Thursday, August 2, 2012

Why I will no longer buy games on steam or bundles

Since 140 characters aren't enough to fully explain the reasoning behind my recent tweet, here it is:

The idea of being independent is to not depend on publishers, and in the pc indie-games market Steam and Humble Bundle are slowly starting to wield the same powers that publishers do in the AAA world.

Basically, they are seen by many developers as a "get out of jail free" card - just get on Steam or HIB and you'll be swimming in the river of money in no time! Their powers are getting to the point where I think many developers consider "getting on steam" and "getting in a bundle" as a crucial part of their financial strategy.

That situation is just not good for keeping indie games independent. You just switch one devil for another. Instead of making games that you think you can get a publisher behind, you make games that you think will get on Steam or a bundle.

I must say that I believe they have not yet wielded their powers for evil. Nevertheless, I don't like the fact that they have these powers at all and could (ab)use them any moment if they wanted to. Who knows if they won't at some point get under financial (or other) pressure that might change their morals?

Personally, I don't want to bet on the good guys remaining good indefinitely when presented with great power.



  1. ll I can say is... agreed! - and it's about time that more indie developers speak out against the gatekeepers.

    Whilst Valve have done amazing things for PC gaming, and Humble Bundle has gone great things for charities... we have to accept that these things come with a rather large downside for developers.

    Valve have accumulated way too much power over PC gaming - the PC is essentially another console - and we're actually expecting to see Valve release a Steam Box eventually.

    Greenlight is not going to solve it. It'll just result in wasted effort by devs trying to run 'Greenlight Campaigns', to reach an artificiallty high (and ever-rising?) bar set by Valve. Valve won't suddenly open the floodgates and let everything on there!

    And bundles (along with Steam sales and the App Store) have hugely devalued indie games. People complain about $1 games not getting free content updates, and so on... People keep saying 'I'd like to play , but I'll wait for it to be bundled'. It's just not sustainable.

  2. Whenever I think of making a game, I think of what'd be fun for me. That's the whole idea about being indie. Not to be restricted to what a publisher wants. I suppose it's the same thing for getting on Steam or whatever. Make a game you want to make, put it out there via any form of media you can/want to, and try your chance with Steam or HIB. Not making a game from the start with "Getting in to those online stores" as a goal in mind! That'd be the way to go. So basically, I agree with what you said, except that part about having people make games with that mentality in mind. I'm against that way of thinking, so for those who actually make what they want/are passionate about making, then why not try to get on Steam and HIB? :)

  3. The problem with developer attitude is a problem for the devs, and a delusion for many too. Steam does not guarantee success and there is no golden ticket that comes without work and sweat. This is life, this is how it works.

    If we didn't have Steam we'd likely have the same problems with unseen indies, except we wouldn't have those few successes on Steam. If you don't have someone with a publisher role then you just won't get seen. A necessary evil of any commercial market.

  4. I couldn't resist writing up a pseudo-response to this. :-)

    Don't boycott steam, be more indie!

  5. daear: I agree 100% with your blog post :)

    Darren: wow, you're not only wrong but this is exactly the kind of attitude I'm afraid of. You can very much be successful without steam (remember minecraft?) but more importantly a lot of successful games on steam would be successful (maybe a less than they are now) without it too. Some wouldn't be.

    Most Importantly I think Steam should be treated as an optional turbo-boost: if you get it, great. But you still have to plan on being able to make it without them. Once you embrace an attitude of "steam or bust" you have already lost. This is a future we must strive to prevent.

    And I firmly believe we would have had the current "indie golden age" with many (MANY) successes even if we didn't have Steam. Perhaps there would be fewer successes but there would still be plenty. Steam didn't single handily bring us here! Thinking you are at their mercy is wrong and dangerous.

  6. Minecraft was a one off and having hopes of being like it is just as delusional as hopes of being the top Steam game. Perhaps more. A problem in the indie community is seeing the top successes and thinking anyone can achieve that easily.

    Of course dreams can be a good thing, but I think it's important to keep in mind that most developers will not be hugely successful and will not get a lot of income unless they have something truly amazing or get a good publishing deal (both unlikely in themselves and requiring hard work over a long period). But as an indie it shouldn't just be the money as a motivation.

  7. Other examples just off the top of my head of games that were successful before they got on Steam are Desktop Dungeons, Jeff Vogel's games, and Cliffsky's. The thing is that Steam gets games that Valve thinks will sell a lot, so many of these would have probably been successful (albeit perhaps less successful) anyway.

    The point of the article tho, is that you CAN'T rely on Steam because you can't tell if they'll take your game. Your comments illustrate my concern that people are starting to think they have to get on Steam to succeed. Right now you don't (although it does help) but it is conceivable that if we continue in our current trajectory it *will* get to that point with PC games.

    That your chances of success either way are low is both obvious to anyone making indie games, and irrelevant to this discussion.

    1. I agree on the fact that developers shouldn't rely on Steam. My point is that there's little for them to rely on in general. Steam is bad because it gives people the idea of easy success, which is a harmful myth. Hard work and a good game are the only ways to get ahead.

      I've seen a bit of backlash against Steam over their recent EULA thing, which might mean more people looking to buy games directly from the devs to avoid DRM. Surprisingly not that much backlash though...

    2. Very few players seem to care, if EA, Activision or Ubisoft do it it's evil but Valve can do no wrong...

  8. Nice article.

    The sticking point is the whole "what is indie" thing. Art vs. commercial product.

    I haven't purchased any bundles lately, but only because I'd already paid full price for the games I wanted in them. I will certainly still by Steam games, but maybe it's worth looking at whether the developers have alternate channels of distribution that gets them a larger cut...