Recently, my game Midnight Animal was Greenlit, after thirteen days. For those unaware, it’s a full standalone mod for the game Hotline Miami, whose production, release and distribution was fully authorised by the original developers, Dennaton Games. In this article I will be offering a day-by-day walkthrough of what occurred, a look at the Google Analytics forms, and a list of takeaways for other developers in the future.
Please note the somewhat different nature of my game, compared to many others which pass through Greenlight: as a mod in a well-established series, I was able to generate a lot more interest much more quickly for much less work, so results should be taken with that in consideration.
Before we get started, here’s a quick rundown of the statistics:
- 13 days on Greenlight
- Finished in 8th place
- 9, 795 total votes:
- 6,775 Yes (69%)
- 2,755 No (28%)
- 265 Ask Me Later (3%)
- 15, 827 Unique visitors
- 1,216 Unique favourites
- 1, 131 followers
- Included in 25 collections
- 491 comments
Day 1 (29 February 2016)
83 Y / 17 N / 0 M
Launched at 0057 EST. The first thing I did was post a link to the Greenlight to the subreddit /r/HotlineMiami, where the game first came to fruition, and where I’ve been posting the majority of significant updates up until the release of the Greenlight itself. I had amassed a significant following prior, and the community was well-aware of my project; so initially, a large amount of the traffic came primarily from Reddit. About three hours after launch, I also posted the Greenlight link to /r/games. I also set up a Google Analytics tracker.
Somewhat humourously, almost seconds after publicising the Greenlight, I received a comment basically asking if it was a copyright infringement, even though I explicitly addressed this in the description. This was a common theme that would persist in later days.
When I checked the page at 1100 EST, I noticed significant overnight growth. I achieved almost 2400 yes votes in one night, and was able to successfully move into 37th place overnight. Approximately 73% of the traffic was from the post on /r/HotlineMiami, with another 10% coming from the post on /r/games, which by this point got about 180 upvotes. Over the course of this day, it went up to about 230 upvotes, before being removed for supposed terms violation in regards to self-promotion. Nevertheless, while I was slightly upset about this setback, the post ultimately served its purpose, and successfully accomplished what I’d set out to do with it. The rest of the 17% of votes came from direct referral, most likely from being featured on the front page of Greenlight under Recent Submissions.
I should also note that I did contact several press sites, which I chose by looking through the respective Metacritic sites for Hotline Miami, and Hotline Miami 2: Wrong Number, and choosing the reviews which seemed most receptive to my game. I wrote personalised emails to each writer, mentioning what I liked about their articles, and why I thought they’d like about my game. I sent about thirteen of these, to everything from Polygon and Eurogamer to Medium pages and relatively obscure Tumblr blogs.
Not a single one responded.
Day 2 (1 March 2016)
83 Y / 17 N / 0 M
Still experiencing rapid and steady upward growth; a lot of traffic from Reddit and direct referral through the front page. A steady influx of comments, and several foreign articles (Polish, Spanish) written about it in lesser-known indie gaming sites. Analytics showed that the highest distributions of visits and votes came in from the USA, Russia, and France, in that order. I was contacted in the afternoon by a popular French indie gaming publication, JeuxVideo, who wanted to feature Midnight Animal as ‘Mod of the Month’. I did an interview with them, and submitted a custom test build. I moved up to around 14th place today.
Day 3 (2 March 2016)
81 Y / 18 N / 1 M
Continuous positive feedback; however, the percentage of yes votes began falling significantly, mostly because a lot of the yes votes which had come in initially, dictating the high yes/no ratio, had come in an overwhelming wave from a pre-determined fanbase, artificially saturating the percentages. JeuxVideo’s article brought in a significant amount of traffic from French sources, and more articles began popping up, including one from Gamasutra. I moved up to 12th place today.
Day 4 (3 March 2016)
79 Y / 18 N / 3 M
I was surprised at how low the Yes percentage had fallen in such a short period of time, but I had moved up to 8th place, which also really surprised me, since it had moved out of the front page and I thought traffic had slowed to a trickle.
Day 5 (4 March 2016)
79 Y / 19 N / 2 M
Traffic had slowed considerably, and at the beginning of the day, I was at 7th place; around 1640 EST, I pushed up to 6th place, with just over 12k views. I noticed that between 0400 and 1000 EST, that was when most of the significant activity happened, leading me to believe that most of the support I was getting was foreign; I corroborated this with statistics from the Google Analytics page, which showed that much of the traffic was coming in primarily from Russia and France.
Day 6 (5 March 2016)
75 Y / 23 N / 2 M
Pushed up to fifth place overnight, with the yes.no ratio having further fallen. At this point, I had enough data to observe that many of those who downvoted the game had spent less than 20 seconds on the page; and of those who spent more than that, many of them stayed just long enough to leave a comment. I should mention that many of these comments were along the lines of, ‘this is a Hotline Miami ripoff’, which was frankly amusing given the fact that they clearly didn’t read even the first paragraph of the description, and actually had to scroll past the description in order to post the comment. I noticed as well that I was beginning to receive a lot more upvotes from German audiences.
Day 7 (Sunday, 6 March 2016) – Day 12 (Thursday, 10 March 2016)
73 Y / 25 N / 2 M – 69 Y / 28 N / 3 M
Constantly plummeting yes/no ratios and ever-diminishing traffic dropped me from fifth down to eighth, considerably dampening my spirits. After Day 9 (Tuesday, 8 March 2016), I essentially gave up on trying to further promote my Greenlight, and simply stopped checking my statistics. I’d thought that perhaps there’d been some legal issues, and that I wouldn’t be able to even make it on Steam because they couldn’t get an affirmation from Dennaton. At this point, I basically just gave up hope and stopped worrying about it.
Day 13 (Friday, 11 March 2016)
The afternoon of the eleventh, at 1336 EST, I was absentmindedly browsing my email when suddenly, my inbox lit up with a new message from Steam. Thinking it was just another promotion, I was about to delete it, when I noticed the content of it, and pretty much deflated in a sigh of relief.
These were the final statistics:
Statistics from Google Analytics
Total visits, by country; and then visits by language. As expected, USA, Russia, and France appeared at the top. This helped me understand my target audience a bit better, and which translations I should prioritise.
Sources of traffic. I was surprised to see Reddit relatively lower on the spectrum, because I figured that much of my audience had come through there. The sheer amount of traffic generated through direct referral was also much higher than expected. Traffic from Facebook came through my Facebook page, which had about 100 likes; traffic from vk.com was through an article they published; and traffic from Gamasutra was through a brief article mentioning the launch of the title on Greenlight.
A quick look at the search terms organic referrals (via search engines and the like) were directed through. Note some of the more irrelevant and humourous results.
As corroborated by my earlier suspicions, most of the traffic came at irregular hours, thus resulting in the ‘overnight’ success I saw.
Some information about the audience:
Breakdown by browser.
Some takeaways for Greenlight
1. Make sure to build a community first.
The single most important factor behind the success of my Greenlight experience was undoubtedly the fact that I was able to foster a dedicated community gathering behind me before I launched. This is largely true for any kind of ‘grand opening’ of sorts, whether Greenlight, Kickstarter, or an actual physical opening: the more people you can get to be aware of, and interested in, the product you’re launching, the more successful you’ll be. This will also inadvertently generate press and publicity as well, even if you yourself don’t actively seek either. Just through word-of-mouth, people will begin to pass on knowledge; and the more connections you make organically, through enduring and natural relationships rather than artificially-fostered press-based ones, the easier it’ll be to get word of your product out, and build hype for it. As noted before, while I did make some effort in contacting press about the Greenlight, none responded; the press I received instead was entirely through people talking about it, and as more and more people started sharing content, it eventually got to the ‘right’ people, and proliferated through their circles, generating natural press in places I’d never even imagined (Gamasutra!)
Regarding the process of building a community: I started Midnight Animal long before I even had the conscious desire to launch it on Greenlight, or even release it at all; and if you look back in my Reddit submission history, you can watch the entire history of it, beginning from its very nascence all the way through to maturation, and eventually, release. I worked on establishing a solid following first, and by building a friendly and trustworthy rapport with the community for which I was developing, I was able to depend on them later when it came time to voting on it and getting it through a process driven by pure numbers. Which brings me to my second point…
2. Understand your target audience.
Again, this is another fundamental rule of any successful marketing, and should be common sense; but too often, I see people (including myself) ignoring this in pursuit of everything from higher numbers, to greater exposure. Make sure you know who you’re targeting. In my case, I was seeking to appeal to seasoned players of the previous two games, and my game reflected that, in everything from gameplay to lore. The largest influx of this audience came at the beginning, when I specifically posted the Greenlight page to audiences which were already primed for its release; hence, explaining why the yes/no ratio was so high for those first couple of days. Over time, though, the percentages fell because many more people who were either unfamiliar with the first two games, or simply uninterested in them (or a combination of both) started viewing it, and in turn, the ratio stabilised and reflected more accurately the overall community’s interest in the game, rather than just a niche target.
3. Nobody reads your description – but write a damn good one, anyways.
I wrote a very, very long and detailed description. This is both bad, and good – bad, because people scroll down to see a wall of text, and automatically are deterred from reading it; but good, because the description is there to provide information, and anything and everything one could possibly want to know about the game can be pretty much found in the description. As is constantly mentioned, and as is expected, almost no one’s actually going to bother reading your description unless they’re extremely interested or invested in your project; but for those who do, make sure you write a damn good one, just to award their patience and dedication.
4. Interact with your audience.
Make sure you talk to people, and when you do, make sure you do it in a friendly, polite manner. I received over 400 comments, many of them very positive, but a good amount of them rather negative. No matter which, I made sure to always respond in a professional yet amiable manner. This way, it shows people that you’re not only invested in your audience, since you take the time to respond to them, but that you also take responsibility for your actions, and are not afraid of having your name attached to your game in the event that it goes bad. This also doubles as a great way to deal with trolls, or unreasonably negative reviewers; by responding to their criticism in a leveled and calm manner, you’re demonstrating to your audience a maturity that shows you’re not fazed by or afraid of negative reception; and that you can deal well under pressure, meaning you’ll be more reliable in the future, and people can count on you to stick around no matter what. Obviously, you don’t have to respond to every single comment, and often this is redundant, if not outright unfeasible. But it’s good to select a couple every once in a while, just to set an example.
5. Make visual content as attractive as possible.
This is something that is repeatedly mentioned in posts like these, so I won’t dwell on this too long since it’s already been covered ad nauseam; but basically, if you have visual content (which you absolutely need), make sure it looks good. Have really captivating and interesting trailers, which capture attention quickly but don’t drag on too long. The most important thing to keep in mind is that no matter what, maintain a unified aesthetic; whatever you post, no matter how unfinished it may be (both trailers for Midnight Animal are significantly outdated, for example, but still remain approximately representative of the final aesthetic), make sure that they don’t deter from the overall presentation of the game. Keep things varied (especially in screenshots), so that people get the sense that your game is visually distinct across different regions and not just one long aesthetic drag (even if your game focuses on a single distinct style, like L I M B O, you can still use subtle elements such as framing and perspective to vary things up).
Something else that I see a lot is people advising the use of a .gif as an icon, and moving screenshots. I personally don’t believe this is necessary, but I agree with the general notion – that content must be dynamic, and compelling. One way to illustrate this is with motion, but it’s absolutely not necessary. With Midnight Animal, I used a very distinctive and striking image as the icon, which effectively worked in the same way as a .gif to capture people’s attention; I received a good amount of feedback on just the artwork alone, and how effective people thought it was in capturing their attention. So rather than telling yourself, ‘I need moving images, I need .gifs’ (which sometimes is counter-productive, and can actually result in the user even becoming disoriented, which seriously detracts from their experience), tell yourself, ‘I need dynamic content, I need things which are visually striking’. And whether you achieve that through moving images, or still images, is really irrelevant; what ultimately matters is how well you can capture the viewer’s attention.