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Marketing a small game on Steam can be tricky. The flood of new releases does not slow down, so it’s still difficult to gain traction for many types of games. This is what led the team at HyperReuts to give away thousands of copies of its multiplayer game, Evolvation, on Steam. And people flocked to it, almost breaking the servers in the process.
Its launch was in February 2017. While the game’s player base dwindled, the developers found that some of the keys it gave away were up for sale on shady marketplaces. Not knowing what to do, the studio went through its game’s settings, hoping to find an option to invalidate a subset of keys they found in the wrong hands. HyperReuts actually ended up doing was invalidating every key it distributed. This accomplished the developer’s goal, but it also left a lot of the game’s initial playerbase out in the cold.
In a string of updates, the two-man team recounted their attempt to contact Valve and fix their overcorrection. Initially, there were hopes that the two could just email out new keys to the affected parties. Unfortunately, Valve’s ongoing Steam store changes include limitations on how many keys that developer can distribute. Considering the number of invalid keys, that plan was impossible. The game’s Steam review summary even dropped to “Very Negative” as this was going on thanks to angry customers who misunderstood the error as a money grab.
The only other way forward was to make the game free to own for a limited time. Thankfully, this whole kerfuffle coincided with a major update, with promises of new content to come. The new giveaway satiated those affected by the banned keys, but it went far beyond that. If there’s one thing that players love, it’s a free stuff. The news of the free game made the Twitter rounds and a game that had only ever reached 94 peak players gained thousands of curious onlookers.
— Wario64 (@Wario64) October 8, 2018
As of this writing, Evolvation currently has 43,000 players. HyperReuts were not prepared for this sudden jump, as shown by its latest update. The peak of active users reached 100,000 at one point. This doesn’t factor in that almost 180,000 users tried to log in before the game’s servers crashed. As of now, it seems that the servers are stable again, or they can at least handle the thousands of players currently zooming through space.
The game has no extra DLC on sale or microtransactions, so the developer isn’t making anything off this sudden attention. This does, however, open the possibility of adding this type of content somewhere down that to feed the game’s new playbase.