The Wargamer

26 May 2017

Editorial: The Editor Muses on Steam

In the long run is Steam good for small developers?

Published on 29 MAR 2014 1:52am by Wargamer Staff
  1. business and industry, background / research material, english

This week my musings take me sort of towards that ever touchy subject, game pricing. However, I’ll not be tackling that head on to day (another time, another time), but looking at a part of the subject. Also I’ll not be looking at the big boys like Matrix (again, their time will come), but at the small independent developers. So, without further ado … 

Steam, we love it. All those games in one place, automatic updates and best of all lovely, lovely discounts – nothing a gamer likes better than getting hold of a game cheaply. Not to mention the community features and so on. But what is in it for the small developer? 

A fairly obvious one is that with so many gamers using Steam as their first call for games, or even their only “one stop shop”, just being able to get your game onto Steam means it is in the market place. The biggie, however, is probably the chance to get your game onto an early Access programme so that people pay you during your development phase – essentially they pay for the privilege of alpha and/or beta testing your game. Whilst Early Access has attracted some criticism (and so doubt I’ll muse on this at some stage) it certainly seems fairly popular with a section of gamers, and small developers presumably benefit from the income. They certainly wouldn’t be able to get any income through a non-digital release as it is pretty certain that nobody would take them, and Steam provides a higher profile release method that a do-it-yourself approach. 

So what could the negatives be? 

Well there is the sheer number of games on Steam – how do potential customers find the small developers offering? Additionally, at present your game needs to be Greenlit to get onto Steam, and a game by a small developer, especially in a niche market, could easily get lost amongst the throng. Let’s be honest, it is only very recently that any wargames have made it through the Greenlight process. 

Because of the community aspect, it is very easy for a game to get ill informed, or even malicious, negative feedback that can affect the chances of success. OK, this is a risk that can happen through other channels as well (iTunes for example for iOS products) but for a small developer this could have a major impact as they do not (usually) have the resources to monitor these things and try and set the record straight. 

Early Access – is it that good a way of funding development? Have to admit I have no real views on that; perhaps one to muse on later? 

And so, inevitably, to price, that ever tricky subject. This, I think, is the real longer term question for developers when looking at Steam. As noted at the top of this piece one reason we like Steam, as customers, is the downwards pressure on game price pressure downwards. However, the inevitable effect of this is significantly less reward to the developer for making the game. The question the developers will ask themselves is whether it remains worth their while developing a game to sell through Steam if the financial rewards are marginal. If Steam remains a major, even dominant route for the sale of games we could see the number of independent, small developers decline fairly quickly – or they could be forced into the arms of a large publishers who may be better placed to protect their financial interests; and that leads onto a whole different can o’ worms …