Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Studio Says Steam & Bundles Killed Indie Gaming

Image courtesy of puppygames
UK indie games studio puppygames, most famous for its tower defense games, its retro-inspired arcade games and declaring that the games demo was dead, has fallen on some hard times recently, as they posted on their official blog last week:
We tried for several solid months to rescue our direct sales but it seems nothing but nothing that we can do will change the fact that at any given moment, Steam comprises 97% of our income. And that’s just when there isn't a crazy Steam sale on. So we wasted months on that and achieved precisely nothing. This is especially depressing when we consider that those months could have gone into furthering the progress of Battledroid... we only had about four months’ cash left in the bank (as of the start of May), and by my best estimates, we needed to spend about another 12 months on Battledroid before it could actually take in any money (which itself is a dauntingly difficult prospect for a game we were planning to release for free).
While the frustration and disappointment are understandable, puppygames unleashed a salvo yesterday entitled "BECAUSE YOU’RE WORTHLESS: THE DARK SIDE OF INDIE PR" where they place the blame for sinking profit on Steam & bundled sales:
...the value of an independent game plummeted from about $20 to approximately $1, with very few exceptions. Steam is great! You can sell loads of games! But only if they’re less than $10. Technically Valve don’t actually dictate the prices we charge... market expectation of games now that means you can only sell them for a dollar. That’s how much we sell our games for. One dollar. They’re meant to be $10, but nobody buys them at $10. They buy them when a 90% discount coupon lands in their Steam inventory. We survive only by the grace of 90% coupon drops, which are of course entirely under Valve’s control. It doesn't matter how much marketing we do now, because Valve control our drip feed.

So where does that leave customers in this value equation? Not worth very much to them, according to the entry:
Now you’re worth $1 to us. If you buy every one of our games, you’re worth $5. After Valve and the tax man and the bank take their cuts, you’re not even worth half a cup of coffee. So, while we’re obsequiously polite and helpful when you do contact us for support, even if it’s just the same old “please install some actual video drivers” response, you really should be aware that you are a dead loss. Even if you buy everything we ever make again. Even if all your friends buy everything we ever make again. You just cost us money. Not just fictitious, huge-piles-of-filthy-lucre indie-game-developer who made-it-big money. All our money. 
We barely scratch a living, like most indie game developers. You quite literally cost us lunch because the shop sold you a computer with broken software on it. So you’ll understand now why customers aren't worth anything much any more. You’ll realise why we’re actually happy to see you go if you feel like insulting us. You might add two and two together and realise that for four, we’re not going to cry ourselves to sleep over the loss...
I don't know if I really agree with much of what they have to say, though. Some games don't sell well because they're not fun to play or put together well. For example, the tower defense genre has hundreds of games, many of them completely free to play. So when you take a game like puppygames' Revenge of the Titans, it's already up against a lot of competition. For example, I thought the character design was really well done, but the actual game wasn't fun. The progression from level to level was really stop and start, and the skill progression tree was hard to use and harder to understand for me. 

The post also has some really odd classism ("When he [Phil Fish] walks into the restaurant where you pitifully scrub the floor like a servile wretch in order to pay for DLC in DOTA 2, you'll call him sir.") and a lot of sour grapes, like Homer Simpson complaining that "They won't let me into their crappy club for jerks!" What do you think, readers? Are they right on the money, or have they missed the mark?

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