What /r/gamedev had to say if Steam Direct cost $5000

This weekend, Steam shared that they're ditching Greenlight and planning a new service called Steam Direct. I shared my ideas on Reddit, where I created a divide (1500 votes) but was downvoted, tarred and feathered. But i dug into the data.

This weekend, Steam shared that they're ditching Greenlight and planning a new service called Steam Direct, and the potential price tag.  

In this post: I'm going to share the conversation with game developers, the backlash I got, and how I mined the data to understand why people felt that way. (Sprinkled in this post are funny images because data is more fun to read with a occassional meme.) 

Before I do that - some key points

Key point 1: If you're running a marketplace for games - pay attention to this. If Steam does increase entrance price (to say $5000) - I did the homework for you. Take this excellent opportunity to see the language that game developers are using, and see the opportunities available. 

Key point 2: I don't have any allegeagance to Valve, Amazon, Google, Apple or any marketplace -- only to game developers. If their misstep means a new marketplace rises to the top... GOOD! Markets evolve. Hail to the new platform! (Which would suck though, because mah Steam cards!)

Key point 3: I'm not looking for agreement - but just to provide some research data. It's not about who is right or wrong - just the feeling that devs are having. I'm a marketer. Try to convince a artist than graphics aren't important to game dev, and you'll be spending hours arguing in circles.

Steam Direct's new fee

Let's talk about Steam's post about Evolving Steam, where they mentioned that their new 'Steam Direct' entrance fee (per game) could cost "as high as $5,000." 

A lot of people were pissed. 

But where did I see this before? Oh right! In 2012 - Greenlight made the entrance fee to $100 (link), causing just as much of an uproar. 

In a very 'You wippernsappers' moment, I thought it was a good idea for some education! Boy did that backfire. I'll explain why later. 

The assumed $5k entrance fee

When I shared my post [link] - I shared with high optimism. 

The idea I was trying to present was for game devs to "LEARN FROM MY MISTAKES!"

tl;dr of the link above: There's always a price. Learn business and marketing. Validate your idea. THEN invest. Here's like 10 pieces of resources that can help out. 

From my perspective: 
When you're on someone else's platform, there will always be a barrier of entry. In 2008, my associate and I maxed out all of my credit cards to develop games. Our game bombed, and I was left with the fallout. Maxing out credit cards was common in the 80s. That was the only method we knew to pursue indie game development. 

Almost 10 years later (holy cow am I that old?!) -- I see now. If I had properly validated my game idea [presentation here], my launch would have been successful and maybe I wouldn't have been $20k in debt. 

That was my goal in the post.

I thought it was clear cut and straight to the point. (I also think I'm super strong because I can do like 10 push-ups. But whatevs.)

The emotions around $5k entrance fee was bigger than that. 

Instead of the result of my post being: 

image under CC v3.0 (source)


The reality was more like this: 
[funny gif that I'm not sure if I can legally embed it so here's a link to it]


Here comes the downvotes

Most commenters hated it. Anyone who talked about the price tag being anything but a rip-off and class warfare was downvoted. (I averaged -20 downvotes. And in standard internet fashion - was also quickly demonized and sent hate.)

I went to my developer friends and partners and ask for their feedback. They didn't see a problem with it. But it's easy to be in a echo chamber and surround yourself with what you want to hear. It's also easy to assume everyone who disagreed with me are, in the words of a fellow developer, "... a bunch of dreamers."

It's obvious I was out of touch with /r/gamedev. But I knew hit a nerve that needs to be understood, and took the time to listen to the ones that can be affected. That's when I realized my mistake.

First - I want to publicly apologize to all the indie devs below: 

  • My friends who are making visual novels, retro rpgs/rogue-likes, or classic games.
  • My friends who make mobile games, and port to Steam.
  • My friends who make quirky games that cater towards a very super-small niche.

If you're not my friend but do one of those things... either: 

  1. Be my friend. (Just say hi in the comments! High Five!)
  2. #SorryNotSorry.

My dev friends in those spaces do not have a strong enough built-in fanbase to develop properly. 
And no matter how much they invest in marketing/polish/development, they're not going to 10-100x their sales by doing so. 

Approaching the data

During a product launch, my client was getting some really terrible reviews. He hired me to flip things around. To do that - we combed though hundreds of data points: his reviews, his feedback, his survey data, and anything on forums and social media. We sorted the data into various buckets, and saw the issues that he needed to address. 

(That's the fun stuff you learn in business! Yay spreadsheets!)


That methodology (known as the Ask Method, developed by neurologist Ryan Levesque and explained in greater detailed in his book Ask) also works for comments.

Because of the nerve I set off in this post - it's clear the price tag for Steam Direct emotional thing. The voting mechanism of Reddit is also emotional: upvoting/downvoting isn't fact or opinion, it's agree/disagree. 

By sorting and analyzing the data, it removes much of the emotional input and instead find the commonalities - looking at the quanity of how many people are saying it. 

I spent my Sunday combing through through all 523 comments (as of Sunday 11am PST) and ripped out the ones that focus on the root problem - leaving about 147 comments. Then I dug deeper, combining repeat posters, and organizing them into the main issues. 

The Top 4 major reactions (and three tied for 5th)

Also included: cherry-picked points of data within that segment.

(If you want to see my breakdown, email at me [email protected] I'll send you over my reseach data. You're also invited to comb through it yourself by dumping all the comments, and repeating my process.)

#1 - Game development is an investment. 

"If you can't get 500 players ready to give you 10$ to get that game into their steam library, that's it's own message." - Tetha

"This essentially forces devs to have higher investment in individual games so shovelware is no longer valid." - resolvetochange

"it costs a lot more than $5,000 to do it in terms of your own time costs." - neoKushan

#2 - I personally don't have $5000. Nor do Game developers in countries with lower income, etc. 

"I have never seen five thousand dollars in my life." - defproc

"Only after months of saving (and being chunked down by bills and other expenses) was I able to afford the $650 AUD... [for his computer]" - Magrias

"It would even be ok if it were a -$5000 credit on your account that was never owed, but you didn't earn money until you it that target" -- getthejpeg

#3 - Negative Uncertainty. We'll miss out on viral games by solo devs who could never have fronted that money. 

"Steam is the only way to distribute and sell your games if you want to see any relative money return. " - Firgof

"I doubt the barrier to entry on steam will be $5000 if they are interested in hosting indie games. But if that does become the reality then indie devs should change their pre-release strategy to already build a fanbase, get their emails and be able to directly market to their potential clients so that they can reasonably estimate whether that $5000 will get covered or not." - Azphael

"We don't have the same access, the same viability that you have. We don't need yet another barrier to entry; it's hard enough as it is." - Indy_Pendant

#4 - This fee helps the marketplace get rid of low-quality games. 

"The problem indie developers are facing is over saturation of poor quality games, it doesn't make a difference whether those games come from an established company making shovelware or some kid who started learning Unity a few days ago." - GaldorPunk

"I don't think assets flipping will be viable business anymore and if the overall quality will rise to combat the fee." - Moczan

"A higher bar sounds like less clutter and more exposure for games." - OneWheelStudio

#5a - $5000 is a too much of a risk for independent developers, especially after after other costs. 

"and it would realistically take more than six years to save up for a $5,000 submission fee. Even if that's recoverable, that's an insanely high pay-wall for anyone not in an affluent nation." - Indy_Pendant

" is that it is an absolute pain in the ASS to get 5,000 dollars on the spot for an indie company with little to no fame under their belt." - moonshineTheleocat

#5b -Unsure what Steam Greenlight is meant for. Is it for premium games? For zero-budget indie games? In-between? (Only Steam can answer this question.) 

" Greenlight was for indies, developers with tight budgets." - needlessOne

"Steam is supposed to be for games that are valued enough by the community to actually sell." - Love_LittleBoo

#5c - Positive Uncertainty. Things will change, for better or worse. New opportunities will arise. Publishers for smaller indies, new markets. 

"Sounds like a great opportunity to create a platform for indies that are non free. Like a middle step between and steam." - seardluin

"This will just kill indie devs, they'll be forced to share their small revenues with publishers" - Scellow

Please note: Comments are not binary. A single comment may be broken into in multiple buckets, based on their intentions. When working with any feedback, it's about finding the emotion & intent. It's not about separating and isolating, it's about segmenting. This process is about finding the patterns of WHAT they are saying.

Second note: Since this is data based on Sunday morning, I missed the opportunity to dig into further discussion like here, and here.

One thing my dev peers noted: 
Anybody can post on /r/gamedev. They can be professional devs or indie devs. But also students, non-devs, or someone with an opinion. While the data may be compromised (as it's not exclusively game developers), it's still a useful gut-check to sense what the emotional ticks are. 


Overall - it's complicated. The comments in the follow-up post (which included the data above) was a lot more civil. Either way -- Marketplace owners (and hopefully Steam) - take note. These are what people on /r/gamedev are saying. 

Hopefully this post is enlightening, insightful, and the gamasutra comments don't end up like this.

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