There are hundreds of games that hit Steam every day, making the prospect of finding your next fave rather cumbersome and exhausting. But what makes a page capture your attention, shining among the crowd? YouTuber Danny O’Dwyer, who runs the documentary channel Noclip, has wondered how and why that happens and went about investigating the intricacies that go into building a captivating Steam page that makes players spam that wishlist button.
O’Dwyer, has run the documentary channel about video games Noclip since September 2016, along with companion channels. O’Dwyer published a video Tuesday looking at what makes a good Steam page on the Noclip Crew channel, a “creative playground” for O’Dwyer’s team of documentarians.
O’Dwyer sought the opinions of game-designer-turned-consultant Chris Zukowski and prolific game trailer editor Derek Lieu. The Noclip team is developing Stunt Derby, a throwback physics-based driving game with online multiplayer and track building, and wanted to use this project to understand “the business of selling games.” This includes two crucial elements: A game’s Steam page and its trailer.
As Zukowski pointed out, it isn’t about being “the strangest, weirdest game” you’ve ever seen, though that definitely helps differentiate your game from the rest. Instead, the most effective way to get eyes on your creation, aside from outright asking for folks to wishlist it on Steam, is to create an association with an established genre of game before strategically separating yourself from that gluttony.
“People look at a game and whether they like it or not, that’s established within 45 seconds,” Zukowski said. “So, within that 45 seconds, they’re trying to figure out, ‘What do I do in this game?’ People forget that all the time and it goes straight to lore. One of the best, easiest ways is to figure out what type of games are what we call tentpoles. You know JRPGs, it’s the Final Fantasy games or something and you kind of give these subtle hints that, ‘Hey, we’re kinda like this game.’ So that shoppers, within that 45 seconds when they look at your page, have those subconscious clues of like, ‘Oh, this is what I’m in for. I like this type of game or I don’t like this type of game.’”
There are some important components that come into play when building your game’s Steam page, including screenshots and the trailer itself. Zukowski noted that people like what they like, and because games are a visual medium, having eye-catching screenshots not only generates intrigue but also creates the contextual awareness of how one game fits in with another of its genre. Lieu echoed this sentiment, saying the trailer is just as important as the screenshots you post.
“The most broad advice I always give people is first, establish the genre and that could take a shot,” Lieu said. “If it’s a fighting game, you see two people [that are] fairly large [and] there’s power bars—you know it’s a fighting game. After you’ve established the genre, you need to establish the hook, which is, ‘What is different about this?’ And that’s basically most of the trailer, I think.”
Lieu also cautioned developers against getting wrapped up in the minutiae of game modes, boss levels, and the number of weapons in the game.
“It’s like, ‘Why do I care about any of this?’ The thing that is most important is the hook and then also the emotional experience of playing the game,” he said. “That’s something that can be conveyed through like editing and music. It’s not something that’s a listable thing.”
There are other elements that help make your Steam page shine brighter than the rest, including a high-quality illustration for the main thumbnail and varying images to squash any “asset flip” ideas gamers might conjure in their minds about your game. Nailing these, alongside an enthralling trailer that makes it clear what a player actually does in your game, should elevate your project to the cream of the crop.
Kotaku reached out to Noclip and O’Dwyer for comment.