What’s the secret to do well during a seasonal sale on Steam? Easy, release a game that knows some success to start with. You might get slightly different results based on the discount you apply but the sales you made on your release week should hint at how you’ll make on a seasonal sale.

No advantage over other games

Since all games are cheaper, you only have the reputation of your game that matters. That’s why for many devs, seasonal sales are not very exciting unless your game was hugely popular to start with and will make another year worth of salary in a week.

There are some “tricks” to help a bit your game by trying to get into the “Under $10″ and “Under $5″ categories but then there are still so many games fitting in these categories that if your game isn’t a top seller to start with you won’t gain much by trying to get listed in there.

Highlights on the front page are huge…

… and it shows that most people don’t even know your game exists.

Out of nowhere, March of the Living was part of the “More Highlighted Deals” section (not the one at the top, the second one you had to scroll a bit to reach) for a bit less than 24 hours.

This spot on the front page, even if you had to scroll to see it, counts for more than half the money we made during the Summer sale. Even if the discount we applied for this sale was only 20% we saw a huge increase in sales during that time. Because of this unexpected highlight we’re now really close to the objective I was hoping for (we’re still short but we’d be really far from it without this highlight).

How did we end up being highlighted next to a game like The Escapist that outsells MotL by a lot? Your guess is as good as mine. My first instinct is that it’s probably driven by some stats based on how well each game did during release or last few months but I know of at least one other game that did as well as MotL and released around the same time that wasn’t highlighted so maybe it’s handpicked after all.

Maybe forget about a progressive discounts strategy during seasonal sales?

Normally you want to first discount at 10%, then 20, then 33%, 40 and so on. Since MotL was released recently we didn’t have the chance to run a first weeklong deal so the game only had a release discount of 10% so we went with 20% for the Summer sale.

We knew that next to 50%+ discounts we probably wouldn’t do great but still were expecting to do slightly better (before receiving the highlight spot). We went with only 20% to not screw really fast the value of the game but for seasonal sales it probably doesn’t matter. Looking back I think we should have hit the 33% bar right away and would still be able to do fine at a lower 20% discount during a weeklong deal.

Logic would say that people won’t buy your game with “only” a 20% discount after running a 33% discount but there are so many people on Steam that it probably doesn’t matter. Only a few will actually notice so unless your game is very high-profile, you can probably experiment with deeper discounts during seasonal sales and then go back to lower ones for weeklong deals.

Marketing during seasonal sales?

Hmm… I know of only one person who bought ads to promote his games during the Summer sale and the results were not quite exciting. It’s probably a bad idea to try to fight for attention with raw ways like buying ads.

One thing I didn’t thought about was to send emails to a few websites posting what they recommend buying (like Our Steam Sale Picks). Maybe it wouldn’t have done much but since there are so many games it’s quite possible they just didn’t thought of including MotL. It might work much better though if you actually met the writers in persons than if you just send them an email from time to time.

Twitter is useless. All devs post about their own games there so it’s just a mess of RT and you don’t notice the games after some time.

I didn’t notice any clever tricks some devs have used this year to get noticed so I really don’t know what could exactly be done in such time when you’re competing against every single game on Steam.

Don’t release during a seasonal sale

I thought it was just common sense and it’s not like the date at which the Summer sale would start was a secret… But some people still decided to release right in the middle of the sale. It’s a bit dumb as you’re sure to not appear in the big banner at the top (since it’s not there during seasonal sales) and the popular new releases list is so deep down the front page that I fail to see how you can expect to get any kind of visibility from Steam itself.

Websites are busy talking about the Summer sales almost each days, you have Canada and US holidays as well in the mix… It’s just not wise to release during that time and just a tiny bit of googling might reveal when NOT to release your game on Steam.

Let’s say we agree there’s never a “perfect” time. Releasing a game during the Summer sale is even less perfect. It’s hard enough to get a tiny bit of the spotlight when GTA 5 isn’t selling for 40% less than usual so why penalize yourself that way really…