Could Valve’s Steam be the secret to indie game success?
If there is one obstacle independent developers must overcome, it’s how to get their games into the hands of players. You might have created the best game ever made, but if nobody can buy and play it, what’s the point?
Prior to digital distribution, video game publishers controlled this aspect of the business because they had relationships with the retailers that sold games. Getting a national electronics chain to carry your indie title was a long shot without the support of an Activision or Electronic Arts.
Apple’s App Store and Google’s Play Store allow for self-distribution of mobile games. but for creators of bigger and more complex computer game experiences, the Internet makes distribution an easier problem to solve than it used to be. But just because you build the promotional website to sell your first-person shooter doesn’t mean the gamers will come.
That’s where Steam comes in. The service, from Valve Software, is both a tool for media management as well as an online storefront, and the majority of indie games appear on Steam.
In October 2011, Valve launched Steam Greenlight, a new process for game creators to submit their games for release on the platform. Greenlight opens up Steam so that nearly anyone can put forward a title for consideration, and gives the community responsibility for deciding what gets past the gate.
“It is not a sure thing to be able to get on Steam at this point,” said Daniel Jacobsen in an interview. “It is much more a sure thing than it used to be.”
The cofounder of Gaslamp Games said his studio’s new game, Clockwork Empires, will be released as part of Steam’s Early Access program in August. Early Access gives gamers the chance to play early versions of titles. Because they’re purchasing pre-release versions, they get a steep discount on the cost of the final release, which they ultimately have as the software gets updated.
Secret Ponchos, from Vancouver indie studio Switchblade Monkeys, was released through Early Access in June. The game is being developed for PS4, but the Steam release will help fund the development of a Windows version.
“We want players to break it,” Yousuf Mapara told the Straight at E3 in Los Angeles. Mapara, the creative director on the game, said that information from those players will be used to polish and perfect the experience.