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Steam or Die

Steam is a beautiful money-making machine for developers and a riveting entertainment hub for customers. However, this machine can also break down, as is the case when small indie devs place their hopes in the exposure they get during early access and the feedback they get from their player community. Commonly, they don’t have a large marketing budget. Thus, their buoyant spirit is sunk by pushy critics who expect finished games or by customers who look for honest reviews and get mostly trolling or fake testimonials.

Recently, Steam introduced two changes which they claimed would alleviate the pain, but they come at a price: one that the indie devs are left to pay.

STEAM DISCOVERY

Valve announced the Steam Discovery System, which is supposed to help both honest developers and customers. Additionally, they promised to crush the so-called “bad actors” who publish asset-flip games for the sole purpose of making money.

Now, in theory, that sounds fantastic — and, partially, it is — but the fact is that before Steam Discovery, honest game developers would enjoy a lot of exposure through Steam alone, and after Steam Discovery, they only get around 5% of the amount of free publicity than before. Sure, it’s not Steam’s duty to offer exposure for your game, but then the fact that they said they want to help indie devs with the new changes is a bit misleading for passionate, young developers out there.

STEAM’S NEW CURATOR SYSTEM

After Greenlight was removed (due to a significant number of fake games getting through), the new Steam Direct came in its stead. Many devs and curators had a lot of hope for the new curation system which Steam promised. First, the good part: you can now send a key to curators directly via Steam. There’s a similarity to before when you tried to get their attention with an email, just that now the process is a lot faster and safer. The sad part: yes, it’s very similar to before. Still, there’s no real motivation for curators to curate games on Steam. It's not worth their time. They don't get paid, and their exposure is mostly limited to whatever fan database they bring with them; not to mention that most people don't take curator reviews very seriously. Another bad aspect is that after Steam Direct, the flood of fake games only got worse.

SOLUTION

For those passionate new developers out there, a word of advice: having a good game is not enough; prepare a solid marketing strategy, make contacts, or find a big publisher.

While I’ve been arguing that Steam’s tools (Steam Discovery and the Curator System) are flawed and barely usable for indie devs, not all hope is lost. Certainly, you can use Steam to get more organic exposure and certainly, customers can also benefit from more quality information about the games presented there. How? Simple: honest Steam reviews. The problem is, these days, most gamers don't leave reviews anymore — which is sad, because they don’t realize how much an indie game developer relies on them or how helpful they can be for other customers.

SUGGESTIONS

As I was discussing this with other fellow indie game developers, we concluded that it would be nice if Steam added a reward system for reviews. Coupon drops, badges, or a section for a review of the week serve as simple, but effective, rewards. These measures would motivate the community to give their feedback. Still, probably many people would abuse this system. For that reason, drops/rewards should be awarded based on feedback votes on reviews, which would ensure that they are considered relevant by the community.

In this way, Steam would not only support indie devs, but they would also encourage diligence in people who write reviews. Together with other players who contribute their upvotes, this would create a healthier community atmosphere. Eventually, this would make the players and reviewers realize that they are doing what is a crucial element of the indie scene: they’re shaping the game as it’s being made. If that falls away, what would we become? AAA?

February 26, 2018
Published in Editorial
Read 1266 times