Monday, September 14, 2009

Spirit and Steam

Some time ago, an interested customer on The Spirit Engine 2 forums asked if the game will be available on Steam, citing the likely popularity and income boost. The developer, Mark Pay, said no, citing the game's lack of popularity and production values/his reluctance to get into the marketing&sales game. I've been interested in TSE2 on Steam myself, and was flabbergasted by this response. So I set out to give him a piece of my mind. This is relevant because my post also encapsulates my general opinion on Steam and indie games (in short: they mix well). Here are my arguments as to why:

I've registered specifically and only to tell you guys this: You really really should put this game on Steam.

Here's why:
1) A placement on Steam guarantees a sales boost. Considering how big and mainstream Steam is, from their perspective you basically don't exist - which is good, because it means you can expect buyer behavior similar to your initial release (only bigger). Steam pretty much made Darwinia, and by extension Introversion. It's been a while, but things haven't changed much.

2) You're in a position to do exactly what the guys at Zombie Cow Studios did just recently. They just released Time Gentlemen Please, a very lovely (and very very low-profile) adventure game, and sequel to the freeware (and not so good, but still fun) Ben There Dan That. The indie press adored it. People bought it. Then Zombie Cow pestered the guys at Steam to publish them, and did it as a package: you buy our new game, you get the original for free. The original already was free, but it didn't matter, because that's not how buyers think. Steam customers see "Double Pack", and they buy. It's psychological. You guys have an older, OK game, and a great new sequel, and we can have both for $15! Yay! (Granted their price point is lower, but I think it translates.)
Though I have no firm numbers either way, I'm led to believe they haven't regretted their partnership with Steam.

3) Low-hassle, customer-friendly anti-piracy system included free of charge.

4) Valve are fussy about games they allow onto Steam, but TSE2 absolutely has more than good enough production values (compared to some of the other stuff on Steam) - in fact, it's downright odd how much you fit with the Steam Indie aesthetic, if there is such a thing. There are guys on the Steam staff that love indie games, and you absolutely have a chance with them. And they don't require popularity (though it helps) - they can make you popular. This is actually a symptom of a larger issue, which leads me to my next point:

5) I don't intend to be mean, so please take this as a friendly critique: from where I'm standing, you haven't done as good a job promoting the game as you could have. As I understand it you've sent the release to a few indie-oriented sites, and relied on word-of-mouth to carry you - which it surprisingly has for a bit. But you've underestimated yourself. You've been aiming at GameTunnel, while you should have aimed at 1UP and Eurogamer. Because you're good enough for mainstream, and you need to be aware of it and take advantage of it. Kieron Gillen wrote a glowing article about TSE2 on Rock Paper Shotgun, after hearing about it accidentally and doing some digging. You should have been all over Rock Paper Shotgun from the first announcement you made. OK, so you don't consider yourself a good salesman. You didn't publicize the release all that much. Forget about it, because now you have a chance to fix it, and to make things even easier, this time there's only a few people you need to convince, and they all work at the same place. (Yes, Valve's Steam department is surprisingly small. Don't get intimidated.)

6) Therefore, I know Steam is not very "fun", and is about as mainstream as you can get in this line of work, but please don't let that dissuade you from trying. And trying. You will have a hard time convincing Valve to pay attention, but treat them just as you would a game journalist. Be polite and insistent, and show them why Steam absolutely needs to have your game, because it's just that good. (And it is more than good enough.) Show them how and why you're special and different from the rabble trying to get in. You might want to emphasize your streamlined, but not simplified innovative combat system, your strange and new gameworld, your wonderful graphics, and of course all those glowing reviews and awards.

7) It might be possible to integrate Steam Achievements into the game, you know better than I whether it can be done. But if you can do it, your game will sell more. In fact, I encourage you to integrate as much of Steam functionality as you reasonably can (not just Achievements but general gameplay stats, a la Team Fortress 2 - you can imagine how much more some numbers in an RPG mean if the whole world can click on the player's Steam webpage and see them), because these things do matter to us customers. They're kind of stupid, but they help sales. Think of them as a metagame - one of the advantages of a huge, unified online game platform. The guys at XBox Live can tell you it does make a difference.

8) I'll be very honest now: I haven't bought TSE2. Oh, I've played the demo, and liked it a lot, but as a matter of habit I just don't buy games online. Except on Steam, where I buy quite a fair amount. The reasons are partly rational (the advantages of Steam as a platform, cuts down on my spending if I have a mental line I won't cross) and partly irrational (I like to keep all my games in one place). So understand I'm not just doing this for your benefit - I want you to put the game on Steam, so I can convince myself to buy it. I guarantee there are others like me, because Steam is just such a mindshare leader.

*) Oh, finally, when you get Steam to publish you, do all of us European gamers a favor and don't let the bastards equalize the prices. Currently the default European price for a $15 game is 15€, a ridiculous 40% increase. Same goes for pounds. Apparently all it takes for Valve to fix this is that you firmly insist on it, and tell them what prices you prefer for each market (US/UK/EU). You wouldn't believe how much it pisses us off when we see a game that hasn't had this done.

OK, I understand. You hate sales, marketing and business. That's perfectly normal :-)

But don't think of it that way. Think of it from my perspective: there's this awesome game, see, but so few people know about it. I want it on Steam, not so you can reach my market segment to monetize your brand leverage (or whatever bullshit), but to give myself and all the people like me the opportunity to play it. Or, to really lean hard on the guilt-trip, you're not denying yourself our money - you're denying us your game.

Well, not me specifically, but all those gamers who don't know about you. You know what I mean.

So there. Thank you for your time, and I hope you will consider my proposal. Best of luck, lots of sales.


  1. If the demo inspired you to write this letter, I don't know what you would've done if you had played the entire game.

  2. It's just insane how much I agree with this.

    As a person who owns close to 300 games on Steam: The more, the better. Especially if it's indie, and good.

  3. Hey, thanks for the kind words guys. Frankly I'm just happy someone found that wall of text usable :-)

  4. I want to keep all my games in one place too. I don't think that's irrational.