This article is cross-posted from the Future Proof Games blog.
Our creepy-funny adventure Ossuary has now been in the Steam Greenlight program for a year. It's frustrating and demoralizing, and we're sharing some details about our experience. Whether you are in Greenlight right now, are considering it, or just buy games on Steam, it's good to know what the process is like.
One year in, and we're 84% of the way to the top 100.
Images in this article are taken directly from Greenlight's stats page for Ossuary.
The Vague Basics
Ossuary was released in November 2013. It didn't perform how we would have liked; it got some good reviews but no huge press coverage, and thus not enough awareness and not enough sales. The online Steam store is huge, and a huge way to get eyes on a game; getting on Steam has revived many small titles. But in order to get into Steam without an established presence there you need to go through Greenlight.
Greenlight is a popularity contest designed to replace Valve's previous jury-based submission system. If you want to be on Steam, you donate $100 to charity and put your game up. People can vote "Yes" or "No" for whether they would buy your game on Steam. Your goal is to be at the top of the list of games on Greenlight during one of Valve's periodic passes when they Greenlight some portion of the collection and start the process for getting them on Steam.
30% "yes" votes is respectable compared to top-ranking games.
What exactly that means is unclear. The game stats page lists your percentage progress toward the "top 100," which community wisdom suggests is based purely on the number of "Yes" votes your game receives. At one point 50+ games were greenlit every two weeks, but Valve has stopped announcing when they do so, making it very hard to find out the current rate. That's compounded by the fact that Valve doesn't seem to greenlight the entire top X games; they do some amount of picking and choosing, according to posts in the Greenlight developer discussion group.
When you first enter Greenlight, your game is featured on the front page and receives a lot of visits. Once it falls off the front page, those visits drop precipitously. Anyone interested in Greenlight voting can get a queue of random games to vote on, but few people actually seek out that experience. Most greenlighting happens as the result of fans of the game coming to vote for it from an external site. If your game is having exposure trouble, it will probably also have Greenlight trouble.
It feels like a slow struggle. New games are being added to Greenlight daily. Because the primary measure of progress is "percent of the way to the top 100," this means that your rank can actually slowly drop as some popular games surpass your vote count. Then, on an unclear schedule, a batch of games is greenlit, chopping the top off of the sample set and raising your rank again. It's two steps forward, one step back.
Here you can see how top-ranking games often have a sudden boost in votes.
We're not great at marketing and press outreach at Future Proof. It's the skillset we need to improve the most. We have been working on new games instead of heavily promoting our old one. Combined with Ossuary's relative lack of immediate visual appeal, we've been growing slower than other games in Greenlight. We've had a bit of Greenlight-specific press, including a post by Wraithkal, but not much. We're doing limited Project Wonderful advertising, which is bringing in a bit of traffic. As you can see in the graph below, however, we're solidly in the "long tail" of Ossuary publicity.
A slightly unhealthy amount of our self-worth is tied up in this game, and having it sit on Greenlight for a year is rough. At this point our options for boosting the game are few. There's no novel news about the game anymore; it's officially an old game, and we don't feel like it would be well-served by an update or expansion, so our options for drumming up press interest are limited. We've talked about having it translated into more languages than just English, but we don't have the budget for that in the short-term. We could do more aggressive paid advertisement, but that needs to be balanced against our expected profit for the game. Based on our previous sales we don't expect a dramatic financial benefit from Steam; doubling our numbers would be nice. That doesn't leave much room for ad campaigns, and it's a hard game to show off in ads besides.
So where does that leave us? For now, we've been letting Ossuary sit and focusing on our current work-in-progress, Exploit: Zero Day. Eventually it will reach the top. Greenlight won't last forever, though; we hope that we'll make it onto Steam before Greenlight dies, or that we perform better in its successor program.In the meantime, please vote for us on Steam Greenlight.
Please share questions, comments, and stories of your own Greenlight experiences below.