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Getting Vidar to Early Access - Step 1

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Hi friends!

A lot of times I post my dev blog about what I've been working on in general for Vidar, but since this community is definitely more about sharing experiences so that we can learn from one another's successes and mistakes, I wanted to do a write up just here on the craziness of yesterday and how I got there. I honestly don't know whether what I've done is good or bad yet, so don't take this as a recommendation, so much as an offer of possible ideas.

Vidar was greenlit on Steam a millennia ago (ok, close to 2 years ago), and that afforded me the very important ability to generate and send out steam keys as I needed them. So, for example, when applying for various conventions or competitions, I could generate a key rather than having to upload builds of the game to all these different places. That also meant that I could ensure judges or press or whomever always had access to the latest version. But what I hadn't done was activated the actual store page, until yesterday. To give you a timeline, I plan to release Vidar on Steam Early Access on January 31. That means that I posted the page - which has been ready for about three months, and which could've been ready a year+ ago - about a month before launch.

Setting the store page to live affords me a few benefits: it allows me to have the "community hub," to post announcements and news about the game, and it allows others to "follow" or "wishlist" the game. Additionally, it gives me another place to direct people that's not the game website.

Working back from this planned date, back in August I prepared a spreadsheet of games press outlets I happen to know off the top of my head, twitch streamers, lets players, and podcasts. I then spent the better part of September and October researching more that I thought would be good fits for Vidar. I did that research in a few ways: simply googling for websites that covered indie games, RPGs, puzzle games, etc., and also looking for reviews of games that I thought were kind of in the same wheelhouse. I also added to the list anyone who had even mentioned Vidar in passing during the Kickstarter phase, no matter how remote or how little they covered the game. I added anyone on Youtube that had played the demo during kickstarter, even if they had 8 subscribers.

In November, I began to dig more into each of these press outlets to find specific authors that I thought the game would resonate with, based on the games they reviewed. During this process I tried as hard as possible to get individual author emails. If the website didn't list them directly, I went into solid online-stalker mode:

  • Google the author to see if they've written elsewhere; on several occasions, the author had freelanced for Rock Paper Shotgun, who always provides every author's email address
  • Check their twitter account; rarely did the person just post their email in a description, but they often had a link to somewhere else where they could be found on the internet
  • Check Youtube - if the author or lets player or whomever has a Youtube channel, chances are there is a tab on their channel that says "About" - if it does, they are almost guaranteed to have an email hidden behind a captcha on that tab

    At the end of the day, I had 500+ journalists, 300+ Youtube channels, 60 twitch streamers, and 50 podcasts on my lists. I flagged any that had 1) already covered Vidar or 2) I wanted to send some kind of personalized email. The rest I loaded into MailChimp. Before importing the spreadsheet, I added a column for Steam Key and added a unique one for each, so that in the mailmerge I could give them each a key.

    For the ~200 people I wanted to write personalized emails to, that was basically all of December.

    In the final week of December, I:

    1. Drafted a press release;
    2. Prepared new twitter and facebook banners announcing the 1/31 Early Access Launch date;
    3. "Seeded" the community hub on Steam with a few screenshots;
    4. Prepared my website with the trailer video (but did not publish);
    5. Drafted the mail merge emails; and
    6. Made an official press kit, rather than the silly .zip folder I was sending all around.

    Yesterday, I pulled the trigger on everything. The press release was hosted on my own company website razburygames.com, and I sent it to gamespress as well - first thing in the morning, because they are in the UK and need to approve things, so the later in the day it gets here in the US, the less likely it will be posted that day. All of the emails - personally drafted and mail merge alike - went out. The new assets went up on social media. And then any time anywhere mentioned the game, I immediately posted everywhere about it.

    All in all it was a pretty grueling day, and I don't have much to show for it just yet, but these things take time. Indeed, what I struggled mightily with during this whole process was whether I was doing this too soon or too late. On the one hand, I was honored to be featured in Kotaku back in September - an article that got about 23,000 views, and translated to zero pre-orders and 100 people on my mailing list. I attributed that in large part to timing; if people liked Vidar, there was nowhere for them to go to act on it right away. I'm concerned that by doing this press blitz a month in advance, I could potentially waste other opportunities like that as well.

    On the flip side, even though I did all of this work yesterday, I got ~100 people to "wishlist" the game, and only about 2,000 visits to the Steam Page. Obviously that would be significantly higher on launch, but I think it still demonstrates the point that this whole promotion process has to happen some time in advance of launch. And indeed, I've been able (with varying degrees of success) to leverage the Kotaku article as giving me more credibility. Perhaps if I had done this process two months in advance of launch instead of one, I could've generated more hype, and continued that kind of "trading-up" process until I felt like the community was large enough to support launch.

    So here we are! Various interviews are scheduled for the upcoming weeks, and at least one big twitch streamer has told me he's interested. Unfortunately, no news yet from what I call "big press" - the Destructoids and PC Gamers and IGNs of the world. Without at least one of those, I'm concerned that Vidar will have a relatively obscure, uneventful launch. About a week out from launch, I'll try again with anyone that I haven't engaged, and hope that the imminent threat of game release is enough to rope them in.

    As far as analytics go, I will note that Steam's discovery queue put me right in there, which was welcome! I won't get into specifics, but my conversion rate from people who visited the page to people who wishlisted it seemed pretty strong. And perhaps my favorite statistic of all yesterday - one person saw Vidar in their "trending among friends" list on Steam. I just absolutely love the idea that someone out there has got a friend who's going to tell them "have you heard about this game called Vidar? I've been playing it..."

    I have NO idea if this was helpful at all, but it was definitely a positive way for me to record the past 48 hours roller coaster of work and feelings!

    - Dean

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Thanks y'all, so far the twitch outreach seems to have been the most effective, and even that has been middling. Fingers crossed for some Big Press coverage soon <3

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