Steam wishlists are a leading indicator of a game’s success and a significant area of focus for developers. They are used to forecast a game’s sales and to break into the coveted Steam front page. Despite the significant attention they recieve, there are a lot of mysteries as to how wishlists work. The number requried to break into the popular upcoming section seems to range from 10,000 to 50,000, depending on who you ask, and the common conversion rates for wishlists to sales often exceed Valve’s own averages. One consensus is that it is better to have more wishlists than less, and so this article is the ultimate guide to getting wishlists for your studio in 2023.
Maximizing natural wishlists
The single greatest event for acquiring wishlists is announcing a game. Every game studied brought in the largest number of wishlists during its announcement, and even the best days after the announcement were a mere shadow of what was acquired on the announcement day. This is not just limited to games in the sample, as games that have posted wishlist data online, even as a graph, show a clear spike on announcement day and all subsequent peaks are a fraction of the initial burst.
The message could not be clearer: announce your game. In fact, announce as many games as you can. If you can manage one game announcement a day you will easily maximize your potential for wishlists. Of course, it’s also important not to overwork, particularly as an independent developer. If announcing once a day isn’t possible, you can still significantly improve the number of wishlists your studio gets by setting a consistent schedule of game announcements. Maybe try announcing a new game once a week and see if you can ramp up to a faster cadence.
Another secret that only a few developers have taken advantage of is to pay people to wishlist your game. Think the money would be better put towards the game? Maybe, but then you’re just competing with all the other developers trying to make money the old-fashioned way, and that is a very saturated market. Mike Rose of No More Robots estimates 1/3 of the sales from Descenders and Not Tonight came from wishlists. Here’s a quick math formula that will blow your mind. Take the price you’ll charge for the game and divide by 3, let’s call that number X. Pay as many people between $0.01 and X to wishlist your game as you can. So long as you can find more people to wishlist this strategy can generate infinite money! You may find this difficult to keep up along with your game announcements, so if you can’t generate an infinite stream of wishlists, you can still calculate your return on paying wishlisters with (Price / 3) * wishlisters – (Average spend per wishlist * wishlisters) or just (Price/3 – average spend per wishlist) * wishlisters. Economics says that the price will increase the more developers do this, so expect the price for a wishlist to go up over time!
The last tip is to focus on another overlooked tactic for wishlists. Acquiring wishlists is one thing, but you can improve your total by preventing the loss of wishlists. Ignoring this is probably one of the biggest mistakes even established developers make (in fact, it seems like the more established a developer gets, the more they ignore this tip! I guess money makes you out of touch). The biggest single event that causes the loss of wishlists is releasing a game. You can tell that this is overlooked by the fact that none of the published wishlist charts even show this attrition rate, but among the games studied every single one saw the largest decrease in wishlists on release day. In fact, the drop in wishlists was identical to the number of games sold, so we’re talking tens of thousands, even hundreds of thousands of wishlists completely vanishing because of the same easily avoidable error. That’s months, even years, of effort gone in one day. The takeaway is simple: do not release your game. Not releasing your game allows your existing wishlist acquisition methods to run as long as possible and, more importantly, avoids losing them to the kind of mistake so basic that the majority of first-time developers avoid it.
These three simple tips will supercharge your wishlists. Even one or two of these will amplify your efforts, but if you follow all three you will get exactly the results you deserve and will be the talk of all your peers.
Disclaimer: I hate that I even have to say it, but this article is not serious. For heaven’s sake, please don’t try any of this.