Podcast: Devolver's Clara Sia on the streamer-led discovery process for games
How streamers find your games - and how they want to interact with you.
Welcome to the third Tales From GameDiscoveryLand podcast in Season 1. In this episode, we talk to Clara Sia. She’s currently the ‘influencer strategist’ at noted indie publishing label Devolver Digital, but has previously worked in streamer relations for a number of years, and streams on Twitch herself.
Our subject? The vitally important - and very complex - YouTube and Twitch ecosystem, one of the primary ways that PC and console players discover games in the 2020s. Below is a lightly edited full transcript of the entire podcast.
Reminder: you can get hold of episodes via our official podcast page, and also via Apple Podcasts, Spotify, Stitcher and Pocket Casts. If you need it, here’s our podcast RSS feed. And thanks in advance for listening.
Simon: Streamers - they're kind of important to people discovering your game, in 2022. Incredibly important, in fact. Which is why we were so excited to get veteran influencer manager and strategist Clara Sia to the podcast.
Clara is currently working at Devolver, and previously had a long-time stint at a third-party agency. She even streams herself on Twitch, and we had a lot to talk about, given the complex nature of the streamer ecosystem.
So let's dive straight into what I like to call streamer anthropology with Clara. I'm Simon Carless, founder of GameDiscoverCo, and this is the Tales From Game Discoveryland podcast.
Simon: Hey everyone, and welcome to The Tales from GameDiscoveryLand Podcast. I'm Simon, and I'm here with Clara. How's it going?
Clara: It's going swimmingly. Yourself, Simon?
Simon: I am doing great, thank you. I'm very excited to talk to you because we're talking about streamers, and… something that I think is very important and honestly still not discussed enough in game discovery. This is how you deal with streamers, and how you interact with them, and how they think.
I wanted to start by asking you - you've been a longtime Twitch partner yourself focusing on indie titles, I wanted to ask how you personally pick games to feature. Is it the outreach from the dev? The game being great? All of the above?
Clara: Typically, all the above, I've always been a casual streamer. So just because I have a little purple check mark it doesn't mean I'm serious or like, a career streamer. I originally started playing Guild Wars 2 and then I moved on to other MMO. I originally did it because… people were giving me in-game gold towards a legendary [weapon] to stream. I… grew to love it and I moved on to triple A titles and retro games.
Then I got [Twitch] partnered later that year, and I discovered indie games for the first time. Actually, I just decided I didn't care about numbers, I cared more about just having fun and finding new things.
So the discovery is now my favorite aspect of picking and streaming games. I used to do these themed weeks like, you know, paper-themed indie games, dark-themed games, farming… Or if a game or dev at a booth made an impression on me at PAX and then follow up after, I’d play their game.
But now I'm super casual. I used to stream five days a week. Now I'm just two nights a week. So I pick something that's come out recently… that fits my current moods. It’s oftentimes more chill these days… I think they're called cozy streams now. And because I'm not a career streamer, I have the luxury to play what I want, and I don't bother with this strategic game choice.
That being said, if I ever did want to put serious focus into my stream, there'd be a number of things I'd have to change about it to be commercially successful. And that would include game choice, I would definitely have to be more strategic about it.
Simon: That's the nice thing about Twitch. You can have people from all areas, people doing it for fun, and you can have people doing it more strategically for income. And I did wonder about indie titles in particular.
It seems like maybe indie titles have a tougher time breaking through on Twitch sometimes than YouTube - have you seen that? And why do you think there might be?
Clara: I actually think it's the opposite, personally. It depends on the genre. Some genres and games will do better on Twitch than on YouTube and vice versa. They're completely different platforms & different mediums of content.
I'd say though, generally, it's probably easier to break through on Twitch than on YouTube. But YouTube has more lasting power for all genres, due to its evergreen nature. So [YouTube’s] not just for games as a service, or highly replayable games or open world games, which just typically generate more content innately. But if you have your game [featured] on YouTube, that will last forever, because they very rarely take those videos down. Whereas on Twitch, it's fleeting.
I'm not saying that [Twitch] streaming is easy. But it's definitely an easier choice for a streamer to take a chance on a game for some number of hours until they get bored than on YouTube - to commit to pre-recording, editing and then publishing it permanently… on their channel.
So for YouTubers, that content is worthless until it's published and they won't know how it will do until it is published. A streamer [Twitch] streaming a game - all of that content is usable, it's monetizable content right away because it's live. And they get live feedback as to whether or not it's working for their audience.
So for me, it's been easier to break into [pitching games to] streamers that way. And then you get the hybrid influencers who are somehow able to do both live and VOD content successfully. I'm not talking about just uploading their live streams, just raw streams to YouTube. I mean, they made YouTube-specific content, and they made Twitch-specific content.
I'm saying Twitch specifically instead of streaming because Twitch is still - by far - the king of all live streaming. So that's where you want your content to live. And in a live-stream fashion, Twitch is where you're going to be looking, mostly.
Simon: As you say, it's like if you want to put together a video for a new game on YouTube, then you are going to have to spend time learning it. And I'm always impressed with folks like Splattercat. They seem to be able to learn games enough to do pre-recorded content on them, and then edit it down. And they can only spend a day on that, and that seems really crazy to me.
So I think what you're saying is, if you want someone to try a game for two or three hours and see if they like it, then Twitch is sort of a good place for them to get started. And then maybe if you get the hang of that, then folks who are on YouTube would be also be interested in your game.
Clara: Yeah, one typically kind of follows the other. Again - it depends on the game, the launch, the story beat as well. Oftentimes you'll give YouTubers earlier access because then they can pre-record, they'll adhere to an embargo. And then they publish the content a certain day - and then live-streamers just go live.
[Twitch streamers] don't have that pre-setup time that's required. And then, as I say, oftentimes if something's a hit on YouTube, then Twitch streamers will follow and vice versa. It really depends on what the strategy is for that particular beat.
Simon: One thing that devs often ask me or I've seen them say: they feel like Let's Players or streamers are playing the same game over and over again. And in some way they feel like that's ‘unfair’, or something. Do you think that's like a fair criticism and why do you think that happens?
Clara: Well, sure, there are definitely a lot of single game or single genre streamers, It's the path of least resistance. There's often still value in targeting both variety and non-variety streamers, though. So I wouldn't necessarily rule them out. I definitely still shoot for anyone who plays in the same genre as your game, even if they stick with mostly… one or two titles.
Variety is always harder to gain traction than sticking to one game or genre. There are a number of strategies and metas that come and go in order to maximize viewership.. But they do it for a reason, for the same reason that sitcoms have formulaic structures.
You set the expectation and then you meet the expectation. It's very tempting for streamers, especially new streamers, who want to be unique to have specially themed days, regularly scheduled events like talk shows, interview segments, things like that but. But by and large it alienates their viewers… it segments them. Viewers typically want a consistent experience, with very little barrier to entry.
And talking about streamers specifically. YouTube again, you can have the preamble it's all pre-recorded. It’s edited - you can skip back and forth. But unlike YouTube, you can't really easily rewind [on Twitch]. It's not designed that way as a live-stream - [you can’t] catch up on any pertinent information, find out what's going on.
The majority of [Twitch] stream [viewers] will join midstream. Some will ask what's going on - at which point the streamer or moderator needs to interrupt things, answer them, fill them in. Most viewers on Twitch, though they don't talk at all. They just don't chat. They're just what we call lurkers.
They take in, maybe a minute or two of content… and then they silently decide to go elsewhere, if they aren't immediately caught on to what's happening. So for me it's understandable why a streamer would choose to stick to one genre or one game, because it is the path of least resistance. That is where… the easiest revenue lies for most.
Simon: So for example, for Northernlion, if you come onto one of his streams as a viewer, you're expecting him to be playing some kind of randomized game where he's making slightly sarcastic comments to the audience. And it's kind of different every time, right? That's how it works.
Clara: Yes, and then if he finds a game - and it's not just limited to Northenlion. But if he finds a game, he typically sticks with it for a while if it does really well. I think right now he's really into Super Auto Pets, and he gained a lot of notoriety from The Binding of Isaac.
Roguelikes have great replayability. Everyone kind of plays through them differently, and you get different stories every single time, so… yeah.
Simon: I wanted to ask a little bit about designing games to be streamer friendly. I think we've seen games like Isaac that have done tremendously well - it's got a multi-year ‘long tail’ on streamers. Have you identified the particular things in The Binding of Isaac that makes [streamers] play it for so long, so far after release?
Clara: The replayability is huge. If you've got a one shot narrative game, you get one playthrough out of it at most. Most [streamers] don't even finish them, typically - a lot of streamers don't finish games. If they're variety [streamers], they just keep moving on to it.
I'm one of those people as well. You just keep moving on if you don't stream very often. If you stream a lot, sure. There are people who grind it out and do 12-hour streams a day. I cannot fathom that. But most of the time, these people are streaming in their off-time, they have regular day jobs and they're ‘tasters’.
About what made games [replayable]? Well, first of all the genre. [For] roguelikes, the randomness of it, the procedurally generated aspects of those games make it so that each experience is different. And every influencer creator wants to be unique, they want to stand out - and they want to create their own stories.
One [aspect] is through the gameplay itself. Another one is through its presentation and how unique it looks. I advise on how to make games appealing to streamers all the time… but I would never dream of changing a developer's vision, if streamers aren't part of their interest in marketing.
So not every game is made for streaming. Not every genre will appeal to influencers, and some of them are just as a whole tough to sell. So point and clicks, for instance, or puzzle games. That's always going to be: “you're fighting against the stream”.
They'll still make it. There's always going to be the one or two breakouts here and there. But for the most part, it's instantly: ”Oh, we've got a lot of work here”. So any [game] where the playthroughs are unique to each player, typically have a better chance to pick up [interest]. Like sandbox, survival, branching story paths, ‘choices matter’, even if it's vanity.
Anything where the influencers can make their own hilarious stories. We just actually launched an immersive sim called Weird West that I knew would generate some crazy shareable moments on social. There are friends within the Northernlion ‘circle’ who will play games that he recommends - because they talk, they know each other very well.
They know what they're into, and then they create new ‘inside jokes’ within the streaming communities, which is something just so attractive to them. Anything that generates strong reactions.
So horror games will always have a place in content creation, absolutely… and then of course, you want to have something that's visually appealing or interesting. And interesting is in the eye of the beholder. So… it can absolutely look like a super low-poly mess, and it'll still be appealing.
It can still be appealing to influencers, I mean, look at Crab Game, right? Give them some good clickable thumbnails… you don't have to be hyper realistic, but have a distinct look and that is already a huge step above 95% of what's released on Steam.
Then [streamers/YouTubers] will mostly be talking over your game, so sound is slightly less important, but still important. It's one of the most commented-on aspects of the game, as you're watching any streams. Like: “Wow, this music is so great”, or “their voice acting is really good”. But not too much voice acting, because then you're taking away from the streamer’s voice.
So they're all these little aspects that affect the appeal to streamers. And then… you can get really fancy and do Twitch integrations, ‘chat to game’ interaction, Twitch extensions, metagames… it goes on and on and on.
Simon: How much do you think the streamer has to ‘think’ when they're playing a game, versus responding to the audience? Because I've had this concern… if some games are too complicated, you won't really be able to spend any time seeing what your viewers are doing. Is there kind of a ‘happy medium’ there?
Clara: Oh, that's tricky because you [have to take into account] different bands of streamers and their concurrent viewership. So the bigger the stream, the less likely they're going to be reading their chat at all. They kinda glance from time to time, pick out some choice things to respond to, and then they go back to the game.
If they're skill-based influencers… like, shooter type influencers or strategy-based, and so you're seeing them putting in some ‘sick plays’ as they call it - they interact a lot less, because they actually stay focused.
Most streamers, though… are more seen as entertainment streamers. And they will do about half and half. When I play a game and someone [asks] “How far are you into this game?” to tell them how much progress I'm at, [I say] “I've been playing it for four hours… but realistically, in real game hours, it’s like two and a half.”
Because that's how much [non-game] time I'm spending rambling off-tangent about things, responding to chat, reading chat, looking at other clips, getting distracted with Tweets and things that people want to show me. I have ADHD, I'm diagnosed with ADHD, so it's even harder for me to stay focused. But that's kind of part of the fun.
Simon: It basically means you just need to be able to stop playing the game for a little bit to see what people are talking about. Or indeed, if your chat is going so fast, because you're a really popular streamer, it's not like you see what's going on that much anyhow. You're just going to be concentrating on… if people are subbing to you, and you're [just] going to say thanks to them.
Clara: Exactly - you reward the people to monetize your stream. There was this incident where Sodapoppin - he's so big and his chat is just constantly moving. He didn't even know, there's unfortunately things called hate raids, I'm not sure if you’re familiar [with the term]. But he received the hate raid, and he didn't even know it happened, because he just doesn't look.
But you don't want to ignore your…. smaller or mid tier streamers. They have highly dedicated audiences, they are just lapping up every word. They're there to watch whatever that streamer plays. They're there for the community and for the streamer, not necessarily for just the gameplay.
So they're also important in your marketing plan. Don't take those out of your plan - always take them into account. And those are the ones where you can actually be in the chat, as a developer or publisher You can sit in that chat, you can interact with them and get direct feedback, or you can just listen.
Simon: I was interested in talking about… how you subdivide streamers, at least mentally. You talked about it a little bit and I think it's just difficult. A lot of developers, who have not really paid a lot of attention to the streaming world? It's difficult for them to [understand]. So, if you were to subdivide the three or four main types of streamer - could you?
Clara: Yeah, and it's not just streamers, it's all kinds of influencers, including YouTubers. I will always avoid, when I can - unless it's a very specific crowd - ‘No Commentary’ YouTube channels. I mean, they're called spoiler channels for a reason.
Their audiences, by and large, watch those videos because they don't want to buy the game. They just want to see it. And so they'll post all the boss fights or all the cut-scenes, or just play through it so they don't have to buy it.
But there are certain channels like Alpha Beta Gamer for instance, right? It’s ‘No Commentary’, but his audience specifically looks for new and upcoming games that might interest them. So there's always exceptions, but you just have to get to know them.
Definitely don't strictly use follower and subscriber counts as the only metric to care about. There's the highly engaging [influencers] - it's so hard to break them up. Fur sure, there’s entertainment - but that's in itself such a big category, and the skill-based. And then you’ve got the Tomato-s of the world (Dumb Dog is another one). He's very good at games, and can read chat… and can make funny commentary and stories.
And then from that you've got the highly engaged [streamers and YouTubers] - they're very concerned with the community… they will respond in the comments, they will respond to chat. They have Discord channels that they participate in every day, they're on social, they respond on social…
And those are very appealing to marketing as well, because their audiences are there for them, they will listen to them - they have true influence. Then there's the other [category of influencers] that are very commercial. They're there for the brand deals. They are celebrity level, and they also have value, depending on your beat. But, you know, get ready for other types of conversation that come up.
Speaking of the follower and subscriber counts: look at their views more, the concurrent viewership. Look at engagement - is there any? You're gonna see some channels that have very high viewership and zero comments - what is up with that? If there are comments, what are they saying? Is their community a good fit? Are they asking questions? Or are they just saying, “nice”?
What kind of commentary does a creator do? Are they more critical? Like, for instance, Splattercat is there to specifically showcase new games. He is there for the discovery. He's there to spotlight devs, and so a service for them, as well as his viewers. Or are they more involved with just making revenue and boosting their brand?
What kind of content do they make? Do they do Let's Plays, editorials, reviews, comedy cuts, Top 10 lists, more deep-dive tips and guides? There's just so many different types of activations that you can get into. So it's really hard for me to bucket them all.
Simon: That's kind of why I like the space. So I think I'm a bit of a wannabe cultural anthropologist, you know, and I think there's so much out there. There's so many weird scenes and specific types of streamers. Like, because I was a little bit involved behind the scenes on Hypnospace Outlaw, I was checking out Jerma's stream [of the game]. And you know, he has a whole other kind of very odd ‘meta’.
And there's all kinds of interesting people out there. But it's definitely been my contention that a lot of game companies don't spend enough time understanding this space. Has that been your one of your thoughts - that maybe sometimes we spend a lot of time thinking about sending out press releases, but less time on getting deep into the anthropology of how streamers work?
Clara: I love that you call it the anthropology of streamers. It has its own ecology, its own ecosystem. I can't tell you my time where one of my previous clients, any of my previous clients would ask me things like “Clara, Is ‘POGGERS’ Good?” or “What is ‘kappa’?” [Poggers and Kappa are Twitch expressions]
So how do you get around that? I mean, if you have the time, if you have the energy and you have the resources to do it, be a part of the culture. Join the streams, watch the videos, be in their chats or Discords, interact with them on Twitter - which by the way, is still the best place to connect with them on social media. It’s not Instagram, it’s not TikTok. Some of them are there for sure, but Twitter is still the place to be.
It is a culture with many subcultures. And it's not just understanding the lingo, it's also (and this is probably the biggest disconnect here) understanding their needs. There's a massive, massive lack of appreciation for what influencers want in a partnership with brands, which includes game devs.
Ultimately, they want engagement, they want viewership. It's how they make their revenues, how they grow, how they obtain notoriety, and garner and hold on to influence - whether or not they like that word. A lot of people don't like that word, but that's what they want.
They want to legitimize their long hours. But what affects that viewership - up or down? That's the mystery. So you have to put in the time and energy to get the creator ethos. It is very time consuming, that's why I had a job for four years at the agency, and the business only grew and grew, as our success and influencers grew.
To give a little context, there were only two of us influencer managers there in a team of 13-14. By the time I left, 40% of the company’s revenue for that year was influencer work. So it's such a large piece of the industry that deserves to be understood. and will only pay back to you if you take the time to understand it.
Simon: I completely agree. I've interviewed SplatterCat for this newsletter. I had NorthernLion talk at GDC in 2014. So I've definitely been super interested in the space for a long time. And I think what people sometimes fail to appreciate is just the depth of these audiences, and… the amount of streamers you can deal with, even foreign language streamers.
I found that there can be German language streamers or Turkish language streamers that are massive as well. How do you try and keep track of that type of stuff? Do you have a country by country list as well? Because not all these folks are English language speakers.
Clara: Not country by country but language, because they are all over the place [geographically]. So in French, it could be any number of countries that have France as their national language. When I was at the agency, I was global outreach. Now that Im at Devolver Digital and we have an army of PR agencies from around the world, I can now disseminate some of that work - because they speak the language.
It helps with a lot of things, not the least of which getting embargo information very clearly communicated with very little risk of miscommunication. But I have affinities with, definitely, certain demographics, certain non-English demographics.
I absolutely love Portuguese creators, they are fantastic. The Spanish creators also, there's highly, highly dedicated audiences, massive audiences. Probably some of the biggest audiences if not the biggest audiences you'll see on Twitch are actually, I think, from Spanish and Portuguese streamers.
Korean streamers are also fantastic, I love the German streamers as well. They each sort of have like things that they gravitate to a little bit more to. Russian streamers and Russian YouTubers - very highly dedicated. And kind of a tip if you want to look at sponsoring them, they have lower rates by far [compared to] North American streamers and YouTubers.
We coordinate the outreach. We make sure all the timing is the same. Certain regions may get a little extra love, depending where our devs are. Because there might be any certain affinities to [the game], or if [a region] has shown any special affinities to a game pre-launch, which does happen a lot.
For instance, Serious Sam [games] are made by Croatian devs. And then the latest Serious Sam game came out from a Russian mod team turned dev team, and so we had lots of love from Russia. You just have to keep your eyes and ears open and be very, very open to the fact that it's not just about our little bubble here. There's tons of influencers all around the world, and they're just wonderful to work with. I absolutely love it.
Simon: You mentioned the paid side of things and I was going to ask. Obviously, you have been involved in helping to pick streamers for paid streams but - do you have any tips for people considering using paid streamers? Are there times when you can pay money and it's really a waste? Or is it that some types of streamers do you think don't get great ROI for people who actually are selling games?
Clara: Oh yes… when I was at the agency I ran end to end service for influencer campaigns. So I also created processes… what that means is if there was an influencer budget for a launch from what any of my clients, I'd be the one to spend it. I’d do the recommendations, I’d create the lists, I’d do the outreach and the negotiations, the admin work, the legal contract, the compliance, all that stuff. So the budgets ranged from $5000 to six digits - and I came close to a seven figure spend at one point.
If you're considering paying for content, sponsoring influencers, creators? You can do any sort of activations… and it doesn't have to be just gameplay. I actually personally love the more creative things like doing a cosplay, or commissioning a creative controller.
But, you know, anytime you're paying, that is the one spot in influencer marketing where I will always say to hire someone because it is terrible work to just walk into uninitiated. It's not just a matter of “Okay, well, if you do this, I'll just paypal you 50 bucks” or “I'll send you $1,000”.
It is curating, first of all, the right talent for the part. There are literally tens of millions of streamers… and YouTube is massive. Then there's negotiating the rates and the terms, the deliverables. And you're not talking with independents only at that point, you're talking with the agencies [or talent managers] that represent them.
There's [also] contracts… definitely have one drafted up by someone in the legal world, don't do it yourself, cover your butts… there's also a lot of nuance for negotiating rates. It's not just a matter of standardized CPMs. You have to consider their actual influence, their engagement across all the social platforms, the production quality, the value adds and follow ups, especially if it's evergreen, you know, [if it] lives forever.
Some agencies just charge more for the one-off activations, because they're mostly interested in long term brand deals, or they're very old school Hollywood. There are some agencies that are very much snapping up influencers now… and you'll see eight managers and their assistants on every email. Every single one of those people gotta get a piece of the pie. All I see the dollar signs going up, up up, when I work with them - it's gotta be worth it.
And then sometimes the advice is not to spend any money at all. There's a misconception that if you have a big game, that's when you should have your big budget. For indies… the sorta double A area, that's just not going to be the case and definitely not for triple As.
I definitely had some triple A clients back at the agency - they had so much power and influence as the brand… those games will get coverage, and you don't need to spend money there. I mean, you can and you'll still probably get something out of it. But it's the ones that need the visibility, that's where you need to put the budget. It’s reversed. That's one thing that I tried to get out there.
Everyone's approach with the deliverables is differeent. Mine is simply have fun, make the game look good, make me look good and that's it. I don't want to take away your voice…
Simon: Yeah, you don't want to be too specific. Because as you say, if you're producing agreements [that say] ‘you can't say these 12 terms while you're doing the video’…
Clara: ‘Make sure you have the six hashtags in your going live tweet’, yes, let's just kill their algorithmic engagement right off the top!
Simon: I'm also on the same page with you - I'm definitely a bit of a paid ad skeptic in general. But I do think you're right - in many cases, big brands can spend around launch and it won't hurt.
But probably, people were gonna pick up that games to start with anyway. And if they keep playing it is going to be based on whether it's actually a good game or not - which you can't really control on the marketing and streaming side of things.
Clara: To answer one part of the question that I totally neglected - who isn't as effective. There are certain spheres where they're mostly meme or troll channels. Their viewers are there to watch them, their personalities, and they aren't really there to buy the games at all.
You'll still get a bump by giving them a code. If they play the game, your [Twitch] category will rise just from that alone - their numbers will just bump the category up, that's good too. But you probably want to stay away from paying their agencies. They charge a lot of money, and you're not getting as much back for that - so just something to keep in mind.
Simon: Yeah, maybe folks [like that] are good for selling energy drinks, but they might not be good for selling games.
Clara: Exactly, or toilet paper which I have seen - I think it's hilarious.
Simon: Yeah, it's getting pretty non-endemic with sponsors.
Clara: I love the blend of lifestyle and gaming - it’s the dream.
Simon: I had another related question. And I'm not picking on any of these sites in particular. But what do you think of third party sites that match streamers to devs and publishers like Woovit, Keymailer or Lurkit. How do you think they fit into the ecosystem?
Clara: I think marketing is hard and expensive, and game development is hard and expensive. I don't ever blame anyone for using those services. And in most cases, it's probably better than nothing at all. But you do have to be careful who you're dealing with.
Certain platforms I won't name which have had practices where they simply list every game. It's just standard. They list every game out there on the platform, and available for requests. They take requests, the dev and publisher have no knowledge of this, and then they get pitched for a sale with like: “Look at all the people interested in your game that we drummed up”.
So that's not the best practice and they promised me that they stopped doing that. But I'm still finding our games on there completely not initiated by us or our devs.
And despite [these sites] all claiming that it's impossible to spoof identities of influencers on there, I have been shown by influencers how easy it is to pretend to be them asking for keys on those platforms. I have… countless times asked someone that I actually know, sent him a DM: “Did you request this key?” And he’s like: “I've never signed up for that platform.”
It got to the point where I didn't send any keys at all of those platforms. I'd reject everyone, and then send the keys… directly, to their DM and email. So it at least got to the right place, whether or not they wanted the key in the first place. At least I'm not neglecting them if it happened to be them, and it's not going to somewhere else.
Just to clarify - why do people do this - why do they spoof, why do they scam? Whether it's on the key distro platforms or a YouTube scam network, they're just getting more [popular] now, vanity Steam curators or over email - it's because they want to make money selling those [Steam] keys on the gray market.
I've had many small devs tell me they put their games up for Early Access to [get] visibility on these platforms - and then their games end up on cracked warez sites… or the gray markets within days.
So… if you want to put money into doing even the bare minimum work in influencer outreach, hire a freelancer who has actual relationships with influential creators, and then they can get the keys to the right place. Even with the most reputable platforms… you're not hitting the really big people, because those influencers are in such high demand. Almost none of them use these platforms.
Simon: I think sometimes these platforms… some of them are well run, and some of them get kind of good levels of small and medium creators. But ultimately, I fear that there's sometimes a bit of a box-ticking exercise for PR companies who want to show that they know how to do streamers.
Because they can send people who don't know any better a list of all the people who ask for a key - despite the fact that those people may or may not be influential, or on a few occasions, may or may not be the people that they claim that they are.
Clara: Also… [on] Steam curators. I just Tweeted about this. But I have a plea - please, to anyone listening, please stop sending Steam curator keys over email. If you're going to send them at all… please send them over Curator Connect, where they get the game sent directly to their [Steam] library, and they can't resell them.
If they're asking for keys over email, it's because they want unredeemed keys to sell in the gray market. And they certainly do not need multiple keys for their “Team” to write two sentences and click ‘Recommended’, because there's a character limit.
Simon: I actually think it's unfortunate. I think the Steam Curator system started out as a good idea, but I think it's become a little non-dynamic. And I think in the end, it wasn't quite the solution to the problem it wanted it to be.
And in fact, the uplift… even if a medium sized [Steam] curator covers you is a little is a little limp,still. So yeah, I think it's worth staying away from entirely, potentially.
Clara: Oh, well. I didn't say it but…
Simon: I just did, I’m in charge, I’m in charge of this podcast so I guess it’s OK [laughs]
So just focusing on what maybe devs and publishers misunderstand about streamers: I know we talked about this a little bit, but I do feel like there's gonna be quite a lot of the audience who just don't deal with streamers, Twitch-ers or YouTubers on a regular basis. What's the thing a lot of people misunderstand when they think about the motivation of streamers?
Clara: Definitely one is exactly what you said, just the motivations of streamers. It's very basic - they just want viewership. They want to have something that's sellable to their viewers, whether it's just watching or they're actually buying and they get affiliate revenue out of it - it doesn't matter.
I think one of the biggest misconceptions isn't about the streamers themselves. I don't think there's the biggest mystery there. It's actually what we [as streamer relations professionals] do. I think, the mystery [from a client side] is like - ‘What are we hiring? Are you just sending things out?’
I've never really kept secrets from my clients… I just send the same email that you do. Mine might be even more boring, because otherwise I end up in spam. But they respond to mine. So it's the relationship and the steeped know-how - that's what you're buying when you hire an influencer marketer.
It's just the fact that we've been talking to them a long time. We get them. And a common misconception of what we do is the same [issue] as community managers: “Oh, they just tweet a lot of things” No, it's a lot of… behind the scenes strategizing. Actually… I got to pick my title when I went to Devolver, it was influencer relations manager at the agency, and I changed it from influencer to strategist.
It came to me in a dream, because a lot of people just think I sit at my desk and send game keys out to streamers and YouTubers all day. [That is] the smallest part of my job. The work is mostly consultation - it’s strategies, recommendations, anticipating response, setting expectations, planning, pivoting, constant change, executing both paid and organic work, and then extending that tail even after launch.
And that's something I really love about working in-house versus at an agency. There's pros and cons to either. At the agency, I felt more like a mercenary - whereas I feel more ownership working in-house at Devolver Digital. These games are my games, you know. And I feel like I own them forever. But maintaining relationships is still the key. So my job starts actually as early as the pitch - from the first call. And then it straddles… community [and] production, but mostly lies in marketing.
One thing that I think developers don’t understand is how to interact… with influencers in a stream chat. For instance, I see all the time - very key mistake - they backseat [the] game. You know, they just don't want the streamer to miss anything, so they go: “No, look under the box, there's something in there.” Don't do that, please. Seriously, let them experience it themselves - nothing will kill the stream faster.
Then, maybe this was a bit controversial: I don't think you have to play games or a lot of games to make a good, even commercially successful, game. But I do think that if you want to specifically appeal to creators as part of your plan, you need to stand out.
And to do that, you need to know what has stood out before to them, what appeals to them. And you have to play a lot of games to understand that. That’s one of my values. I play a lot of games - I'm always playing games. And if a pitch comes in, I can compare it to a lot of things that have worked and have not worked and why. “Let's look at the difference?” - “How does this stand a chance?”
Something else, almost no streamer likes motion blur. Give us the option to turn it off. And accessibility options - hugely important to a vast number of streamers. These are people now showcasing how your game is playable, how it's played. Give them more options. I think that's a really big one to highlight.
Simon: I think discovery, as I've talked about extensively in my newsletter, starts very early in development. So I also feel when I consult or when I work on things, if I'm bought in with like three months to go, I'm kind of like: “Well, I can help you 20%, but it would have been 80% if we talked about this like a year and a half ago.” So…
Clara: As the letter pusher, I will send emails for you [laughs]
Simon: Yeah, I can definitely hit the send button [laughs] - let’s talk a bit earlier about this.
I think it requires you to have a more holistic approach. I do think that's key nowadays, because to your point - I'm looking at games that are popular on Steam now, and a lot of it's driven by streamers. So you really need to have a good understanding of whether streamers will like your game, quite early in the process.
Clara: Yeah, absolutely, and then sometimes you just throw the kitchen sink out. Go on Twitch, throw some GIFs out, throw some MP4s out - what is it that people engage with? What did they lean into? Again, if that is your goal. If you don't care for influencers, make the game of your dreams - don't compromise for anything.
But, you know, do your A/B testing, get out there, there's no time like today to get out there. But as you mentioned, holistic approach. When I look at a pitch, I don't just look at the pitch. If I'm interested, I then go to their Twitter accounts or social media, I check out if they've got a Discord - how's their community? How healthy is it? What are they talking about? Are they already sharing? You know - what are their values? It's absolutely a holistic approach when you are dealing with this.
Simon: Yeah and that's interesting, because certainly as an influencer strategist, that isn't necessarily what people would expect you will be doing. But I do think that's an important part if you're really going to help with strategy, which I think is increasingly important.
Clara: Yeah, I mean, like for me, one of the biggest things I do is - what is the hook? What is the thing I can do? What is the one sentence I can use to sell a game to influencers? Sometimes it's simply notoriety - “This guy made Pony Island”. That was enough for Inscryption for instance, you know. Daniel Mullins, he's got his cult following, or like - “Do you like Frog Fractions?”
I don't typically like to do it, because to me it feels reductive. But, you know, saying things like “Zelda meets Dark Souls”. But I know that it does sell - quickly - an idea. And it's not to be reductive. It's simply, like: “No, listen to the rest of what I have to say” So yeah, it is finding what influencers like, what's worked for them, what it is that they put in their [YouTube] titles - that's a big clue.
Actually, if you go to YouTube, there are two things that are very important to the algorithm for pickup. And if they do well in the algorithm, you do well.. One is the thumbnail: give them assets, transparent, layered assets, isolated assets that they can customize for their video. The worst thing you can do is only provide the same key art to everybody, and that's it.
They can't do anything else - they have to get their own screenshots, which may or may not do very well. Give them elements to move around and make unique thumbnails, that's part of the algorithm pick up. The other one is [YouTubers] think really hard on their video titles, because that is also algorithmim.
So look at what they write in their titles. SplatterCat, like you said, excellent dude for picking the right words that will get picked up by the algorithm. He plays so many different game types - look at what he's writing about, and that's what they're interested in.
Simon: We actually just had a podcast… from Kate Gray and… she's worked in NintendoLife, Kotaku and Rock Paper Shotgun, and she was talking about the importance of giving key art to the press as well.
We definitely think that getting the right key art to people is important. And it's not always the same art that you put on your Steam page. So you really need to think about, like, how you're segmenting your media, and who you're sending it to.
Simon: I think we're getting towards the end here. But I'd like to ask a final question that I'm asking to all of my guests. And it's just in terms of what games you've been playing recently or semi-recently that you're really excited about, that you'd like to tell our audience about.
Clara: What am I not? [laughs]
I'll leave Devolver games off the list because I'm always playtesting. Lately, very most recently, Tunic is absolutely brilliant. I recently 100 percent-ed Nobody Saves The World, also brilliant from Drinkbox.
Clara: I've also like the rest of the world been playing Elden Ring. It's on the backburner now while I get through the latest launches. Or, as I like to call it, ‘Breath of the Wild on crack’, because it is amazing. Just imagine Breath of the Wild but there's real danger everywhere - love it.
I regularly revisit Deep Rock Galactic, one of my favorite games of all time. I just started Core Keeper, I am obsessed with getting my biweekly-ish achievements in Vampire Survivors, it’s an auto-fighting game - it's so good.
I got hooked on Dicey Dungeons recently, it's kind of an older one. I'm halfway through a run on The Captain, which is a fantastic little sort of choose your own adventure game, fairly well written great pixel graphics. I just got back into Hades, I 100 percent-ed that, and Dandy Ace, in the same category. I’m replaying Katamari Damacy, and Cookie Clicker because I'm a loser.
Simon: I think you managed to singlehandedly exceed the number of games mentioned in all four of the recorded podcasts so far - so congratulations.
All of those great games - apparently I don't make enough time to play those, but I obviously need to. I'm impressed and as you say, it’s good professional work as well. I presume you expense those games, I hope, because it is a business expense.
Clara: You know, I should start [laughs] I expense my Xbox Game Pass. I'll say that.
Simon: Okay, it's a good start.
Well, that was wonderful and thank you, that was a great list of games - some of which I'm gonna have to go back to, I think. [laughs] And yeah, once again, thank you so much for being on the podcast, it was a pleasure. That was lots of amazing feedback about streamers, and how you approach them and how you work. So thank you.
Clara: It’s been an honor to have been on here. Thank you so much for the invite.
Simon: And that's the end of this particular podcast.
We'd like to thank Clara for coming on to the podcast. You can check her Twitter account at SeriouslyClara if you'd like to know more about her and her work.
Once again, this podcast is made by GameDiscoverCo, home of newsletters and consulting - and now a podcast - around video game discovery. Sign up to our newsletter at http://newsletter.gamediscover.co, and upgrade paid to Plus access if you can. You get extra newsletters, charts, Discord access, eBooks and more.
Our final credits: many thanks to our producer, editor, and transcriber Alejandro Linares Lopez, theme tune composer Keith Baylis, aka Vimster, and all of our subscribers and listeners. We'll see you back in Game Discoveryland in a while. Thanks for listening.