Title Image courtesy of Fallout 76 by Bethesda game studios.
The end isn’t nigh, it’s here.
I’m not one for constant negativity and doom and gloom reporting. Yes, it gets clicks, but honestly, as a gamer, it’s exhausting when it’s all you ever see. When I picked up the mantle of a game journalist, I vowed to avoid that kind of easy click bait and bandwagon jumping. Frankly, between the hate tubers and constant controversy every single day, I stand out more just being myself because the market for negativity is already flooded. Be the change you want to see and all that good stuff.
Even though this isn’t a happy topic, I have to talk about anyway. The Indiepocalypse, because whether you know it or not, it’s here. We all know Steam is the big dog for PC game storefronts. That fact has also had consequences over the years that have culminated into what the industry is facing right now.
The issue is, to be a successful indie game developer in 2019, you either already have name recognition, or you get very lucky. The reason I’m writing about this today, is it wasn’t something I even noticed myself until I got into this gig. Now I’m constantly reviewing games, looking for games to review, talking to developers and PR representatives and chatting with other journalists.
The thick and skinny of it is, if you want to sell anything on PC, you put it on Steam. Yes, other avenues exist, but they do not perform as well as Steam. Why? Well, The phrase “No Steam no buy” is something I’ve been seeing a lot lately around forums and Twitter. I’m sure you have too, more on that later.
But how can that be true when I’m spending a whole article telling you indie games don’t sell well on Steam? Well, selling one is better than none, or five better than one. Whatever. The point is, Steam does sell more than other more niche platforms, that makes what I’m about to demonstrate that much more horrifying.
Steam is no longer providing these indie games with a good platform for advertisement. A lot of games are released every day, I mean a LOT of games. Don’t believe me? open up steams store page right now and navigate to new releases. Make sure to click the game’s tag so you aren’t shown a bunch of DLC.
As I write this On 3/14/2019
There are 25 games per page, on page 5, I’ve only backpedaled far enough to reach games released on March 11th. Now there are a couple games with flubbed release dates that are showing up, but we’re still looking at around one hundred games released in the past 3 days.
How many pages do you think the average person would navigate through before calling it quits? Most of the games on those pages are, to be frank, hot garbage. Asset flips, cheaply thrown together projects, copy cat games and some anime boobs for good measure. Steam has next to no curation.
The issue arises when a good game with actual effort is released. It gets buried in all that gross stuff. No ones gonna stick their hands in there to grab it..ew. Somedays I’ll dig 25 pages deep and I want to gouge my eyes out afterward. But I’ll also find three to four really nice looking games too.
I spoke to a developer, not too long ago who released a game in 2015. They got 50K unique page views just from being on the upcoming release list. This developer released another game this year and only got 5k views. I shouldn’t have to spell out the fact that this isn’t sustainable. If indie developers cannot make a profit when they put out a quality product, they will cease making them. That would a dark day indeed.
Warp Glider is a simple little game that’s only 99 cents, back when I chose it in January for DiscoverIndies, I had to dig through 25 Pages, it had released a only a week earlier.
Indie games provide us with some of the most unique styles of gameplay that the bigger dogs can’t afford to take a risk on. Another indie developer once said that you can get a rough estimate of a games sales by the number of Steam user reviews, as around one percent of buyers leave one.
Naturally, this isn’t a hardcore scientific take on that, it is one developer’s opinion. But that one person has a bit more insight into it than us normal folks. There is a game I reviewed recently called Worbital. This isn’t a game I got a review code for, I found it because I do a heck of a lot searching for my job, and bought it because I wanted it. If you couldn’t tell from the score, I think it is a very good game
Let’s assume that the developer I mentioned is right just for the sake of discussion. Let’s also assume that everyone who bought it, did so at full price. A pretty hefty assumption but stay with me.
Worbital has 67 user reviews on Steam, in the rules we set for this test, that would be 6.700 people who have bought the game. The game retails at $19.99, for the sake of not having my head explode, let’s call it twenty US dollars even, but Steam takes a 30% cut of sales. So it would be a $14 profit. 16 X 6700 is $93,800 cha-ching, right? Nope
I don’t know how many employees Team Jolly Roger has, but the website lists 9 by name. So let’s divide that evenly (not the way it works, I’m aware don’t @ me).
That’s $10,422 per developer, assuming of course, that the one percent rule is true, that everyone who bought it did so at full price, none got it for free in giveaways or discounted or whatever. Not much is it? Less than the yearly salary for a full-time minimum wage job. To be quite honest, Worbital is far from the worst example I could use. I used it because I think its a stellar game. Chrono Ghost, another good game, for example, has only 7 user reviews.
Sure the real math would add up differently, might be a bit better, might be worse. The point is, 2019 is an awful time to be an indie developer that has not already made a name for themselves years ago. They are alone, with very little to help them succeed, making a quality game is not enough anymore. Because it could be the greatest game ever made, but if it doesn’t get seen, it doesn’t get played, it doesn’t get talked about or bought.
Chrono Ghost is a seriously well made and very challenging platformer based on time manipulation. It only has 7 user reviews on Steam.
Big publications rarely review indie games unless they are already prolific, meaning they didn’t need the coverage as much anyway. It’s just not worth the time. I get it, my own views for lesser-known indie games are far lower than the bigger titles I cover. So what we can do?
Well, I’ll keep doing what I do now, potential clicks don’t influence what I choose to review. I choose to review what I find interesting, you can find more on that process here. I’m not the only one, there are plenty of gaming sites that aren’t afraid to cover games of all shapes and sizes.
You can do your part, find a game you really like? Talk about it, on Twitter, Reddit or your favorite gaming forum. Wherever. But…and this is gonna get me some hate. Stop demonizing every storefront platform that isn’t Steam.
There are some legitimate complaints to make about the Epic store launcher. But, they are offering developers a better deal and frankly, giving Steam competition could do wonders for everybody, even if you are a die-hard Steam fan. If Epic becomes a real contender, Steam has to step up their game and improve their platform.
Epic obtaining exclusives does seem to rub people the wrong way, but you don’t slap a titan in the nuts unless you brought a really big gun. Generally speaking, its the only way Epic could realistically take on Steam, for now at least. I don’t predict that the exclusive deals will last if Epic gains enough ground to make Steam sweat. And real talk, the game plays the same when you push play whether its on Steam or Epic.
This isn’t like Platform exclusivity where if it’s on PlayStation, but you only have an Xbox, you can’t play it. If your PC could run a game on Steam, It can run on Epic. It’s like refusing to buy a game because it’s sold at Target and not Wal-Mart. Stores don’t really deserve fanboyism. Just play games, have fun. Leave them to duke it out.
Or don’t buy the game if it matters that much to you, that’s perfectly okay. But the constant stream of toxicity whenever Epic is mentioned is gross. We need less toxicity in gaming all around. It brings us all down and makes us look like immature children. Gaming has come a long way in the last decade and a half. Let’s stop tarnishing its name for the sake controversy and rage culture. Just game for the love of the game. Peace, love, and power-ups yo!