So, you’re navigating through the twisty turning labyrinth that is the Steam backend, trying to find the right-sized images to slot in all the right places, hoping you’re not about to turn the corner and run into an angry minotaur.
Then, before you can hit publish, you’re asked to submit a short description of your game. This goes right at the top, under your key art, right of your trailer/screenshot carousel. It’s the first thing new visitors will read about your game, it has to be under 300 words, and is likely the block of text that’s going to decide whether someone presses that buy button.
That’s a lot of pressure, especially when distilling down the concept, gameplay and aesthetic of your game into short elevator pitches is already hard enough. This guide breaks down the steps to take when bringing pen to paper, or fingers to keyboard, to make your Steam page’s short description really work hard for you.
Step One – Distill your game down
We already have a great blog post here on how to identify your USPs, or ‘unique selling points’. These are three or four bullet points on what makes your game worth playing. Identifying your USPs is the foundation for the rest of your marketing.
It’s easy to think big, think exciting when writing about your own work, but if you’ve no grounding in what simple facts make your game interesting, there will be no consistency or direction in anying you build on top of that, including even something as short as your Steam sidebar description.
Distill your game down – get your USPs together in a short list. Don’t worry about them being ‘written for the player’ just yet, these can be internal touchpoints.
For this help guide, we’ll be using the fictional example of Magic Capybara: Legend of the Rodent Wizards, a (sadly, not real) puzzle platformer. Here’s what Magic Capybara’s USPs may look like:
Magic Capybara: Legend of the Rodent Wizards
- Explore a rolling, open world, filled with puzzles to unlock and secrets to uncover
- Unfold a choice-driven, coming of age tale, twisting and turning based on your actions, with multiple endings
- Take photographs along the way to remember your journey, and share them in our world-wide photo album
Make sure your selling points are distinctly different from each other, giving an overall, top-down view of the pillar stones of your game. They don’t have to describe everything, just the bullet points of what your game is. Here we have – puzzle-filled exploration, choice-driven emotional story with multiple endings, photography gameplay feature.
Step Two – Identify the tone of your game
When writing any form of copy for your game, not only does each word count, but the overall tone and aesthetic they convey does too. Can it give the reader a sense of what they’ll be feeling when they play?
If you can’t quite quantify what your game’s tone is, here’s an example using the well-known indie platformer Celeste.
Tone of the game: Reflective, courageous, challenging both emotionally and technically. Overcome obstacles both external and internal. Fast-paced. Try and try again.
Description: “Help Madeline survive her inner demons on her journey to the top of Celeste Mountain, in this super-tight platformer from the creators of TowerFall.”
As we review the word choice in this short description, we can see they’ve been selected to convey an overall tone.
“Inner demons” “her journey” “Help”
The use of this collection of words convey the narrative journey the player will go on, and the supportive role they will play to the central character, Madeline. They convey a tone of emotional turmoil, a person looking for assistance with internal conflict, with a central idea of overcoming trauma.
“Super-tight platformer” “Survive”
Using this kind of language to explain gameplay represents an idea of fast-moving, technically challenging gameplay.
These two concepts are neatly wrapped up in the ‘quote’ Celeste’s developer utilises in longer descriptions: “This is it, Madeline. Just breathe. You can do this.” – combining both the idea of this being a foreboding, sometimes frustrating adventure, both for Madeline and the player.
To best explain just how much word selection can impact the tone of a description, and how much work that tone does for you, here’s a look at another take on describing Celeste.
“Climb up Celeste Mountain in this fast-paced platformer, overcoming challenges both emotional and physical.”
In essence this is accurate, conveying largely the exact same core message as Celeste’s description. However, the lack of emotive language – survive, help, journey – means this copy doesn’t bring any additional tone to the table. As short descriptions are incredibly condensed, you want to really make it work for you, and incorporating the tone and feel of your game within it will help you make it as effective as possible.
What is the tone of your game? If you get stuck, try writing down how you want your player to feel when playing. Excited? Contemplative? Amused? Free? Constrained?
Step Three – Weaving together tone and facts
You’ve done all this lovely prep, you’ve got your unique selling points, and you’ve got your game’s overall tone. Now comes the part where you communicate your USPs with the tone in mind.
Don’t worry about the word count at first, just try and play around with language to communicate the pillars of your game in a way that portrays the feeling you want.
Let’s start with a basic, factual description of our fictional title: Magic Capybara: Legend of the Rodent Wizards.
Our USPs are: puzzle filled exploration, choice-driven emotional story with multiple endings, photography gameplay feature. First, let’s put that together into a full few sentences.
In this open world adventure, you’ll be exploring and solving puzzles as you uncover the story of Linus, the magical capybara. Take photographs along the way, and experience a journey driven by your choices – with multiple endings to uncover.
Next, let’s add a bit more of an indication of what the player will be doing, what they’ll be aiming for. What’s the aim of the game?
In this open world adventure, you’ll be exploring and solving puzzles as you uncover the story of Linus, the magical capybara looking for his family. With your handy camera, take photographs along the way, and experience a journey driven by your choices – with multiple endings to uncover.
A few of these words aren’t quite needed, let’s try and trim this down in a way so the same message is communicated, with more effective use of words.
Separated from his family, equipped with magic and a camera, Linus sets off on an adventure of exploration and mystery. In this puzzle adventure, your choices will influence the outcome – with multiple endings to uncover.
We’ve made use of the implication of a few of these words and phrases here. Forefronting ‘separated from his family’ indicates that this is the problem the player needs to solve, (Otherwise, why would we mention it?), mentioning ‘magic’ and ‘camera’ in the first sentence communicates that these are key elements to the game. The mention of ‘camera’ implies the use of it to take pictures, so that can be cut.
Now, our chosen tone for Magic Capybara: Legend of the Rodent Wizards is one of wonder, mystery and delight – with a focus on the story of Linus, a young, unprepared wizard. Let’s try and swap out a few of these words and phrasing to match that tone.
Separated from his family, with only a few spells and an old camera by his side, Linus sets off for a world brimming with secrets. In this whimsical puzzle adventure, your choices will pave the way – what kind of story will you write together?
Swapping “magic and camera” for “a few spells and an old camera” immediately communicates how unprepared our central character is. By emphasising that these tools are all our character has with the phrase “by his side” we already, from this sentence alone, have the image of a young, naive character, with limited tools, away from their family against their own will, with no-one around to help.
“adventure of exploration and mystery” is essentially a list of genres, not really working to portray any sense of tone. Genre touchstones have their place in a description – as seen in “whimsical puzzle adventure”, but they should be used to compliment the initial pitch. Instead, let’s convey the idea of a big setting, a world, with lots to discover – implying that the player will need to do a lot of exploring to find them.
Changing “your choices will influence the outcome” to “your choices will pave the way” removes the clinical, academic language of “influence” and “outcome” and instead presents an idea of each decision the player takes places the road out in front of our main character – paving the way. This is the same sentiment, but more evocative. Instead of simply saying the player gets to decide how the story plays out, we stimulate a visual idea of the player actively paving a path in front of our character, open to change based on a player’s whim.
Lastly, we end on a question – a game copy landmark – it’s not needed in every description, but it works as an invitation, an open-ended idea beckoning the player to answer it. “what kind of story will you write together?” implies the idea of multiple stories available – communicating our USP of multiple endings, with the added tone of whimsy, almost like a fairytale book.
Summary, and how this can help you
You’ve now read the thought process of a marketer with years of experience in creating sharp, evocative store description! Welcome to our brains, yes it’s very busy and has a lot of words in there.
Whilst this may seem complex, the above steps can really be summarised in the following:
- Write down what you do in your game
- Identify the vibe of your game
- Scribble down some adjective and verbs that match that vibe
- Throw some words down into a full description for your game
- Swap out some of the words from your draft to better match your identified vibe-adjacent adjectives
- Snip out any words not pulling their weight, such as words that are describing something already mentioned in the copy or unneeded bridges between two parts of the description
- Go back in and make sure each word is really earning their place there
There! You already have a description that will stand out in the indie marketplace. From our experience, many developers stop short at simply describing what you do in their games, with no use of tone at all. If you can get even one or two adjectives in there that give an impression of aesthetic, tone, vibe, you’re already ahead of the curve.
Once you have your draft, send it over to a friend that knows nothing about your game. Ask them, based on your copy, what do you do in this game? How do you think this game will make you feel?
Lastly, if you’re still not sure, it’s absolutely worth getting an indie game marketer on board. I’m not just saying that because we are a team of those – nailing down a strong description is the foundation of all of your marketing. If you can’t talk about your game confidently, accurately and evocatively, any other player or journalist facing work you do will start on the back foot.
Start small with your description, it’s worth the time. Represent your game in a way it deserves.