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I’m a first-time solo game developer and I recently announced my prehistoric 4X strategy game, Folk Emerging
, where players lead nomadic families through the Stone Age.
With no marketing experience, I had no reason to expect much from the announcement. I just hoped to scrape by with the bare minimum number of wishlists to justify spending the next year or two polishing the game.
Chris Zukowski has a great blog post
about what to expect from launching a Steam page. The key point is that games with the potential to perform well will usually gather >150 wishlists in the first 2 weeks. If you get less, something is likely wrong.
I had no reason to expect that I’d surpass the 150 wishlist threshold, let alone gather 700+ wishlists in the first 2 weeks! It’s no viral hit, but certainly more than I hoped for.
This post outlines how I went about it, what worked, and what didn’t.
Prepping for the Announcement Folk Emerging
started off as a procedural map generator in November 2021, running in a janky, slow Python notebook. It evolved into a game and I switched to Unity in February 2022, but it was still a hobby project and progress was slow.
I initially thought it would be good to delay talking about the game until I had a playable demo to share. However, I spent most of my free time in 2022 banging my head against Unity and getting core systems working (e.g. tribes, individuals, foodwebs, cultures, shaders, UI, etc). By the end of the year, a quality demo still felt far away and I still hadn’t started marketing the game.
When I was laid-off in November 2022, I used the opportunity to switch to working full-time on this project for a couple of months. I finally decoupled the marketing from the demo, and prioritized getting out a Steam page. I should have done this way earlier.
In December 2022, I joined Twitter (@CuriousDynamics
), started networking with people in the industry, and sharing the first tidbits of the game with the world.
This proved very useful because it got me making screenshots, GIFs, and videos. It helped focus my gamedev efforts on the elements that would best help marketing (e.g. finalizing the art style, showing a variety of environments, clarifying the core gameplay loops).
I made sure to connect with other gamedevs in related genres, journalists who’d written about similar games, and others across the industry. I found friendly communities like #TurnBasedThursday
and got a sense of which aspects of the game attracted the most/least attention.
I refrained from sharing anything about the game on Reddit during this period, so that when it came time to announce, I would be able to post on the big gaming-related subreddits without breaking their rules (only 10% of your site-wide posts can be self-promo).
One common marketing tip is to make random unrelated posts (e.g. cat pictures) to “save up” for self-promo. I don’t have a cat and don’t enjoy posting just for the sake of it, so I’ve tried to find topics I’m actually interested in and post questions to the AskXYZ subreddits. For example, I’m curious about history / anthropology / biology, so I’ve been posting questions in communities like AskAnthropology
and have learned a lot in the process.
Steam Page Assets
The top priority was making the Steam page assets (art, trailer, GIFs, descriptions), so I focused on polishing the UI and gameplay enough to be presentable. The fine folks over at the How To Market A Game discord
gave very useful feedback — it’s a community every gamedev should check out! Also be sure to check out Chris Zukowski’s excellent free class on How To Make A Steam Page
For the art, I worked with a professional artist, and we took our time to ensure the Steam capsules captured the vibe of the game.
For the “About this Game” section of the Steam page, I narrowed down 4 core elements of the gameplay, and made a GIF, custom section header, and paragraph for each one. GIF files can’t be too large on Steam, so I had to find a balance between GIF quality and file size.
In the text, I tried to speak directly to the player, focusing on thematically-significant action verbs, e.g. “Lead our ancestors”, “Grow your tribe”, “Honor Mother Nature”.
I spent weeks on the short description of the game, asking friends, family, and internet strangers for feedback. It’s tricky to establish genre, sell the hook(s), and make it exciting all in under 300 characters. The current version is #23, and will certainly keep evolving:
Lead nomadic families through the Stone Age in this turn-based 4X strategy game with deeply simulated characters, cultures, and ecosystems. Explore the wilderness, gather and trade resources, and stand your ground in tactical combat. Discover fire, medicine, language — and survive to tell the tale.
In terms of tags, I studied those used by games next to which I want my game to appear (e.g. on Steam’s “More Like This” widget). I fiddled with the order of the tags until I could see the desired reference games in my own “More Like This” section.
For the trailer, I consumed most of Derek Lieu’s content on making video game trailers
, and got some useful feedback from Derek himself on his Video Game Trailer Academy discord
(as well as from my HTMAG buddies).
I ended up making two trailers: a longer one
with more in-depth gameplay for the Steam page, and a shorter one
optimized for social media with a mini-teaser montage at the start, as recommended
Choosing an announce day
By February 2023, all the pieces were in place to launch the Steam page. I had gathered ~200 followers on Twitter, and I’d tried to make genuine personal connections wherever possible. In the week before the announcement, I reached out to many of them individually, asking if they would be open to retweeting the announcement. Most said yes!
I was keen to get going and planned to make the announcement on Friday Feb 24th, so a few days prior I posted a teaser
, which quickly became my most engaged-with tweet up until then.
However, people more experienced than me strongly advised me to wait till the following Monday because 3 massive games were coming out that weekend. I felt silly because I’d already said it would be Friday, but I chose to take the advice and wait a couple more days.
Steam Page Launch Day Twitter
I quietly put up the Steam page
a day early just to make sure everything ran smoothly, and on Monday Feb 27th ~6AM EST, I made the announcement
on Twitter and shared the page. Announcement Tweet analytics: Impressions 13,956, Engagements 706, Detail expands 132, New followers 6, Profile visits 71, Link clicks 135.
Again, not viral but more than I hoped for. 135 link clicks seems decent for Twitter!
I made sure to follow up with everyone who retweeted my announcement, and I thanked them via DM, also offering to return the favor if they need support down the line.
I made two Reddit posts, one on civ
and one on gaming
, which combined got ~150k views and led to ~81 visits to the Steam page.
I chose gaming
(36M members) rather than pcmasterrace
(7M) or pcgaming
(3M) because of their larger community size and also because I got the (totally subjective) sense they tend to be a bit friendlier towards indies. I poked light-hearted fun at the “quit my job to make this game” trope to avoid some of the negative responses such posts can get, and it seemed to pay off :) That post got 213 upvotes, 77.7k views, and 88% upvote rate.
, my post got 1.2k upvotes, 88.8k views, and 92% upvote rate. There are some important differences between the games but I do think certain Civilization
players would enjoy Folk Emerging
I messaged the Reddit mods before self-promoting in their communities, which seemed to help things go over well. Another thing that seemed to help (on both Reddit and Twitter) was responding to every comment I got, and trying to get a discussion going wherever possible. It bumped up my posts when their views would start to drop.
I also posted a press release
at Games Press. If you plan to do the same, just make sure you create your account in advance as it took almost a day to get processed, which I hadn't planned for! I got some help from people on the HTMAG discord (e.g. Jasmine
) with the wording, as I’d never written a press release before.
A couple of websites wrote about the announcement:
Several other sites have also written about it since then, largely based on the press release it seems.
I emailed / messaged about a dozen journalists who’d written about similar games, as well as various streamers who play them, sharing the news about the announcement. I first made a general email template with a short GIF at the top, and I wrote a personalized intro for each person. I made sure to give some context about why I was reaching out to them (e.g. they’d reviewed a specific game similar to mine, or they were involved in a project I’m a fan of, etc). It didn’t lead to anything, but still, I’m happy to potentially be on some of their radars.
I also posted in self-promo channels on various discords, but with little to no effect.
The final thing I did was to add a Steam news event about the launch, just to make the page look more fleshed out. It caught me off-guard that Steam events require their own separate images (with different resolutions than the regular capsules) for events, so keep that in mind if doing it for the first time.
The First Two Weeks Folk Emerging
got 725 wishlists in its first 2 weeks. Here are some highlights, stats, and charts:
Image: Wishlist chart for the first 2 weeks Image: Regional breakdown of wishlists Image: Steam page impressions chart
- 26 wishlists in the 1.5 days before I told anyone about it
- 278 wishlists total on the day I announced, mainly from Twitter and Reddit
- 57 wishlists on my first Games IndieSunday (the second spike, 7 days after announcing)
Indie Sunday (Games)
I think my Indie Sunday reddit post
accounts for ~270 visits to the Steam page (more visits than from the earlier 2 reddit posts, but less wishlists).
I went down the rabbit-hole of investigating the best time of day to post on Indie Sunday. I wanted to go beyond just the info found via tools like social-rise.com
, because their recommendations are based on the timing of the top 1000 posts in a subreddit, without taking into account the distribution or total number of posts in each hour. If most posts in general happen at 1PM, then it might not be so meaningful to say that most top
posts are at 1PM.
I was curious to dig deeper, so I did my own analysis using Reddit’s API. Here’s the data filtered for Indie Sunday Games
posts (times are in UTC): Image: timing of 250 Indie Sunday posts Image: mean score by hour Image: distribution of scores by hour
In the end I got posted mine at ~12PM (noon) UTC.
An exciting moment was when a legit publisher reached out to me, having seen the game on Steam, and expressed interest in exploring the possibility of working together!
Seeing a positive response from players and getting some attention from publishers has been a big confidence boost and suggests that the game has some potential. Which is a relief, because this is the game I want to make :)
I’m working on a demo, which I plan to have ready in a few months.
If you’re interested in the project or just want to connect, follow me on Twitter: @CuriousDynamics
If you have any questions or thoughts, I'd love to hear them and discuss!