The event looks to fill the hole left by E3's cancellation. Indies tell GameDaily that the Steam Game Festival is now more important than ever amid the pandemic.
Today, Valve announced dates for its Steam Game Festival, which will take place June 9th through June 14th. It’s a digital showcase event aimed at spotlighting games slated for release within the next year. Developers will be able showcase their projects, and Steam users can add titles to their wishlists, which has a known impact on sales. June 9th is when E3 was scheduled to start, but the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic forced the ESA to cancel the once-premier event.
The Steam Game Festival is being organized in part by Geoff Keighley, host of the annual Game Awards. Since 2017, Keighley has also hosted and produced the Coliseum series of panels at E3, although he withdrew from this year’s E3 before it was canceled.
On Twitter, Keighley hyped up the Steam Game Festival.
“For the past few months I've thought a lot about new global and digital ways we could celebrate games this summer,” Keighley said. “Today, the announcement of the Steam Game Festival: Summer Edition is the first preview of what's coming together. The Festival will also expand to more platforms. The Steam Game Festival will give you the chance to play demos of upcoming games from developers around the world. And you can do it for free from the comfort of your own home in these uncertain times.”
This is actually the second Steam Game Festival; the event debuted last year during December’s Game Awards, and offered users 48 hours of demos. Keighley described the event as a method for users to get their hands on games without attending an in-person expo.
“Let’s face it: Not everyone can attend a physical trade show or consumer event,” Keighley wrote. “The Game Festival is designed from the ground-up as an event without barriers, extending the benefits of a physical event to the global gaming community that watches The Game Awards.”
For Guillaume Jamet, vice president of publishing and marketing at Dear Villagers, the coronavirus pandemic has changed the way indies are able to conduct business.
“My feeling right now is that the pandemic will have a long-term impact on how we behave, including in our business habits,” he said. “For the last couple of weeks we have run more online chats with studios than ever in our sourcing process, rather through online events like Rezzed Digital or simply accepting more calls from direct contacts.
“The Steam Festival might also be a very good way for us to spot new possible partner games,” Jamet continued. “So far we feel digital events are working well and we could definitely get used to it. We will clearly miss the human contact as convivial relationship with our studios is one of the roots of the Dear Villagers spirit but it would be better for the planet if we fly a lot less!”
Because of the pandemic, many in the indie development and publishing space -- including Shane Bierwith, executive vice president of global marketing at Modus Games -- feel that an event like the Game Festival is more important than ever.
“It’s probably more important than any other year due to the fact that we are all trying to navigate this new normal of a purely digital marketing space,” Bierwith told GameDaily. “With physical events being canceled into the foreseeable future, the opportunities to get our indie games in front of audiences are critical to publishers like us that rely on industry events and press tours to build awareness.”
This sentiment could be viewed as a catalyst for the increase in digital events for the games industry. The COVID-19 pandemic has event organizers examining alternative methods for hosting expos. After E3 was canceled, the ESA, along with some big names like Microsoft, expressed interest in holding an all-digital event.
For their part, this is exactly what GDC panelists did. When that event was postponed in February, all the in-person talks were transitioned to virtual panels hosted on the GDC Twitch channel. According to Bierwith, digital shows are unlikely to completely replace in-person shows, but we are likely seeing a trend toward more virtual conferences.
“While I don’t think digital events will completely replace physical trade events, I do think digital events should and will become more commonplace,” Bierwith said. “It just makes sense in today’s world that the gaming industry naturally leans into the shift to digital. However, in-person events have a huge place in gaming as a culture. There is a camaraderie within the industry, and while we certainly could all switch to purely digital experiences, it would be a shame to give up gathering altogether.”
In addition to allowing gamers a chance to demo a handful of games, the Game Festival is an opportunity for indies to get eyes on their games; grappling with the ever-present specter of discoverability is one of the primary challenges faced by smaller teams. Steam has made efforts in that regard recently, but there are still a number of obstacles to overcome. The Game Festival sounds like a great chance for indie developers to take marketing into their own hands. It’s nice to see a big name like Keighley using his platform to promote smaller developers that have historically struggled to find their footing in an increasingly-crowded market.
This is a sentiment echoed by Stephanie Tinsley, founder of public relations group Tinsley PR, which represents a number of independent publishers and developers.
“There’s so much new content available every week on Steam and other platforms that oftentimes, smaller, super high-quality games have a hard time competing to get noticed among traditional media outlets and content creators and streamers,” Tinsley told GameDaily. “Given smaller games’ propensity to drive new game mechanics forward, and take bigger risks with narrative and experiment with design than their AAA counterparts, it’s important to continue to highlight the work that is being done in that arena.”
Tinsley said that traditional demo formats -- that is, those taking place in an expo environment -- require examination in this age of COVID-19, and that events like the Steam Game Festival may pave the way for new methods of showing off a game.
“I think the way we’ve done PR and communicating about games from a demo standpoint has changed for the better, forever,” Tinsley explained. “Nothing will ever take the place of actually holding a controller and getting a feel for a game in person, whether it’s fans playing a demo for the first time at PAX or a reporter getting a behind closed doors demo at E3, but for first looks and having to get a little creative with our presentation, remote demos have been a cost-effective and successful way for us to demo our games to the press so far.”
While other platforms like the Epic Games Store have made a strong appeal for the indie space, there’s no denying that Steam remains the go-to marketplace for most studios. Events like the Steam Game Festival are indisputably important in regards to exposure for small teams. It’s heartening to see such initiatives that are aimed at helping the little guys. Hopefully this is a trend that continues in coming months and years.
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