Online sales have climbed drastically in the last decade, and one of the major beneficiaries of this climb has been Valve Corporation, formerly known as Valve Software. Led by former Microsoft employee Gabe Newell, Valve’s “Steam” service allows users to purchase and download computer games and other software with the click of a mouse and begin downloading them immediately, rather than waiting for physical copies. This easy-to-use system has earned the service more than 75 million active users.
Steam’s success has earned it multiple imitators in the field of software, but some of the lessons Steam provides can be put into practice anywhere. Read on to learn some of what Steam’s done right that can be applied to your business immediately.
Gather data in a mutually beneficial way.
In addition to the numbers naturally generated by its sales, the Steam service also tracks information such as users’ computer specifications and the accomplishment of certain in-game tasks, or “achievements.” In addition to allowing users to boast of exceptional performance in-game or find out if their systems can run a particular title, this allows Valve to track trends in user hardware or play style over time and create better gameplay experiences. Find ways to make sure your customers can benefit from giving you the information you want.
Don’t try to offer something for everyone, but find unconventional ways to use your resources.
Though the vast majority of sales through Steam are computer games, many developers also list productivity and budgeting applications through the program. Beta versions of the service have recently gained the infrastructure to provide other high-bandwidth items such as movies and music as well. By offering these, Valve allows Steam to take advantage of market segments that might otherwise go untapped and lays the ground for future expansion.
Make your customers feel connected.
Many Steam features offer users the opportunity to connect with each other. During major sales, a time when numerous titles receive deep discounts, users are encouraged to trade or sell various objects, and are sometimes grouped into teams for the sake of prizes. While some users attempt to group up and circumvent these systems or force a given result, these behaviors still encourage Steam users to work in teams toward a common, Steam-related goal. While not all companies can encourage this exact form of community, generating relationships between customers as they use services or products can keep a brand at the top of their minds.
Don’t be afraid to use freebies.
Both games made by Valve and those made by other publishers who distribute through Steam are sometimes offered as part of a “free weekend” deal, during which users can play for a specified period of time – usually 72 hours – free of charge. Sometimes these free weekends coincide with a discount on the full game. While Valve does not often release Steam sales figures, more and more developers participate each year, and one recent free weekend contained a record ten titles. A freebie at the right time can do more to promote a product than hours of sales meetings and pitches.
Whether a partner or a customer, don’t discount allies because of their size.
Some of the smallest developers who publish their games through Steam have seen some of the greatest successes. Terraria, a game structured around exploring new locations and creating large structures, came from an independent developer and retailed for less than $10, ultimately going on to sell more than two million copies. Some potential business partners have a lot more to offer than their size might otherwise indicate, so do your best to identify potential opportunities as they arise.
Let customers define their relationships with you.
Users who aren’t interested in features like achievements, or who only want to use Valve’s service for applications like You Need a Budget, don’t have to engage with these features. Such users don’t even have to see the company’s storefront page when booting the client, and can go directly to their application library. This flexibility in engagement can be valuable for customers who are wary of an upselling attempt, such as small business owners.
Let customers define themselves through their relationship with you.
Technology companies such as Valve and Apple have earned their brand loyalty, in large part, through brand identification. By allowing users to express themselves through features like user-created pages, which allow them to highlight particular game series loyalties or achievements, Steam encourages users to use the platform as a method of self-identification. While not all industries or brands can achieve this sort of loyalty, consider ways in which your company might encourage its clients to make your brand part of their lives and self-expression.
While not all of the factors that have made Valve’s Steam platform such a tremendous success apply in all markets, its enormous user base, strong sales figures, and commitment to innovation in its field make it one to watch even for those outside the computer software industry.
What are some innovative businesses you’d like to see Avidian take a look at? Let us know in the comments.