Introversion talk Steam
Gamesindustry.biz have posted an interview with Mark Morris, director of Introversion Software, developers of Darwinia and Defcon, which spends a significant portion of its time covering the indie developers’ relationship with Steam, and their thoughts on digital distribution in general.
Summary of points
- Introversion contacted Valve on a whim, and found that working with them is “much nicer” than with publishers thanks to Steam’s direct nature. More
We were prompted to [distribute on Steam] when Alison said, just after the Edinburgh festival, “You should talk to Valve about going on to Steam” – so we did. TJ got in contact with Scott over there and showed them the product, asked if they were interested…they were, and they took it, and it’s had pretty good initial sales, which has raised our hopes. It’s gone down a bit since then, but it’s prompted us to do digital content on all sorts of things.
It’s much nicer to work with Valve than it is to work with some of the big publishers, where you’re so far away from your customers – with Valve, it’s you, Valve and your customers, which is great.
- Although they have no fixed contract, Introversion are confident that their future games, including Defcon, will be made available on Steam in the same manner as Darwinia. More
We don’t really want to sign deals and say, “right, the next four titles are going to go out over Steam,” because we don’t know what’s going to happen. At the moment the relationship with Steam is really good, and I’d love to have just put title after title after title out on Steam. We’re talking with them about Defcon, and I’m confident that we’re going to get Defcon going over Steam as well.
- Introversion are arranging an Xbox Live Arcade release for Darwinia. More
We’ve got Steam on the PC retail, hopefully Live Arcade – we’re talking to Microsoft, so hopefully we can work that out.
- Valve don’t seem too sure what their strategy is for the growth of the Steam library. Some staff will tell you that there is a plan that “will become clearer over the next year or so”; others that anything they consider worthy will be put up. More
I was having a chat with their new products guy, the guy who’s responsible for what goes onto Steam, and there are differences in opinion within the company. Some people will tell you, “we’re going to put every game on Steam – all these things are going to be on there”; other people will say “no, we’ve got a very clear idea and a strategy of the sorts of games we want to have on Steam, and that strategy will become clearer over the next year or so.”
I don’t know whether it’s the case that they do have this big master-plan, and Darwinia fits into it, or whether they’re just actively looking for content, and there’s not a huge amount of content out there at the moment because people are already signed up with exclusive deals with box copy publishers and all the rest of it. So, I don’t know, but it’s an interesting question alright.
Valve’s library strategy
Morris’ fourth quote is particularly intriguing. What exactly is Valve’s strategy? Edge magazine reported that Valve were “all but trawling the IGF booths with a shopping trolley” in their GDC 2006 write-up (thanks hahnchen), yet the volume of titles present today does not suggest a proactive search. All we know is that casual games are not accepted.
There are three key-frame approaches that can be taken for online library growth. The first is accepting absolutely anything that comes your way; Triton appears to be closest to this method. It takes advantage of the theoretical “infinite shelf-space” of digital distribution and increases your target demographic, but very much at the expense of your image. It isn’t the subtlest of options.
The manicured portfolio being built for Xbox Live Arcade is a strong example of the second route. Microsoft have a plan, and they are unashamedly cherry-picking the best of the casual market, hopefully along with more substantial games like Darwinia, to meet it. Their approach likely leads to promising offers being turned away on the grounds of redundancy, but presents an excellent public face and ensures that there is a succinct selection for everybody: vital for a subscription-based service like Arcade.
The vetting of offers for quality alone is the third option in this list, and somewhat of a go-between for the other two. This is the model that Steam, even with only its still relatively quiet release schedule to go on, seems most likely to be following. It leads to a perfectly acceptable public image, gives a reasonably wide selection of titles, but can’t hope to compete with the pile-it-high approach in terms of volume and mass appeal, or the balanced library of Arcade for roundness. It isn’t so suitable for a subscription service, but is an ideal fit for Steam’s à la carte model.
Morris’ quote suggests a divergence between the second and third options. Either could be part of Valve’s plan, as although what we have seen so far suggests that quality is the only factor there are not yet enough games available through Steam for the signs of manicure to show.
The question, then, is which route is preferable. A Steam that turns away developers with ideas that become too like others when marketed is not desirable, but neither is one that is open to stepping on itself with games that appeal to the same people in the same way. What do you think?