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If you’re a first time or hobbyist developer, Chris Zukowski from HowToMarketAGame.com recommends you make your Steam page as soon as possible. This is backed up by an official recommendation by Valve. According to their data, the longer the page is up, the higher the week-1 sales number will be above the median. But one of the sticking points for making a store page is the trailer; this is the one thing everyone says is the MOST IMPORTANT marketing asset.
No pressure, right?
This post is my advice for making a Minimum Viable Product (or MVP) Steam trailer just so you have a video on your store page when you put it up. You could think of it as a glorified animated GIF. I want to caveat by saying this advice is for first time and/or hobbyist game devs with little to no following who would likely release a trailer social media and YouTube to no fanfare.
This isn’t advice for veteran game devs or people who have a following and/or expectations. When you already have visibility, coming out with a minimal trailer could make it look like the announcement isn’t a big deal. The way you treat your announcement can affect how we receive it. Imagine if Netflix announced a new show with some random clips of raw, unfinished footage; it would feel really weird. But if you have no following, no expectations and no visibility, launching a Steam page with an MVP trailer should work just fine since it’s meant to serve people who randomly stumble upon your page via Steam.
This is ONE article where I’ll tell you to leave the HUD and UI ON
By the way, this advice is specifically for a trailer which ONLY lives on your Steam page, not for a big announcement to make on YouTube, social media, etc. Steam is THE way people search for games on PC; that is why you want your game to be on there as soon as possible with a trailer, good capsule art, some screenshots, well chosen tags, and a good description.
So what does an MVP Steam trailer look like? Based on Chris’ user research where he watched browsing habits of Steam users, it’s all about gameplay. A lot of people treat the trailer on the Steam page as a receptacle for moving images from the game; they’ll literally click through the progress bar to get a sampling of moving images so they can determine a few things:
- What is the genre?
- Is the art appealing?
- Is it the sort of game I like?
Like I said earlier, a MVP Steam trailer is basically a glorified animated GIF (though honestly, if the user never turns the sound on, then it’s functionally the same as a GIF, except it has the top position on the page.) Based on the questions people have when they arrive on the Steam page, here are my guidelines for your MVP Steam trailer:
- Show the game loop
- Show variety
- HUD/UI should be turned ON
- Make each shot clear and easy to understand
- No logos or cinematic shots with no player interaction
Show the player DOING stuff as much as possible!
Show the Game Loop
People watching this trailer want to know what they do in the game. Thinking of the trailer as a video version of a game tutorial is a good place to start. The easiest way to show the game loop is to take raw capture of your game being played, create a sequence of the core parts of the loop (cut out the boring bits), then repeat if necessary.
For example, the game loop of Spiritfarer is:
- Wake up
- Do chores
- Tend to passengers
- Explore new areas, buy things, talk to people
- Go to sleep
This particular loop can make a decently long play session, so just one loop would probably be enough for an MVP Steam trailer. Since it’s likely people will be skipping through the progress bar of the trailer, I would make each shot on the longer side, maybe 3-5 seconds each. That way, it’s less likely the watcher will miss a quick shot when they’re skipping through.
If the game’s loop is very tight, the trailer should show it multiple times. For example, if it’s a platforming game with short levels, each loop is basically: start level and jump through it. In this case, showing only one loop would go against the next guideline:
Show everything which will make people think: “Ah, it’s one of THOSE games.”
What you don’t want is your MVP Steam trailer to look too same-y. If your game has many different biomes, player verbs, enemies, then you should show them! Just end the trailer before it starts start repeating too much. You don’t really want to show something more than three times. The less you repeat something, the better (if your goal is to show variety.)
Even though this MVP Steam trailer is much more loosely edited than what I recommend for a hype trailer, I think you should still save “content” shots for the midpoint of the trailer or later.
People use a game’s HUD/UI as visual shorthand for what genre the game is, so it makes sense to leave it on for your MVP Steam trailer (and eventually, your permanent trailer.) I’m usually an advocate for turning it off, or being selective about what you show depending on the purpose of the shot, but in this case just leave it on.
Make it Clear!
Just because you’re leaving the HUD/UI on and using very raw gameplay, you still want to use footage which is clear and easy to understand. The user is watching the footage to understand how they fit into the game, and it’s not a good shot if there’s ambiguity about what is being affected by the player. For more about this I recommend my post about selecting good game capture, capturing for the backseats, and designing games for an audience.
No logos or cinematic shots
In Chris’ research, users were most impatient with slow panning cinematic shots, logos, and any footage which didn’t have any player interaction. Those sorts of shots are not rich with the information a potential player needs in order to see themselves in the game, so just avoid them entirely.
Pretty shots are good, but pretty shots with player interaction are better.
Remember, the goal of this trailer is to show the potential buyer what the game looks like when it’s being played. For the first time or hobbyist dev, don’t worry about dramatic trailer structure, match cuts, fancy transitions, title cards, or voiceover. You can drive yourself crazy trying to make it looking perfect and it would come at the expense of all the time your store page could be up and getting wishlists. When the person watching the trailer is potentially just clicking through it looking for samples of gameplay clips, the pressure is off, so just do it! If however you do have the time to be a little bit fancier, try out one of my Five Game Trailer Templates.
If you want an example of what an MVP trailer can look like, this explainer trailer I made for Spelunky 2 is functionally very much like one (if the sound is turned off.) It has longer gameplay clips which show off the game and is easy to click through. If the sound is turned on they have the added bonus of hearing Derek Yu explain the design choices of his game. Since I’d read Chris’ research about player browsing habits, I recommended Derek Yu make this the first trailer on Spelunky 2’s Steam page rather than the Launch trailer which has quicker cuts and story illustrations in it.
I’d recommend making the trailer 90-180 seconds long to accommodate clicking through (if it’s too short, they’ll miss a bunch of stuff when they click through), but of course if your game doesn’t have a lot of content and can’t show a lot of variety in that time, just make it shorter. For more thoughts about trailer length, I have an entire post about that too!
For more advice about making your Steam page, I highly recommend Chris’ FREE course How to Make a Steam Page. It delves deeper into some of the things I mentioned like capsule art, descriptions, tags, and a whole lot more!