How solo dev spent $4,365 on paid ads to reach Popular Upcoming on Steam with his life sim This Grand Life 2

Patrick Tang, aka Poking Water Games, is a solo indie developer who decided to run an ad campaign to get his tycoon life sim This Grand Life 2 into the Popular Upcoming section on Steam. Here are the results achieved during this experiment.

Running paid ads to get into Popular Upcoming on Steam — case study from This Grand Life 2 developer

This Grand Life 2

Poking Water Games shared a case study on Reddit detailing the ad campaign for This Grand Life 2, an economic life sim about managing the lives and careers of different characters.

“Since I enjoy numbers and statistics, I decided to try [to] reach the magic wishlists mark with paid advertising, mostly on Reddit but also some Twitter and Facebook,” the dev wrote. “The goal was to receive the blessings of the Steam algorithm at launch by getting on Popular Upcoming so I was fine if the strategy lost a bit of money per wishlist.”

As a reminder: Popular Upcoming is a list of the most wishlisted unreleased games on Steam, sorted by launch date. It is one of the four algorithmic visibility tools available on the store’s front page, along with New & Trending (regionalized list of recently released games), Top Sellers (highest-grossing titles), and Specials (best-selling discounted products).

Here is a brief overview of the ad campaign for This Grand Life 2:

  • A total of $4,365 was spent on paid ads;
  • The ad campaign resulted in 4,000 wishlist additions;
  • This Grand Life 2 appeared in the Popular Upcoming section after reaching 5,228 wishlists in total;
  • CTRs for each ad on Reddit were usually higher than 0.8% and averaged 1.5-2% “when targeting relevant game-related subreddits”;
  • The best-performing subreddits in terms of CTR were r/capitalismlab (5.8%), r/bigambitions (4.3%), r/cartelycoon (3.9%), r/softwareinc (3.3%), and r/tycoon (2.8%) — most of them are dedicated to similar games in the niche;
  • Wishlists (WL) to Tracked Visits (TV) ratio ranged from 0% (zero interest) to 25% (decent interest), depending on a target audience;
  • Average cost per wishlist was $1.1, but varied from $0.8 to $2.5 depending on the ad group;
  • Poking Water Games didn’t have time to properly experiment with a strategy that seemed to work for Facebook ads, while Twitter “had terrible CTR and lower WL to TV [ratio] than Reddit when targeting the same audiences”;
  • Mobile accounted for 90% of tracked visits and 96% tracked wishlists across all ads, so it is better to use mobile targeting even for PC-only games;
  • CPC for non-English countries was about 60-70% that for English-speaking countries.

Image credit: Poking Water Games

After running this experiment, Tang came to the following conclusions:

  • The ad title should describe the main hook, not the game’s name (e.g. “A life sim where your characters have allergies and addictions”);
  • Use catchy in-game screenshots rather than a trailer (unless “you have an action-y game where you can show something cool in the first few seconds”) or cover art (to avoid being misleading or targeting the wrong audience)
  • Always use UTM links to track the performance of each ad group;
  • Make changes every two to three days and stop underperforming ads (“if an ad has 0 WL from 100 TV, I would immediately stop it and try another experiment”);
  • Don’t target general subreddits like r/Games or r/Gaming (“in all the post mortems I’ve read that went badly, these were the target audience”).

Some of these tips may not work for other games, but it is always great to see developers share their experience in such detail.

This Grand Life 2 launches on June 21, so it will be interesting to see the quality of the wishlists generated during this ad campaign. For more details and insights, check out Poking Water Games’ full case study.

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