Digital Distribution was key in revitalizing the PC Game Industry and a major change in how we buy and sell video games. While many Indie designers can sell directly through their own site, it's becoming apparent that a digital store is required for the best results.
Today's post goes through the variety of digital store options currently available to help you decide which one is the right fit.
Steam was and still is the 800 pound gorilla of the Game Industry. Developed by game developer Valve originally as a form of DRM, the popularity and ease of use has made it the number one choice for many gamers and an average daily consumer base in the millions.
What makes Steam so popular for developers is the number of quality of life features that it offers. You have Valve's Anti Cheat or VAC system for multiplayer games to help with hackers and cheaters, analytics that can tell you about your user base and what they are doing in your game and friend's list and multiplayer integration among others.
The use of achievements and trading cards may not sound that big of a deal, but have been major motivators to convince people to stay on Steam and buy games. Valve also makes routine use of seasonal and special sales that can earn you more sales in one day than what you could have made in months on your own.
Partnering with Steam sounds like a no brainer which presents a problem: You're not the only one. Hundreds of developers are all trying to get their game onto Steam for the very same reason as you and the market and vetting process has become overcrowded. Valve has attempted to fix this through their Greenlight program where fans can vote on what games they want to see on Steam.
However we are still seeing developers circumvent that and quality control problems that are too big to get into detail about here. At this point, unless you have the backings of a publisher, thousands of fans wanting to support you or a highly visible game, getting on Steam will be a problem.
Fortunately there are other digital platforms out there and competition to Steam.
GOG.com originally started as a site solely dedicated to preserving classic games and since has expanded to giving Indie developers a spotlight. They have earned a lot of goodwill from gamers thanks to their great customer support, library of titles and promotions.
While GOG doesn't have a digital platform at the time of this writing, they are currently developing one that fans can use as an option. While the consumer base isn't as high as Steam, GOG's fans are dedicated and if your game is good they will support you.
The main disadvantage of GOG for developers is that unlike Steam, there are restrictions as to what games they will allow on their site. Microtransactions of any kind are rejected as well as F2P titles. GOG's brand is all about buying a complete experience and will not sell games that are constantly updated with new content. The only exception is if you sell additional content in the form of expansion packs.
A part of GOG's credo is no DRM on any of their games. That means if you are partnered with a publisher who requires DRM or make use of another client's functionality like Steam, GOG will not have you.
Not an Indie Option:
Both Ubisoft's Uplay and EA's Origin are major competitors in the digital marketplace. Originally they were designed as an alternative form of DRM that the respective publishers could control, but have since evolved into their own marketplaces.
While the backing of EA or Ubisoft would be great, neither platform is really known for Indie support as the other options are. And for the Indies reading this piece, neither of them would be viable options for you.
The Other Players:
If getting on a major digital platform is too difficult, there are several medium size stores that you can look at that are friendly to Indies.
Greenman Gaming appeared out of nowhere with a variety of titles and a decent rewards program. But what really got them notoriety was their penchant for massive sales and frequent coupons allowing people to buy new games much cheaper than the other stores. And they are now a great option for any developer and will sell games that are featured on other platforms.
The Humblestore is an offshoot of the Humble Bundle which puts out weekly sales of massively discounted games for charity. While the store isn't as generous, it is still popular for developers of a variety of sizes and has earned a following.
Desura has been around for awhile and is another popular option for Indie developers. They have their own digital client and are open to Indie developers.
We also have the most traditional of the online stores -- sites like Gamersgate, and Gamefly. Neither site goes as far with sales as other stores but they are reputable stores that gamers make use of.
Lastly there is always the option to self market your game. The key advantage of course is that you keep all the profit from the game being sold and have complete control over how it is marketed. However, the visibility from one of these major sites can be too big to ignore and something all Indie designers should look into at some point.
Knowing where to sell your game is just as important as making a great video game in today's market. With so many developers flooding the market, you don't want your game to be left in the dust.