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Steam’s discovery algorithm killed my sales (greyaliengames.com)
154 points by doppp 8 days ago | hide | past | web | favorite | 126 comments

Some very dismissive comments on here. For context, Grey Alien is responsible for one of this year's best GDC talks about how to survive in the indie world for 10 years without a hit. He's been doing this for a long time and so I think he's a really great resource for this type of discussion. http://www.gamasutra.com/view/news/286091/Video_How_to_survi...

Steam is a bit of a linchpin for indie game success for better or worse. The audience is there, understands the platform, and uses it extensively. But just as is the case with any marketplace, they do not serve the interests of indie developers first, they serve the interests of the marketplace owner first (in this case Valve). I think indie devs mostly understand this, but I think its totally reasonable to call out what the current situation is. Grey Alien points out considering other avenues of revenue, but how they mostly just don't show the same level of sales.

My take is that if we want both indie games to be a thing and have good indie games, then maybe Valve should pay attention to this sort of feedback and make sure the hard-working, full-time indie devs are getting enough attention to be sustainable. Otherwise you basically get the Youtube model of lowest common denominator drivel.

The problem is that Steam is getting so filled with games (often of poor quality) that there simply isn't enough 'visibility' to go around.

The platform cannot handle the volume of games being added.

The question is: what is the correct number of new games, and how can that number be reached most efficiently?

I'd propose that the platform can digest about 70 new games each week, which is the number of slots on the 'new and trending' page. Currently, there are 205 launching each week (and growing), so there would need to be a reduction to 34% of the current level.

Curation is just not going to work with that volume. The overhead is too high.

Its clear instead that the $100 Steam Direct fee is too low. If we want to encourage professional-quality games (even from one person), this fee does not represent that level of quality.

I really think Valve should increase the Steam Direct fee to $500 - test it out, and see if that makes a meaningful impact by decreasing the total number of launches but increasing average quality. The $500 could still be recouped to the creator at a certain sales level.

To me the greater shame is the professional game launched to few sales, leading to the permanent exit of that creator from the industry, and perhaps their financial ruination, rather than a higher fee meaning a few less school kids and hobbyists uploading their weekend project.

All of this is poison to discuss online though, because many of the people filling the comments section on Steamworks and Reddit are the people who would be filtered out if the Steam Direct fee was increased.

Otherwise if the status quo continues, legitimate developers will face far higher advertising and PR costs (and time). If I could pay $500 or $5000 to launch on a much less cluttered and supportive Steam store, I would gladly pay that. This is the advantage that the consoles still have, and the success rates there are much higher because of the higher upfront costs and efforts keeping out low-effort content.

Issue here is, that some of the best games I own one man, low budget hobbyist projects. Having money does not equal having talent, time and motivation to actually polish a game.

Could you list out those games please?

Not the OP.

Some very amazing games that are largely one man projects

On steam:

Kenshi: amazing game and about to hit 1.0


Off steam:

Dwarf Fortress

Those are just two that immediately come to mind

All of these games would still have been made with a $500 Steam Direct fee. In fact they would receive more attention and visibility because of it.

Rather than being a case of the developers' interest not being aligned with Valve, it is possible that they're not aligned with the users. You point out users use Steam extensively, could that be attributed partially to the users liking the recommendation algorithm? If the algorithm was changed to favour hardworking indie devs at say, the expense of AAA studios, would Steam users still use it as much?

As a long-time Steam user, all I can say is an anecdotal response that the algorithmic recommendations on Steam are not why users stay there. They stay because they have huge libraries of games already built, so there's a bit of a lock-in effect going on.

I wouldn't dismiss that developers are still responsible for gathering user data, observing trends and marketing their product, all that is still there. This post is merely highlighting how changes to the platform can have some huge cascading effects downstream, and that sucks for those trying to build followings and businesses.

this. If the Xbox app on Windows 10 worked like I was under the impression of based on the announcement (that it'd function like a launcher for your games regardless of storefront purchased from), that'd probably push me away from Steam. Until there is a unified launcher (bonus if it can handle downloads/installs from the various storefronts provided the game/app is purchased) that I don't have to configure heavily to get working, Steam it is for me.

Yup, I actually kind of hate steam and yet the library grows... It's basically an accretion disc at this point.

The recommendation algo would be better if it would stop recommending hentai games. It took a while to find the button to disable that

Private, centralized 3rd party marketplaces are responsible for some of the biggest commercial successes of the web boom(#1 and 2.0).

But, they haven't "done good" by vendors, by and large. A YouTuber with viewerships as high as mainstream TV shows can barely afford "2 guys and a mic." App store purchases is a fairly meager market, and not a place to build a serious business unless you have other "monetisation" plans.

Steam is somewhat of an exception but still, being beholden to a discovery algorithm like that is disheartening.

Recommendation engines are such an important part of any market these days. Besides recomending stuff, it's an incentive structure for the market.. a la google-> seo spammers, fb-> kgb spammers, etc.

The discovery algorithm serves the consumer first and foremost. When users start complaining about not being shown interesting stuff, then Valve will jump into action.

In this case, how do we know that the algorithm change isn't correcting a problem? I'm sorry for the game developer in the article, but every time his game was being promoted, somebody else's wasn't. How do we know he wasn't being over-promoted with the old algorithm? Without seeing everything that Valve sees, can we really know?

Steam's discovery and categorization are pretty awful. Despite never having purchased an anime visual novel, played one, or even looked at a store page for one, Steam advertised them to me nonstop on the front page. I blacklisted anime. Problem solved. But then I just get lots of trash tier roguelikes. A couple years later, I realized that blacklisting anime actually blacklisted all Japanese games entirely -- even those without an anime art style, which is too bad.

My guess is that because those games are so inexpensive, they probably sell a ton of units irrespective of price and category, and if the system is optimized to show stuff that is moving a lot of units in a short period of time, it will bubble to the top.

The other day, the only good recommendation I've seen in a long time came up: Battle Brothers has a new DLC, even long after the devs said they were not going to make any. But that's the only one I can really think of.

I think most personalization features on marketplaces are kind of overrated. I care way, way, way more about sales than I care about 'personalization.' I am just about never going to buy something at full retail apart from daily essentials.

I think his problem more realistically is that his category is extremely weird. Adventure solitaire RPG? How would you even begin to SEO that product page in a way that didn't cause a ton of confusion?

Even something like Thronebreaker, which is basically a solo player card game RPG, does not try to distinguish itself on search. It promotes itself based on the strength of the Witcher brand and on Gwent.

> Despite never having purchased an anime visual novel, played one, or even looked at a store page for one

I'm going to be honest, given this information I'm wondering how you know you hate them. Any individual recommendation is likely low-quality, but that's mostly thanks to Sturgeon's law - Steam certainly has a good enough grasp of what I'm looking for in a game to point me at the right genres.

I have 344 games in my library accumulated since the day Steam came out over 10 years ago. They fit pretty neatly into RPG, action/FPS, strategy, and the occasional odd indie that is hard to categorize. Nothing there in my purchase or play history indicates that I want to buy a $0.99 high school drama. Chances are I will never buy one until I die at this point. One issue might also just be that I own everything I'm likely to buy, so it just runs out of stuff to suggest.

Yeaaah, knowing you're into RPGs and random indies, I'd recommend JRPGs, and if you already have any JRPGs I'd add VNs. Certainly the options involving less high school relationship drama, which is why I say that the specifics are an issue and that 90% of everything is crap, but, well, there are some extraordinarily good non-teenage-relationship-drama stories out there in JRPG and VN land.

Some recs in that direction, based on what's presumably a collection of western RPGs and FPS games: Baten Kaitos (gamecube), Most Final Fantasy games in the single digits, Golden Sun I and II (gameboy advance), Umineko (PC), Steins;Gate (PC).

Honestly man I don't need to play an anime visual novel to know I won't like it. I don't like visual novels and if it's anime it's probably about high schoolers.

...Right. Okay. Stereotypes and a failure to do basic research is not a reason to disregard an entire genre. Go play Umineko and Steins;Gate. Have fun.

You're missing the point here; If I wanted to block shooters, would you try to defend shooters - saying that they don't influence young kids to shoot up school etc.

You would be right of course, but thats not the point. It's not harming anybody, and nobody has to use such a feature.

If you'd told me you had a library of 3d action-adventure games and fighting games and hated shooters because they were plotless, mindless gorefests, I would recommend Portal, Half-Life 2, and Halo. They are dissimilar enough from genre's stereotypical dreck that I'd recommend them even assuming your statement was completely accurate, and good enough in absolute terms that I think you'd be likely to enjoy them. I agree that there are a ton of awful VNs out there, just like there are a ton of awful shooters, but I hate seeing people throwing the baby out with the bathwater based on sweeping generalizations that simply aren't correct.

If you want more specifics: You complained about VNs as being "anime" and then said that all anime was about high schoolers. I provided recommendations for high-quality VNs that were neither anime nor about high school.

The point here is not about this particular developer, but at about recommendation engines in general and the challenges they pose.

I'm not arguing against algorithms here, there are just too many games on Steam to show everyone a raw list of products and let them fend for themselves.. You need some kind of automated curation.

But as a seller of products, you have to put all your faith in the marketplace's ability to put your products in front of the right people as much as possible, and it can be frustrating when you suddenly start seeing data that shows this is happening less, and you don't know why.

Exactly what I meant. They're not meceydoing a bad job, but just having that central decider (human or botmaster) is disheartening.. when things don't go your way.

..it's a gatekeeper, and we have a complicated relationship with those guys.

For sure, I agree and I know exactly where you're coming from..

A decade ago or so I was tasked with writing a recommendation engine for a "creators community" company I worked at, and the feedback we got after launching that feature was pretty much constant for as long as I was still working there.

Everyone wanted to know exactly how it worked (so they could min/max for the logic) and no one was happy with the results.

> When users start complaining about not being shown interesting stuff, then Valve will jump into action.

I'm pretty sure there are a lot of complaints about it, but as much as Valve tries to better the situation there's a significant problem: It is hard to match people with games they'll like based solely on broad metadata about both.

From the article, we know there is a problem with the algorithm change because the "other product pages" graph stops matching the other graphs, see the orange line here after the start of October: http://greyaliengames.com/blog/wp-content/uploads/RegencyTra...

> every time his game was being promoted, somebody else's wasn't

This isn't necessarily true. Imagine a recommendation list of 4 items being shortened to a list of 3 items... Or 4 small promotional thumbnail links being redesigned into a single larger image link for a single game. That larger image isn't going get 4x the traffic + clicks just because it's 4x bigger.

> This isn't necessarily true. Imagine a recommendation list of 4 items being shortened to a list of 3 items... Or 4 small promotional thumbnail links being redesigned into a single larger image link for a single game. That larger image isn't going get 4x the traffic + clicks just because it's 4x bigger.

But that isn't the case here. "More like this" list was always 12 games. Both before and after the October change.

Steam discovery is and was useless for years. It is not really a place to find games you might like.

> The discovery algorithm serves the consumer first and foremost. When users start complaining about not being shown interesting stuff, then Valve will jump into action.

Anecdotally, I've been seeing users complain about Steam's recommendation algorithm for a long time, on gaming forums like ResetERA.

I don't recall a time when I wasn't hearing people complain about their recommendations. Steam's recommendations are legendarily bad in the circles I hang out in and I don't remember the last time I bought a game off of one. I may never have.

I followed a conversation he started on Twitter about it, and every dev that responded had similar graphs for that time period. Still could be some bias, but there's more than one data point.

His point is, that he suspects AAA games get more favovered, because they make more money for Valve. So good for Valve, not necessarily the consumer who might have been happy with a less expensive indie game as well ...

Steams algorithm sucks, it has a bad habit of recommending games I already own.

But not DLC for those games that I haven't bought yet....

highly naive to consider only new-style algorithmic truths; traditional markets are heavily manipulated at every turn, even under scrutiny and threat, no?


It depends on how you define "done well by vendors". They aren't causing a few vendors to find success on the scale of a mainstream TV show, but they have allowed a great many vendors to "succeed" weakly.

2 guys and a mic, without Youtube, would just be a self-funded hobby to show your friends and family, maybe enter some indie film shows, maybe help get a job in advertising or local TV with your portfolio. With Youtube, they might get a million subscribers and make on the order of $10,000 per year from what would otherwise be just a hobby! And there are on the order of 10,000 such channels with 1 million subscribers.

Now, you can say what you like about how Youtube treats the other 97% of channels with far less viewership - but there's a lot fewer than 10,000 channels on mainstream TV.

It's the same in game development, mobile app stores, music, sports, and a lot of other fields. The marketplace is open to a lot of people who really want in to get their chance at the top. It's hard to earn a living wage from doing the work when you're competing with people who are willing to earn less than a living wage.

The issue here is that you make (just continuing your hypothetical here) $10k per year for 2 guys doing 7 days per week to maintain their viewership. Not enough to sustain their business, so their content starts moving toward least common denominator stuff.

I'm not seeing how this is not just reality. It's like trying to make a living as a rock band, a book author. There's too many games. The iOS app store claims 2 million apps. It's been around 10 years. Opened July, 10, 2008.

2 million apps / 10 years = 547 new apps every day for the last 10 years. And of course the number of apps coming out today is far greater than it was 10 years ago so it's actually more like 1000 apps a day right now.

Steam has the same issue. Steam was around 8k new games in 2017. That's 21 new games per day, 153 a week, 666 a month. No one has time for that many games.

What would Steam do to suddenly get all those games to make a salaries for every indie that put stuff up? There's really nothing they can do. There's just too many games. At most Steam could go back to restricting the market. That wouldn't raise anyone's odds, it would just make invisible all the people that tried and failed to get on the market.

It's not a zero sum game. By improving recommendations and visibility valve can increase the total amount of money (& time) people spend on games.

Not enough to sustain their business, so their content starts moving toward least common denominator stuff.

It's the same story with books. Apart from rare mega hits like Harry Potter, the bread and butter of the paperback world is least common denominator stuff like Danielle Steel and Nora Roberts.

I don't think we can blame Valve here. This has happened across all forms of media. There is too much content and not enough time.

> YouTuber with viewerships as high as mainstream TV shows can barely afford "2 guys and a mic."

This actually isn't a revenue thing, its a platform expectation thing. There's a really good video essay (on YouTube, naturally) explaining the 'Manufactured Authenticity' for popular YouTube channels: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8FJEtCvb2Kw

> A YouTuber with viewerships as high as mainstream TV shows can barely afford "2 guys and a mic."

But this stands to reason. Mainstream TV show viewing figures refer to the number of adults 18-49 in the United States watching the show live(-ish now that L+SD and C+7 rates are used to sell ads) including at least putatively watching the various 3 minute blocks of commercials in the middle. YouTube viewing figures show the number of worldwide plays by all people in or out of the demo, most not in the United States and in less valuable markets, many adblocking, those who don't adblock often skip ads, and the ads are either inline or pre-roll. And the content is shorter, so it's sort of unclear how an 11 minute video should compare to a 42 minute television series.

Adblock works for most of the network tv websites too! Surprisingly...

One reason networks have been very ineffective at including online streaming views in their ad sales packages.

>A YouTuber with viewerships as high as mainstream TV shows can barely afford "2 guys and a mic."

Do you have a source for that? because it seems to me like there's a lot of youtubers out there making pretty good money.

Here's one example. [1] It claims 1.4 million monthly viewers translates to about $17K per year. Yes, a few people have made relatively big money ($millions) but that's for billions of views.

A popular TV show averages in the neighborhood of 15 million viewers these days.

ADDED: So the parent comment seems pretty close. Maybe $150K/year gross revenue for viewership in neighborhood of the most popular network programming. That's in the ballpark of barely supporting two guys and their gear.

[1] https://www.inc.com/minda-zetlin/even-youtube-stars-with-14-...

Aren’t TV ratings based on how many people watched each episode, during its initial airing? And the same episode is sold in multiple venues, like DVDs and paid streaming. To apples-to-apples compare traditional TV production budgets to the YouTube stat of revenue per views per month for a whole channel, you might need need to multiply by 10 or 100.

YouTube’s cut is reportedly 45% - I am skeptical that the traditional media industry gives such a revenue share to its creators.

With traditional network TV, the vast bulk of the money is in how many people watch the show when it first airs. Syndication revenue, DVDs, etc. are relatively trivial. Obviously the whole model is shifting to a more fragmented and on-demand market with fewer, but often more valuable, eyeballs per show. Seinfeld peaked at over 30 million average views for first-run episodes. Game of Thrones is about 10 million for a comparison on cable today.

I agree that apples-to-apples is hard but the bottom line is that very few people make a real living from YouTube views.

I think if a YouTube creator is getting four hours of attention per month from millions of viewers (like a popular weekly TV show), they are probably getting pretty good revenue. I don’t think creators who earn less are getting ripped off, their market is just divided between many more attention-seeking channels.

The recommendation engine are there for the buyers, not to replace sellers' marketing. That's as reliable as a source of viewers as scratch lottery cards.

Let's say, hypothetically, that I create a website that rivals YouTube where people do achieve fairly consistent success, and can live off of the income from their videos. What do we expect to happen?

Hundreds of thousands of people will try to get in on it, causing both the income of existing creators to drop, and the average income to plummet.

Any market where there is a huge supply of people who want to produce the good is going to have this problem.

have you seen how much youtubers earn?

Picking a random example: https://socialblade.com/youtube/channel/UCbx1TZgxfIauUZyPuBz...

100k daily views, £17 - £250 estimated daily earnings.

Game of thrones has an estimated 10 million viewers per episode. So, scaling up youtube earnings: £1,700 - £25,000 per episode. The actual per episode budget was around £4 million per episode.

See the gap here?

I don't think that is a fair comparison, because people pay money to watch Game of Thrones, while YouTube is completely free. If it cost $14.99 a month to watch a small set of YouTube channels, their viewership would be far lower (and revenue per viewer would be much higher).

> If it cost $14.99 a month to watch a small set of YouTube channels

Actually this exists, it's called Youtube premium and there are some channels that offer some content exclusive to the platform (as far as I'm aware)

I have no idea how it's doing but I also don't have any interest in trying it out, I'd much rather support specific content streams via patreon or other offerings.

Yeah a fair comparison would be high viewership but freely available stuff like SNL.

I pay for YouTube Premium.

Are there ads?


Not on YouTube (general) but I also pay for YouTube TV and there are loads of ads on their "on demand" content.

Vote with your wallet. I'm about to ditch Pandora b/c they keep advertising pandora super-premium, when I'm already paying for pandora premium.

What should that particular anti-pattern be called?

I already voted with my wallet when I dropped Comcast TV. What I found is that "cutting the cord" is not all unicorns and rainbows. I'm not more reliant on Comcast the ISP, and the speeds I pay for are not the speeds I get.

I also dropped Pandora, because I had/have too many streaming music options and couldn't justify it. I don't remember commercials for their ultra premium offering, maybe its because I've been a paid customer for so long?

well I always tought that most youtubers actually make money via "hidden" ads and not via views. most of these 100k daily views channels make way more than 17€ - 250€ juat because they have sponsors and what not. basically it's the same than on free tv. people with the most sponsors and ad network will basically make the most money. (i.e. on german television (sky paid tv) there are ads on the end of game of thrones which makes them probably more money than their subscriber count)

How did you generate the random example? If you do it again, I'd be shocked if you got a 100k/day example.

I would guess there's a very, very long tail of channels that have a very small number of videos and essentially no views.

That channel is ranked around 20,000... It's in the long tail.

I picked an example of someone who does it full time.

With hundreds of millions of channels, it's pretty darned close to the head.

Sure... but what's the value of a channel with no views in this example?

It won't be monetised, so you can't really compare it to TV?

Earnings is far from a linear function of viewer count.

You're using the example of the top earner to make your case about everyone?

Do all film actors make $60M/year just because Dwayne Johnson does?

Well to be fair the parent was using one of the most popular TV shows to make their case, so using the top YouTuber as a response seems reasonable.

There are multiple youtubers who have gone into depth about the details of how twitch people get paid. From top end to bottom, it's fairly consistent (except for a little subscription margin step at a certain point). Youtube/Google is even less involved in day-to-day, so there's no reason to believe that the scale isn't similarly linear.

My God, no. It's not anything like linear. It's more like exponential: the top earners are totally off the charts, and everybody else is largely jockeying for position.

I hesitate to even call it a scale. These things all follow viral dynamics: if you haven't blown up with billions of views, you're very possibly spending more than you get back.

Pareto explains the curve, but the monetary rewards are linear to where you are on that curve. Perhaps a small example will clarify.

Pareto Curve (more or less) of Y values on index X: [1,1,1,1,1,1,1,1,1,1,1,1,1,1,1,1,1,1,1,1,2,2,2,2,3,10,50,500,7000,9000000]

Index 30 is "off the chart"

Now revenue: $$*index

The correlation is linear (basically). The top youtuber who is a kid who reviews toys, makes the majority of his 22mil from ads, same as you or I would with <100 views per video.

For completion's sake, here's another developer of a popular game saying his game is seeing unnaturally high sales https://twitter.com/RaymondDoerr/status/1069004011309867009. It might just be that Valve changed the algorithm slightly to show more popular games more and less popular games less. This is already what the algorithm did to some extent but it might be doing it even more now.

In my view I generally trust Valve to best serve their audience first and developers second, even with me being a developer. If people are complaining all the time that Steam isn't showing them good games then it's probably for a good reason.

When it was physical stores, what mattered was shelf placement and magazine reviews. Which, by the way, were worse by far than anything Steam will ever do in terms of being based on merit.

I acknowledge that the risk to developers from changes to a black box algorithm are significant - but as a steam user the only thing I care about are "top sellers" (under £5) because that's where I'm occasionally likely to find a good game on sale.

Interestingly that stuff doesn't bubble to the top for me. I see mostly indie recommendations I've never heard of and maybe a scattering of AAA or bigger indie titles. It feels very random to me these days.

We [0] saw a similar drop happen after what appeared to be fairly aggressive adjustments made by Steam in early October. It improved throughout the first half of October but still ended up being between ~35-45% lower than what we'd have expected to see versus the curve we had been seeing prior to the changes.

I posted a comment here yesterday [1] about Steam's incentives, but it's worth posting again:

Sometimes I wonder what Steam actually optimizes for. If their algorithms always show the "best" games (ie ones that players spend hundreds++ hours playing), then I'd expect that to actually hurt Steam revenues, at least short term if not long-term as well. In theory they'd be better off marketing/optimizing to push games that 'satisfy' users (read: does not cause exodus) but that have low play-time/hours on average -- so that they can sell the player another different game that much sooner.

It's a strange set of incentives & it's hard to tell how aligned they really are (with either players or developers).

0 - https://store.steampowered.com/app/598330/SimAirport/

1 - https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=18583254

Yeah no, you are supposed to do marketing. No app store is going to do much for an unknown title. Run some facebook ads, see what happens.

Sorry, but I hate when people say this to indie developers like it's some grand new idea to them. Marketing is hard. You can't just post about it online as many places have self promotion rules. You can try to reach out to get reviews, but chances are you won't get noticed. Everything else costs money, and if you don't know what you're doing (and chances are the indie developers doesn't) you're just throwing your money away.

Its not a 1:1 comparison, but I relatively recently released three extensions for Photoshop. They're well made and designed, unique, and would be a boon to a lot of photographers out there. I contacted every place I could find and got reviewed at only one place, Fstoppers. The reviewer really liked the extensions. I got a whopping $1,000 of sales from that and my many months of development time. Frankly, I didn't have a clue where to go from there. I'm a wedding photographer and I had to release them before my wedding season got going. Now that the season is over I still don't know. I've been running Facebook ads but without being able to target professions I haven't been able to work out a strategy that works.

Long story short, marketing is hard and takes both time and money.

"Marketing is hard"...yeah, that's why marketing people exist. You cannot do everything yourself, especially if you are entering a new territory (knowledge-wise).

I don't think Facebook ads would work for many games. Here's an example:


How do you market such game outside of Steam? How do you reach the programmer/hacker niche that would be interested in playing this?

How do Zachtronics games get the word out?

Is the game good ? Are the people who have played it mentioning it to everyone they know and don't know in social media, because it's so much better than others? If not, is there a niche that would be interested in playing this?

I mean, if I haven't yet got the time to play, say, #5 best game in some niche, then I'm probably not that interested in #15, and hearing about #50 would simply be unwanted spam. The function of some curation or recommendation engine that I want is to act as a gatekeeper, to direct my attention to the best games in such a niche and away from merely decent, okay-ish games in the same niche, no matter how their developers might want to reach me.

> How do Zachtronics games get the word out?

Zach spent 10 years building his reputation one small game after the other. In a time when there weren't that many game developers around and there was no flood of games like today.

> Is the game good ?

100% positive rating on Steam should answer that.

> Are the people who have played it mentioning it to everyone they know and don't know in social media, because it's so much better than others?

So, what you're basically saying is word of mouth, not Facebook ads that was suggested.

> I mean, if I haven't yet got the time to play, say, #5 best game in some niche

Then you are not the target market anyway. That's why game developers need Steam. To access people who actually have time to play games and focus on a particular niche.

What you wrote just proves the point: without Steam the developer are bust. The market of people who barely have time to play 5 games per year is just too small.

Don't facebook ads let you target pretty specific demographics? (Likes programming, likes video games.) I guess you'd just have to do a trial run and see what happens. I'd also make the first video a gameplay video, but that's my own bias as a gamer filtering things.

> How do you market such game outside of Steam?

You should probably be asking that to someone with experience in marketing, preferably marketing games. Lacking funds to consult and hire someone/some company with experience, perhaps you can convince someone with the right personality (someone who doesn't see marketing as "so much time and energy") to help out with some sort of revenue sharing contract.

I want to make some indie games myself one day; I'm grateful I had a crash month of attempting to be a knives salesman many years ago because I know if I do make something and it comes time to ship I can't be the one responsible for marketing it.

You don't. Sorry to say it, but there is no audience for those kind of games. It just doesn't sell itself from the screenshots.

There needs to be a higher Steam Direct fee to gatekeep out products which are non-commercial. Its much better if people decide to just not make a game, rather than launching it and finding out much later that their time was wasted.

A $500 - $2000 Steam Direct fee would accomplish that.

> You don't. Sorry to say it, but there is no audience for those kind of games. It just doesn't sell itself from the screenshots.

But there is audience. The game already sold over 1000 copies on Steam and it's been out less than two months.

I think everyone misunderstood my initial post. I wasn't complaining that my game isn't selling well. I was just saying that it's almost impossible to market it without Steam. Steam is crucial to finding niche audiences for niche games.

> A $500 - $2000 Steam Direct fee would accomplish that.

I wouldn't mind a $500 Steam direct fee. The game already earned more than that.

You post it here? Give away some promo codes at Meetups or other gatherings where programmers congregate? It’s not like this would be any easier without Steam.

> You post it here?

I tried. Twice. Even made a browser playable demo:


Mostly got ignored (a single upvote on the post).

> It’s not like this would be any easier without Steam

Of course. This is exactly what I was trying to say. No Facebook ad can match Steam. With Steam algorithm, you can laser-focus the type of players who play this type of games. Without Steam you have to spend so much time and energy.

Quick feedback: If you change the trailer to show some game play, I think it would improve your conversion rate. As stupid as this sounds, I have discovered I'm too lazy to try the browser version (but not too lazy to give you a reply -- that is weird...) The trailer just didn't hook me and I found myself thinking, "I don't have enough energy to learn how to play the game right now. Maybe later". But I know "later" will never come.

To be fair, I'm not a fan of puzzle games and this looks like a puzzle game. However I think the engagement issue may still affect other people.

Yes, it is a puzzle game. Thanks for the feedback. I will consider changing the trailer.

I posted before, but if your budget allows and there is an audience for games like yours then paying a well know streamer on twitch to play the game may work out better.

What confuses me is their reluctance to attempt to use other third party distributors (itch.io, GOG, etc.) when Steam clearly isn't working in their favor.

That's addressed in the article, its still not as big of a revenue source.

Although the author did mention this in the article. I still wonder how much some of these indie games would benefit from partnering with a marketing consultant. Listing a game on steam is basically free marketing for the game. The author mentions only 1% of his sales are from direct sales. I wonder how much having an experienced marketing pro could improve that percentage.

That's because despite all the complaining about Steam changing things, it's still far better than all other ways of selling their game.

Personally, I think Steam is correct to change their algorithm whenever they think it'll help the buyers find games that suit them better.

It's also very possible that other developers have seen a bump in sales that correspond with the decline for this developer.

For start: to get on GOG your game cannot be shovwelware. I buy from GOG first.

AAA games are starting to avoid Steam, opting to hosting it themselves for a number of reasons. Steam has taken a few actions lately that would favor big companies, including lowering Valve's take from biggest sellers (1). I think they are trying to keep the name brands in Steam.

1. https://www.polygon.com/2018/12/3/18123649/valve-steam-reven...

Please, no. As someone who actually wants to play games on PC the proliferation of launchers has become a huge pain. You have to log in to them separately, they all want to update about as frequently as I want to play the games in question, and they all have their own unique ways to annoy (let's all use different key bindings for overlays! Let's all embed web browsers! Let's all have our own friend management!) If it weren't for Loot Boxes, I would say that launchers are the worst thing to happen to PC gaming in the 10s.

That's what happens when you want 30% of sales

While that's true, that also resulted in people avoiding AAA games on the worst channels like origin. We're maybe not much, but with AAA average margins we're important

>that also resulted in people avoiding AAA games on the worst channels like origin

is this actually a thing? if the game is good, I'm not going to rule it out just because it's on a different client, especially when the hassle of using it is marginal at best. reminds me of this: https://i.redd.it/wwx5exndw6b11.png

One issue is that a lot of these publisher-specific channels have pretty shitty practices. For example, Bethesda decided to not allow refunds of Fallout 76; had it been on Steam, disappointed players could've used Steam's refund policy to easily refund the game as long as they didn't play more than two hours of it.

The relationship between the publisher and the player is often antagonistic, as shown by Bethesda's refund policy, the rootkits Sony installed on their customers' computers some time back, DRM which requires the player to always be online, etc. A somewhat trustworthy distributor distributor will help make sure that the game _probably_ won't actively harm your computer, and that you can get your money back if the game otherwise doesn't work for you.

You don't know if the game is any good until you've tried it though.

I put off trying Overwatch for about 6 months because it was a non-Steam channel. I would've bought Forza Horizon 4 a couple of weeks ago if it had been on Steam (literally searched for it ready to click buy), since it sounded good in the reviews, but it's yet another non-Steam channel so I can't be bothered.


No personal swipes on this site, please.


I've personally jumped out the battlefield franchise, and hadn't bought a cod since it left steam (funny coincidnece with that boycott pic tho, mw2 is one of my longest played games ever, then I discovered indies, then war thunder https://steamcommunity.com/profiles/76561197986674427/games/...)

it's not much, but every now and then an horror story like this gets out and I'm just glad of being, dunno, suspicious of company with misaligned goals?


and he's one of the lucky one: he hit reddit all so the backlash prompted action.

AAA games are pretty much making that decision exclusively based on the financials. Steam takes a big cut (relatively), if everyone already knows about your game and where to find it.

I used to just browse Steam and collect games that looked interesting. Over the years I've slowly stopped doing that.

For certain, part of it is that adult life gives me far less time to enjoy "dedicated" gaming. I have plenty of time for mobile games on my commute (I walk), but I no longer have dozens of hours a week that I can dedicate to CS or Eve Online.

But part of it is that the Steam store is anxiety-inducingly overwhelming. It feels like there's more than a lifetimes worth of content in there, and I have absolutely no idea how to find the good stuff. Something about Steam's design appears to provoke this response, because I do not have similar issues with the similarly large Apple store. I think a redesign might be in order.

And the recommendation algorithm just keeps sending me the same games that don't look interesting to me.

> I have plenty of time for mobile games on my commute (I walk)

Er, do you mean you walk and game at the same time? Coz I am constantly walking around people like you and tutting if that's the case

Low density area, and I lower the phone when crossing streets.

If its possible for Steam to kill your sales, its because you've put your main sales channel(s) in the hands of another company. This is unwise in any business.

The majority of businesses, even really big businesses, do this. Very few businesses control their own sales channel, and the ones that do are generally smaller than the ones that don't. Apple doesn't control their main sales channels:


So it's unclear why you think anyone else should, either.

My point here is, that if you have a single sales channel only, you need to control/affect it. Apple has a myriad of sales channels all boosted heavily by Apple advertising.

And that is an _entirely unreasonable expectation_ even for large, established companies. Vlasic Pickles and Levi Jeans are both large brands that are parts of larger conglomerates, and they both got pushed around by Wal-Mart:


Asking indie game developers to challenge the domination of Steam as the sales channel for PC games where EA/Ubisoft/Microsoft have all failed to do so is absurd.

I dont know about reasonable, but its a practical necessity. Consider Google Ads. There are a maximum of 13 spots available on the frontpage - How do you chose the 13 out of the billions of possibilities? A mix of quality/relevance and advertising dollars.

I've followed Grey Alien Games for a few years, and he has utilized MANY channels.

And while I think you bring up a good point, I remember a few years back when many developers claimed the Apple Store was the ONLY good channel to use, leaving few choices. I'm happy that eco-model has somewhat changed.

If you don't control your sales and distribution and are beholden to one channel, then you presume a large risk.

Apple does not do this. P&G does not do this. Exxon does not do this. On and on and on...

I don't understand where you're getting the "majority of businesses", because most financial healthy businesses do not have channel concentration.

I mean, yes, being reliant on Steam is a large risk. But until you can convince your customers to diversify their purchasing, what are you going to do? Steam's dominance of the PC gaming market has been challenged by some big hitters in the industry. If you're selling many orders of magnitude less than CD Project Red, you probably have to either take on the risk or find another industry.

Unwise maybe, but if you are a small indie dev you really don't have any other choice if you want to actually make a living.

While drops like these suck, Steam still bring significantly more sale than any other source. As the article mentions:

> Well I’ve been selling direct since 2006, but sadly my direct sales are about 1% of my total revenue.

I wonder what his sales would look like if there was no discovery algorithm and Steam was instead a simple directory of game listings.

I can only wish! "Aardvark Adventures" would finally get its due!

Nah, the rise of "....!!!Rowboat Dungeon" would quickly outshine.

I have some games that I bought through steam, but I refuse to buy any more games through steam. I’ll either use GoG (which is a better interface anyway) or buy directly from the developer

Have you tried Discord Store?

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