Even With An Approval-Happy Greenlight, Valve Can't Get A Break With Indies

Valve's Greenlight system for getting new games onto its distribution platform went from approving 5-10 games a month to 75-100. Indies complained about the small numbers getting through and now that it's been addressed, developers are now facing a new problem — being noticed.

Daav Valentaten over at GG3 spoke to Martin Pichlmair from Broken Rules about their greenlit title Secrets of Raetikon. Pichlmair believes that Valve is neglecting its "role as a curator" and that it just "pushes games on Steam nowadays". He goes on to mention that Raetikon was visible for a mere 15 minutes in Steam's new releases section, before it was shuffled off by fresher contenders.

Pichlmair blames the influx of new titles for depriving Raetikon of a fair spot on Steam's front page. He also isn't happy with what he feels is Valve's policy of only promoting already successful indie games:

Currently Steam seems to only feature the games that sell well. It seems to be evolving into a data driven hype machine. From a financial standpoint that’s understandable. But I can imagine that this will hurt them in the long time. It means that games that fall outside of current trends won’t have much chance of making money on Steam. So why should developers keep putting their game on Steam?

As a developer that had to go through Steam, I want to sympathise with Pichlmair's position. It's true that it's harder than ever to get noticed these days, but it's still up to a studio to market and promote its games and not rely on Valve's juggernaut to get the job done.

Steam plays a massive role in the financial success of many indie PC titles, but it's no longer the golden ticket it once was. It's going to take a combination of avenues: GOG, Desura and others, along with bundles and the like, if you want to do well.

Secrets of Raetikon Dev Speaks On Steam’s Game Dumping Pushing Indies Off The Homepage [GG3]


    These indies are slack by the sounds of it. If you got a great product you shouldn't just let it speak for itself, you need to get out there with promo's of the game, talking to the community at large, maybe doing cross promotion with others games so that you're a larger product.

    No questioning their skills at designing games but clearly they mustn't have anyone with a business or marketing knowledge. Even Assassins Creed release teaser trailers, do dev vlogs, show off concept art and do a lot of community talks. Valve as far as I'm concerned is doing their role at presenting the game in a easily searchable database. Not their fault the game is another 8-bit game made in RPG maker(Which is an awesome engine and no way detracts from the great games that come from it).

    Great products do speak for themselves, but only when they're known to people. Indie devs need to take that first step and promote their product outside of the Steam front page.

    Pichlmair believes that Valve is neglecting its “role as a curator”

    Genuinely curious if this is actually Valve's role? I mean, is it?

    I can't help feeling like they thought just getting onto Steam would result in massive sales, and are now facing the reality that, no, it's just a marketplace. I am not sure their expectations were realistic.

    Steam is not publishing your game when you use Greenlight. It gets you onto the platform, but you're still self publishing, hence marketing is your own job.

    As I suspect many do, I scan all the new releases for anything that looks interesting. Raetikon looked interesting but I dismissed it fairly early as "yet another indie puzzle platformer." I have nothing against puzzle platformers as such (although I usually avoid platformers myself), but they're probably the most popular indie genre, so there's a lot of competition.

    I don't see that Valve has any particular obligation to go out of their way in publicising greenlit games. They have a responsibility to their user base as well as those using the platform.

    They probably could do a better job dripfeeding titles rather than bunching them up. On occasion I've almost missed interesting titles due to the mass release approach.

    However, there is one respect in which Valve *does* fail in their "role as curator". On occasion they release games which are really not ready for prime-time (the WarZs of this world.) Every title published should be independently checked by Steam for quality. If they need to levy a $200 charge for somebody to play each game for a day, that's only 20 sales of a $10 title.

    If the developer doesn't have enough confidence in their game to risk that much, they have no business trying to sell it to tens of millions of people.

    Pichlmair should have a look at how Itay Keren has recently promoted Mushroom 11, by doing an interesting gameplay video interview, and the do the same, instead of having a whinge about Steam not printing money.

    Pichlmair believes that "Valve obviously completely neglects their role as a curator." This comment sounds like a person who expected that Valve was going to do all the heavy marketing for him. And even if they did curate their store, who's to guarantee that his game would get top billing? What would Pichlmair say then if Valve still chose other games above his own "interesting games?" Would he then complain about how their bias as a curator is ruining the market?

    I feel this guy, and many indie developers like him, forget their responsibilities as developers. It is the duty of any store (Steam, GOG, Desura) to only push the most publicised and highest demand products. It is the duty of the brand (Developer) to push their own product into the spotlight of the public consciousness. Pichlmair makes it sound like the only idea he had towards marketing was "Once it's on Steam front-page everyone will know about it." This sort of thinking is both lazy and shortsighted. As a consumer i only found out about this game TODAY and only because Pichlmair is complaining. I should have known about this game from MONTHS ago before its release. This isn't the early days of the indie renaissance where simply making an indie game was note worthy as there are literally hundreds of thousands of indie developers, all with their own games and all competing for the same spotlight. I understand that marketing budgets are tight for any developer, but i didn't see any previews, reviews, developer diaries, let's plays, trailers or advertisements anywhere! A lot of those marketing ideas are both free and highly effective in getting a brand name out and into people's minds.

    Before Pichlmair can get rightfully angry at the flaws of the digital distribution market he needs to assess how he publicises his games and correct his mistakes. Steam or any other digital/brick-mortar store isn't a free publicity wagon to ride, they are platforms for you to sell a product. If you want publicity you need to put in the effort yourself to create a brand or realistically be prepared to hang out in the dark corner of the shop with all the other "no brand" games.

    I agree that the Steam front-page could be better designed and practical, however the onus of marketing is on the developer and the developer alone, not Valve.

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