Hi, I’m Emma Larkins. I do community and public relations at DreamSail Games. We’re a small game studio, which means I’m in charge of a lot of other stuff as well – marketing, producing trailers, writing blog posts, you get the idea.
DreamSail Games is based in New York City. We’re in the process of launching our first game – Blade Ballet – a local and online multiplayer dance of whirling robot destruction.
Blade Ballet is expected to arrive on PlayStation 4 and Steam in August 2016. A lot of people who hear we’re launching on a console are interested to learn how we ended up working with Sony. We also talk to many developers who have put a lot of work into making their games, but are unsure of what it takes to get set up on Steam. Here’s a quick rundown of distribution platforms, publishers, and how to start working on making your game accessible to a wider audience.
Why Distribution Platform Matters
You don’t need to work with Sony, Microsoft, Valve or any other company to get your games into the hands of your adoring fans. All you really needs is to make a playable build and transmit it to your intended audience – email it, Tweet it, make a Facebook post, whatever.
Most people making games, however, are interested in reaching an audience wider than their immediate circle – and getting paid for their work. To facilitate this, there are indie-friendly sites such as Itch.io and GameJolt that can make it fast and easy for you to distribute your game. These platforms give you a lot of control, and the process of getting your game up is relatively simple and straightforward. As with any platform, you still have to do the work of creating your store page and directing interested buyers to it.
Many games are distributed through these methods, and many developers start making a name for themselves using them. However, if you want to make a serious entry into the gaming industry, you’ll most likely eventually need to work with a big fish distribution platform. That’s where Valve, Sony, and Microsoft come in.
Distribution Platform Vs. Publishers
Steam, the PlayStation Store, and the Xbox Store are all platforms from which you can distribute your games. You, as the developer, will upload your game to the platform, along with required assets to create a presence on their online stores. You’ll need to make decisions about your game, such as when it will launch, what devices it will run on, how much it will cost, etc. Once the game launches, players will be able to purchase the game. You’ll get a percentage of every game sale, and the platform will also take a slice.
This doesn’t mean that Valve or Sony or Microsoft is “publishing” your game. Though you might be able to work with a representative to get some help with promotion, for the most part you’re the one responsible for both funding your game and spreading the word. These platforms are marketplaces – your game will be competing with thousands of other games for the spotlight, and it’s up to you to attract interested players. However, if you work them right, they give your game a higher chance of reaching a good chunk of console and computer gamers.
How To Get Started With Steam
Steam is not an open marketplace. Every game available for download on Steam has been curated. For the last few years, Valve has been honing their Greenlight system, which is meant to give the power of choice to their community. In order to pass through Greenlight, a game needs to get a certain number of votes, then receive Valve’s stamp of approval.
There is debate in the games industry over the pros and cons of Greenlight. People are fond of pointing out games of questionable merit that get through quickly, while other, higher-quality games languish. As a developer, it’s important to understand that game quality is only one factor that determines whether your game will pass through Greenlight – and, ultimately, whether it will succeed in the marketplace. The skills that will help you get Greenlit quickly – spreading the word about your game, building your community of engaged fans, developing relationships YouTubers and streamers, learning from other developers – are the same skills that give you the best shot at performing well on Steam.
An often-overlooked method for getting your game noticed is creating a compelling and informative Steam page with high-quality images, videos, and text. One of the newest options for adding content to your page is Sketchfab – if your game includes 3D art, you can let visitors to your page interact directly with the 3D models.
Once you’re through Greenlight, you’ll set up your Steam Coming Soon page. After that, you’ll have the option to put your game in Early Access or launch it as a finished product.
Early access is great for getting players into your game before it’s finished so you can guide final development based on player feedback. It’s also useful for building up your community over time – players can connect with you and with each other, discuss the game, and start to feel like they’re part of something great. On the flip side, some people will never purchase or play an Early Access game, and once people start giving feedback, you’ll have to respond to it quickly to keep them from turning on you or abandoning the game.
Steam does provide a small amount of exposure for each title that launches. The ability to give discounts can also help to get people interested, or to activate people who have wishlisted your game. However, Steam’s algorithms put much more promotional support behind titles that are already performing well. So most of the work will still be on you to get your game noticed.
How To Get Started With Sony Playstation
If you want to get your game on the PlayStation, you need to submit an application.
Once approved, you’ll need to work with Sony to get PlayStation dev kits and to set up your store page. Sony has a rigorous certification process that includes getting your ESRB rating, setting up trophies, and specific device integrations.
Before you can launch your game on PlayStation, you’ll need to successfully pass their QA process. You’ll have a checklist of requirements you can go over. The QA process will focus partially on bugs in the game, but will also include Sony-specific requirements such as trophies and controller-disconnection behavior. It’s beneficial to work with a person or company that has gone through the QA process before, so you can give yourself the highest chance of succeeding.
For the most part, you’ll need to generate most of the interest in your PlayStation game yourself. Your game will enjoy some exposure from launching on console – such as having a store page. But as with any platform, you’ll need a solid marketing push to succeed.
As with any industry, the more people you know in games, the more likely you are to succeed. You might meet a developer at a local event who can recommend a publisher, or find yourself sharing a drink with a Sony representative who can answer a question about art dimensions for your store page. One of the best things you can do to successfully launch a game on a distribution platform is talk with everyone – developers, representatives, community organizers, and players.
Those are a couple tips from pushing Blade Ballet out the door, thanks for reading! Hit me up on Twitter (@emmalarkins) or post a comment below if you have any questions.