Steam has just announced something caled “Steam Greenlight“, another way for indies to get their games on Steam. Basically, the community rates your game, and if you get enough positive ratings, Valve will begin the formal approval process.
This is huge for indies. A lot of gamers will suggest on forums that indies should get their games on Steam. If only it were that simple. Steam is a closed platform; unlike XBOX Live, there isn’t a simple checksheet you can meet to guarantee a spot on the service. You submit your title, and you hope you get approval. If you don’t, you have no guarantee of even being told why you were rejected. Your game was just “not the right fit” for the service.
Much like the publisher/book model, this puts all the power in the hands of an agent who you have to hope sees the potential of your game. But maybe your title has a dedicated fanbase who sees things in a different light to the reviewer Valve assigns to check it out?
Well, now the community can make a direct difference. If enough of a fanbase exists, they can effectively signal to Valve that your title can sell, and justify putting it up on the service.
This is awesome news. And, just another reason to be a fan of Valve.
You can’t blame them from wanting to ensure a minimum level of quality on their service, but it’s great of them to democratize the decision process. Leaving it up to fans is about as fair as you can get, really.
I’m enjoying The Secret World, a new MMO from Funcom. But, paradoxically, the more I play it, the more I also feel the need to get this rant off my chest.
I love the idea of The Secret world, I really do. A world were every conspiracy theory has a grain of truth behind it, and they’re all tied together. An alternate version of our world, one facing a growing darkness, a looming supernatural apocalypse. Where you play a character awakened to supernatural power, the narrative suggesting that you’re part of Gaia’s efforts to fight back against the spreading taint of corruption. Against this backdrop, you find yourself having to choose a side, a faction. The Illuminati, Templars and the Dragon, shadowey secret societies waging an ancient war, divided not by simplistic notions of good and evil, but by more nuanced idealogical differences.
As a setting, it’s wonderfully different from the boring, bog-standard tropes we’re used to, and playing it you can see that the writers have put a lot of effort into it. The lore is interesting, the character writing on par with VtM:Bloodlines…in fact, I believe that, except for one thing, this game would be an RPG on par with, or surpassing, Bloodlines. And that one thing is : it’s an MMO.
And the nature of MMO gameplay shreds that lovely atmosphere to pieces. I’m not talking about combat, I mean the way the game is structured as a sort of amusement park with points of interest and gameplay designed to stretch out your playtime. Not to mention the leagion of jacknuts running around, bunny-hopping through town, shouting on public channels that they’re looking for a group, arguing about whether WoW is a better game or not.
A simple example is the starting area, Kingsmouth, a Lovecraft-inspired town. It’s all there, in potential. Kingsmouth is an island town, a ship carrying a cursed artifact returned to port and shortly afterward a mysterious fog rolled in, cut off all contact with the outside world. Soon, the dead began to rise from their graves and monstrous creatures were seen emerging from the sea. Digging under the surface, the town has a history of dark cults and mass murder, horrible deeds buried in the past. Like I said, the potential is all there, the environment art looks lovely, the writing and NPCs feeling genuinely enjoyable to engage with…and then you find yourself running along the beach with monstrous fish-men placed every 10 feet, guarding a small patch of land, where you can pick individuals off so long as you don’t enter another individual’s “aggro” radius, etc.
A Lovecraftian atmosphere can’t survive a situation where the fishmen sit around on the beach waiting patiently for intruders to come pick them off. >:(
It pisses me off because I can see the potential for a high quality single player RPG that would grab my attention and not let go. This team, these writers, they could have pulled off something amazing. Instead of amazing, we’ve got just “fun”. Fun, but not anything I’d build a shrine in my memories too, as I have with games like Baldur’s Gate 2.
I’m upset because I feel the loss of what could have been. And because the lure of vast profits in the MMO space continues to absorb so much of the RPG talent in the AAA industry.
It kinda makes me want to go and make a similarly-themed single-player RPG, just to do it right. *grump*
…says indie dev, before going on to conclude that his team’s game flopped because of poor marketing.
Yeah. Sure. The marketing.
Maybe I’m being a little harsh on the dude, maybe it’s just a poor choice of words. Maybe he didn’t want to talk about all the effort they put into making it a great game, because he wanted to write an article focusing on the marketing side of things.
But that isn’t the impression I got, reading it. Instead, what I saw was “minimal content, no really stand-out features but polished. Got a couple of good reviews, so the problem must be marketing.”
Your first thought, if people aren’t buying, should always be “is this game good enough that lots of people would be willing to pay for it? Even though they could be spending that money on something else? Is my game better than the proverbial something else?”
If you’ve made an arcade game with “minimal content” and are trying to sell it amongst a sea of other arcade-style games, with the only thing to distinguish your product being “nostalgic old-school feel” (where a ton of other indies have already adopted that tactic), then it’s very possible that you’ve made a game that simply isn’t good enough for people to pay for.
Play for free, sure. Talk about positively in reviews? Sure. But pay money for? That’s the real test. At the end of the day, all the talk in the world means nothing, if it doesn’t translate into people who want to pay you money for the game. If they don’t, then they probably don’t value the game enough. Harsh, but it’s a reality you must be willing to consider.
Always start by assuming the gameplay is the problem. A great game, you show it to people and they’ll get excited, tell their friends. Dwarf Fortress earns enough in donations to keep its developer going, just because people share their DF gameplay stories with their friends. An ok game, they might say they enjoy about it while playing it, then forget about it. A great game, people follow. They come to your site, they want to talk about it, they want to know when it will be finished. They follow the developer on twitter.
Don’t aim for minimal content. Aim for a great game. Aim for exciting. I don’t know how much content that is, exactly, it’s hard to give a solid metric for “exciting”. But, at a guess, I’d say a generous amount of content is more exciting than “minimal”. Just my intuition. Your game isn’t being marketed in a vacuum, you’re competing against everything else that player could want to spend money on. Creating a lavish experience is actually safer than being stingy, people are doing the mental arithmetic in their heads.
Like I said, maybe it was just a poor choice of words. And of course marketing is important. But sometimes, you have to step back and evaluate what you’re focusing on, and what your assumptions are. In this age of connectivity, I have a feeling that great games will find a market for themselves. And it becomes even more important to think like this if you’re going to jump into the mobile space, where a massive gold rush is going on.
And I think this article reflects some of that gold rush mindset, to be honest. He could have called it “How much gold you can expect to find in them thar hills. Not much, boy howdy.”