What Steam Direct Might Mean for us Indie Developers
Recently this week Steam has announced they are going to replace the Greenlight process with a program they call Steam Direct. As an Indie developer generating revenue via Steam it makes sense to take a closer look which impact this might have on us.
I'd like to share my thoughts here, as we're quite new to the pc gaming industry don't expect every idea to be correct, please share your corrections & opinions to me via twitter @blochmann :)
1) Will my Games not be discovered any more because of the mass of new games published?
Everybody has read the steamspy tweet about 38% of all >10k games on Steam being launched in 2016. I do not think that this number is going much higher if Greenlight is replaced with a system more comparable with the Apple or Google Play Store:
Steam will still have some kind of quality check procedure for the reason alone to avoid malware or trojans beeing spread over Steam. You still won't be able to upload total bullshit. Apple has recently announced that they are going to take Apps offline which haven't been updated a while. I'm sure Valve is aware of these kind of problems that might arise in future the easier it gets to add new content on Steam.
In addition to that, like the both big Apps stores they are going to charge a fee and you'll have to fill out a bunch of paperwork to participate in the program. The fact that less than 60% of all greenlit titles (which have proven that at least some people are interested in the concept) have been released so far also shows that having the idea for a game and actually producing the game is a huge difference.
Anyway, assuming that the number is actually getting much higher, I personally don't worry about this. Nobody is waking up in the morning and thinks "I want to play a new game, let me check all 10,000+ games on Steam and buy those I like most". People are usually getting their information about new games from various other sources and then go to Steam and search a particular title.
Yes, there is some decent traffic and discoverage coming from the Steam Store itself, especially if you are participating in a sale, but how much traffic you'll get is controlled by the Steam algorithms. Steam wants to earn money by selling games. As they have limited attention per customer within their rankings, newsletters or other advertisements to show them the products sold on Steam, they will always try to show you those games you are most likely going to buy.
See the mentioning of a game on a page of any Steam ranking as an ad placement where Steam will try to get the highest CPM (cost per mille, in this context revenue per 1,000 views of the "ad") possible.
The titles usually displayed will not be games which did not manage to get enough attention to pass the current Greenlight system. So if you have no sales at the moment, you won't get a lot of sales from game discovery on the Steam platform itself in future and vice-versa. If I'd be Steam I would definitely also track and credit the amount of converting traffic that comes from other sources than Steam itself as it makes totally sense for Valve to get game devs promoting not only their title on Steam but the total gaming platform itself by sending traffic to the Steam pages.
To keep a long story short:
Of course it would be nice if Steam would only have 30 new titles per month, but that's not the case since a couple of years. I think the shift from Greenlight to Steam Direct will not change anything on this point, even if there is a slight increase of games on the platform.
Keep promoting your product on external sources and expect still getting additional coverage from Steam itself.
2) Ratings will get more important - get good Ratings :)
I still think that the average quality of the games on Steam might decrease a bit (although Steam Greenlight is imho not an guarantee for good quality games). If not, customers might still say to themselves "okay, so there is no review process anymore, so I assume the games might have a low quality".
This might lead to the ratings getting even more important. I guess Steam had the same thought when they introduced on Sep 12 of the past year that they added more filtering options checking the ratings of a game and announced to calculate the overall rating of the game only by customers which had actually bought the game on Steam.
The system Steam has announced with Steam Direct is more similar to the Apple Store and Google Play. As the CEO of a studio which has switched from the development of 150+ apps for iOS and Android to the development of games for Steam & consoles a few months ago I have an idea in which direction this might be going.
You might have noticed that in you get asked in your favorite apps if you'd like to rate the app in their store. 9gag asks me this every day. They check if you are a frequent user and then assume that you're going to rate the app well on the stores. This does comply with the guidelines of the stores as you do not ask the customer for a positive review or rating, you just pick those users which you assume are going to be positive about your app and ask them neutrally for a vote.
Another strategy is to show the customer a "please rate my app" box within the app where the customer can directly enter his vote (e.g. 1-5 stars).
If the user votes for a high rating, you ask him if he would like to add a rating on the Store-page too. If he chooses a low rating, you ask him for feedback what you could improve, without sending him to the Storepage.
I haven't checked the Steam TOS on this, but I would not be wondering if you'll be asked this in one of your favorite games in future. Maybe not within the game itself as linking outside of the game to a browser is awful, but maybe through a newsletter, a tweet etc.
The more obvious hint is, of course, to listen to the ratings your customers post and try to satisfy as many as possible of them.
3) A great tool for finding ideas for new games will die
We always try to figure out if a new game idea we have might be interesting for people other than us before we invest a lot of time and money into the development of these games. We did so when we built apps and do so since we create games for pcs and consoles.
Steam Greenlight was a great opportunity to find out if it is worth investing tons of hours into the development of a game. We got 3 games greenlit so far and 1 that failed in the Greenlight process which saved us a lot of money. For those which passed the Greenlight process, the ratio of people voting for "Yes, I'd buy that game" in comparison to "No" also gave us a good indication how interested people where in them compared to each other. Our next project, Escape the Loop for instance has the highest ratio of the 3 titles we got greenlit so far, that's why we are planning to invest a lot of time into this title.
We will still try to ask for feedback from the community before starting a new project, but we'll have to focus on other ways than Greenlight in future.
4) A nice marketing tool will die
Steam Greenlight is a great way to get attention for your project in an early phase of the development process. There are way lower numbers of people browsing the Greenlight pages than a few months/years ago, but you still reach players which otherwise might not have seen your game without Greenlight. The target audience of people browsing Greenlight is in my opinion different from a "regular" gamer. Players checking Greenlight want more detailled background information about a game and the studio. They want to see the development of the projects from the beginning on and therefore might turn into fans of your studio and/or game.
The lost marketing effect of Steam Greenlight can of course be replaced by communicating early stages of your project on other platforms, like on your twitter, facebook, reddit etc.
I think the consequences for us indies will be tolerable.
The fact that there are more and more games out there is a problem in general for indies with usually low marketing budgets, but I think this won't get worse with Steams recent announcement. I still believe that focussing on the quality of your product and marketing it from the beginning on can lead to a profitable project.
I'm interested in your thoughts! Tweet me @blochmann