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 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.
Some very amazing games that are largely one man projects
Kenshi: amazing game and about to hit 1.0
Those are just two that immediately come to mind
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.
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.
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?
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.
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.
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).
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 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.
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.
..it's a gatekeeper, and we have a complicated relationship with those guys.
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.
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.
> 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.
But that isn't the case here. "More like this" list was always 12 games. Both before and after the October change.
Anecdotally, I've been seeing users complain about Steam's recommendation algorithm for a long time, on gaming forums like ResetERA.
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.
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 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.
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
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.
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.
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.
YouTube’s cut is reportedly 45% - I am skeptical that the traditional media industry gives such a revenue share to its creators.
I agree that apples-to-apples is hard but the bottom line is that very few people make a real living from YouTube views.
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.
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?
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.
What should that particular anti-pattern be called?
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?
I would guess there's a very, very long tail of channels that have a very small number of videos and essentially no views.
I picked an example of someone who does it full time.
It won't be monetised, so you can't really compare it to TV?
Do all film actors make $60M/year just because Dwayne Johnson does?
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 Curve (more or less) of Y values on index X:
Index 30 is "off the chart"
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.
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.
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.
I posted a comment here yesterday  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
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.
How do you market such game outside of Steam? How do you reach the programmer/hacker niche that would be interested in playing this?
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.
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.
> 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
So it's unclear why you think anyone else should, either.
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.
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.
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.
> Well I’ve been selling direct since 2006, but sadly my direct sales are about 1% of my total revenue.