GDC 2017 Session Preview: Marketing, Steam, Vikings and a Sword

GDC 2017 Session Preview: Marketing, Steam, Vikings and a Sword

At GDC 2017, I’m giving a lecture titled “Vikings! How We Tapped a Non-Game Community to Build Support for Our Release on Steam (and Gave Away a Sword).” The lecture is about marketing, Steam and Vikings…or technically, “Viking enthusiasts.” More specifically, it’s about how Steam’s rapid growth over the past five years has transformed it into one of the most competitive platforms independent developers can publish their games to, and how because of this, indies must look beyond Steam as their primary marketing tool and consider audiences outside of the “traditional Steam gamer.”

Citing The Frostrune, a Viking point-and-click adventure, I’ll illustrate how publisher, Snow Cannon Games, and developer, Grimnir, reached non-Steam gamers to generate results for their Steam campaign. I’ll also share examples of their campaign’s marketing execution, data and other nitty gritties.

As a preview, today I’m sharing the data that forms the foundation of my argument: The data that shows why relying solely on Steam to generate awareness or build an audience for your game is dangerous.

GDC 2017 Session Preview


Competition on Steam is fierce and getting fiercer.

The median Steam game in April 2015 had 32,000 owners. That number dropped to 21,000 in April 2016. That’s a 34 percent decrease in just one year…which is dramatic to say the least and begs the question: “What the frack is happening?”

Competition. That’s what’s happening. And a lot of it, especially over the past five years.

GDC 2017 Session Preview - Steam Competition

In 2012 Steam was a very different animal. Three hundred seventy nine games were published to the platform that year. Five years later, that number increased 1,000 percent to 4,207 games in 2016! There’s no denying this huge change, but I don’t believe the numbers convey their true impact until viewed in the context of launch week.

The importance of launch week.

Launch week is the day of and six days following a game’s release when it typically has a launch discount applied. For most indies, this is one of, if not the most critical times in their Steam game’s life. At launch, new releases receive featuring from Steam, which as many indies can attest, increases sales. New releases are given a number of impressions, but can earn more (and even get featured in better locations throughout the storefront) if they sell well. If they don’t, featuring ends.

Obviously, all indies aspire to selling well during launch week as it can increase immediate and and longer-term visibility, as well as immediate and longer-term revenue. Unfortunately, even great independent titles can, and often do, fizzle out of sight during this critical time due to competition. Once a game fizzles out of sight, it’s much harder to lift it back up than if it performs well from the start.

Looking at competition from a launch week perspective.

When increasing competition is examined in the context of launch week, it’s clear how this competition makes success on Steam difficult.

Looking back at 2012, one new Steam game released per day and seven per week on average. This means if you released your game five years ago, you’d be competing with yourself on launch day and six other games during launch week in terms of new releases. Fast forward to 2016 where 11 games released per day and 80 per week, and the increased competition can really be felt.

What this means and is there hope?

What this boils down to is that you are fighting for the same Steam users’ attention as all the other games releasing during your launch week. This could include games from first-time developers, sequels to indie darlings, AAA titles and more. Point is, there’s so much competition on Steam, that even if you have a great game, the odds are almost always against you. Considering its importance, it would be a shame to leave your launch week to chance.

I won’t lie. Sometimes no matter how good your marketing is, your game may not be a hit at launch. But identifying audiences for your game outside of Steam, and crafting a targeted campaign to generate interest among them, is a good way to increase your chance of success. This is what Snow Cannon and Grimnir did for The Frostrune and it had an effect. At my GDC 2017 lecture, I’ll cover the science behind their strategy, what their marketing looked like and their results so attendees can apply the same methods to their own marketing.

To be continued in San Francisco…

My GDC 2017 lecture details.

  • When: March 1 at 11 a.m. PST
  • Where: Room 2002 (subject to change)
  • More details


Emmy Jonassen is a marketing pro who helps indie developers build adoring fanbases. Marketing people who love buzz words call this "lead generation."


Mary Johnson

about 7 years ago

Thanks for the information. I am new to the indie world and marketing strategy need to promote a game. Question. If you are only in the game Concept phase and have not yet started creating the game...should you alert fans or start creating buzz that you're creating a game that is inspired by a novel published by the same person making the game?


Chase Kellogg Byron

about 7 years ago

Excellent insights. I'll be watching your conference tonight. As my company's product is nearing its first Alpha-Prototype stage, we'll be looking in to marketing and how we can best achieve our Launch-Day sales targets. Any thoughts on other release platforms such as, Gamejolt, and Kongregate, specifically, what the advantages and disadvantages are vs steam?


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