On April Fools Day, indie-focused PC gaming storefront itch.io posted a listing to Steam Greenlight. Everyone assumed it was a joke, and a pretty solid one at that. Turns out, they were deadly serious. OK, maybe not deadly, but indie gaming's favourite mum 'n' pop shop, where many smaller games release before making it onto Steam, really does have its eyes set on Steamy glory. PC Gamer reports that the itch.io team are legitimately gunning to get an app version of their service on Steam, and that they simply thought it'd be funny to launch their campaign on April Fools Day. If you go to itch.io right now, a "vote for itch.io on Steam Greenlight" banner appears at the bottom of the site.
"itch is a new way to find indie games. From the creators of the indie game marketplace, itch.io, comes a desktop application for organising, downloading, and launching some of the most unique, interesting, and independent creations you'll find on the web. We're not your typical platform, with our wide range of content we encourage you to look around and see what you find. Whether it's games about throwing towels on old men, or visual novels about hunky orcs, itch is helping to uncover the indie games gems you won't find anywhere else."
Now, I doubt Valve would love it if a potential competitor — no matter how small — sneaked their own store onto the Steam store. Anticipating that, itch.io's team explained, "It's likely that we won't have buying enabled for a Steam release of the app for obvious complications." You will, however, be able to launch, update and manage games you've purchased through itch.io's website using the Steam version of the app.
I reached out for more info on how the app will work, and itchi.io founder Leaf Corcoran added, "The app work work exactly the way it currently works. You can log in with a free itch.io account to download and install games you've put into your collections. If we do get accepted into Steam I'd love to add Steam specific features, people really seem to enjoy that stuff. I gave a little preview of some ideas I had in the greenlight page description. But there's lots of stuff we could do."
He also explained his rationale for trying to get into Steam: "We're doing this for the same reason you reached out to us," he said. "It's weird, unexpected, and interesting. I can't predict what Steam's going to do, so I'm just as curious as everyone else about what their response will be. If we do get into the platform there are practical benefits. Anything we can do to help exposure of the content on our platform is huge positive in my eyes. PC Gamer called us competitors in their post, but I don't think that's entirely true. There's a lot of content on itch.io that will never be on Steam. Even if we don't get accepted, the greenlight page has done a great job in getting more people talking about itch.io."
It's all a little bit strange, and even if people upvote the Greenlight page enough, I'm not sure Valve will allow itch.io to graduate into the Steam class of 2016 (I've reached out to Valve, but they have yet to reply). The whole thing does make its own odd sort of sense, though. I mean, what better way to get exposure for your platform and its obscure indie games — many of which are Steam hopefuls themselves — than by... appearing on Steam? It seems like itch.io wants to use Steam friend functionality to let their users connect on Steam, too. That seems kinda cool!
But again, all of this skirts awfully close to swiping slices from Steam's pie. And while itch.io might be tiny, non-threatening and partially responsible for the existence of many games in Steam's library, it's more the principle of the thing. If itch.io makes it onto Steam, what's to stop every other PC gaming platform from doing it? Then again, a handful of Steam games directly tie into Ubisoft's Uplay, so maybe Valve will just view this as an extension of that sort of thing? Valve makes millions on Ubisoft games, but they can very much afford to tell itch.io to piss off, soooooo... maybe, maybe not?
I suppose we'll see. What strange times we live in.