When it comes to indie game marketing one question we get asked frequently, particularly by newer developers, is whether or not they should send review copies of their game to Steam Curators. If you’ve ever released a game on Steam then you’ll be familiar with the deluge of requests often received around a game’s launch from the curator community.
It’s often the case that indie developers have little experience dealing with curators let alone a method to verify or quantify the value of sending them review copies. Worst still, there’s the ever-present key scammers looking to take advantage of this gap in knowledge to coerce free copies out of unwitting developers and publishers to resell on the global game key market.
This article aims to break down the value of sending your game to Steam curators by exploring what they do, who their audience is and how best to work with them if you think they’re the right fit for your game.
What is a Steam Curator?
A Steam Curator is a singular individual or organisation that uses the Steam community platform to review and recommend games to people who follow them. The idea is that they help you discover games, which are displayed on your Steam dashboard, that you might not have considered and, based on their recommendations, check them out. Anyone can be a curator and Steam ‘recommends’ curators to you based on the type of games they think you’re interested in.
Steam now has the Curator Connect program which makes it easier for developers to send review copies to Steam Curators via an official channel. Through a variety of tools, they make it so you can pick curators based on the games their audience are interested in. This is currently the best way to send Curators access to your game.
Are Steam Curators useful?
Curators are useful in the sense that they are a way to bypass Steam’s algorithm-driven system through human recommendation. If a prominent Curator, with a suitable audience, recommends your game potential players are going to see it on the front page of their store, a space usually reserved for only the top 5% of Steam releases.
Bear in mind, there is a very specific calibre of Curator that is effective on Steam but it’s unlikely those people will reach out to you requesting review code for that purpose. Being featured through channels will tend to be a byproduct of your game’s success, not a preemptive marketing strategy. If you want your game to have a chance of being successful not only will it need to be good, but it will need effective PR and marketing to get it in front of the right audience.
From a PR and marketing standpoint, Curators aren’t as useful as effective comms aimed at the broader gaming audience through online media. Any Steam reviews they leave on products have to be flagged to indicate they received the game for free. Add to that the fact that a lot of lower-level Curators have a largely inactive audience and it starts to become clear your time will be better spent elsewhere. The majority of the worthwhile Curators have primary channels, such as websites, which it’s better to be featured on. Curator Connect has its uses, such as potentially increasing the visibility of your game on Steam, but there are better ways to promote your game beyond Steam, especially if you’re working with limited resources.
Should you respond to Steam Curator review requests?
Legit and sizable curators on Steam, such as PC Gamer for instance, could get your game a good level of visibility among their community. Truth is though, especially if you’re an indie developer, it’s very unlikely PC Gamer is going to reach out to you specifically to feature your game on their Curator page. If any big Curators are interested, it’s more likely they’ll email you from a verifiable email address to request a review copy to cover on their website or YouTube channel.
To add to that, the vast majority of Curator emails you’ll receive will be scams, due in part to the hard to verify nature of Steam Curators. With that in mind, the best way to connect with Curators is through Steam’s Curator Connect program. Even then, as outlined above, it’s not particularly recommended as a marketing strategy. That’s not to say Curators aren’t valuable, but rather the few that are, operate in an already informed position and will typically already be in the loop via broader marketing activities. It’s worth personally reaching out to some of the bigger Curators if you feel they fit your audience, but the majority of requests you receive via email are not going to be as worthwhile following up with.
One red flag to be aware of is curators requesting multiple keys, or anyone for that matter. It’s extremely rare, even among some of the biggest sites out there, to request multiple keys to cover an indie game. So, if the Curator is asking for 2 plus keys to share with their community we would advise caution in supplying those. Always try and verify who you are sending reviews copies to.
Ultimately, If you’re a relatively small indie developer your energy is sure to be spent better elsewhere reaching out to press and influencers in the build-up to your game’s launch. Beyond that, using the curator connect program through Steam Works is a sensible way to get your game into the hands of a few key Curators if that’s the route you want to take. It’s one way in which you can boost the visibility of your game but caution is advised due to a sizable majority of key scams using the Steam Curator approach to obtain keys.