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Introversion talk Steam

Store library strategy discussed :: July 15th, 2006 :: General, New products :: 16 Responses 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 [Beasley, from Introversion’s PR firm Lincoln Beasley] 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 [Lynch] 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

Defcon screenshot
Introversion’s third game, Defcon.

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.

Geometry Wars: Retro Evolved screenshot
Microsoft have a defined strategy for the Xbox Live Arcade library.

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?

16 Responses to this post:

  1. bigburpco Says:

    I would prefer the route that Valve is taking right now.

  2. wizpig64 Says:

    I don’t want Steam to replace the great relationships I already have with my computer store’s sales representatives. Some games are great for a library such as that of Steam’s (Darwinia, RDKF, Episodic content), but less innovative titles that are gaurenteed to sell (Halo, Call of Duty, or WoW [no offense :P]) should not be ported to Steam, in my opinion. I do <3 my special edition cases. 🙁

    Steam was built in mind for new and/or experimental developers. Introversion is a great example of this. I don’t think Valve should turn any developer down unless they do indeed have a chance to impact the gamers. (Much like the experimental games Valve will be shipping with the Half-Life Episodes.) How Valve determine this is up to Valve, but it would be a little bit of a letdown if Steam became just another publisher: looking only for titles with the best graphics or will sell thousands of copies.

  3. Tom Edwards Says:

    Use &lt;3 if you want to make hearts in the future, wizpig. 🙂

  4. wizpig64 Says:

    Thanks 🙂

  5. Tom Edwards Says:
  6. ironclad Says:

    Wow. It would be just like valve to release it all of a sudden. Do you have any ideas as to when? And what?

  7. ironclad Says:

    Also, with Valve releasing titles on the Xbox 360 and PS3, is there cross platform steam capabilities? From the interview, it sounded like that was a major problem in depending on steam for distribution.

  8. boglito Says:

    On the picture:
    I fear change. I like the current layout… 🙂

    On topic:
    Good that introversion are happy (or so it seems) with steam and are planning to keep using it. I will certainly buy defcon if it is available through my favorite dd-service.

    I am a little unsure of the exact plan valve have for steam. Atm it seems like they are not very active in recruiting new games. Ofcourse, the lack of top titles could stem from the fact that almost every top title has a big publisher funding them and, as we all know, big publishers are often more keen on protecting their turf than doing the sensible thing (eg: rumors that 3drealms chose triton over steam because of valve being a game developer).

    The way I see it valve could and should be a lot more aggressive with pushing steam. They say they like the way it works, but they are not really showing it. For example; why did valve let EA distribute their games without demanding that at least some EA games be distributed through steam? It would be a win-win situation and very good for steam which, let’s face it, does not have a very impressive game line-up if we look away from the hl-franchise with mods. Instead I suspect that EA will build a direct competitor to steam, and eventually dwarf it.

    The fact that atari’s gamers first is coming (hopefully) and the strong precense of strategy first-titles indicates to me that steam is indeed taking on “anything” with at least some quality, and are not too picky about their titles. It may not be quite as indiscriminate as triton, but still not quite the connoisseur’s choice if you ask me. Not that I want steam to be too posh about it. I prefer a wide selection with some high points over a narrow selection with exclusively, but ultimately fewer, high points.

    Completely off topic:
    Episode2, which will have tf2 and portal bundled apparently, has been said to come this holiday. Ofcourse, if you waited for hl1 and hl2 you should know that valve are not known for sticking to their release schedules.
    As for cross platform: It is possible, but downloading games requires quite a bit of hd-space. Atm the consoles (namely the x360) do not have too much of that. As such I would say that steam on consoles is pretty unlikely, if not impossible.


  9. ironclad Says:

    I meant steam 3.0. It would be crazy if that was released with ep:2/tf2 in winter (if that is still the release date). Proper friends, possible matchmaking, persistent connection, and god knows what other features, then the “payoff begins”.

  10. boglito Says:

    I don’t think anybody are talking about steam3. Afaik the current incarnation of steam is considered v3.0. The pic he posted is (afaict) a preview of a possible new style for this site.


  11. Jobye Says:

    Well, it seems Dark Messiah: Might and Magic is being released on Steam and the publisher for that game is Ubisoft. So, this is pretty big for Valve, it could potentially bring more Ubisoft games on Steam or maybe show other big publishers that Steam is a good place to distribute games.

  12. ironclad Says:

    The switch to TCP from UDP, from my limited understanding, would be persistent online sessions, allowing map matchmaking etc. And I thought that now it is steam 2/3 that is running know. Please correct me if this is wrong, afaik.

  13. Maverick Says:

    As Jobye said, this deal with Ubisoft is one of those make it or break it things. They better make sure the release goes as smooth as possible with as little problems down the road.

    If the release is solid, flawless and draws gamers not only to the Steam platform, but to the entire idea of digital distribution, then the entire project would have been a massive success to Ubisoft and Valve where Ubi may decide to put more games up and make more profit, and Valve gets a major player in the Video Game Developing business as an affiliate and a tie. As consequence this will allow other developers to gravitate towards Steam and this is where Steam will set itself apart from Triton, where Steam begins to sell top notch titles and Steam becomes selective having a taste of all the greatest games for everyone’s individual game preference.

  14. wizpig64 Says:

    I would love to see Splinter Cell on Steam.

  15. demm Says:

    I think the fact that MM:Dark Messiah is released on steam was some clever bargaining from valve. Dark Messiah uses the source engine and i believe that valve used the licensing fees as incentive. like: “we let you use the source engine for half the normal licensing fees, but you have to let us publish it on steam”
    i don’t think a big publisher like ubisoft is particulary happy releasing its games on steam as well. publishers are greedy companies and selling games on steam means less retail sales.

    as for valves strategy for steam it seems to me that their most important goal is to sell their own games. the rest doesn’t really matter. look at the lineup: it consists mainly of some indie games, a few mid-level games (70-80% ratings) and other games based on the source engine. it seems valve didn’t really go shopping for some bigger titles. (altough i admit that this is not an easy thing to do because all the bigger games are already signed to other publishers)

  16. Andy Simpson Says:

    Ubi are still likely to make more profit on a Steam purchase than at retail, because they’re still cutting costs, even with Valve taking a slice of the pie. I can’t imagine them having an arrangement where they’re getting less money on Steam purchases.