Tales of the Rampant Coyote

Adventures in Indie Gaming!

Fighting the Good Fight Without the Juggernaut

Posted by Rampant Coyote on September 20, 2013

Is releasing a game on PC without being guaranteed on Steam a losing proposition?

Maybe. The Racing the Sun team probably thinks so.

Seriously, this scares me. There’s a whole lot about this that scares me. I don’t want to have an entire industry completely beholden to a single company (oh, wait, there’s Microsoft… we’re already doomed…)

I’ll tell you – the numbers, the responses, much of what they talk about here – they all look extremely familiar. Very, very familiar. They could have been talking about an RPG very near and dear to my heart.

(Except the RPG took significantly longer to make…)

This will probably shock and surprise nobody. But for games that are sold as products (instead of as services, like an MMO), Steam’s pretty much the 800 lb gorilla. If submitting and selling games via Steam was as simple as selling a game via Google Play or the App Store, that’d be one thing.  You just do it. So long as your title adheres to some minimal standards, no problem. But instead, there’s the massive high-school student council election popularity contest where your game has to compete with vaporware marvels that promise the world.

But hey, after spending all that time and money generating support to get the Greenlight votes, who has anything left to actually finish a game?

As it currently exists… Steam is simultaneously enabling PC gaming on one hand, and choking the life out of it on the other. If I want to make a PC game, but I can’t guarantee a spot on Steam, it’s getting to the point where I would be very reluctant (as an actual business trying to survive making games) to do anything without some kind of prior blessing from the gods of Steam. This puts us in EXACTLY the same place we were in the bad ol’ days of the publishers dominating the landscape. This is exactly what the indie movement was trying to avoid. We didn’t intend to sacrifice a consortium of overlords for one big (if usually benevolent) overlord.

I’m going to be eternally grateful to Notch for not putting Minecraft on Steam. So at least there’s one giant title that reminds people that Steam is not the source of all indie games.

Now this is usually the point where people launch into angry tirades about how much they love Steam, justify their decisions to stick with Steam-and-almost-exclusively Steam. I know, I know. I’ve got about three metric buttloads of games on Steam, too. Amazon is my go-to place for books and my Christmas / birthday shopping, too. I even shop at Wal*Mart. But that doesn’t mean that these juggernauts don’t concern me. Honestly – I don’t want a world without Steam. Or Amazon. Or Wal*Mart, for that matter. They are convenient as hell. And they offer such service that everybody else who even wants to compete in this space has to up their game. That’s a good thing. Even when it means I have to do the same.

What I’d like to see is that these guys are always running scared of their competition, and that they and their competitors keep each other on their toes correspondingly. I’d like to see consumers that are fully educated in their decisions, and know what alternatives are out there. I think we’ll get there, but I think we need to find better ways of fighting the good fight without the juggernauts. We need to find ways to be Pepsi in a world dominated by Coca Cola. It shouldn’t be an either-or proposition for consumers or developers.

(Note – As of today I’m out of the country, and I have a bunch of blog posts – some guest posts – set to auto-post while I’m gone. I’ll try and go “live” when I can, but I don’t know the quality of the connection from where I’ll be. Bangladesh, for those who might be curious… with a pit-stop on the way back in Thailand. Day-job stuff. Anyway, I may be a little slow responding to comments as a result. Sorry.)

Filed Under: Biz - Comments: 10 Comments to Read

  • Kyle Haight said,

    As an employee of one of the Amazon.com family of companies (working on the Kindle), I can say that we’re definitely “always running scared of [our] competition”, in the sense that we know our success is fragile and has to be re-earned every day and every product design cycle. That’s what relentless customer focus is all about.

    ObLegal: I speak for myself, not the company. Duh.

    Now, back to work!

  • Xian said,

    I think the biggest problem is that there is no real competition to Steam, and the abominations of EA Origin, Games for Windows Live, and Ubisoft Uplay have probably drove even more into the Steam camp. Good Old Games is the digital download service that I use the most after Steam, and while there is some overlap, they mostly target a different audience.

  • Cuthalion said,

    I think I agree with this. Steam is nice, but when indies are dependent on it to make a living… well, that’s literally not independent.

  • Darklord said,

    Surely being on GoG is enough?

  • Edward Hamilton said,

    I’m pretty sure the number of games I’ve bought off GoG over the last five years outnumbers the number of titles I’ve bought off Steam by at least 3-to-1. What unique service is Steam providing, that makes it so different? I’m not saying that isn’t the way the world is, I’m just saying I don’t understand why.

  • Rampant Coyote said,

    Based on what I’ve heard from other developers who have games on both, the difference is something like 10:1. I would like it to be different, but them’s the breaks right now.

  • kat said,

    “If submitting and selling games via Steam was as simple as selling a game via Google Play or the App Store, that’d be one thing. You just do it.”

    And I am glad that it isn’t that easy. We don’t need steam to turn into app wild west that iOS and Android are, with tons of crap just on sale.
    Then you would have problems with underexposure, rather than just to get there.

    All your other concerns are valid. Even if steam is good, monopoly isn’t. Thankfully, steam does have some competitors and there are many ways to get steam keys, that isn’t a steam’s store.

  • jwmeep said,

    And with this new Steam OS announcement and Valve aiming to have steam software in TV sets, I’m afraid the domination is just going to get bigger.

  • WingedPixel said,

    As a fellow RPG developer who is not on Steam but trying to get there – I agree it’s pretty scarry to have so much depending on a single company.

    I’m not sure I need Steam, hopefully I don’t, but I do know my life will be a lot easier if/when I get on there.

  • poopypoo said,

    I totally agree with your points – they provide a certain amount of convenience, which my wife appreciates (but I don’t, I want better control over updates and such, this is why I resent my xbox as well). And I look forward to that moron-friendly future the SteamOS pc represents: finally not having to hear your clueless friends say things like “I don’t want to have to click install, or select a graphics resolution”. That said, Steam isn’t necessarily going to be any nicer as the 800 lb gorilla than any other for-profit organization, and people need to vote with their wallets. If it’s a game without multiplayer, for god’s sake, buy it on GoG or something. Give the other guys a chance – and give developers more than one fold to run to.