Black Annex has been Greenlit by Valve, and will be available on Steam when it is completed and ready for release. There will be no “Early Access” (or Alpha Funding) anywhere, through any distributor. It will also be available on many other distribution platforms. There is no release date.
So, with that out of the way, let’s talk about Greenlight!
I announced Black Annex to the world on the 2nd of April 2013. At the time, I had 551 followers on Twitter. I spent the next two days responding the public reactions to the announcement, and preparing a Greenlight campaign. In those two days, my Twitter follows jumped to 611 (This would be the largest jump in the month of April). This was the number of followers I would have to leverage my Greenlight launch. Black Annex was set to “Live!” on Greenlight on April 4th, 2013; exactly one year in to development.
The instant you launch on Greenlight, your campaign will appear in every Steam user’s “Greenlight Queue”. This is the extent of the marketing effort Valve will do for you. They will give you one shot in front of every potential customer’s face to convince them to say “Yes, I will buy that”. That is it. There is no prejudice, EVERY user is asked to vote. There is no concern for what genre of game they like to play compared to the genre of the game you’re selling, or what they might already know about your game. Everyone casts a judgemental eye on your campaign.
So, this is what happens on Day 1 on Greenlight, when Valve markets your game for you.
You don’t want Valve to market your game. Let me explain what you’re seeing in this image. The Yellow line represents “People who looked at your Greenlight campaign, and were asked ‘Would You Pay for This Game?’”; 2028 people. So, that’s how many people, thanks to Valve’s marketing push, were asked the question.The White line shows how many people actually took the time to answer the question (whether it was Yes, No, or Remind me later), which amounted to 1810. That’s not too bad. Not many people just moved on without voting. So we immediately see that when Valve markets your game for you, they get it in front of eyes that are actually interested in giving feedback. That’s a good start. Unfortunately, we look at the Green line next.
The Green line is how many of those votes were “Yes! I’d buy this!”. 805. 44%. So, less than half of the people that Valve drove to my Greenlight for me were interested in buying my game. Considering that the entirety of Steam’s user base was urged to vote, that makes sense. I don’t think Black Annex would even remotely appeal to the average Steam user. It has a specific audience. So with this day done, Valve’s marketing efforts very slowly start to wear off.
By my marketing push has just begun!
Now, there’s no question that I do not have the raw numbers Valve have, as far as audience goes. I will never have the number of views ever again that I got on that first day. That make sense, and there’s no point complaining about that. But, I have Valve beat hands-down when it comes to quality. If I drive someone to my Greenlight page myself, it’s targeted at someone who has a far greater chance of actually being interested in buying the game in the future. I don’t just spam in every direction, I made targeted moves in an attempt to actually get the elusive “Yes!” vote. I need my “Percentage of Yes” to be impressive if I want Valve to ever Greenlight me. Anything under 50% would be embarrassing; Valve already wrecked my percentage with their initial push, so I’ve gotta clean that up, and I only have small numbers to work with.
As a few days pass and I wait for my initial marketing to come into effect, we see their numbers cool off, and the percentage starts to creep to around the 50% mark. My first action has been to email about fifty websites, each one targeted directly at a particular staff member by name, with a hand written email in context of any previous talk we’ve had before. This takes a few days to prepare and send, and then for any websites to act on it. As the hits on my Greenlight page transition from “Valve Driven” to “Me Driven”, the “Yes” votes start to level out. By the 11th, we see a bit of a bump as my marketing is starting to move around the internet.
So far, the press has been as follows:
“Broadcast Syndication: Black Annex” -Rock, Paper, Shotgun
“Black Annex revealed with a kickarse trailer” -Pixels For Breakfast
“Black Annex Announcement” -TruePCGaming
“Black Annex: an isometric corporate espionage game built in QBASIC” -PCGamesN
“Black Annex – Corporate Warfare” -TheGamersPad AU
“A Crazy Australian Man Made This Crazy Video Game In QBASIC” -Kotaku Australia
“Local indie invites you to “steal, destroy, kidnap and kill”” -TheBlackPanel
“Isometric strategy stealth PC game Black Annex is a love-letter to Bullfrog’s Syndicate” -Indiegames.com
“Greenlight Spotlight: Black Annex” -Gamezebo
“Spotlight on Greenlight: Black Annex” -PCGamesN
“Head back to the world of 8-bit corporate sabotage with Black Annex” -games.on.net
So this was a good place to potter along at. Word slowly moves around a bit from these articles and people voting fairly evenly between “Yes” and “No”, but then this article went live: “Black Annex is the best QBASIC game you’ve ever seen”-PCWorld.
Black Annex went viral for 24hours because of the “It was written in BASIC” aspect. It was a very explosive time for the product which lead to articles popping up all over the internet, from Google News to Yahoo! Hackers News and a ton of places in-between. This, obviously, affected Greenlight in a very positive way.
So here we have the best piece of data to contrast “My Marketing” with “Valve’s Marketing”. Compare this to Day 1, and you’ll see how I had dramatically less over-all eyes on the campaign page, but a far better quality of visitor. 1345 votes were cast (compared to Day 1′s 1810) but 973 of those votes were “Yes!” (compared to Day 1′s 805). So that’s 72% “Yes” votes (compared to Day 1′s 44%), with a higher overall count of “Yes!” along with that. That’s a big improvement over Day 1 any way you look at it. The only way for me to have performed better on Day 1 is to have created a game that would have appealed instantly to a broader audience (a.k.a. a game with zombies in it).
To give you some perspective, for the entirety of the remaining time between this moment and being Greenlit, Black Annex would never have another spike in “Yes!” votes even 1/5th the size of that particular one. Not one fifth! It was an insane spike. Let’s move ahead a few days to the next spike (which almost was one fifth of that last one).
This spike is kind of interesting around the 29th of April as it was a return to the “Lots of views, not many Yes votes” pattern. The thing to notice here is that I got a lot of views, but a very small number of votes. The actual votes were very likely to be “Yes” though, so heaps of people came to my Greenlight with no interest in voting. What happened? I’ll show you.
I made this post on reddit.com: http://www.reddit.com/r/gamedev/comments/1dejg1/have_a_game_on_greenlight_a_little_tip_to_make_it/
So I made a post on Reddit almost completely unrelated to my game, but using my Greenlight page as an example of how to do something technical. This resulted in a ton of people checking out the little tip I was giving them. The ones who actually stuck around decided to throw me a “Yes” vote while they were there. This worked out really well, and become the second largest “Yes” spike I would ever achieve. It’s a good example of a kind of alternative way to get traffic to your Greenlight page. It’s still targeted to people I actually think would be interested in Black Annex, but also with a totally alternative reason to check it out. Keeping it fresh!
So despite the huge gap between “Number of Viewers” and “Number of Yes! votes”, the actual percentage of Yes/No was 64%, so it still helped heaps in re-gaining that “Yes Percentage” that Valve’s marketing had dropped so far for me on Day 1.
After this last spike, I backed off any massive marketing efforts and just kept tweeting all the time and marketing as much as I could. Rather than driving traffic to my Greenlight directly, I was more largely focusing on building up high quality twitter followers so that my marketing would have a better reach as time went by, and as PAXAus came closer. Greenlight activity slowed down, but twitter followers kept growing.
But over this same time, I gained 108 followers on Twitter. During this, I would always block followers who were useless spammers like “I market your business!” or “I post links to porn and virus sites!”. I try to keep my followers list at a fairly decent quality.
During this time, thanks mostly to twitter, I was starting to get to know lots of super cool people who work in games journalism to some degree, and was often chatting about Black Annex and myself. Various articles would go online from time-to-time after a little chat, and eventually another spike came about thanks to Mark Serrells from Kotaku Australia putting this article online: http://www.kotaku.com.au/2013/06/577447/. This article aggregated to Kotaku USA as well, and Greenlight showed this in the graphs.
Now, these weren’t huge numbers (the largest spike there is 166 votes) but it’s an awesome quality of visitor, extremely likely to vote “Yes!” so it just helps on the overall appearance of my campaign. It’s really creating that image of “When people see Black Annex, they’re pretty likely to buy it!”. That matters, to me and to Valve.
Now, a little earlier this month I had flown to Los Angeles to go to E3. I took a laptop with me and had six interviews lined up to show some people Black Annex. While I was there, I met a YouTuber named GhostRobo (among a few other awesome people) who was super excited about Black Annex when I showed it to him on the show floor. After E3, he said he’d love to do a little video on Black Annex to help me out with Greenlight. That video would be the next spike that I would get on Greenlight.
Now, I’d heard over and over how “Youtubers = Greenlight votes” so this was pretty exciting, but Ghostrobo didn’t actually have a build of Black Annex with which to do a Let’s Play, or even show any new content that had not already been publicly shown. All he had was the launch trailer, and a recording of a live gameplay stream I had done a few days beforehand (more on this soon). So he threw up a video about Black Annex and I saw a nice little spike from that.
Obviously nothing amazing, but hugely better than just letting anything stagnate. Now, I mentioned that I had streamed some Black Annex game-play online, that was great. It gave me a nice boost in Twitter followers when I mentioned my Twitter name during the stream, and it gave me a little 40min video I could use to demonstrate the game to people. I sent that video to Rock, Paper, Shotgun and this happened:
Another awesome spike (you can see GhostRobos spike just to the left of it there). RPS had basically just thrown up a quick writeup about my stream recording, calling the game “cute, silly, and interesting” basically. The really interesting this about this is how only about 50% of people who they drove to my Greenlight voted “Yes”, but almost no-one voted “No”. Rock, Paper, Shotgun readers are officially my favorite online community because of this. It’s not that they all love Black Annex, it just shows that if they’re not interested, they won’t say “This sucks!” and slam the “No!” button, they’ll just move on to something else. That rules! So yeah, I really appreciated that.
And that… was that, really. PAXAus came and went, and that was a campaign for twitter followers (you can read more about that in my previous blog post), and didn’t really cause a spike in Greenlight, it just kept the bump going after Rock, Paper, Shotgun’s latest article. I spent most of August just relaxing after PAXAus and catching up on smaller things. You can see how immediately Greenlight falls back down after you stop massive promotions.
I’d be lying if I didn’t say that I was starting to lose faith in my hopes of ever getting on to Steam. I was 78% of the way to being #100 after PAXAus, but it started dropping, and went down to 73%. I was only three-quarters of the way to #100, then there would be 100 more people in-front of me still! So daunting. I had managed to successfully combat my poor “Yes!” percentage that Valve had initially caused for me, and I was at 49% “Yes” and 50% “No!” (the margin of error was in favor of No).
Almost at 50/50 Yes/No, still needing about more 20,000 “Yes” votes needed on top of my current 12,000 just to be in the top 50 of Greenlight. So, on Wednesday the 28th of August, at 1am I had finished re-arranging my studio and setting up a really nice PC that I hardly ever use to be me new main workstation. I went to bed. I put my phone on the charger, set my alarm to get up for work at my day-job the next day, and put it on the floor.
Then my phone made the “You got a gmail” noise. I had just set up a new Asus Wifi access point and it wasn’t working properly. I picked up the phone and looked at the screen. It said
“Steam: Black Annex has been…” [Slide to Open]
I looked at it and thought “Why the fuck would Steam email me about Black Annex unless they had to remove it from Greenlight or I violated something…”, I slid the thing and my Wifi crashed and refused to open the email. I got pissed off, then my wife’s phone made the “You got a gmail” noise. She is also a “Creator” on my Greenlight page. She woke up from the sound and I said “What is that email? What does it say?” while I was turning off my Wi-fi so I could just check my email over 3G instead. I had to force-close GmailApp and re-open it so it was taking ages.
My wife was too tired to make any sense of what she had just read on her phone and wouldn’t answer me properly, she started going back to sleep.
I opened the email on my phone and blurted out loudly. “Oh my god, we got Greenlit. We got Greenlit”. It was about 1:10am. I rushed out of bed and got on my new computer.
So… that happened…
I don’t know why that happened…
Valve Greenlit 100 titles. I was more than 25% away from being in the top 100, this means games were passed over in favor of Black Annex. I was about 4000 “Yes” votes away from being #100 at the time.
But Black Annex got Greentlit. So that’s a thing that happened.
Thanks, everyone. Reddit, SomethingAwful Forums, Twitter… everyone.