This Week In Indie: Steamworld Dig Is A 3DS Hit, With Just Word-Of-Mouth
Steamworld Dig is a hardcore platform mining adventure indie game in the style of Metroidvania which has been garnering critical and public praise through simple word-of-mouth. The game became popular due to word-of-mouth networking and the game itself topped the charts on Nintendo’s 3DS eShop without any type of Kickstarter campaign, media drives, email or direct marketing as is the norm for other indie developers. Contrary to this, Steamworld Dig’s devs, Image & Form, have achieved an unmitigated success by relying on just one press release and people networking the game through blogs, reviews and various sites. The results speak for themselves.
This is an unusual success story given that many indie titles have failed to do incredibly well on the 3DS, without sufficient marketing prior to a game’s release. Brjann Sigurgeirsson, co-founder of Image & Form, recently spoke to Polygon to elaborate upon the nature of the game’s success where traditional PR and marketing weren’t part of the initial plan. Steamworld Dig has been outselling first party 3DS games like Animal Crossing: New Leaf on the Australian and European eShop release charts, and is placing third in the North American market.
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The game, according to Sigurgeirsson, was developed quickly and with a lack of fuss. Production lasted from October last year to this year in June. Sigurgeirsson believes that this short time frame was the catalyst for the game’s quality, depth and saleability in the eShop marketplace. The game oozes quality and doesn’t truly feel like a game that has been developed in a short period of time. Image & Form focused on getting the game developed and producing a polished final product, instead of copious PR and marketing.
Sigurgeirsson had this to say, in relation to the lack of PR and marketing for Steamworld Dig:
But it was frustrating that we never really had very much time to create PR stuff such as gameplay trailers, exquisite screenshots, mockups and what have you. We’re a pretty small studio, and everyone had their nose buried in development.
All Sigurgeirsson did was send out a single press release in March to the public, whilst the game was still in the midst of development. The press release included a small selection of screenshots. The expectations were that the email would be lost in people’s email accounts and that the game would make no real impact PR-wise. Image & Form expected that the game wouldn’t sell well because of no investments in proper PR and marketing campaigns. Their expectations proved to be false.
Following the release of the game’s trailer on August 6, the game began to gain higher positions on the eShop’s release charts. From there, the game received attention from Nintendo of Europe, with Steamworld Dig promoted in a Nintendo Direct show. The game also received support from YouTubers’ Let’s Plays and video reviews. There was even a NeoGAF thread supporting the game. From there, the game received a flow of positive reviews and became an overnight success. Steamworld Dig was being recommended by gamers on Twitter, and the number of followers for Image & Form increased exponentially.
Sigurgeirsson believes that the success story of Steamworld Dig is largely influenced by the environment of the 3DS eShop. He points to the install based of the 3DS being definitively lower than that of iOS devices, for example. There is far more competition on iOS devices than on the 3DS, and an indie game can make a bigger mark on the 3DS than on the Apple marketplace. Your voice as a developer in a mobile market, such as on iOS devices, faces stiff competition as it is harder to directly reach for your audiences as on other platforms.
Finally, Sigurgeirsson argues that Image & Form’s success is a result of focussing game development on quality game design and not taking demographics into account. Trending popular topics in indie game design were avoided at all costs, and Image & Form were able to make the game they wanted to and on their platform of their choosing. Steamworld Dig’s success comes down to good game design.