A few days ago Valve triggered one of the biggest “bombs” in the indie development scene after they announced their Steam Direct Fee, which will set the way of indie publishing on Steam for the future. Those who still don’t know, after Steam Direct launches, indie developers have to pay a $100 fee per game, if they want to get their piece of art onto the Steam storefront.
Let’s get some things out of the way right at the beginning. The Greenlight system which was in place was not a perfect one, far from it. Contrary to the Steam Direct Fee, which will be charged for each game, developers only had to pay the Greenlight Fee once, and after doing that they could put any number of prototypes, asset flips or actual games on Greenlight. If they played their cards right (or paid enough for Greenlight marketers), they could get their games (or “games”) on Steam easily. Just to be clear, when I say easily, I mean easily, just look at all the non-games getting Greenlit. And if you know how Steam works, you can easily monetize this system. After putting trading cards into your games, you can get some money just by giving out Steam keys for people and bots to earn and sell trading cards. Since you can get as many games on Steam as many you want after paying the Greenlight Fee once, you see that this system is abusable. A change had to be made, and Valve decided to get rid of the Greenlight system and introduce Steam Direct.
Now let’s get to the meat of the discussion. When Direct was announced for the first time, Valve was hinting a fee anywhere between $100 and $5.000. The opinions were all over the place, of course, some people even suggested that the fee should be even higher, as far as $10.000 (madness, I know). They thought that this was needed to stop all the scam artists and asset flippers flooding Steam with their shovelware. What many didn’t take into account is that the financial capabilities of indie developers around the world vary very much. It is obvious that there are developers who could easily get even $5.000 dollars in a few months. They probably live in the countries of the first world, they might not have a family which they have to provide to, they might be students who can get a job for a few months to get this kind of money. Or they already had their first big success. And these people are so lucky, I hope they can deliver fantastic games in the future.
But there are indie developers who are not so lucky, yet they are talented and want to show the world that they can create amazing games. They live in countries of Eastern Europe, in Africa, hell, even in Afghanistan. But they want, and they can create, even if just a fun little game, which can be a starting point to a fantastic career. Game development could be a great opportunity to get away from their current lives after all. These are the people who are not taken into account by those who wanted a higher Steam Direct Fee. Of course, there are many arguments floating around, and I thought I could answer some of those arguments and suggestions from the perspective of an upstarting indie developer, from a developing country, with non-existent financial support. You guessed it, I’m talking about the guy I’m seeing in the mirror every morning.
After getting this out of the way, let’s see the arguments, pieces of advice from gamers and developers around the internet about the supposedly too low Steam Direct Fee.
- $100 dollar is the same as the Greenlight Fee before, nothing has changed!
No, it is not the same as before. Greenlight had a one-time fee, so one could abuse the system much easier. An asset flipper just had to put eight or nine “games” on Steam, and the “developer” could already recoup the investment through the trading card fees. With the Direct Fee being a per game cost, it will be much harder to earn back that investment. I don’t think an asset flipper will continue to flood Steam with shovelware if he/she is constantly losing money through it.
One should also keep in mind that Valve will also change the trading cards system, which means that a new game won’t drop trading cards until it reaches a certain amount of confidence metric. It has to prove itself on Steam. And without trading cards, these “developers” won’t see too much money.
- Any serious indie developer can get a few thousand dollars to get a game on Steam. Go get a job, get a loan, launch a Kickstarter!
This is where my perspective comes in. I have to burst these people’s bubbles, but this is not as easy as they are describing it. If you are leaving in a developing country like me, if you have a flat you rent, if you have a daughter or son, if you have to pay your child’s university and you are just earning average wage then you are out of luck. You can be thankful if you can save up enough to develop your first decent game. And this is not the exception, this is the norm in these countries. Everyone should just accept the fact that $1.000 is a lot of money for some people. So much that you just can’t save it up in a few months if you have to provide to a family. And yet people say that if you are a serious developer, you will find the money. I’m sorry sunshine, but the real world is not working like that.
Also, good luck with Kickstarter which is not even available in your country. Yes, this might be shocking, but not every country has it running. And even if there is, I’m sure everyone can find dozens of Kickstarter campaigns which were about pretty nice looking games, but they failed to get even a thousand dollars. Crowdfunding is not some magical well, unfortunately, which you can use to get a few thousand dollars out anytime you want. Sometimes even some garbage gets funded, but if you are unlucky, you will fail even with a decent looking project.
- If you can’t get this money up front, you shouldn’t be in the game developer business. Or just sell your game on sites like itch.io or IndeGameStand.
This is the best one. I’m sorry, since when game development became the rich men’s game? I thought the best part of indie development is that everyone can try to live this dream if there is enough determination and talent. As for selling the game on different storefronts, it is definitely a good starting point. But I’d like to prepare every upstarting developers, the sales numbers on those sites are very low compared to Steam. Like, the tenth or lower in average. Let’s face it, Steam is the biggest digital store, not even GOG can compete with it. If you want to be successful on the long run, being in the business for years, you have to get on Steam. This is harsh, I know.
- Keeping the $100 fee will just result in shovelware burying the true gems of the indie scene.
This part is a bit subjective for me, so it is definitely just my opinion. But the truth is that I don’t really see all this shovelware flooding Steam and burying the good indie games. People are watching Youtubers like Jim Sterling, and he is reporting us about all these terrible Greenlight games, but do people really encounter them when they open the Steam page? I use Steam every day, and the truth is that I don’t remember seeing these terrible asset flips on the main page. Not among the recommendation, not in the discovery queue, nowhere on the page. You actively have to search for them in the deepest, dirtiest bowels of Steam. And whose fault is that if you do that? Yet, people are talking like these are pushed into your face each time you launch Steam. But this is just not true. Also let’s not forget that indie developers should do better marketing and PR to push their games, to get it in front of their player’s eyes, not just launching it on Steam and waiting for the money. You can’t just put all your trust into Steam, even if it would be great if Valve improved the recommendation system (which might be coming by the way in the new Discovery Update).
I hope after reading these reasons people will get more sympathetic toward indies with fewer resources, who might go out of business if the Steam Direct Fee would have been set higher. As a developer and a gamer, I think to have these smaller, but talented developers are more important than stopping a few asset flippers who probably won’t be making too much money on Steam anyway after the new trading card and curator system launches.