Imagine the perfect Halloween release for your indie horror game. It’s October the 31st, and players everywhere are in the mood for something spooky. They’re hopped up on sugar, they’ve been binging Halloween and horror-themed popular culture, maybe they’ve even gone as far as to dress up for a socially-distanced Zoom Halloween costume contest. They’re primed and ready to try something new and scary, and they’ve read about your shiny Zombie/Ghost/Murderer/Alien indie horror game on Twitter, so they’re excited to give it a go. They jump on the digital game storefront of their choice and buy your cool new game. Wow, it’s awesome! And so spooky! They leave a glowing review and tell their friends. You make the money to create your next Zombie/Ghost/Murderer/Alien indie horror game, only better and spookier. Sounds amazing, doesn’t it?
Sadly, the truth is that the perfect Halloween indie horror game release is a one in a million occurrence. On paper, it looks like the perfect plan, but in reality, it is very unlikely to work in your favour and could actually hurt the initial and overall commercial success of your game. Here are some of the reasons why.
Public Relations is one of the many activities that indie studios can use as part of their marketing, and often is a key component of any launch strategy. Press releases, games media coverage, game reviews, influencer videos – these are all products of a PR campaign and are instrumental in allowing your indie game to reach as many potential players as possible.
So what’s the problem with getting PR coverage on Halloween? After all, your indie horror game is a HORROR game, it’s perfect for Halloween! Unfortunately for you, nearly every other indie developer with a Horror game thinks exactly the same thing. Do some digging and you’ll see that the market is saturated with indie horror games releasing at this time of the year. In fact, there are a total of 2,855 indie horror games on Steam alone, and 73 of those have released or are planning to release in October 2020, the ‘spookiest’ month.
This means journalists and influencers have a lot of potential games to cover and not a lot of time. By releasing on Halloween or even in the month of October you’re automatically putting yourself into competition with the other 72 indie horror games and reducing your chances of coverage, and therefore a successful launch.
Of course, other indie horror games are not your only concern when it comes to vying for the press, influencer and player attention. Big budget triple-A games, other horror games and even non-horror games with in-game Halloween events are also taking up a lot of market space around this time.
Every year is slightly different with when the bulk of the big triple-A games come out, but quite often the October-December period is full of big releases as the studios making them want to cash in some serious money over the Christmas period. And the kinds of games we’re talking about here are scary competition – we’re talking the Assassin’s Creed: Valhalla’s and Cyberpunk 2077’s – the kind of games that every major games outlet and influencer will want to cover, and nearly every player will want to play, unfortunately leaving a lot less time for other games with smaller budgets.
While we’re speaking of the big guns, it’s interesting to note that very few successful horror games actually launch on Halloween or even in the month of October. If we take Bloody Disgusting’s list of the best 25 Horror Games of the Last Decade, only 2 games on the list released in the month of October and in fact not a single one released on Halloween itself. If these hugely successful and popular games are mostly choosing to steer clear of the spooky season, logic dictates that there is a real commercial reason to do so.
And if that wasn’t enough to make you think twice, there is also something truly terrifying about releasing on Halloween and on Steam specifically.
Every year, Steam hosts a wide range of events, festivals and sales, and Halloween happens to coincide with one of the bigger sales events on the platform – logically named the Halloween Steam Sale. Why is that so bad for your indie horror game?
Well, firstly, Steam puts a lot of work on updating their platform for each key event, which means that the front page is often completely taken over with a themed, curated list of games on sale, leaving fewer opportunities for other games to appear in high-profile sections of the storefront organically.
As well as this, a lot of games on Steam, if not all of them, will be heavily discounted during the sale period, including a lot of the games you’re already competing with. This means that players won’t have buying a full-price indie game high on their priorities, even if they do manage to find and be interested in your game.
The bones of it
As an indie horror game developer, the scariest thing you can do isn’t putting ghouls, goblins and poltergeists in your game – it’s having an unsuccessful launch, as that could impact the lifetime success of your game and even your studio. Halloween comes with a lot of risks and understanding those risks and how to avoid them will be key in ensuring the best possible success for the game that you have poured your heart and soul into. Now that your Halloween night is free, you can sit back, relax, and enjoy all the best spookiness that this holiday has to offer!