Software engineer, machine learning specialist and part-time bug hunter.
I’ve always hated networking events, partly because I’m an introvert but also because they always find a way to steer away from sharing knowledge and focus on selling products instead. Everyone is hell-bent on selling their project to someone and no one is ever open to collaboration. This time it felt different because the focus of the conference was to educate game developers and help them be more effective marketers out there in the real world instead of the event space itself.
I can’t prove it with scientific research but I’m sure the digital aspect of this event had a part to play in this improvement. People attending conferences while still wearing their pyjamas seems to make them less likely to act like used-car salesmen around others and helps them listen more. It helped attendees like myself start meaningful conversations on what we all gathered from the talks and how we’d all go on to use that knowledge to improve ourselves.
I’ve uploaded a portion of my experience on YouTube so I can give readers the chance to form an opinion themselves, but this also gives me the freedom to touch on my favourite parts without covering every single mundane detail.
Lessons from the first session: Let updates do the talking
This one wasn’t very popular among attendees because it focused a lot on issues faced by large developers who work on big-budget multiplayer games (the event was supposed to be about independent creators, publishing games via the Steamworks platform).
It mostly came off as an advertisement for CS:GO, an in-house Valve game but it had something valuable to teach. Updating your game is the best communication strategy available to you.
It makes your audience feel heard when they suggest something and it helps your game feel more alive because players know that there’s always someone taking care of things and having their back.
If you want people to stay online and not uninstall your game after a certain amount of time you need to always keep your ear to the ground and show that you care enough to keep working on the project long after release.
Lessons from the second session: Communicating with players part one
By far my favourite one because everything that was said there was relevant and always to the point. It’s the one that kept attendees engaged the most.
Here Jenny Windom of Rose City Games talked about the importance of using the best tools available to you no matter how irrelevant they may seem and how she managed to drive sales by having streamers play the game not on Twitch or YouTube but on the Steam app itself because in there her store was only one click away.
It was very simple and yet genius because few of us would change websites altogether to look a game up and Steam users are already in the process of searching for new games to download. At first, she would stream the game herself but eventually, she reached out to a couple of content creators, making it appear more popular to onlookers.
Lessons from the third session: Communicating with players part two
Here Joe Tirado from System Era Softworks talked about the importance of building a community and keeping them engaged before the release date. It was interesting because he was the only speaker who didn’t outsource marketing to a communications team but did everything himself even after he grew successful.
He was able to create so much word-of-mouth using a simple Facebook group that eventually his fans created a subreddit about his game of which he’s not even a moderator (an amazing feat if you ask me). They do most of the work for him without realising it because they can’t help but talk about the game with their friends.
It wasn’t easy to get there, however. The most important lesson he provided was that doing marketing for a game is just as important as building it and if you want people to hear about it you need to keep posting pictures and captures of the game all the time and most importantly you need to get out of your room and start meeting people who are interested in what you do.
They are the ones who will help you achieve success not because you sold an idea to them but because they love your game purely for the emotions it gives them. After that, all he had to do was throw them all in a Facebook group and they did the rest. Providing a front-row seat during development and allowing changes based on suggestions made them feel invested and later supported the game as if they made it themselves.
Lessons from the fourth session: Using Steam’s communication tools
At first, most attendees were rolling their eyes in the chat because it looked like the Steam Team was wasting a lot of time building useless tools that nobody asked for but as they kept providing examples of real-life games that profited from them, everyone started paying attention. The lesson here is that if the platform you’re using is giving you specific options to market your game then you better use every single one with extreme prejudice because they have access to data and a research team that you don’t.
If they think something works it’s probably because it really does. Trust the process and never let go because the good old “trust me I’m an engineer” proverb was created for a reason.
That’s about it. This year’s Steamworks Virtual Conference was definitely worth my time and it helped me re-evaluate both my view on networking events and the marketing strategies I used as a game developer. I’d like to wish all of the attendees the best of luck with their games and I’m looking forward to the next one.
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