Over 1,500 games, 54 millions active user accounts and sales renown to sell countless copies of games that will probably never be played. This is the place a lot of indies hope their game will go to be mindlessly grabbed by some cheap bastards like me.

Live or die, when it’s really needed

I wish I had more examples to give as I feel like repeating myself over and over but eh it’s not always easy to get indies to talk to you unfortunately. Hopefully my mails remain unanswered because they are busy working. For SPAZ getting on Steam was maybe not a life saver but the difference between a happy ending and a frustrating story.

You have a perfectly fine game of professional quality but in this business it’s not enough. It takes a mix of experience, social skills, marketing, years of building a crowd of fans, luck, the right idea, etc. Trying to get everything right at your first shot is a bit suicidal but you can’t stop an indie from trying. If you succeed then all your efforts will be minimized as “great games do well” and if you fail you can count on many to analyze every single thing you did to tell you that you pretty much did everything wrong. It just seems easier to analyze a failure than a success even if it’s not in reality.

But then there’s Steam … Far from being a magical wand as it still requires you to create a quality game (and yes it’s hard) it’s still some kind of bright light at the end of the tunnel as it might not matter that much if you suck at marketing or the many other things we must all be good at when it comes to release a game. No wonder many of us wish to see one of our games there. Shortcut? Possibly for some. For others it’s just to admit that even when trying our best it’s not enough. There would be no need for publishers otherwise.

Now I’m sure some readers are ready to tell me that I should just shut up. That I have no idea what I’m talking about. That it’s insulting I dare say such thing about a game being released on Steam. I’m not saying you can just pull any crap from your keyboard, have it on Steam and then sit back and relax until you die of old age. But how does the sound of having your game exposed to 54 millions of players feel like? I bet it feels nicer (and your wallet might agree) to have such opportunity than the opposite …

The same goes for the most popular bundles. Say what you want about “we succeeded because we worked hard” but when I read that some indies are frantically refreshing a web page to see the progress of the sale while getting drunk it kinda shows it can get better hard work aside. Yes you need to work hard but why is it so bad to say that some factors can make everything much nicer.

We don’t all need to be on Steam

Of course not. We’re not all betting our house on our next project. We don’t all badly need to make 10,000 sales to make sure we can eat the next week. Me for example I just hope that my next game might net me $1,000 over a year. For some it might sound like low ambitions but others might know that even such objective is not that easy to reach. Heck I never got close to this so it’s still a big step for me even after releasing a few titles.

Even with greater expectations indies have been successful without Steam (please skip Minecraft, there are still other successful indies not on Steam out there). So it’s not a prerequisite for success.

The problem however is that Steam / Valve is still seen as a “friendly giant”. They are the good guys like Google used to be for example. In the collective imagination they’re not a company making millions but your friendly neighbor helping you to easily enjoy games for not much money.

Many indies who released downloadable games have heard “I’ll buy it when it gets on Steam” or the oh so amusing “why don’t you put it on Steam?” (well now with Greenlight you “can” do that in a way but well…). As much as we surely don’t have to all be on Steam many people like to rub in our face that the difference between selling 1 more copy or not is the presence on Steam. So no we don’t all need Steam but how can you blame indies to want such thing when you keep hearing about it.

Yes there is Desura and some others but I’l just skip this as I have never heard someone saying “I just wish this game was on Desura” … Not that I like the idea of having 1 big player dominating everyone else but we have to deal with reality here.

The Steam “private club”

With the launch of Greenlight recently I observed something quite disturbing. Well I haven’t lost sleep over it but let’s say that I lost once again a bit of innocence. I’m so naïve I know ;-)

I don’t want to get into the specifics of pros vs cons of Greenlight here as I already had the chance to have civilized exchanges on the topic with people in my circles. I do want to point how aggressive some indies already featured on Steam were when people like me said “I don’t quite like that” or “I think there’s something wrong here”.

It’s no surprise to have players tell you “stop making crap and magic will happen” but for some reason I’d expect a bit more from other indies who can often be the source of inspiration. Maybe they forgot what they went through when they first started. They don’t owe us anything alright but I don’t really see the need to be a jerk about it.

It went from “if you can’t spare $100 for the Greenlight submission then your game is just crap anyway” to “I don’t want poor games to contaminate my presence on Steam”. Maybe in some case it was a matter of mixing alcohol with Twitter but eh… it’s been said anyway. Like Steam would sell crappy games anyway … Just getting votes on Greenlight is not an automatic inclusion on Steam from what I can see. There’s still a manual process here with actual people handling it all.

So as if it wasn’t enough to have players judge games based on their presence on Steam or not I see that even devs can fall into that line of thoughts. Maybe I was wrong to expect more than that from them but it’s still disappointing.

So as much as “we don’t all need Steam” it actually seems to plays a big role on how others consider you or worst your games. That’s why I don’t see anything surprising with the desire of many indies to one day making it on Steam (even if often it’s just delusional).

We’ll keep talking about Steam

It doesn’t matter if we don’t need to be on Steam. It doesn’t matter if Steam is not the magical wand some might think it is. It doesn’t matter if it kind become bad to have just one major player selling games online. We’ll keep talking about it. We’ll keep secretly wishing that one day we sell a game there. If Steam was meaningless for indies the recent launch of Greenlight would have gone under the radar anyway.

So maybe we should all keep that in mind. The next debate about Steam won’t be a surprise at all so I don’t see the need to do our best to make this unpleasant. Of course that’s asking to change human nature … Oh well. Just wait until I get my game on Steam and then I’ll be right … ;-)