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Steam And The Indie Game Sales Complex
A recent article by Gameranx was posted about the tale of two different independent games and their success (or lack thereof) with having their game on Steam. It's an interesting read that captures a small part of a potentially worrying trend.
The article compares Q-Games' Pixeljunk Eden and Renegade Kid's Mutant Mudds. The reason both games were compared is because they're both hipster platforming titles and they both tell very different stories as far as sales go.
The interesting thing about it is that Mutant Mudds fizzled out on Steam – even during the highly lauded and always engaging Steam sales – where-as Pixeljunk soared... and it soared well.
We've had many success stories about indie games being on Steam, from Gunpoint enabling the developer Tom Francis to turn the hobby of making games into a full-time job, as reported by Polygon, to Zeboyd Games' Cthulhu Saves The World making a mockery of its sales run on Xbox Live by selling more on Steam in a week than it did in its entire lifetime on Microsoft's platform, as detailed by Edge.
However, the situation with Mutant Mudds and Pixeljunk is made slightly clearly by Renegade Kid's head honcho, Jools Watsham. It isn't that Mutant Mudds managed to find itself trapped in a spatial vortex in some mysterious quantum rip in the space-time sales continuum or that there was some massive conspiracy to hold him down via some Greenlight shenanigans, it was a lot simpler than that. His game wasn't seen on Steam, so a lot of people didn't buy it.
Gameranx surmises Jools beliefs in this succinct bit...
“Jools believes the problem is lack of promotion from Steam, so it’s unfortunate that the company isn’t doing more to help Mudds out. As Jools points out pragmatically, this makes a Steam release for Treasurenauts seem highly unlikely.”
This isn't just a case study of Jools' game, though. I imagine there are a lot of smaller indie titles that finally make it onto the Steam store but due to a lack of awareness brought to the public by Valve about these titles, many people miss that they're even available for purchase.
Now I know what the common fix for the situation would be for most common readers: why won't video game media make known these games to their core audience? Well, it has a lot to do with hits: a site has an allotted amount of time to get up X amount of stories in a day; and time they spend alerting the community about an indie title is time taken away from “Oh look at this 3D character's boobs” or “Oh these 3D boobs make people feel bad” or “Why gaming does or doesn't need more boobs”.
The page-hit turnaround writing about Mutant Mudds compared to hit-bait (like this) would essentially be seen by most sites as effort wasted on promoting a game no one knows or cares about. Essentially, writing about games that don't provide good ROI in uniques/page views/etc., is like throwing money out of the window, or hiring Lindsay Lohan to star in a kid's film.
Although that isn't to say that some sites don't take time out of the day to write about the lesser known indie titles. And there are some dedicated niche sites to stand right by the cause, but they probably aren't going to help a game move 100,000 units.
Sadly, it may be left to the community, distributors and the game developers themselves to find unique ways to get their game out there and recognized, or use inventive ways to force gaming media to take notice to spur digital store sales, sort of like the inventive Not On Steam campaign, as reported by Indie Games. Because sometimes the best way to find out about games coming to or currently on Steam, is a place called Not On Steam.
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