Alternative to "Steam's monopoly"? Less talk and more action helps...
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Last time I shared my thoughts on Steam Greenlight, but left something out because I wanted to mention it on a different blog post. When Valve shared the news that they’d require a $100 fee to post a game on Greenlight, there were different reactions, but basically we have the ones that say $100 is too steep, those saying the fee is an excuse for lazy gate keeping, as well as the “elite” that states “any serious indie can afford that fee,” and of course the ones that say “you don’t really need Steam anyway” (many of these are also part of the “elite” I just mentioned).
And yes, I’ve read the comments that go “if you can’t afford it then pitch me your game and I may give you the $100.” Don’t even get me started…
On my previous post I also discussed my position on that fee, so I’m not going to touch that subject again. I will touch the “we don’t need Steam” part. First of all I have to say something: I am so (not) surprised to see such sense of elitisms sometimes in the “indie scene.” How else can you explain so many comments among the lines of “oh, $100 are nothing, man. They should even charge more,” and “if your game is worth its salt, you can self-publish and earn those $100 in no time.”
Now, in case you’re wondering if that second paragraph is there just because I want to rant, let’s take the last line and move on to the subject: “you can self-publish.” My short answer would be: “if you build it, they may not come, this ain’t the field of dreams.”
Many of us have heard tons of stories about how getting Steam distribution can make a difference. Many of us have had people in forums telling us “your game looks really cool! let me know when it’s available on Steam so I can buy it and tell my friends about it.” Simply put, Steam is like “the king of the hill,” because it’s the first place gamers go get their games. I’m not saying that Steam distribution is the key to success, but that “sorta-monopoly” does make a difference. I don’t like this any more than many of you, because I don’t think one single store should dominate digital distribution of indie games (specially when that store is a closed platform). There are other alternatives, but players have made Steam the largest community because it’s “better”.
Based on my experience, self-publishing a game brings a whole new set of complications to the table. For starters, I don’t have access to any established community so I have to build one, and that’s a big problem because the majority of people don’t know who the hell I am (I’m not prominently featured in a lot of gaming sites, and I’ve never been to a gaming event because I can’t afford to go). Since many don’t know who the hell I am, it’s hard to get press coverage (although I’m happy that slowly more and more people are learning about Enola, so it’s getting a little bit more coverage than before). You can let people buy the game on your website, but it seems players seem to like the convenience of getting the games somewhere else (Enola is available on different places, but the one where it’s sold the least is my website).
Someone on Twitter told me once there are some indie games portals (like Desura), and those could be good alternatives, and that’s right. Desura also has an approval process, but I think that, because they are pro-indie, they are more open to all kinds of games. Besides, since they are linked to IndieDB, a site where you can actually build a community around your game, it makes interaction a lot easier (on a side note, there’s a lot that Greenlight could learn from IndieDB). Desura is not the place with higher number of sold copies of Enola, though. Enola is also available on Gamersgate, and there it’s sold twice as many copies.
Just to clarify, I have not sold thousands of copies. I am far from making a profit, but the game is still under development and it’s being alpha-funded with those sales.
I’m sure everybody’s heard of Indie City. That site aimed to be the “Steam killer” and I wish them all the luck in the world, but right now they are not even close to reach that goal. The big problem is Indie City is not exactly a very active site. Enola was available on that site as well, but not only it never sold one single copy, it only got 96 page views in 4-5 months (and I’m sure around 10 of those were mine, when I was testing the product page). To put that under perspective, the IndieDB page for Enola has gotten over 43K visits since February, and Enola on Greenlight has gotten over 19K visits in the past 2 weeks.
So, “you can just self-publish,” true, but how about “less talk and more action? How about stop caring just about yourself and the 5 dudes you know because a) you met them at some important gaming event, or b) they are “worth knowing” because they have won whatever award?
I could explain my point but I’m using an example instead, because it’s easier to understand that way: Anyone remember the Because We May sale? The event got a lot of coverage, and allowed us lesser known indies a way to reach the masses. It would be interesting to know what the result would’ve been if I’d organized such event (in all aspects, from submitted games to coverage and resulting sales). Besides the special prices, the Because We May sale was a way to gather a bunch of developers/games, big or small, in one place, making it easy to players to find/buy them. It didn’t require any special e-commerce setup because they were linking to the devs’ websites/distribution platforms. Also, it was an open platform because anyone could submit their games and we didn’t have to worry about meeting some obscure standards (I’m looking at you, Steam!).
The Because We May sale, to me, is a perfect example of well known developers setting up a system that, among other things, brought more attention to lesser known devs/games, and it did it without some fancy portal with some top of the line back end, download client, e-commerce solution and what not.
Will I set that system up? My answer to that is “would anyone even notice? It’s not like my tweets make it to Kotaku all the time” (no pun intended).
So, if you ask me, a Steam alternative could be a very good thing, but reading a bunch of dudes talk about “how bad this is” on Twitter is completely useless if, at the end of the day, that doesn’t translate into a “real and palpable” alternative (after all, isn’t the “indie community” supposed to be “helpful and supportive”?).
If not, just keep all your useless “Steam is bad” propaganda to yourselves. If I wanted to hear shallow words, I’d watch politicians on the TV.