Self-publish on Steam: The Ultimate Guide
May 19, 2020

Your game is ready to see the light of day. One lingering question remains: what steps do you take next? How do you go from finished game to published product without driving yourself crazy?

Self-publishing on Steam is a fast and straightforward method that will put your game in front of a ready-made audience with a minimal amount of work. Below are our tips and tricks for publishing your game on Steam the easy way.

Joining Steamworks/Steam Direct

Start by joining the Steamworks Distribution Program. You can use your existing Steam account to sign-up, just make sure it’s active, in good standing, and you’ve spent at least $5 at some point in the past. 

Steam’s introduction provides an overview of what you can expect to see in the next tabs and the content you are allowed to publish on Steam. Follow it while you sign up to learn more about the process.

What Content is Allowed on Steam?

In addition to games, Steam allows you to publish non-gaming applications such as game making utilities and content-creating software. Keep in mind that the majority of Steam’s audience are gamers and may not be in the market for anything else.

You cannot use Steam Direct to publish non-gaming software, but there is a way to submit a software for approval. Typically, Steam publishes paid or free to play PC games. However, another category has been growing fast for several years now — VR games and VR experiences.

Steam precisely defines what is not allowed on their platform. Spamming and phishing applications, software that tries to get user data, or violates laws and copyright are prohibited. Content that exploits children, and is considered offensive, such as pornography or hate speech, is also forbidden. Adult content is allowed with the proper labels and age-gate settings. Be sure your game meets these guidelines, as every application is reviewed manually.

The Legal Side of Publishing

Your company’s registration name or your own legal name needs to be exactly as it appears on all your official documents (especially your bank account).

If you are a one-person company, choose Sole Proprietorship for the Company Form and enter the address where you or your company is registered. It is extremely important to supply the correct information here. You might find Steam’s FAQ helpful if you need more information.

The next tabs contain the NDA (non-disclosure agreement) and SDA (Steam Distribution Agreement). An NDA is a rather standard procedure that is normally signed between partners. When signing an SDA, you accept GDPR (General Data Protection Regulation), License and Ownership, Marketing, Support, Revenue Share, tax policy, warranty, confidentiality, and a number of other terms. 

Steam Publishing Costs 

Steam charges a fee of $100 for each game you submit on Steam Direct. Although nonrefundable, this fee can be recouped once your product has generated at least $1,000 adjusted gross revenue from the Steam Store and in-app purchases. 

Developers may not like it, but the fee serves as a gatekeeper against weak games. Your “deal” with Valve Corp. also involves a revenue share agreement in which 70% of the revenue is distributed to the developer, with the remaining 30% going to Steam.

You’ll be allowed to release your game one month after you have paid the app fee. Plan wisely.

Tax and Payment Information

A lot depends on whether you sign up as an individual or a company, as well as your company’s location. There is a questionnaire on taxes provided by Steam’s Partner that must be filled in before you can proceed. Steam calls this procedure an interview. It is done through a tax identity service and takes 5 to 10 minutes. Keep in mind that you cannot pause it.

The information you’ll need corresponds to what is found on the Form W-9 for US citizens and form 8-8BEN for citizens or corporations based in countries with US tax treaty status. You may need some professional help to fill in these documents correctly. You’ll see TIN (Taxpayer Identification Number) mentioned when working with the documents. It may take some time to validate your TIN as it is done by a special entity. In some cases, the process can take up to 30 days.

Once you have completed the paperwork, paid the fee, received your appID, and are verified by Steam, you can finally move on to a more exciting part of the process. It’s time to create and organize your store page!

The Release Process

There are several steps to the release process. They are supported by two checklists which you will get once you register as a developer/publisher. First, you’ll prepare your store, then prepare your game build. Once that’s complete you can hit the release button to go live.

Store Page in Detail

Your Store Page will consist of several tabs. Let’s go through them one by one.

Basic info

Basic Info consists of 16 sections. Only three of them are mandatory, yet all sections will help with the discoverability of your project.

Since you are self-publishing your game, the publisher’s name is the same as the developer’s name. The franchise section applies if your game is a part of a series. You can add external links, including social media, stats, and manuals.

Special attention should be paid to the search keywords. They must be relevant, include the name of the game, and even possible typos of the game’s title. The genre and type of game might also help users in their search. Facilitate user searches by providing details about supported platforms and minimum system requirements. You’ll be better off doing additional research to make sure the game works on older computers.

Providing a release date is Valve’s requirement. Be careful when setting a date, because you will need to contact Valve if you ever need to change it. You can also choose to hide the release date from the audience by choosing the “Coming Soon” option while staying in contact with Steam regarding your plans.

You can also use the custom string function to enter a less specific date, such as “Spring”.

If your game is not suitable for younger audiences, you’ll need to fill out the Mature Content Survey.

One of the important sections is called Supported Languages. There you can check Interface, Full Audio, and Subtitles in the provided boxes. Be honest, as failure to provide the correct information can be a reason to deny publishing your game. Steam shows games to users according to their language choice and English is not everyone’s choice on Steam.

Next, you will choose your game’s genre. While you can be very specific, you can also choose more genres that apply to your game. Be sure to specify the number of players as this will narrow down the search for many users. Multiple choices can be used here as well. The supported features section depends completely on your game and the features it contains. You can also choose at least 5 tags, further helping gamers find your game.

Be careful when filling in the information on controller support, as the game must be fully playable with a controller. This means being able to type a character’s name and close the game using the controller only.

In case you use any other DRM (Digital Rights Management), you should provide these details in the basic info. Note that you will have Steam’s DRM by default. If players should create a 3rd-party account, fill in the information about this as well. Legal Lines in the Basic Info section are all about copyright and trademark. This information will be visible on the store page.

Lastly, you’ll have to deal with a mandatory section: Customer Support Contact. Here you’ll see several options — fill in at least one of them but strive to provide more options for the customer.

Description

You should provide two descriptions of your game: a long one (About This Game) and a shorter one where a character limit applies. You should pay special attention to the shorter description as most players will prefer to read that first. It allows for only 300 characters and is displayed at the top of the Store Page. The description should give players an understanding of what they will be doing in the game. Be sure to use action verbs to explain the gameplay and spend some time describing the game’s atmosphere.

There is a lot more than you can add in this tab — awards, reviews, or even some links. Keep in mind that links are not allowed in the description but you can add them to the Special Announcements Section.

You can put banners into your long description. This is an eye-catching feature for potential players.

Steam also has an option to add localized versions of your Store Page, boosting the discoverability of your game. Remember to localize the Store Page even if your game is not available in those languages.

Ratings

Supplying the rating information is not mandatory. However, you should definitely fill in this tab if you have official age ratings.

Early Access

The Early Access tab allows you to explain why you have decided to use the early access option for your game. You can add features that are planned for future releases or other useful information concerning the final product. Be careful you don’t promise too much and don’t ever launch a game that is not playable yet, even in Early Access mode.

To enable Early Access, you should complete the Early Access Q&A. If you already have a Coming Soon page for your product, you can then enable Early Access yourself. Your store page will have to be reviewed again prior to release.

Graphical Assets

Banners and Screenshots have their own tab: Graphical Assets. Read the thorough description regarding what assets are needed and which formats are allowed. You should pay special attention to the Steam Small Capsule (the thumbnail displayed in the Steam store). Be sure its color goes well with Steam’s design, and the image is attractive. Hover over this capsule to get more info (screenshots, release date, tags, and reviews).

Screenshots should be chosen wisely. Ideally, the first four or five images should give the player an idea of the gameplay.

Tags are just as important as screenshots for potential players. You can add the tags yourself in the Basic Info section, but users also have this option.

Tags should be relevant to the game as Steam’s algorithm uses them to display your game next to similar titles. The top 15 tags on your game determine the tag pages it will be featured in. In order to obtain a better understanding of useful tags and screenshots, you can study similar games in your genre.

Trailer

You must add at least one game trailer before the launch. The trailer shouldn’t be too long and should demonstrate the gameplay as opposed to cinematic cut-scenes. However, there is no limit to the number of trailers you can post, so you can add a more cinematic trailer as well.

Special Settings

The Special Settings tab is good for demos or for whitelisting your streamers.

Publish

The last tab is all about publishing your game. If you are not yet ready to publish, make sure that “Coming Soon” in Basic Info is set up correctly. Here, you can also view the differences between the published page and the edited one.

Setting up Pricing

The price is set up in App Admin in the Store/CD Key Package. App Admin allows you to see released games and those games that have already been prepared for release. It also allows you to check the builds (once you have uploaded the game). There, you can manage bundles, share administrative rights with your colleagues, set prices, and add discounts.

In the event that your game is free to play, all in-game purchases should be done through Steam Wallet. Every new release can have a launch discount to make the game more attractive to users. Steam can suggest a price, but it is ultimately up to you.

Uploading the Game and Useful Tools

You cannot publish your game unless you upload the game build. To do this, download Steam SDK and SteamCMD. You can use the Steam SDK and SteamPipe to add more features. Although this is optional, it adds additional functionality and features like leaderboards, achievements, etc.

You might need Steamworks.NET, a C# Wrapper for Valve’s Steamworks API. It’s free, open-source, and provides accurate support with Steamworks to many engines (e.g. Unity). The latter is needed for all the additional features. It does not matter if you only want to upload your game or plan on building your game further on Steam — there is quite a bit of coding required in order to get your game build up and running. Unfortunately, there is no single upload button.

Unreal Engine 4 game developers have lent their own helping hand, Online Subsystem Steam API, which explains the game upload process step by step.

Once you have completed your checklists, your store and product build will be reviewed by Valve before you can release your game or software. Click “Mark as ready for review” to tell Valve that you are ready for a review of your store page and pricing. See more details on the Reviewing Process here. This review takes up to 5 days.

Publishing on Steam

There are many advantages to publishing on Steam, and very few drawbacks.

PC gamers stick to the platform for many reasons, and the opportunity to show your game to those one billion accounts is enticing. Here comes the difficult part: Steam has over 30,000 games, and more are released every day, so discoverability is getting increasingly difficult, especially for small developers.

Although many players aren’t interested in finding the next great indie game, the sheer numbers of players who are can make the payoff huge.

You should always be careful with the content you publish. Even if it gets past the team that does the initial review, content that is forbidden on Steam could get your game shut down.

Be realistic and evaluate whether the price you pay for each application is worth it as there are many platforms where you can publish your game for free.

Plan your time wisely. Steam takes about one month to review your game or application. Thus, you should start working on your store page as soon as you’ve paid the fee.

Ready to meet some new players? Log in to Steam and start your journey! Good luck with your first game!

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