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Because You're Worthless: The Dark Side of Indie PR
August 19, 2014 1:10 AM   Subscribe

Struggling UK indie developer PuppyGames' uncomfortable truths about selling indie games: Steam and bundles have destroyed the market for games, individual customers are now worthless, but everyone has to keep on smiling. Oh, and the demo is dead: 1, 2.
posted by Zarkonnen (85 comments total) 20 users marked this as a favorite

 
I can understand something of what the guy says, but the reason that Steam and Bundle sales do so well is that most of those sold units wouldn't have even happened if it weren't for that extreme discount. I have a library of over 200 Steam games, despite making very very little money, and yet 90% of them I've never played, and will never play. If I hadn't gotten them on sale, however, I wouldn't have gotten them at all, so at least the developer is getting some money, when otherwise he wouldn't have.

Ultimately it's a problem of demand, coupled with hard economic times. I'd love to get a lot of games, but until I can find a job that offers more than a few bucks disposable income a week, Steam and Bundle sales are pretty much it for me.
posted by JHarris at 1:53 AM on August 19 [10 favorites]


Boo fuckin' hoo to these dudes. The idea that Steam makes games cost a dollar is nonsense- go on over to Steam and you can see any number of indie games at a variety of price points. Hell, you want to talk price points, Minecraft costs $27 and sells ridiculous volume. These dudes couldn't compete in the highly elastic, utterly brutal market that is indie gaming, and it's the fault of Valve (who have done more for independent games developers than any other firm on earth) and a charity outfit. Boo fuckin' hoo.
posted by Pope Guilty at 1:57 AM on August 19 [18 favorites]


His thesis is not, in fact, that Steam and bundles have destroyed the market for games. It's that Steam and bundles now are the market for games. Indie games, anyway. That's subtly but importantly different. I would also like to posit that another reason UK indie developer PuppyGames is struggling is because they cater to a shrinking niche market. I think Doors cover bands aren't all that healthy these days either?

I mean, I could pony up the cash to buy these guys' games or I can buy Sid Meier's Alpha Centauri 2 Civilization: Beyond Earth. PuppyGames' stuff would probably bring me a couple hours of mild amusement. Beyond Earth is going to destroy my life and possibly result in my imminent death by dehydration or starvation. And that's value you can't beat.
posted by Justinian at 1:59 AM on August 19 [64 favorites]


PG: They're saying that most indie games which charge $10 sell most of their volume during steam sales and through big discount coupons at which times they cost more like $1. And the data does back that up. And pointing to Minecraft is like pointing to JK Rowling as proof that the publishing market is easy.

Now it sounds like I agree with these guys about everything. I don't. I just think their problem is they make games nobody wants to pay $10 for because they make things like freakin' tower defense crap. Not because it isn't tough for an indie game dev out there what with steam and humble bundle.
posted by Justinian at 2:01 AM on August 19 [3 favorites]


Revenge of the Titans is an unusually good example of the tower defense genre.
posted by LogicalDash at 2:35 AM on August 19 [5 favorites]


Pope Guilty, the point is that for most of those games, the sticker price might be $10, but if you look at the breakdown of revenue, the vast majority of it will come from deep discount sales either through Steam itself, or HumbleBundles or whatever. To a first approximation, nobody pays the sticker price.

Which has knock-on effects on other parts of the game development process, as the blog posts demonstrate.
posted by pharm at 2:37 AM on August 19 [3 favorites]


A dev that references Ion Cannon and remembers that people want to know if the game runs on their computers can't be all that bad.

But yeah, part of the problem is that a year after Beyond Earth releases, you'll be able to buy it for less than $20. So, when you can expect to get an AAA title for ten quid, the price an indie game can fetch will drop lower.

On the other hand, Spiderweb Software (Avadon, Avernum, Geneforge) used to religiously keep a $20-25 price point but iirc they made more money on volume when they got on Steam. I mean, I bought them all. Thanks for the shareware versions, guys.
posted by ersatz at 2:40 AM on August 19 [1 favorite]


I just wrote a novel. It's worth $25.99. I know that because I just looked up Neil Gaiman's lastest novel, and that's the list price of the hardcover. That's what a novel costs!

OK, I shouldn't make fun of the guy, but his frustration that all games don't cost $20 sounds like this to me. I hope he can keep writing games, but I don't think you can simultaneously have legions of independent developers, and $20 price tags.

And was the early 2000s really the verdant paradise for non-AAA developers that he paints? How many of them made significant bucks at that time?
posted by zompist at 2:41 AM on August 19 [3 favorites]


Digital publishing is way less risk and way more reward. Physical media, yikes. Feelies, amazing but damn. I've heard good things about Revenge of the Titans and I will add it to my wishlist for the next sale I see. I'm part of this particular problem. But echoing, yeah, friends and I just re-upped on Civ : Beyond E. We may be good for the winter. Oh, and a killer post apocalyptic mod for Crusader Kings II just hit.
posted by chainlinkspiral at 2:52 AM on August 19 [1 favorite]


So they wasted a lot of money, went bankrupt, and now it's Steam's fault for not giving them a bailout or something. Good to know.
posted by Cyclopsis Raptor at 2:52 AM on August 19


I feel like theres a misunderstanding of economics here. First of all theres an assumption that these indies that sell lots at 1$ are being ripped off somehow, that in a magical universe of no sales the customers (whose wallets have expanded) would buy just as much for 10$. The thing is that every sale is a profit almost no matter the price, because digital distribution is incredibly cheap. Now obviously companies need to recoup their costs, so if they know 10,000 people are going to buy their game and they spend $100,000 on development then they'll need to charge at least $10 to each of those customers. In practice though, by having a normal price of $10 they can target price inelastic consumers, but by having sales they can also nab price elastic customers! Its a win win.

The truth is that the market is absolutely flooded with titles these days. I think a lot of early indies got very lucky by turning up in a then very small market, and all these companies flooded in. Sadly, the money doesn't seem to be there to support them.
posted by Cannon Fodder at 2:54 AM on August 19 [4 favorites]


Yeah, tower defense has been a genre oversaturated with good and cheap (and often free!) games for as long as it's existed. I might think about playing Revenge of the Titans if I'm in the mood for a tower defense game that's less resource-intensive than Sanctum or Orcs Must Die, less polished than Defense Grid, and less interesting than Defender's Quest, and if I've forgotten that Gemcraft exists and is free. Given that, I don't expect Puppy Games to respond to my apathy with anything more than the total lack of support they're now promising. That seems like a pretty OK arrangement to me, and I don't get why there's a big fighty preamble about being silenced by mobs before the fairly dry calculation of "You’re not worth supporting. It’s far, far better to completely, totally ignore support, if you want to make a living." There's allusions to 4chan and Reddit, but no examples aside from Phil Fish, so I have no idea what they're talking about in terms of trolling or bad press / lucrative publicity.
posted by knuckle tattoos at 2:55 AM on August 19 [10 favorites]


Yeah, Revenge of the Titans had some lovely character design, but it was actually quite badly structured in terms of level-on-level progression and tech trees and I quickly gave up on it. I wouldn't have recommended it to anyone, especially with the embarrassment of riches in terms of free tower defence games out there. With a bit more playtesting I think it could have been great, but it doesn't surprise me at all to hear they didn't make out like a bandit.
posted by RokkitNite at 3:09 AM on August 19 [1 favorite]


I don't really get this guys rant. Isn't this exactly the same as every other industry in the internet age? Music / Arts etc..

There are lots and lots more people engaged in these activities and there is market saturation of titles (most of which are actually shit). He seems to be lamenting that they are unable to make money - well maybe their games are just shit and they lack vision.

And also this idea that you should care about individual customers is sort of odd. As a someone who has released music - i really don't care about what an individual purchaser thinks. Its meant to be art. It can't be dictated by the whims of individual purchasers without compromising the product.
posted by mary8nne at 3:12 AM on August 19


Wow….this reads more like a flameout than an argument. The blogger spends the first third of it going after "trolls" and claiming that "gamers aren't very nice people. You are not a very nice person. Statistically speaking."

Then there's a bit about Phil Fish "sitting pretty on a giant mound of cash the likes of which you will probably not even be able to comprehend [….] When he walks into the restaurant where you pitifully scrub the floor like a servile wretch in order to pay for DLC in DOTA 2, you'll call him sir."

And then come the complaints that indie developers selling on Steam -- which would include Phil Fish, surely -- can't make any money anymore? And even then, the blogger opens with material such as, "So we jokingly used to say that we sold you a game for a dollar and then $19 of support."

The blogger seems to perceive most or all of the company's customers as ungrateful, computer-illiterate trolls working dead-end, low-paying wage jobs. And then gets mad that they won't spend $100 on Puppy Dog's games. It's more than a bit of mixed messaging.
posted by kewb at 3:21 AM on August 19 [5 favorites]


The culture around games is a bit different though. Everyone's so sure they know what would improve a game. It's a carryover from the hardware sector. If there's a problem with a keyboard, it's usually clearly and immediately obvious. A program with the design of a game, though, isn't always as clear, although sometimes it seems that way to the player.

A really elegant game will have multiple systems that intersect and play off each other, so the designer can't, say, MKAE RESORCES MOR COMON without upsetting delicate interlocking systems. Everyone's an armchair designer though, and everyone assumes they're instantly right about every passing observation about a game the instant it occurs to them
posted by JHarris at 3:22 AM on August 19 [4 favorites]


I don't know, it seems like the main article is a very emotional argument that may have some merit - although perhaps not quite in the way that they think. Internet storefront sites like Steam (and whatever the Amazon Kindle books written by non-represented people thing is called) are going to beat down the overall cost of the thing distributed because of supply-and-demand.
posted by The River Ivel at 3:23 AM on August 19


I liked the parallaxing wallpaper on the blog page, not sure about the rest of it.
posted by um at 3:23 AM on August 19 [1 favorite]


OK, I think I know why I don't like this article. Here are the article's big scary truth bombs:
1) Gamers aren't very nice people.
2) There's no such thing as bad press. Internet hate leads to money.
3) Individual customers are worthless / not worth supporting.

Point 1 is obvious and Point 3 is just economics. So the thing that's really in question here is Point 2, and a rant about terrible gamer mobs and the tyranny of Steam silencing your company sounds very much like a desperate invitation for that kind of free hate-based publicity. I guess we'll see if it works. Bashing Steam and Humble Bundle is certainly a good way to start that going. Praising Phil Fish also works. Might want to name-check 4chan and Reddit in the first two paragraphs if you want some social media attention.
posted by knuckle tattoos at 3:23 AM on August 19 [5 favorites]


Speaking as an indie game dev - I've recently published a game as sort of a side project, getting practice using various tools and selling a thing. I've priced it at $3, since it's a simple and not very big game, and sold ten copies, almost exclusively to family and friends (some of whom paid $12, $20, or $50 for it). I have no idea how much effort to invest in promotion and PR, or how to go about doing so; my partner got an acquaintance of his to do a Youtube video on it, and the 1700 views of that video have so far resulted in no new sales. At this point, I've made more in ad revenue from downloads of the Minecraft mod I made a couple years ago than from sales of this game. At this point I'd be pretty pleased if the total sales pass the $250 threshold for actually getting paid. (Do note that I have no grievance with this particular obstacle - the Humble Widget is a fantastic thing and absolutely worth the overhead as far as I'm concerned.)
posted by NMcCoy at 3:24 AM on August 19 [2 favorites]


Smells like entitlement to me.

"I put in all this effort to make this game, and no one will buy it for $10, they'll only pay $1 - it's not fair! If that stupid Steam thing didn't have sales, everyone would be buying it for a lot more and making me rich like that Minecraft guy. Because I am just as talented and deserving as him..."
posted by jet_manifesto at 3:24 AM on August 19 [2 favorites]


I thought this post by the developer of Eldritch was interesting, "Eldritch: Mountains of Post-Mortem-ness."
posted by the_artificer at 3:40 AM on August 19 [5 favorites]


...And speaking as a gamer, I have 165 games in my Steam library and have never played about a quarter of them, which sounds like it's still a better ratio than average. I got given Bastion as a present, and in the years since I've bought the game five or six times, usually on sale or in a bundle, and will probably buy it again, most likely when it gets bundled with Transistor someday and I want to get another copy of Transistor.

I guess what I'm saying is, quality counts too, and if your game makes me go "this game is amazing, please take more of my money" then guess what, you get more of my money.
posted by NMcCoy at 3:51 AM on August 19 [2 favorites]


I stumbled into the game industry in the late 90s and spent two years there. People used to complain about the demise of the industry back then, too - EA was Steam, Doom was Minecraft, and John Carmac was Notch. I had been a dev for a while before that and was amazed at how people would crawl over broken glass to get a job developing games for a living, which I think is still true today. When I left, a co-worker was amazed and disgusted all at once: "Man, you're going to be just pushing strings into a database for some corporate overlord? How can you give this up?" I didn't have a good reply, but the retort I wished I had said at the time was that games programming is a lot like being in a rock and roll band. It looks like the best job in the world from the outside, and maybe if you are on the inside doing well, but there are very few *successful* rock & roll bands. Fortunately, the corporate overlords pay good money for people to push strings into a database and the rest of the app dev world, from where I'm sitting today, appears to have negative unemployment.
posted by kovacs at 4:09 AM on August 19 [11 favorites]


Is any part of the entertainment industry any different?

What's the ratio of aspiring musicians, visual artists, photographers or writers to ones who make money at it?

And as for the early 2000s being some land of wonder for Indie devs I remember going to a SIGGRAPH session in 2001 or so about how with the rise of consoles and the death of PC gaming (remember that!) that only huge companies would be able to make games.
posted by sien at 4:26 AM on August 19


" rise of consoles and the death of PC gaming"

PC gaming has died several dozen times in the last couple of decades. I guess I just really like hanging out with ghosts.
posted by Cannon Fodder at 4:38 AM on August 19 [9 favorites]


For me, the Steam/HB sale price is important BECAUSE the demo is dead. I have no idea if I will enjoy the game, like the controls, whatever. So I could get a demo -- oh, wait, I can't; no indie developers make demos (I know they have videos of game play, but this is of little interest to me). So I'll just wait until the game goes on sale, then at least if I don't like it, I haven't wasted much money.
posted by jeather at 4:51 AM on August 19 [4 favorites]


Puppygames make VERY good games. Sorry to see this. I highly recommend their work
posted by Bwithh at 5:05 AM on August 19 [1 favorite]


but the reason that Steam and Bundle sales do so well is that most of those sold units wouldn't have even happened if it weren't for that extreme discount. I have a library of over 200 Steam games, despite making very very little money, and yet 90% of them I've never played, and will never play. If I hadn't gotten them on sale, however, I wouldn't have gotten them at all, so at least the developer is getting some money, when otherwise he wouldn't have.

This is half of it - the old "sure I have 10,000 mp3s but that doesn't mean I would have bought all these albums" reasoning.

But the problem is this: New, interesting game comes out for full price on Steam. You are curious about it, you have seen good reviews. But "man I have all these games I've already bought and haven't played yet, it would be irresponsible of me to spend more money instead of playing something I already own" kicks in. Paying the little indulgence to HB prevents sales of new games at regular prices because the guilt about not using something you've bought isn't proportional to what you actually paid.
posted by Space Coyote at 5:05 AM on August 19 [3 favorites]


That sounds more like a personal dilemma, Space Coyote. I'm one of the people who treats games on sale as the next best thing to a demo.

What's terrible is when I buy one of those well-reviewed, full-price games and it turns out to be overhyped or not my style or some other waste of money.
posted by Johann Georg Faust at 5:11 AM on August 19 [3 favorites]


I think some of the commentary in this thread is age related. I know a lot of young people who pay retail or comparatively high prices to get new games. They play a lot of games, as I did when I had infinite time at college, and are excited to play them with their friends when they are new. They go so far as to buy a console because it has first access to a new game (or perhaps will be exclusive) even though they have high end gaming PCs.
But I'm older now and I play games very occasionally, and wouldn't buy any games at all - there are plenty free. But the humble bundles and steam sales have managed to get some money out of me, and probably 80% of the games I paid for have yet to be played.
So the indie devs in bundles get a coin or two from me they would never have seen.
Does that make up for the probably non-zero number of people who would have paid $10 but instead waited for a sale? I don't know, but it definitely resulted in me spending $100 over the last few years I wouldn't have otherwise.
posted by bystander at 5:30 AM on August 19 [1 favorite]


PC gaming has died several dozen times in the last couple of decades. I guess I just really like hanging out with ghosts.

The short version is that PC gaming dies when a new console generation hits a certain market share, and it's reborn when PC hardware advances to the point that the console hardware starts to sag by comparison. What's weird about this generation is that the PS4 and Xbone are not particularly powerful compared to comparable computers, and it's not going to be many years before PC gaming looks noticeably nicer at a comparable price than the current generation of consoles.
posted by Pope Guilty at 5:35 AM on August 19 [3 favorites]


The other prong of having so many rock-bottom price games is the indignance that the neckbeards got to brandish against Gone Home's $17 price tag in its steam reviews section. They knew they had to dress up their hatred of a title that didn't explicitly cater to them in something that sounded more righteous, and boy howdy did they go all out to champion the poor ramen-eating college student who couldn't possibly be expected to pay a whole $17 for a game that wasn't really a game, if you know what I mean.
posted by Space Coyote at 5:40 AM on August 19 [4 favorites]


I thought this post by the developer of Eldritch was interesting, "Eldritch: Mountains of Post-Mortem-ness."

Mostly tells the opposite story Re:sales.
posted by Artw at 5:49 AM on August 19


Praising Phil Fish

fwiw phil fish loves the steam sale and even posted sales charts to show it. he's also doing awesome on his twitter wrt ferguson this last week and a half. he still says there will be no fez 2.
posted by nadawi at 6:33 AM on August 19 [1 favorite]


Is any part of the entertainment industry any different?

Er, yes? I can't think of any other segment of the entertainment industry where there is as entrenched a mentality that a consumer will not make a purchase unless it's 90-100% off. Do you wait for the few times a year when movies in the theater are $1.20, or albums on iTunes are $0.99? Leaving aside the unique economics of the rental/lending market (including libraries), I can't think of another segment of music/art/publishing/performance where there is so ingrained a mentality of never buying retail.

But, then again, it is what it is--that's the market you've got for games in 2014. You can't really fight it, no matter how emphatic your screed is.
posted by Admiral Haddock at 6:39 AM on August 19 [4 favorites]


Reading the bits on demos, and it seems like this guy wastes a lot of energy on resenting lost sales that were probably not sales to begin with.
posted by Artw at 6:39 AM on August 19 [1 favorite]


Er, yes? I can't think of any other segment of the entertainment industry where there is as entrenched a mentality that a consumer will not make a purchase unless it's 90-100% off. Do you wait for the few times a year when movies in the theater are $1.20, or albums on iTunes are $0.99? Leaving aside the unique economics of the rental/lending market (including libraries), I can't think of another segment of music/art/publishing/performance where there is so ingrained a mentality of never buying retail.

TV.
posted by grobstein at 6:46 AM on August 19 [1 favorite]


TV.

Not really, though, right? Maybe if you subscribe to the Jamie Kellner delusion that not watching the commercials is "stealing," perhaps. Because TV has always been a "free" medium where you "pay" either for the hookup (cable), or get it OTA and have advertising beamed at you. For the comparison to hold, you'd have to subscribe to cable only in those months when it's $10, or watch OTA programming when the commercials are only 3 seconds long (I'm looking at you, blipverts).
posted by Admiral Haddock at 6:53 AM on August 19 [1 favorite]


The pertinent information is in the first paragraph of the first link. They blew their money on the wrong things, and to top it off, are working on another free-to-play MMO that has taken too long. Whatever else has happened, it sounds like whoever is in charge of the company is not business-savvy.

(Also, some Puppygames rep got into a mini flame-war with users over in RPS comments, which is hilarious because the second link specifically talks about what a trap that is.)
posted by curious nu at 6:54 AM on August 19 [4 favorites]


I love love love RPS' reporting and blogging, but their comments section is a goddamned wasteland. It's bizarre.
posted by Pope Guilty at 7:01 AM on August 19


So they chased the market off a cliff (free-to-play MMO? Seriously?) and are angry?

I spend way more total $$$ on games in Steam-world than pre-Steam.
posted by PMdixon at 7:08 AM on August 19 [2 favorites]


This seems like a pity post more than anything. I think it's the "we're not allowed to say it!" slant, combined with a bit of rambling tone. Well, no, clearly you are allowed to, you just did.

In fact I believe it's been open season on the debate around Steam/Humble sales and the size of the market and so on. The only new thing this adds is yelling back and directly calling customers worthless AND trolls, all at once (and praising Phil Fish!) You're allowed to say whatever you like, but what exactly was constructive about this piece?
posted by pahalial at 7:21 AM on August 19 [1 favorite]


Ah, of course! The clue is actually the Phil Fish segment, along with "any publicity is good publicity." This is a stunt post designed to drum up some controversy centred on PuppyGames.

"I tell ya, this Phil Fish thing is crazy. Sure, most people hate him, but he made SO much money."
"Well, we could probably get the internet to hate us.. just mention 4chan and reddit at once?"
"Hah! Yeah, and we could tell them Valve and Humble are killing indie game dev"
"Ooo, why don't we just come out and call customers worthless?"
posted by pahalial at 7:47 AM on August 19 [1 favorite]


On reread, missed Knuckle's comment saying the exact same.
posted by pahalial at 7:50 AM on August 19


Not really, though, right? Maybe if you subscribe to the Jamie Kellner delusion that not watching the commercials is "stealing," perhaps. Because TV has always been a "free" medium where you "pay" either for the hookup (cable), or get it OTA and have advertising beamed at you. For the comparison to hold, you'd have to subscribe to cable only in those months when it's $10, or watch OTA programming when the commercials are only 3 seconds long (I'm looking at you, blipverts).

Well I didn't mean to imply that TV hasn't always been this way -- that's part of why it is this way now. But the fact remains that people will refuse to pay anything for a TV show, preferring to watch whatever is available free at the margin via broadcast, cable, or Netflix streaming -- the latter two of which are bundles where you pay once for all-you-can-eat access. Today there is sometimes the option to pay "retail" for a show that is not part of a bargain package you own, but it's hard for this pricing model to compete with Netflix streaming, where any given show is free at the margin.

I think the analogy to gaming and things like the Humble Bundle is pretty good. And a similar thing is happening in online music.
posted by grobstein at 7:56 AM on August 19


I dunno; I think he has a point. I don't know the game market well, but I was in the book trade in the 90s, and I watched customers get quickly accustomed to the idea that new books should be sold at a discount (first 20% then 25-40% once Amazon really got going). It really hurt small stores (whose margins were too slim to maintain those discounts (roughly 50-90% of the profits), and the decline of the small independents hurt small niche publishers. The publishers have recovered a bit with ebooks, but the big venues are starting to try and dictate price points (see Amazon), so I am not sure that people don't get accustomed to always paying a "discounted rate," which can hurt creators/publishers if they aren't planning for that.
posted by GenjiandProust at 8:23 AM on August 19


I actually stopped spending real money on games when I stopped being able to install them and just play them without being signed into an account or hooked up to the internet. I definitely stopped spending real money on games when only one player could save a game in progress.

I'm not sure whether that was a cause or just a thing I noticed was true at the time I stopped spending real money on games but there it is.

As for indie games, I love the hell out of many of them, but I don't honestly value them at more than $5-$10. World of Goo, Lil Inferno, Don't Starve, Swapper, the Path--these are a lot like records I bought for that one song, something I waited to buy used or on sale because I'm don't feel I'm getting my value otherwise. Not because I don't enjoy them--not withstanding the effort it took to make them--but the games have a certain short attention span play to them and I have limited funds.

I'm sure there is a self-perpetuating discount problem, but to some degree that is independent of the value people place on the games. I mean, people will say "Huh, I would have paid $10 for that but not $20" even without expecting it to be made available at that price. But there is no used game market anymore, so all we can do is wait for the sales and bundles.
posted by crush-onastick at 8:35 AM on August 19 [3 favorites]


I mean, I could pony up the cash to buy these guys' games or I can buy Sid Meier's Alpha Centauri 2 Civilization: Beyond Earth. PuppyGames' stuff would probably bring me a couple hours of mild amusement. Beyond Earth is going to destroy my life and possibly result in my imminent death by dehydration or starvation. And that's value you can't beat.

Oh bloody hell... Himself is going on a fishing trip this weekend, so there'll be nobody here to make me stop. DANGER DANGER.
posted by Mary Ellen Carter at 8:53 AM on August 19 [1 favorite]


I can see how Steam might hurt some developers. They are famous for their frequent and big sales and as a customer, I myself frequently look at a game I've heard good things about, and I'll see the price and decide to wait for the next sale. It's no longer a surprise for Steam to have a sale, it's something that customers expect and paying MSRP for a game and seeing it go on sale feels like being cheated. It's a lot like the complaints people have about selling products wholesale to Walmart.

Then again, this is progress in my opinion. Five years ago, the conversation was about rampant piracy and how to discourage it in a way that's still customer friendly. I remember hearing World of Goo's developer blogging that they something like ten times more ips logging into their high score server than they had sales, and having to deal with customer service tickets where customers asked how to get their cracked versions to work.
posted by mccarty.tim at 8:54 AM on August 19


Beyond Earth is going to destroy my life and possibly result in my imminent death by dehydration or starvation. And that's value you can't beat.

And that is just the welcome screen!
posted by srboisvert at 8:56 AM on August 19


Other than the whiny tone, I don't see much to object to here. It's true that gaming culture is infested with trolls and that it's not worth engaging with them. It seems pretty true that obscurity is worse than bad publicity. And it's definitely true that, given the current market and pricing model for games, it's generally not cost-effective to provide support for individual customers.

I've many times lamented that I haven't paid enough for a game or an app to expect much support, although I almost never think that it would be worth paying 10 or 20 times as much to (possibly) get that support.

On the other hand, Tom Francis shows that it's possible to be successful by focusing on building such a good relationship with your audience that they want to give you more than a dollar for your game. (Also, you have to make a very good game.)

He doesn't actually explicitly blame Steam or Humble for this situation, but really his entire problem--100%--is that there are "too many" excellent video games. Far more than anyone has time to play.

The only solution to this "problem" would be to somehow get rid of most of the other good games, go back to a time when Revenge of the Titans was one of the only options you have for a good tower defense game, kill off Geometry Wars, Everyday Shooter, Waves, Mutant Storm, and most of the other twin-stick shooters so that Ultratron seems amazing. But that would be stupid and evil.

If you really love games, things have never been better (any game from a time you think was better is still available, moreso than any other medium like music, film, or books). And if you love making games and having people play your games, I'd think you'd much prefer to live in a situation where 100,000 people can play your game for a dollar rather than 5000 people playing it for $20. Sure it's a challenge to make a game good enough to get that much attention, but that's true whether there are ten $20 games fighting over an audience of 50,000 people or 200 1$ games fighting over an audience of 2,000,000.
posted by straight at 9:50 AM on August 19 [2 favorites]


ersatz: "A dev that references Ion Cannon and remembers that people want to know if the game runs on their computers can't be all that bad.

But yeah, part of the problem is that a year after Beyond Earth releases, you'll be able to buy it for less than $20. So, when you can expect to get an AAA title for ten quid, the price an indie game can fetch will drop lower.

On the other hand, Spiderweb Software (Avadon, Avernum, Geneforge) used to religiously keep a $20-25 price point but iirc they made more money on volume when they got on Steam. I mean, I bought them all. Thanks for the shareware versions, guys.
"

It's funny you mention Spiderweb... Jeff Vogel wrote about this topic a few months ago.

He actually wrote about the issue in 2011, too.

I've seen other indie devs mention the issue, and it is true to a degree. I certainly think there's a glut.

I tried reading this from /r/gamedev last night, but the page design was giving me a headache, so after some whining about Phil and going on and on, I finally gave up even though I saw further down via glancing that he was trying to make a larger point, but I just... couldn't... stand it.

I bought the Titans game on sale this past sale day. I don't complain or whine. I played it once. I'm not a TD type person, but I liked the graphics. It didn't grab me. I do want to give it a shot, but there is a lot of competition, indeed.

I get your point that you don't want to be full time support. It's hard and software is difficult to troubleshoot across systems. If you care about that kind of thing, then see if you can dev for something like WiiU, XBox or PS3. That's a different headache.

What's the failure rate of businesses? So - if you can't hack it you can't hack it, not to be a dick, just trying to state it how it is. Competition IS tough. Programming IS hard. People ARE dicks. All these things are true.

I also feel the writer has a right to vent.

I kinda thought maybe he posted this in hopes of getting Phil Fish attention based upon the whole "even negative attention is attention" attitude, which... I mean is kinda shitty, really.

But, look - it's working! We're talking about it and him.

I have a few games I want to make. I have no formal training and make it up as I go along. I have a friend who helps, I also read forums and shit. But it's not easy. No matter how good you are, it's not easy. I'm under no illusion I'll be rich. I have a friend in a moderately successful band that's played at both NXNE and SXSW, has toured regionally and done an East Coast tour. But they have day jobs, they have to bust ass. I think they've done a lot of great things, but they realize that as great as it is, it's a lot of work for a little payoff financially.

If you're making games, you're doing it for the love of it. Maybe the problem is puppygames wants to make games and not have to support people which takes time away from programming, I dunno.
posted by symbioid at 10:08 AM on August 19


I have $2.45 in my Steam wallet from selling cards on the market. So I decided to look for a cheap game. So far I have yet to see a game at that price that I would buy. A touch of anecdata.
posted by Splunge at 10:21 AM on August 19 [1 favorite]


I'm a customer and I completely agree with his premise, but I think he's leaving out one point. To me, the whole thing of Indiegames sounds a little like the self-publishing market.

So, I used to actually purchase trashy novels. Generally used, but on occasion, I would buy them at full price. I would do so because I bought them from reputable publishers, and knew they would be, even if trashy, well-edited, with no spelling mistakes and decent grammar and at least readable.

Then self-publishing and tiny indie publishers started popping up on Amazon, and I stopped doing so - because I could no longer trust that a book I paid full price for would be well edited or even readable. Now, when I want to buy a trashy book, I search for Kindle books under a dollar. If it's more than 99 cents, I will not buy it, because the risk is too great.

The same is true with indie games. I can't trust them, and a lot of them are simply piles of crap. I will pay $50, sight unseen, for a game by Bethesda. I will not pay $10, sight unseen, by an indie game from an unknown. Most of the computer games I get are Humble Bundle games, or GoG games that I pay a little more for because I've already played them and know I like them.

I used to pay money for shareware games, but those don't really seem to exist anymore. Free games that are monetized later are done annoyingly and insultingly so now, such that I take it as a point of personal pride not to pay those bastards a single dollar if they're going to insult me like that.

So I don't know if it's Steam and Humblebundle that have killed it all - I think it's the developers that have done it to themselves by offering crap out and refusing to demo it.
posted by corb at 10:29 AM on August 19 [3 favorites]


If you're making games, you're doing it for the love of it.

The problem is that is not a sustainable position. I find it absolutely amazing and horrifying that it is considered acceptable to say that creators should accept that they will not be appropriately compensated.
posted by NoxAeternum at 10:33 AM on August 19 [1 favorite]


So I don't know if it's Steam and Humblebundle that have killed it all - I think it's the developers that have done it to themselves by offering crap out and refusing to demo it.

This is a fair point too - people forget that one of the major causes of the Crash was a deluge of absolute crap.
posted by NoxAeternum at 10:35 AM on August 19 [1 favorite]


I can tell I'm becoming an old because I don't find out about the games that will destroy my life until like 2 months before they come out.

(THEY'RE MAKING A SMAC2!!!!!!!!?????!!!ELEVEN)
posted by PMdixon at 10:41 AM on August 19



That seemed really long-winded to just restate the premise of a P4R article and say "individual tech support is too expensive to provide at indie game prices, so we don't", which seems reasonable.
posted by Wandering Idiot at 11:34 AM on August 19


The indie game/app market is certainly interesting for its focus on ultra-low prices and constant sales, largely due to the factors already described (massive audience, lower cost of development, easy entry into market).

However, a huge part of the problem is that indie developers are often extremely poor at business. Even if you discount the many, many bad business decisions acknowleged by PuppyGames - even if they didn't end up wasting tens of thousands of pounds on games that never went on sale, or on ill-conceived marketing experiments - there's still the issue that in a crowded marketplace, you need to have something very unique or distinctive to offer.

Imagine if someone wanted to open up a cafe on a high street that already had half a dozen Starbucks and indie coffee shops; they'd have to work very hard to attract customers and prove that they were different, either by price (good luck) or by addressing some niche in the market. If they failed, sure, maybe they made bad coffee - but it's also because they made poor business decisions.

I run an indie games company. In the past three years we've grown from four to twelve people. People ask how we decide which games to make. I usually answer that a project needs to fulfil three criteria:

1) Are we excited about making it? Because if we're not, it's very easy for us to not put the effort and research into making it good.

2) Can we make it? I'd love to make all sorts of different kinds of games, from MMOs to FPSes, but realistically we have a set of skills in the company that are better at some kinds of games than others. If the project doesn't accord with those skills then we can't execute well.

3) Can we make money from it? Is there a demonstrated market? Because if there isn't, you aren't running a business.

Plenty of ideas can fulfil one or two of those criteria. Not that many can fulfil three, and I think you need to be very patient and hard headed to wait for an idea that does.
posted by adrianhon at 11:36 AM on August 19 [4 favorites]


I remembered having a halfway fun time with the Droid Assault demo a while back, and just bought it via Steam. Damn thing responds to my third-party controller in a completely nonsensical way, and has absolutely no way to configure what does what.

Some googling leads me to notes about configuring this via a text file. Which does not exist on my Mac where the developer says it will.

I have now had to use Terminal to find and open up a couple of hidden directories to try and edit text files, which also do not actually seem to change anything. Looking at the log file that lead me to the file I edited, I suspect that I actually need to find a file Steam is synching to the cloud.

Which I found (after looking up Droid Assault's Steam appID and opening another hidden directory via the terminal) and turned out to be useless.

And now I am sad, because the idea of a twin-stick version of Paradoid is PANTIES-WETTINGLY DELIGHTFUL to me, but this game just refuses to let me play it unless I'm willing to play with keyboard and mouse. Which I loathe doing. I like playing my arcade games with an appropriate arcade controller. Plus an old repetitive stress injury picked up doing Flash animation means left-clicking is actively painful for me.

I am thinking Puppy Games has a certain amount of blame to allocate to themselves for their failure in the market. I don't think it's out of line to expect to have a screen in the game where I can spend five seconds to frob the third-party XBox controller I have plugged into my Mac and then dive into the game. (And that said I think a lot of their points about the race for the bottom are true; they're not the first game developers I've seen complaining about this, and other creative professionals are saying the same thing. We are drowning in underpriced entertainment.)
posted by egypturnash at 11:38 AM on August 19 [2 favorites]


I should also add that it's not surprising devs aren't good at business - after all, it's not like you're born with the knowledge, and it's a new field. I'm heartened by the fact that the successful devs appear to be learning fast while still producing quality games, e.g. Simogo.
posted by adrianhon at 11:38 AM on August 19


NoxAeternum: "If you're making games, you're doing it for the love of it.

The problem is that is not a sustainable position. I find it absolutely amazing and horrifying that it is considered acceptable to say that creators should accept that they will not be appropriately compensated.
"

I guess I can't argue there. Making games, as I said, is hard work. Even simple games is hard. Every. Little. Fucking. Thing... Any programming is, really.

I'm part of the problem - I wait for games to go on sale. I've always been a bit of a cheapskate, to a certain degree. And I certainly don't begrudge them for wanting to maximize their income for all the work they put into it. As I said, I am working on my own, and I would LOVE to make enough to live on. I guess I just understand that things aren't quite as easy as we would wish. And in some ways I feel like I have no right to judge at all because I haven't even ever shipped anything yet, and these people have been out with a couple games made already (whether people like them or not is only tangentially related, I think). That's to say - they at least have an idea of what they're talking about from that end, whereas I am just kinda blowing smoke out my ass since my foot isn't even in the door yet.

I have a friend. He's worked on some major games in the industry. He's now working on a mobile game. I won't say any more about the game, but his philosophy is to try to attack this cheap cheap cheap/F2P bullshit by charging 5 bucks instead of a dollar and making a full solid game. He thinks there's enough core gamers out there that there's a market for a slightly more sophisticated game than CluckyBirds1024 or whatever the latest flying bird puzzle game is. So he's taking a risk. One of his stances is "no demos" which I think is going to hurt him in the end. He may end up changing his mind if necessary, I guess we'll see. I do think demos for a purchaseable game are a necessary thing. If I'm going to be dropping 5 bucks or more on a game, I want to know I'm getting something I'm going to have fun with.

I honestly think one of the biggest problems isn't so much the price as it is discoverability. The glut is absolutely absurd. It's easier on Steam, and I think Steam probably does the best out of most options (I think GoG and Desura probably have something similar), but both the GPlay store and Apple's thing are just terrible when it comes to discoverability, and that's a real shame. But now I'm getting into platform issues and not talking about the issue of developers and what is fair or just to them from the consumer.

And I feel a bit sad that "Indie" doesn't even really necessarily mean "Indie" anymore. If you don't have a publisher you're an "Indie". That means a 10 man, professional former-studio group who has a lot of experience and skill making a game is considered just as "indie" as a 1 or 2 person job making their first game with simple graphics, etc...

I look at things like Flow or Spelunky or Every Extend Extra or Tumiki Fighters, from that mid-late 00s as the sort of heyday of indie games... I mean, there are others, but those are some simple examples from that era that were successful that were still seemingly small scale and ended up blowing up to be rather popular.

And while the tools have become that much easier and better to use, it's that much harder to compete with people who have all this experience.

I think I've seen some discussion surrounding the issue of what makes a game "indie" (size of team? cost to make? publisher or no? etc...) and I think this is also tangential, I guess, because in the end the market is the market... "Pure" indies, small scale ex-big-studio devs and full-fledged AAA titles... All compete for the same dollars.

I think there's a happy sweet spot people look for when it comes to price/quality/fun/time ratio. The "core" gamers have no problem shelling 60 bucks for a triple-A. I wait til it comes down a bit (20-30 usually), mid-level "indie" games, while theoretically I will pay 10-20 for them, I think I probably pay 5-10. And super duper indie will be 1-10, though more like 1-5. And that's sad, really. I wish I could afford more. And the fact is, I have so many just ... we COLLECT games. Not in any meaningful shelf full sense, but as bits on our drive. I mean, they just sit their unplayed. And I suppose, if a dev is gonna make money on an unplayed game, that's really not a loss, now is it? If I play a game for an hour. If you put out a 20 dollar game and put out a demo, and I tried it and didn't like it you're out 20 bucks. But you put out a game for a buck or two, or it's on sale for that, it looks interesting, gets maybe a mid-grade (75+) and looks unique in some manner, sure, I'll drop something to check it out. That's a couple bucks you never had from me before.

There is a sort of attitude of "I deserve X" from not just gamers but from consumers in general "The Customer is Always Right" has become a mantra that in some ways is beneficial, but in other ways is harmful, especially when it comes to the creative industries.

There's so much one could say on this topic, I suppose I should go post on my blog and maybe put on some annoying purple background glowing shit to make it that much harder to read.
posted by symbioid at 11:44 AM on August 19


Welp, don't know what happened to my P4R link above, it was supposed to go to this:

http://www.p4rgaming.com/daisuke-amaya-interview-if-i-tell-people-to-choke-on-it-then-will-they-play-my-game/
posted by Wandering Idiot at 11:51 AM on August 19 [1 favorite]


Speaking of the necessity of having something unique to offer, am I misinterpreting the Puppy Games blog, or was the original idea for Revenge of the Titans to basically copy a popular Flash game?
posted by knuckle tattoos at 11:52 AM on August 19 [1 favorite]


symboid: I think this is where Kickstarter and Steam Early Access can add value. For all their faults, they let developers validate an idea before they spend lots of time and money developing it. Providing that you're good at budgeting and project management (hah!) then everyone wins.

Also: Collecting games is a problem. I have about 200 Steam games, around 70% of which I have never played. But there are some games that I will pay full price for and play immediately: The Walking Dead was one, and Gone Home was another. They were so intriguing and so many of my friends were playing them that I wanted to be there on day one.
posted by adrianhon at 11:57 AM on August 19


I have $2.45 in my Steam wallet from selling cards on the market. So I decided to look for a cheap game. So far I have yet to see a game at that price that I would buy.

Wait until the next big sale. I got Skyrim for about $5.
posted by JHarris at 1:08 PM on August 19 [2 favorites]


I think this is where Kickstarter and Steam Early Access can add value. For all their faults, they let developers validate an idea before they spend lots of time and money developing it. Providing that you're good at budgeting and project management (hah!) then everyone wins.

Except that they don't do that, unless it's by accident. The number of Kickstarter campaigns that ultimately fail because nobody did the math is uncomfortably high. And it's high because we end users don't really have the tools to do the necessary due diligence to make sure that the team is capable of delivering.
posted by NoxAeternum at 1:21 PM on August 19


That's not true - we did that, and it wasn't by accident. I know other developers who have validated ideas through Kickstarter as well. I agree that end users don't have the experience to do necessary due diligence, and likewise that many project creators don't have the experience to adequately project manage and budget. Even so, I feel that Kickstarter is a net positive for game development.
posted by adrianhon at 1:58 PM on August 19


Until this thread, I did not know about Civilization: Beyond Earth. Much like this author, I hold you all personally responsible for what is about to happen to me.
posted by Errant at 2:15 PM on August 19 [8 favorites]


I was more speaking to the services rather than the campaigns. You are correct that accident is not the best word to use, though. The problem is that the feedback that crowdsourcing can provide is relatively coarse, so unless the campaign plans ahead, the feedback says little.
posted by NoxAeternum at 2:20 PM on August 19


Er, yes? I can't think of any other segment of the entertainment industry where there is as entrenched a mentality that a consumer will not make a purchase unless it's 90-100% off.

Netflix, Amazon Prime Instant, used book & record stores, Spotify, Pandora.

I always pay for 'content' (hate that term, but it's a good catch-all for this discussion) and had an eMusic sub when it was good -- ended up with about 75% of the Matador catalog between 1991-2007. Still haven't listened to that Wisdom of Harry album.

It's been pretty empirically clear that people will pay full freight for entertainment in sizable numbers throughout the observable history of media -- even when the costs skew out of line with inflation. It's also been pretty empirically clear that the number of people/acts/companies who are lucky enough to benefit from this interest is frightfully narrow slice of those who are attempting to do so.
posted by 99_ at 2:31 PM on August 19 [1 favorite]


The dollar theatre (or two-dollar theatre noawadays) is another example of getting something cheap a little later.
posted by squinty at 2:46 PM on August 19 [1 favorite]


Oh bloody hell... Himself is going on a fishing trip this weekend, so there'll be nobody here to make me stop. DANGER DANGER.

Only the fact that it doesn't come out until October 24th!
posted by Justinian at 3:18 PM on August 19


The dollar theatre (or two-dollar theatre noawadays) is another example of getting something cheap a little later.

Wow, you totally just took me back to my adolescence.
posted by en forme de poire at 5:18 PM on August 19


adrianhon: "Collecting games is a problem. I have about 200 Steam games, around 70% of which I have never played. But there are some games that I will pay full price for and play immediately: The Walking Dead was one, and Gone Home was another. They were so intriguing and so many of my friends were playing them that I wanted to be there on day one."

A problem for whom? I know it's a problem for consumers, i.e. me, with my mountain of a backlog. But some developers somehow think my backlog is a problem for them. It's not. If they make a good enough game, I will buy it and prioritize it, as you did.

It turns out I own three puppygames. I've played two of them, for maybe an hour each. They were profoundly 'ok'. Guess what? I bought them cheap, and I don't regret my purchase. Will I buy the one I don't have? Maybe, for a buck or two. Never for ten or twenty.
posted by graventy at 8:30 PM on August 19


Exactly. Puppygames don't have a problem because steam makes it impossible to sell games for $10, they have a problem because they don't make games which people consider to be worth $10.
posted by Justinian at 8:54 PM on August 19


I don't feel bad about having a ton of games (apparently 165 on steam. Currently humble bundle includes Gal Civ 2, which I didn't own so had to get...) and not having played many of them. If I did, then I wouldn't get the things in the first place! I have this plan to save up all these games for my retirement, although I suppose that does require Steam to last another 40 years or so...

The music industry is mentioned up thread, but its current profitability is something of a historical oddity rather than a fact of nature. Developers need to recoup their costs, this is fair: they need to pay themselves and others a wage, and pay for whateve their equipment costs. But as I said before, digital distribution is so dirt cheap as to be almost free these days, so as soon as you have broken even, every sale is gravy. Physical products have a much higher base cost, and I think consumers recognise that, so are willing to pay more, although I imagine if you started selling cds at a loss they'd buy them.
posted by Cannon Fodder at 11:44 PM on August 19


I work for a company that has a free to play MMO type game in beta with something like 50-100k active users. To my inexpert eyes, it's doing pretty well for a game that's not been advertised yet.

But the forums... Oh the forums are full of people wanting it to be integrated in to Steam, with Facebook and Google logins. And some of these things will almost certainly happen. And I have no idea why.

And I have no idea where I was going with this. Maybe 7.30 am isn't the best time to post to Mefi...
posted by sodium lights the horizon at 11:48 PM on August 19


graventy: Sorry, I wasn't clear: a problem for consumers, because certainly for my part I'm spending money on games that I never seem to play. No, it's not a problem for developers.
posted by adrianhon at 1:46 AM on August 20


I can't think of any other segment of the entertainment industry where there is as entrenched a mentality that a consumer will not make a purchase unless it's 90-100% off. Do you wait for the few times a year when movies in the theater are $1.20
No, of course not. But if going to the movies typically cost ten times what I'm willing to pay to go the movies, I'd wait until the 90% off movie night, yes.
posted by Flunkie at 11:43 AM on August 22


Yeah, I buy lots of indie games through Steam sales that I wouldn't have bought otherwise, and which I'm unlikely to ever actually play. Probably around a few hundred at this point, mostly for $5 or less. Would the developers of those games prefer to not have those sales?
posted by Hello, I'm David McGahan at 4:18 PM on August 22


Puppy Games has posted a followup.

"I deliberately wrote the most invective, filthy, shit-stirring post I could to ensure that it would, indeed, make lots of people angry."
posted by Zarkonnen at 7:18 AM on September 1


My favourite, the "I did it all on purpose" seven-dimensional chess defense.
posted by jeather at 9:30 AM on September 1 [2 favorites]


That follow up is just embarrassing. Even if that genuinely was his plan all along, it was a really, really stupid plan.
posted by Cannon Fodder at 1:29 PM on September 1


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