This requires 2 weeks lead time in order to be processed in time for launch. Set up through account rep.

  • Launch Discount: Launch discount is set up through account rep and requires additional lead time separate from pre-order. If you want to accommodate both a pre-order and launch discount, the game must pass certification at least 4 weeks from launch.

  • Promoted and “Self-Serve” Sales: Email ID@Xbox’s marketing department to submit the discounts

  • Each kind of sale (Deals with Gold, Opportunistic Discounts and Theme Sales) can only happen every 6 months from the last sale of the same kind on a per game basis.

  • Each game can only be discounted every 3 months in general. So in a perfect world you could schedule 4 sales per game per year — 2 Deals with Gold/Opportunistic Discounts and 2 Theme Sales.

  • Each month there are new Theme Sales which you can submit games to. The game has to match whatever that particular theme is (i.e. Multiplayer Sale, Sci-Fi Sale, FPS Sale).

  • Fill out the request form for Deals with Gold (DWG) and Opportunistic Discounts.

  • Deals with Gold is for titles that have been released in the last 2 years. You can schedule these every 6 months, and Microsoft helps you find an open slot. These get featured.

  • Opportunistic Discounts are for titles older than 2 years. You don’t get the same featuring that comes with Deals with Gold, but the game is still set on discount.

MARKETING: Reach out to marketing group emails and CC reps where possible. Include key dates, game info and marketing plan. These are obviously not all available to everyone, but are possible avenues:

  • Trailer Amplification/Youtube Support: Reach out to the marketing group to provide trailer approval for amplification tied to pre-order or launch day. You must fill out an intake form, a sync sheet template, and an SRT. Also refer to their guidelines. These are not publicly available — reach out to the email group and your rep for access.

  • Newsletter: Trickier to secure as there is limited space, but you can request through the marketing group.

  • Social Amplification: Microsoft won’t typically do Facebook or Instagram, but can do Twitter at the Xbox and ID@Xbox channels.

  • Major Nelson tweet — @majornelson Twitter handle

  • Major Nelson blog post — highly trafficked blog; see https://majornelson.com/

  • ID@Xbox tweet — from @ID_Xbox Twitter handle

  • ID@Xbox blog post — Optional ID@Xbox post http://www.idatxbox.com/

  • ID@Xbox blog- Inclusion in release post for the week

  • Xbox Wire: To be written by developer/publisher and provided to the group emails with reps CC’d. Requires at least two weeks between posts for the same title. First draft must be submitted at least one week prior to posting. Refer to their template — not publicly available, reach out to the marketing group or your rep for access.

ADDITIONAL OPPORTUNITIES: As with other partners, these opportunities are highly curated and participation is upon invitation. As such, most of these promotions are variable and not something a title should expect.

  • Exclusive Dash Promotion: Prime real estate in the New Release section

  • “Next Week on Xbox”post: News aggregator with outreach to additional press

  • Summer Spotlight: Generally happens in August

  • Winter of Arcade: At the discretion of Microsoft and based on availability. Happens in December.

  • Game Pass: Flag for inclusion at least 6 months out from launch. At the discretion of Microsoft.

  • Game Demo Event: Up to the discretion of ID@Xbox plans. Game’s full release must happen on a date after the event.

  • Demo build must be playable on Xbox One and/or Xbox Series X|S

  • Demo build must have full Xbox One controller functionality

  • Demo build must be submitted into Certification

Stadia (Google’s cloud platform)

After a project is accepted to release on Stadia, you will be assigned an account manager who will help route questions/issues/concerns, flag press and amplification opportunities, and coordinate release and marketing materials. There are additional opportunities for Unity projects that are part of the Stadia Makers program. Stadia documentation is excellent and always kept up to date, but you need to have an approved account to view it. Additionally, Stadia has one of the most responsive support teams and active forums.

Our experience with Stadia so far has included launching two games within the Stadia Makers program. These are some of but not all of the benefits that Stadia offers to partners, based on our experience so far with the cloud gaming platform:

SALES:

  • Self-Serve Sales: Promotions are something you can do in the backend. Once pricing is published and store certification is passed, you can set up promos/discounts.

  • Promoted Sales: The Stadia commerce team will approach you as well for Promoted Sales. The process is the same as Self-Serve sales except they will do the initial submission for you via the portal. After they submit, the publisher will approve timing and discount %.

MARKETING: For anything marketing related, a few key approaches that we experienced:

  • Proactive: leading up to and including your launch, Stadia may reach out and ask for assets/approval for marketing beats.

  • Reactive: For any marketing moment you have planned, we’ve found it useful to reach out to Stadia and give them a heads up. It’s best if both teams are aligned so that they can see the options they have in terms of supporting/amplifying your marketing moment.

  • Both Proactive and Reactive activations can include the following support tactics to highlight your game coming to or launching on Stadia:

  • Trailers can be posted on Stadia YouTube and social channels

  • Brand approval is submitted through a form

  • Reference can be found in a document not publicly available — reach out to your Stadia rep.

  • Submit in advance to give their brand review team time to provide feedback.

  • Promotion of blogs via a Stadia social post. They request that partners post social posts to their own channels in sync with Stadia’s post.

  • Press outreach: In our experience, Stadia helped source, pitch, and secure press coverage that featured our studio and email interviews with MCVGamasutra and other outlets. These articles highlighted our experience within the Stadia Makers program and interest in cloud gaming, which highlighted our game coming to Stadia and other platforms.

ADDITIONAL OPPORTUNITIES: For developers who are a part of the Stadia Makers program, Stadia may provide additional marketing support. This can be in the form of blogs, providing press and interview opportunities, and trailer and title announcements as part of major Stadia marketing beats.

  • BlogsStadia likes to announce upcoming games in Stadia community blog posts, and also provide opportunities to highlight the launch of your games within their weekly “This Week on Stadia” posts.

——

We at Akupara do believe this process can continue to be improved upon, especially with regards to indies. Many opportunities are currently unavailable to us based on sometimes ambiguous partner criteria, poor documentation and visibility, or high associated costs that are stacked against the limited resources indie developers have available.

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