Steam may be the most important service for indies, and Valve’s first “no” may not be final
The Penny Arcade Report wrote about Kyle Pulver’s excellent game Offspring Fling when it was first released, and the story noted that the game wouldn’t be available on Steam. “Basically a few weeks before the game came out I entered talks with Steam, and they eventually got back to me saying that they didn’t think the game would fit in on Steam, and wished me the best of luck with my distribution,” Pulver said. The good news is that Valve has since changed its mind, and Pulver was willing to share a few thoughts on how he was able to make that happen.
The first hint: Don’t give up when you’re told “no.” The second hint: Being on Steam is very, very important for your sales.
Make friends in the press, and use their quotes to your advantage
“After the game came out I had a lot of positive reactions,” Pulver explained. “A lot of really great press and articles and interviews about the game and all that good stuff. I eventually started rounding up all the articles I could find, especially ones that mentioned Steam specifically, and began my precision strike on the Steam business contact.”
He put together e-mails that listed the positive reviews and mentions in the press. The e-mails stated that he had already been rejected, but suggested that Valve may want to take another look due to the buzz the game had been receiving. “I also rounded up all the tweets about Steam as well, and linked to each of them. Basically I was just sending a giant email proving that my game was awesome enough to be on Steam, which for whatever reason they didn’t believe initially,” Pulver explained.
“I can understand why it would be initially rejected though. The people working around the clock for Steam seem to be always pushed to their limit, and their submission process is always completely overloaded, so its easy for them to dismiss or pass on a game at first glance.” Offspring Fling can look casual or simple on the surface, and it takes time to really find the heart of its gameplay. It’s possible that was time that Valve didn’t have during the application process, and Pulver saw it as his personal challenge to convince them to look deeper.
He also collected quotes from gamers who mentioned that they wished the game was available via Steam, and saying they would prefer to buy it that way. There was a strong case being made with all this evidence: It began to look as if Valve was losing money by not selling the game on its service.
“I actually emailed them a lot when they were all on vacation in Hawaii, so the timing kinda sucked there, but I did get a response from them right away that said that they would check it out right after they got back,” Pulver said. “I thought that was a really good sign since they took the time out of their vacation day to write a response!” He continued to e-mail after the Valve crew returned from Hawaii. “Every new message I sent included a new press link, or a new quote, or some tidbit about how awesome the game was.”
A week or two later the magical e-mail came back: the game would be carried on Steam. “It was like finally defeating a boss that had a million HP or something like that,” Pulver told me, laughing.
He attributes the success to persistence. “Many people get that rejection email, or don’t get an email response at all, and assume that’s the best they can do. There’s a certain piece of advice out there in the indie game world, and in the creative world in general… just keep emailing,” he explained. “You have to keep in mind that these people are getting possibly hundreds of emails a day, and most of the time you don’t hear back because they simply didn’t have time to respond, or they saw your email and forgot about it later. If you keep emailing, you’ll eventually catch them at a time where they do have a chance to check it out, and it might work out in your favor.”
The importance of Steam
Kyle Pulver didn’t underestimate the importance of having Offspring Fling on Steam; the game tripled its overall sales in the first few days of availability on the service. “Steam exposure is just insane compared to anything else,” he said. “There’s like 3 million plus people on Steam most of the time, and even if just a tiny fraction of those people see the game then that’s already more exposure than I could gather on my own.”
Steam may not own 100 percent of the digital distribution market, but for a huge number of gamers it’s the only way to buy and play games. Games that aren’t sold through the platform are at a massive disadvantage. “There are just so many players out there that only look to Steam for their games these days, and that was pretty clear when Offspring Fling first came out,” Pulver explained. “There were countless comments and tweets about how if the game was on Steam then they would pick it up without a second thought. If the game isn’t on Steam, it just doesn’t exist to them.”