Anatomy of a Drift: “Drift Stage” Greenlight Hoondown

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As a bright-eyed new indie developer, reading the horror stories of solid games from experienced devs getting bogged down in Greenlight hell makes the entire process seem quite daunting. So, needless to say, when I nervously clicked the ‘Publish’ button last Saturday afternoon on Drift Stage’s Greenlight page, I didn’t expect that little more than two days later we’d already be Greenlit.

While I’m not sure how much wisdom I can really impart based on our short campaign, I feel obligated to get our experience and some of my personal thoughts out there just in case it might help someone better prepare and execute their own Greenlight. At the very least, I think our experience demonstrates just how much Valve’s own approach to Greenlight has drastically shifted in the past year (or maybe even in just the past few months).

The Approach

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  • Work hard at making an exciting game.
  • Build a following by showing your work to people early and often.
  • Get invovled in the indie dev community.
  • Be nice.

By far the most critical component of our success on Greenlight was everything we did before clicking ‘Publish’. I know this sounds obvious and obnoxious to say, but it has to be said - make something awesome, show it to people, and build a community around it.

The reality of Drift Stage is that it’s just about the farthest thing from an overnight success as you can get. It’s a snowball that has slowly been growing for years. Yes, years. Charles (artist) has been wanting to make a racing game for a long time, and his earliest ideas and iterations have been floating around places like Tumblr and the Polycount forums for a long time. The attention and following garnered by his early art provided a huge initial surge to build upon once myself (code), followed soon after by Myrone (music), came on board to start building what is now known as Drift Stage.

That strong foundation beget more press as our early prototypes quickly got a lot of attention (far more than anticipated) from places like Kotaku, Rock Paper Shotgun, and The Verge as well as car and motorsport outlets like Autoblog, Road & Track, and Car Throttle. Taking a page out of Rami Ismail's PromoterApp playbook, I’ve found it very helpful and interesting to keep track of our press coverage along with our bigger media releases just to see what generates heat for us - very helpful when you’re doing something like this and trying to piece together how you got to where you are now. Also, if you don’t already have Google Analytics set up on everything possible, you absolutely should do that right now.

Another massively helpful thing to do is to start interacting with the indie developer community early and often too. The indie dev community is by and large very welcoming. Get in there and just start listening to what people with some experience under their belt have to say. Don’t be afraid to ask questions, but you should also be willing to help others when you can. Make games and get involved in game jams. Just in general, get involved and start making some gaming friends. Don’t wait until you’re trying to release a game to dive into it. The support and knowledge shared by people like David Galindo (Cook, Serve, Delicious - also check out his Gamasutra blogs) and Jordan Hemenway (Distance) has meant a ton to me and has greatly increased my confidence throughout this entire process.

The last thing I’ll say is for Pete’s sake please try to be nice to people. There’s a ton of heat and animosity being thrown around on social media and forums these days, and while this isn’t the time or place for a statement on the merits of that discussion, the bottom line is that you should be nice regardless of what your opinions are on the state of anything video games. If someone asks a question, be nice. If someone complains about something, be nice. If someone is relentlessly trolling you, go ahead and block them but BE NICE. Nobody wants to be in your corner if they think you’re a jerk.

The Entrance

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  • Cool GIF for your main Greenlight image.
  • Attention grabbing trailer, gameplay footage, screenshots.
  • Clearly defined list of key features and facts.
  • Show some press pullquotes from recognizable outlets.
  • Confident and clear social media blast.

Most of what I’ll say here is pretty evident in the bullet points. A lot of your Greenlight votes and visits are going to come directly through Steam, so you need to be able to grab people’s attention when they see your game in Steam’s recent Greenlight submissions or come across it in their queue. A cool GIF will help your game stand out in the crowd on the recent submissions page, and a quickly paced trailer will grab the attention of anyone that makes it to your page. People aren’t going to want to read a whole scribe about what your plans are, so try to make sure you summarize your big points in a concise bulleted list. If you have any press coverage, you probably want to show that off too in some short representative pullquotes.

Once you have your Greenlight page assembled and ready to go, blast your stuff out on social media. Put a cool screenshot with it, present your call to action clearly and confidently, and don’t mess up the link. You’ll also want to make sure you update your site with a Greenlight widget. We also updated the description on our YouTube videos with a link to the Greenlight, but I don’t think that actually made much of an impact. In general, just spread the link around to every place you can sensibly share it, but try to resist the urge to spam it in places that you’ve never before interacted or participated - it’s only going to make you look like a mindless spammer, and it might actually end up being detrimental to your overall reputation.

One neat tip with regards to links that I found helpful (credit to Black Annex’s Lance McDonald - here’s his /r/gamedev post about it) is that you can actually create a link that will open your Greenlight page in the Steam client rather than the web browser. You’ll want to only offer this as an alternative though - offering it as the only option will just confuse and frustrate some people. Since most browsers and services won’t recognize it as a hyperlink, you will need to make a separate page on your website that uses something like PHP or JavaScript to open the link (here’s a link to the page I made to see it in action - just view-source to see how easy it is).

The Apex

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  • Maintain your momentum. Keep people aware without getting spammy.
  • Stay engaged. Reply to comments, questions, mentions, etc.

I can’t really offer much here since Drift Stage’s Greenlight campaign only ran for about 54 hours in total, but a lot of it seems to me to just be continuing to do the things you (hopefully) did prior to launching your campaign. Answer questions, show appreciation for positive feedback, and thank people when they mention your Greenlight. You’ll want to continue to periodically drop reminders in social media, and you might even go directly to specific people to see if they noticed. However, just remember to show some restraint and avoid looking like just “that annoying spammer guy”.

We launched on a Saturday, so we had little to no press promotion of our Greenlight, but if we had continued well into the week, we had planned to go down that path of reaching out to press contacts with new material.

The Exit

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  • Try not to die of a heart attack when you see the e-mail from Steam.
  • Dance! Dance! Dance! It’s a celebration.
  • Stay humble and voice your appreciation. Share your experience.

Monday night, little more than two days after starting our Greenlight run and much to my surprise, I received an e-mail from Steam informing us that Drift Stage had been Greenlit. After catching my breath and basking in the green glow momentarily with Myrone and Charles, we went ahead and did yet another social media blast informing everyone of the success and showing our immense gratitude for all of the support.

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How did we get through so quickly? I’m not really sure. In general, Valve has been much quicker on letting games through lately. Whereas a year or longer ago, you may have needed tens of thousands of ‘Yes’ votes to get Greenlit, you now only need several thousand. They seem to have gotten even less stringent since they moved away from doing big batches in August. As you can see on the graphic, we got through at 2,357 votes which was about 50% of the way to being in the Top 100 rankings.

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I can only speculate on what exactly Valve’s criteria is for Greenlighting games, but they seem to put a lot more weight on your Greenlight campaigns momentum (how quickly you’re accumulating ‘Yes’ votes) and reaching the Top 100 rankings (many games seem to get Greenlit almost immediately after hitting or getting near this threshold - which is typically somewhere in the neighborhood of 6,000 ‘Yes’ votes). Also, I’m only guessing here, but it seems like Valve must be leaning a lot more on just using their own discretion as it’s much harder to piece together any strict statistical requirements for what they approve and what they don’t. For instance, a certain game which shall go unnamed just recently got about 13,000 ‘Yes’ votes and shot up to #7 in the rankings in the span of just a few hours but is still sitting in Greenlight, and if that game was at #7, that means there are other games with even more votes ranked higher that haven’t been Greenlit.

As far as traffic sources go, since our campaign ran largely just during the weekend and had little to no press, we got by almost entirely on social media (Twitter, Facebook, and Tumblr) and direct Steam traffic. I’m again just speculating here, but that direct Steam traffic may have been bolstered by the current Winter auction and Winter in general just putting more people in front of their computer on the weekend rather than being out and about.

The Follow-through

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  • Keep your head down and focus on making a great game.
  • Keep your followers engaged and interested.

We’re just entering in to this phase, but I can tell you that my primary plan here is to just keep focusing on trying to make the best game I can make and to continue keeping people informed about what we’re doing. If we’re lucky, maybe everything will continue to go even just half as smoothly and painlessly as Steam Greenlight.

Thanks for giving this blog post a look. Hopefully it might be of some help to some of you out there. If you have any questions, feel free to ask me on Twitter or via e-mail, and I hope you’ll follow along with the continued development of Drift Stage on Twitter, Tumblr, andFacebook as well.

NOTE: This is cross-posted from Tumblr and is highly self-promotional. That's why it's NOT posted on the GB forums and only to my personal blog.