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Q&A: Chris Zukowski on Steam Marketing and GDC Masterclass

Steam is a great place to get eyes on your game—but how to make sure to get the best exposure possible? Game marketing consultant Chris Zukowski shares more on his June GDC Masterclass, all about learning the skills necessary to take an aggressive position on Steam and master marketing your games.
Chris Zukowski chatted with GDC about his upcoming virtual Masterclass, Advanced Steam Strategies for Game Studios and Publishers, which takes place on Thursday and Friday, June 16-17, from 3:00pm to 7:00pm BST (10:00am to 2:00pm ET)
This Masterclass is a top-to-bottom bootcamp for releasing games on Steam. Attendees will learn what marketing channels actually work and how to build a community “moat” that will power you through every release, what genres are selling well on Steam and what to look for when picking your next project or signing the next studio. Finally, attendees will see what milestones you need to reach to unlock the true potential on Steam so that you can plan out your releases.
This class is most relevant for mobile game publishers expanding into PC games, successful development studios branching into publishing, or early stage publishers shooting for the next revenue level—these include for studio heads, comm directors, CMs, and product managers.
Below is an edited, condensed version of our interview.
GDC: Your GDC 2021 “30 Minute Steam Page Makeovers” session was one of GDC’s most highly regarded videos on YouTube last year!  How does your Masterclass expand on the knowledge you provided?
Chris Zukowski: I didn't know that! But I love to hear it! I try to make my lectures fun but also super detailed and action oriented.
Ok! So, in that GDC talk I was just explaining how to improve your Steam page. You learned how to make the storefront look nice: the window dressing, the sign on the front, maybe the posing of the mannequins in the window. It was all the veneer for a single game. But in my Masterclass, I am going to show you how to run the business behind that storefront. 
Now, if you are making your first game, this class won't be as relevant for you. This class is really aimed at studios and publishers who have released multiple games and are really trying to step up to the next level and really unlock the visibility that Steam provides bigger studios. It is for studios at that inflection point.
You will learn the advanced techniques to merchandise your games, coordinate multiple games to work together and boost each other. You will also learn how the Steam algorithm works at the studio/publisher scale.
GDC: What are some of the most-common marketing mistakes you see from studios on Steam, and how does your course address those?
Chris: There is this quote that goes something like, "First-time founders are obsessed with product. Second-time founders are obsessed with distribution." I think that applies to game studios too.
When you are just starting out you are obsessed with a game idea. Everything is about the game. How to make it perfect. But you must also learn the strategy that surrounds that game. How do the other games in your catalog compliment each other? Why publish one game vs another? How does the Steam audience and the Steam marketplace and algorithm favor certain games over another?
I want to help studios that are comfortable making games to start looking ahead to the second order strategy of the types of games they are making and why.

GDC: What’s something interesting that you enjoy or do that most people might not know about you?  
Chris: I grew up and live in Arizona and absolutely love arid land plants and fauna. The Sonoran Desert (which makes up most of the state) is quite magical because it is like the end of this metaphorical tropical highway that runs up the spine of Mexico and Central America. So we have this very diverse array of plants and animals that almost seem like they rode the tropical train too long and accidentally found themselves dumped in Arizona.
For instance, Arizona has 1,300 different bee species which is the most diverse in the country.
I am a hobbyist gardener and am working on a completely native yard that hopefully can support some of our native species (even if all 1,300 bee species won't fit in our small plot). So my hobby of trying to grow things in an incredibly harsh environment with very few natural resources is actually quite a bit like trying to market indie games. 

Be sure to head to GDC Masterclass for more information on Chris's Advanced Steam Strategies for Game Studios and Publishers course, which runs virtually June 16-17

GDC returns to San Francisco in March 2023, and the call for submissions opens this summer! For more information, be sure to visit our website.

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