Early Access is a tricky gambit, and it’s a perilous time for any game/developer that doesn’t have a longstanding pedigree or AAA cachet.
It’s a process that’s rife with pitfalls and obstacles, and unfortunately, one that many developers stumble into without acknowledging the dangers or properly preparing for them.
Early Access isn’t just a way to showcase your alpha or secure additional funding. It also represents that critical junction in any marketing cycle: the first impression.
Screw up too badly on a visible platform and you may not impact sales of the game you’re promoting, you may wreck your reputation and your prospects for future success.
So how do you dodge that bullet and still put your game in front of the audience that needs to see it? These are a couple of the best, quick tips I’ve cultivated from a decade of conversations with developers big and small.
Polish, polish, polish
Obviously at this early stage of development, your game is going to have some flaws. Not only is it going to be largely unfinished, but exposing it to a wide audience is likely to uncover a number of bugs. People expect this from Early Access/alpha/beta products, and that free QA is one of the benefits of launching on Early Access.
While it’s important to try to iron out as many kinks as possible, some issues are unavoidable and to be expected.
But that’s not actually what I mean by polish. The level of polish I’m talking about is on the presentation side — in how your game looks on the Steam store, how it communicates itself to players who are flooded with new games.
Clear images of gameplay, a slick trailer or, barring that, a well-edited Let’s Play go a long way to establishing a positive first impression. Clean, crisp descriptive text helps too.
But what if English is not your first language, but you need English copy to describe your game on the Steam store? Hire a copy editor to clean up your text and format it in a way that’s slick and appealing.
While it’s natural for creators who focus on the technical side of development to underestimate the importance of presentation and marketing, a level of polish on your landing page goes a long way to communicating how committed you are to quality, what your level of attention to detail is.
Network, network, network
This may seem like it goes without saying, but it’s probably the most common mistake I see creators in Early Access make. Neglecting social media, the press and game communities is a death knell for any game, but particularly games in Early Access, where building a brand and an audience should be the number one consideration.
After all, you’re not just beta-testing a product here, you’re attracting the people that will eventually be your best customers, and that will hopefully provide that invaluable word-of-mouth presence any game needs.
This means not only working to build a presence on Twitter and Facebook, but reaching out directly to anyone and everyone that will listen and that can signal boost your game, from the smallest homebrew games websites to all the major outlets.
Never disqualify yourself from any potential outlet because you think you might be “too small,” “too niche” or outside a website or magazine’s coverage range. While you want to avoid being annoying and spamming the same site or publication repeatedly, you do want to get in as many inboxes as possible.
This means not just getting in touch with any outlet you can, but also reaching out to multiple points of contact at each outlet. Editor-in-chief, senior editor, marketing, PR; if they’re not the appropriate person to field your request, chances are they can put you in touch with the person that is, and so it pays to talk to everyone you can.
And, of course, get your games on sites that will host you and put you in touch with your audience directly — like Playsource. Don’t think of the Steam Early Access page as the single page for your game at this phase of development.
Instead, you want an umbrella of pages that all link to one another, including your core website and links to all your social medium tendrils. The more exposure, the more opportunities for potential customers to stumble onto your game, the better, and this means a network of sites as broad and deep as possible.