How to Distribute Game Keys Among Video Influencers
May 19, 2020

We all know the importance of marketing and promotion. The more you promote your game, the more sales you get. Through promotion, you want your game to reach as many potential players — and therefore buyers — as possible. Not only will you want to work with game media, participate in exhibitions, and write your game development blog, but you’ll also want to engage influencers.

Influencers, typically online content creators, can help your game become well known in a matter of minutes, but engaging with them can require effort and investment. When a video content creator covers your game, thousands or even millions of players may, depending on your game and the influencer, of course, may become aware of and even purchase your product.

Image courtesy of Newzoo[1] 

When you plan your marketing campaign, be sure to allocate resources to build relationships with video content creators. Steam, for instance, traces your game page views and therefore knows when you are doing a promotional YouTube-Twitch campaign. This is important for sales and will lead to increasing your game page impressions. You could even be featured on Steam itself.

Content creators can bring a loyal audience to you. Getting your game on YouTube or Twitch will help grow a community for your game as well, so it’s important to give out Steam keys to those content influencers and at the right time.

So can you get your game keys to the right influencers? Here is how.

What is Game Key?

While you can send influencers your half-finished build, or even an invitation to your SVN like a repository, there are more effective approaches to promoting your game. For instance, you can set up a Steam page and upload a playable and stable build of your game to Steam, then request Steam keys and give them to content creators. You do not want to upload your unfinished game to a file-sharing server, as an influencer wouldn’t want to risk downloading unverified files. Distributing Steam keys is a comfortable and secure way for both parties to have access to your game.

As soon as your game is uploaded to Steam, you will be able to request Beta keys. This key will allow influencers to download your game and play it, just like retail keys for any Steam product.

The term “Beta” does not necessarily mean Beta version — an alpha build will be fine too. The term “Beta” itself means the product is not yet released but is in the pre-release stage. The influencer who activates a Beta key will see a note that the game is not yet released upon downloading it. You will mostly be dealing with these Beta keys during your promotion campaign.

You should normally have your build at the Release-Candidate stage 2-3 weeks before the release (or Early Access launch). At this point, all your Beta keys will deactivate, and you will be getting Release keys from Steam.

You can find more about Steam keys and how to get them directly from the Steam help page.

When You Should Distribute Your Keys

Some influencers will want to check out your new game as soon as possible, as they want to get some new content for subscribers, but you should carefully plan key distribution.

First, make sure your build is playable and stable. Do not rush with a fresh, raw, or unstable build. Yes, you may impress some audiences with early access, but most people do not like bugged and unfinished games.

It is a good idea to start your key distribution as soon as your build is ready for inspection. This should be done by a person who has never seen or played your game before, which means it should be (mostly) bug-free and have no unpassable situations or dead ends. The game balance may require some tuning but it should be mostly there. As long as you have all your Tier 1 features perfectly done, you may omit the rest of the content with no problems.

Usually, you will have a Beta build 2-6 months prior to release. We recommend launching 2-3 attempts during the Beta stage, and one with Release keys, 2-3 days prior to release, and another a few days after.

Should you present an early prototype to the gaming community via influencers, or go with a more polished and therefore playable beta-quality build? Generally, it is okay to show some early demos, but it should be you, the visionary for your game, who plays through the first time. The goal is to make sure you can present your ideas the way you see it. It is up to you to guide and comment on all the things happening during your game’s very first public appearance. Someone else, even someone that is more talented, may miss the point of your gameplay.

As you progress forward to a playable build or a beta, you may omit that prerequisite.

How Influencers Become Aware of Your Game

There are two general ways to let influencers know of your game and give them Steam keys.

Pitching via Social Media

The first one is simple, but it takes some time, so start it preliminary to an actual promotion campaign.

Sort out your game’s target audience; you want to know where they are and who they are. Then, go to a social media platform like Reddit or Imgur and communicate with those people. Let them know about you and the game you’re developing and why you decided to make that particular game. Tell them some cool stories, and show some interesting artwork or screenshots. Show those people your passion.

Make good use of this organic traffic to your Steam page. That will be a good start. However, this method only works when carefully executed. People like interesting stories, but they do not like advertising, so you have to be extra careful seeding information about your game. Do not spam your Steam page links or call people to action, like telling them to add it to their wishlist. Just be patient.

With some effort, your community will have grown and you will hook up with some game enthusiasts who will spread information about your game.

Directly Pitching to Influencers

The next one is proactive communication, where you actually pitch the influencers, trying to reach out to them and, hopefully, eventually sending them some of your game’s keys.

This requires a lot of hard work. You must have the right pitching strategy. First, define your key messages, then pull the messaging from all rival games from the last 3-5 years. Do the same for direct competitors and the games you want to be compared with, and your target audience, too. Ideally, you should sort this out in a spreadsheet.

This is absolutely essential for communication with YouTube or/and Twitch creators, as you will want to contact as many relevant influencers for your game as possible. Otherwise, not only do you waste time, but you also may end up being ignored by some influencers because your pitch was not suited for their audience.

In the next phase, you must do research. Go to YouTube and Twitch and search for games similar to yours, then compile them into a spreadsheet. You’ll want to pull all kinds of media:

  • Video announcements
  • Previews
  • Developer gameplay/interviews
  • Reviews
  • Walkthroughs/Twitch streams, etc.

Here is what your spreadsheet should look like[3] 

The next step is a bit complex, but still doable — get those contacts. Most creators are open to your suggestions and emails. You can find their email on YouTube by going to “Channel->About ->Show email”. In most cases, you’ll reach the influencer directly, but sometimes you will contact someone else, like a  manager which is okay, too. Some people hide their contact information as they do not like being bombarded with emails. If that is the case, just do a Google search for that channel’s name and you will usually find a personal site or their Twitter account, so you may be able to contact them elsewhere

Eventually, you will end up with a spreadsheet containing a lot of detailed information. This is your ticket to influencers. Use it wisely.

This brings us to the next step — pitching creators.

How to Pitch YouTubers

First of all, YouTubers are usually quite nice and friendly. They are true enthusiasts; they like games, they love and live for their audience, and therefore they are open to pitches. You just need to approach them the right way.

Writing an Ideal Pitch: Do’s and Don’ts

Be creative. Write an assortment of personalized messages. Start your message with a short compliment to the creator, let them know you are following them and you really want them to play your game.

Then get to the point, giving a relevant and brief description of your game. Pitch your game idea in one or two phrases. Spice it up with some relevant and interesting comparisons, using very well-known and positively received game titles. Use sentences like “Imagine game A meets game B, but (your own description)” — that may help, too.

Do not copy-paste press releases, as that would be boring. Ask for help promoting the game, and playing it. Do not forget to include the game’s name, and be sure to include a few eye-catching screenshots, and maybe even a nice GIF file. Also, make sure to include a Steam page link, or at least link to the game’s website.

Conclude your outreach with some info about Steam’s key availability and how you would be happy to send some keys right away. Do not send keys in advance, though, and don’t attach any other types of files, like archives or download links, as you may (and probably will) be blocked.

Do not bomb all your recipients with one generic email, but if you choose to do so, be sure to check the CC and BC (or BCC) fields of your letter. Never use CC. An email even with a BC recipient will be shown with at least two entries, so send that email to yourself, and include the rest in the BC recipients list.

What Outcome You May Get

Since you are communicating with cold recipients, influencers have never heard of you, you should manage your expectations for success. 

On rare occasions, you will receive a response where the influencer expresses interest in your game and asks for you to send over the keys, sometimes even asking for more keys in order to do giveaways. This can be very good, but these kinds of outcomes are few and far between.

In most cases, you will simply be ignored. Your email will remain unanswered, and worst of all, unread. You may want to get some email tracking tools, such as Mailtrack. It will let you know if your email has been opened and read. If your email goes unnoticed, it is most likely not intentional, as an average creator gets tons of similar emails every day.

After sending your email, wait 2-3 days, whilst communicating with other YouTubers, and if your email is still unanswered, then revise or rewrite it to make it more attractive. Make the description clear, fun, and even intriguing. Tell them again what makes your game worth playing, talk more about gameplay opportunities, and in-game fun, comparing things to rival games, for instance. However, avoid direct comparisons like “My game is just like this other game, but even better”. Write more about new opportunities your game provides that are interesting for an influencer.

If you aren’t answered in the next two days, just skip that particular contact and go to another. Make sure you mark each and every contact from your spreadsheet with an outcome — whether they answered your mail or not, as this will spare you from duplicating efforts. 

There is a third outcome where you will be contacted by the influencer’s manager about paid content. Paid content is just like a regular review or preview but it has a disclaimer that it is a paid promotion. If you have a budget to spare, go for this option, as it will give you the opportunity to set up a desired date and time for that content. This type of promotion is preferable in the final campaign stage, just 2 days prior to and after the game’s release.

Speaking of Budget

Working with influencers is important for your promotion campaign. That is why you should always try and secure some budget. Sometimes you will simply be asked if you have a budget for promotion, which is fair.

Should you spend all of your budgets on buying CPM ads or paid influencer content? We recommend going for both, if you can. 

That said, buying paid content lets you target your audience more precisely and can be more effective than CPM ads. You may want to get help from YouTube/Twitch influencer aggregators, like those you may find on Influencer Marketing Hub.

Average rates according to Klear[5] 

When working with an aggregator platform, you set up the campaign, an audience description, and the amount of your budget you want to spend. The rest is up to the aggregator platform. They will do all the work — finding relevant influencers, contacting them, and securing the payment. Since most of these platforms are not prepaid, you will only be charged for actual content.

What if You Have No Budget for Marketing?

If you have no budget, don’t worry, there are still ways to get coverage for your game. You just need to be willing to work harder. 

Just repeat this to yourself. Do not give up, contact everyone through your spreadsheet. With enough outreach, you should end up with 10-15 creators who will be happy to test your game out. 

Generally, it is not recommended to have restrictions, as an embargo, when you’re a smaller dev team or individual. This will make it easier to get coverage. And don’t be discouraged if you only get 10 videos in the first approach; you can get some more in the next round, especially if your game is well-received. 

Send the keys, and ask if the creator would do a little giveaway on his social network accounts, like with Twitter, Twitch, etc. If so, add another 10-15 keys to your email as well. If you vetted your influencer list well, you won’t need to worry about encountering scammers. 


Image courtesy of
nolic0321[6] 

That said, there are some scammers, unfortunately. Remember those half legit key-selling sites? They may sell beta keys phished directly from unaware developers.

As soon as you set up a Steam page, you may be bombarded with key requests. People will introduce themselves as influencers, using a slightly modified email address to send emails from. One morning you may find a request from PewDiePie asking for 50 keys for his review. Be sure to check the person’s credentials. Do a Google search, find their legit email, and write a message asking about the request you recently received. As a plus, this is another way to let PewDiePie know about your game.

It will usually turn out that it wasn’t PewDiePie himself, but an imposter. Most likely, he will use an email address like “the_realpewdiepie_11@gmail.com”. Of course, it is a fake one, so just ignore emails like those and you will be alright.

So again, if you are receiving emails that sound really great, do not forget to check if those emails are fake ones.

Cover Letter

No, this is not another email, but rather a description helping the influencer get most of the game features and fun during the game session.

Remember, the game session will be fairly short, not a day-long event, so you may find it useful to help by giving critical advice, hints, and tricks on how to have even more fun playing your game. Write a walkthrough guide with all secrets and content that may be occasionally missed. Do it in a friendly manner, suggesting they go there and do that.

Your Little Helpers

As you’ve probably noticed, it takes a lot of effort to get your game keys to content creators. You want to ask some professionals to do all that work for you and also to try some services. These services will (mostly for free) help you find creators and inform them about your game. There are two recommended services: Woovit and Keymailer.

While the first will give a little for free, the second one will help you as much as YouTube’s own search, if you use it right. Find a relevant game and you may find influencers who played it and may be interested in playing your game!

There is also a paid option called “Find relevant creators” for 350 USD per month, which can be pretty useful, too, to start with.

Tools

Mailtrack for Chrome — this little guy will behave like every other extension, alerting you of your emails being opened and read in real-time. It is available for the Chrome browser, but if you prefer the Opera browser, don’t worry, there is a way to get it for Opera as well.

Mass sending email platforms like Mailchimp can also be useful, but if you do not plan to send over 500 emails daily, simple Gmail will do the job just fine. Just do not send mass emails with CC and BCC and you will be okay.

Mailchimp is generally okay, but it will cost some money, so you may want to opt for Sendpulse instead. It will only ask for a fee when you overfill the quota, which is almost impossible.

Avoid using tools like Ccsend as your email may simply get sent to the spam folder.

If you do not feel comfortable working with raw sheets, go for Hubspot CRM system. Not only will it do mass sending like Sendpulse, mentioned above, it will also give you very powerful contact tracking. Import your contacts, send them messages, and keep all relevant information about each particular contact — this is what CRM is for. Of course, it is meant to be used by sellers, who provide services over the Internet, so it could be overkill if you are not familiar with a more complicated CRM system.

Tips to Keep in Mind

Remember Steam curators. Most of them are YouTube creators or Twitch streamers, so use the same method as before — sort all relevant curators and contact them. This will get you some really nice creators with warm and loyal indie game audiences who are pretty hungry for some new games.   

If you really want an influencer who has a lot of subscribers, but they don’t want to cover your game, just accept that. Skip them, and go for smaller ones. 10 creators with a medium or small audience are better (in our case) than one with a million subscribers.

Be sure to communicate with relevant influencers. Sometimes your email will be sent to their spam folder because your game doesn’t fit their audience. You avoid this by building a strong, targeted influencer list.

There is a different way to spend your budget — sponsored paid content or content created via aggregators. Keep in mind that different types of content will have different rates. It is pretty flexible, so plan and spend your budget wisely, according to your needs.

Always check your build for critical errors. Bugged gameplay is okay, especially during the development phase, but certain glitches and crashes aren’t great to share with influencers.

When you are spending your budget, remember, the promotional campaign is all about the timing. Coordinate your videos with ads and social media activity — they should be done simultaneously.

Paid content is great, but do not ignore regular influencers, since they will play your game for free, being enthusiasts. This also means they will be more loyal to your game.

Afterword

This may be overwhelming, at first, but remember that you’re not the first to do this. Many have tried and either succeeded or failed, so you are not alone. If you do your influencer outreach correctly, and you have a strong, compelling game, you can find influencers and build a great audience. Good luck!

 

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