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Laid Back Gaming license Steam and Source

Trokia artist founds independent studio :: May 9th, 2006 :: New products :: 27 Responses (Feed)

Trokia’s Source-powered Vampire: The Masquerade – Bloodlines turned out to be the company’s last game before their financial ruin and closure. The closure might have been the end of Troika, but it certainly wasn’t the end of the company’s experimental, screw-the-workload style.

Michael McCarthy, former lead artist (and a bit more) at Troika, has since founded his own company, Laid Back Gaming, and is now busy developing a currently unnamed turn-based Action RPG in the style of X-Com. Like Bloodlines, the game will be built on Source – but unlike Bloodlines, it will be distributed on Steam too. McCarthy spoke to RPG Codex about the game (thanks SomeCrazyIdiot), and more importantly for us why he chose Steam.

I have chosen Steam because if you buy Valve’s engine to make your game with, you get to keep 100% of what you sell on Steam. That’s right 100%. So using our math from above, if I can sell the game on Steam for 30 bucks and cost 6 million to make, I’ll be seeing a check after the game sells 200k units instead of 2 million. AND the check I get for the units I sell will be 10 times more than it would be from a publisher AND after all this wonderfulness, you guys all get the game for 30 bucks instead of 50.

Vampire: The Masquerade - Bloodlines image
Bloodlines was Troika’s last game, but Source’s first third-party release.

That there is some form of incentive for developers to distribute their licensed Source projects on Steam, and/or to develop their Steam-distributed games on Source, was a known fact. That it is a 100% profit margin on sales most certainly wasn’t. For the engine license at a rumoured price of $200,000, plus however much a Steam license stands for, the only thing eating at your profits are government taxes. That’s quite something.

You may also find the interviewer’s closing list of Steam “horror stories” worth a grin. What could ever have caused this strange pattern of posts from 2003? And what is behind these busy discussion threads in which everyone derides the original “steam sux” poster? Clearly, your guess is as good as mine.

Lastly, it was not long ago that I asked how many other developers could have been saved had they chosen digital distribution. It seem that we have our first name:

If Troika was able to sell the games they made through Steam and sold only a 1/4 of the units they did, they’d be thriving today and everyone would have really cool RPGs to play. The more people who download, install, and actively use Steam the better. It’s really small developers’ only hope to get their games out to people.

Uh, oops. I’ve corrected the studio’s name.

27 Responses to this post:


  1. Andy Simpson Says:

    100%?? Wow. Does that seriously mean Valve doesn’t even take a cut for bandwidth, let alone a small profit margin? That’s either genius or stupidity. Seeing as how it’s Valve, I’m leaning towards genius.

    Thinking about it though, they use the standing server capacity to serve their games, and right now a third-party Steam licensee is going to use less bandwidth than any Valve game. They can swallow the bandwidth cost because there is no additional bandwidth cost. Maybe…

  2. ATimson Says:

    Bandwidth is cheap. Hard drive space is cheap. If a company is forking over two hundred grand to get a copy of a bunch of code that’s already written, they can afford to allocate a few pennies of that to cover the costs of distribution via Steam.

  3. Matthew Says:

    Who pays for the content, that is pushed around by valve content servers, if it ain’t valve then a big part of the cost is deferred to third party organisations. Im sure it works out pretty well for Valve.

  4. Tom Edwards Says:

    Valve pay for the bandwidth they reserve, not what they use.

  5. Dwarden Says:

    There tons of great games and studios who could be saved if they used Steam or similar (in terms of price, quality and so on ) … really sad to watch them fall because of greedy publishers …

  6. Fuzzy Says:

    If a company is forking over two hundred grand to get a copy of a bunch of code that’s already written

    I think you’re well under the price that Valve ask for a Source license.

  7. DiSTuRbEd Says:

    I don’t think he is, I know of someone that was working for a developer thinking about licensing Source, its a lot cheaper than UE3 thats for sure.

  8. ATimson Says:

    [Comment ID #840 Will Be Quoted Here]
    I was just using the figure from the article above. 🙂

  9. Andy Simpson Says:

    Tad OT, but congratulations for getting your letter printed in PC Gamer, Tom. Is there anything Steam/Source related you don’t know?

  10. Tom Edwards Says:

    Well, for a start I don’t know what the base source engine 2.gcf file Steam created on my hard drive this morning is. But I can certainly take a guess. 😉

    And although I haven’t seen the mag yet, a little birdie told me that the disk pages are remarkably well-written this month…

  11. Sarkie Says:

    What did you write Tom?

  12. RP Says:

    And here is your answer 🙂

    Source Engine Beta
    Thu May 11th, 2006
    A beta test program for the Source engine has been launched. You can find more information about it on the Source Engine Beta page.

  13. Tom Edwards Says:

    [Comment ID #856 Will Be Quoted Here]

    Hmph, very little. The only thing I recognise is “hobo-bashing horror” from the Condemned blurb.

    Edit: They kept the PCG Challenge copy intact. That’s one thing at least. 😉

  14. Jobye Says:

    It’s a shame they went bankrupt. Bloodlines is a great game (started playing it a few weeks ago). Too bad they rushed to release it in the same time as hl2 and didn’t take Steam and a distribution option.

  15. ATimson Says:

    First, my understanding is that they didn’t rush to meet HL2; I thought it was actually sitting on the shelf for months, waiting for HL2 to come out so they could release their game.

    Second, Steam may have not been an option, depending on their contracts with White Wolf and Activision.

  16. Jobye Says:

    Weird then. If they were waiting for it, don’t see how they still had a buggy release like they had.

  17. boglito Says:

    Question that some of you may be able to answer:

    When a company (like tripwire interactive) license an engine (in this case, ue2.5) to make a game they pay a fee (tripwire won the engine, but nevermind that). Do they also have to pay a license per game they sell?

    The reason why I wonder is that if that would be true, and if it also true for the source engine, then Valve’s tactics could be to offer “free” steam distribution along with source (for 200k total) and, if the game is any good, they will also make a small profit from retail sales.

    This makes sense, because if the game sucks then not many people will buy it and Valve’s expenses (administration, troubleshooting, and bandwidth) are low, so most of the 200k will be profit. If the game is good then costs will be much higher (more administration, more troubleshooting, much more bandwidth) but the game will also do well in retail, which even with a cut as low as USD 1 per game would quickly become much more than the initial licensing fee.

    If I am mistaken and Valve do not plan to charge a fee per copy in retail then I don’t see how it is possible for them to make money on this deal. I mean, 200k is money, and the costs associated with steam distribution may not be so high (I have no idea how high they could get to be honest), but still. They are essentially promising to deliver the game to customers for years for “free”. That has got to cost them money.

    Another possibility is simply that McCarthy means 100% “after expenses” when he talks about the cut. Which could very well be the case I guess, but still seems very generous of Valve.

    On the topic of vtmb I think the “delayed because of HL2” is just a rumor. The game was obviously rushed to market in an unfinished state because of lack of funding. I loved it a lot and feel really bad for the demise of Troika. Another vtm-game is high on my wishlist for christmas.

  18. Tom Edwards Says:

    When a company (like tripwire interactive) license an engine (in this case, ue2.5) to make a game they pay a fee (tripwire won the engine, but nevermind that). Do they also have to pay a license per game they sell?

    It depends on the license agreement. IIRC Epic veer towards the royalty model.

    You’ve asked a good question, and I honestly don’t know the answer. Perhaps Valve consider the publicity of a Source-based game more valuable than any money it would gradually bring in?

  19. boglito Says:

    Perhaps Valve consider the publicity of a Source-based game more valuable than any money it would gradually bring in?

    Yeah, I thought of that too, but forgot to mention it.

    Now that I have read the interview with McCarthy a little more carefully I see that he speaks of cuts after expenses (when he rants about 10% cuts from retail publishers), so he probably means after expenses when he talks about 100% cut from steam.

    Still seems like an extraordinarily good deal for the developers, but I guess that’s not a bad thing. 🙂

  20. Kadayi Says:

    I really liked VTM:B, I think that Troika made good use of the Source engine with the PC/NPC dialog exchanges(something that Gordon freemans taciturn nature will never allow), it was just a pity that things went tits up for them due to Activisions complete mis- management of the games release (going out directly up against HL2 was a big mistake). I’m certainly looking forward to whatever Laidback games come up with.

  21. Antti Says:

    Well, I just registered into Steam just because I learned about this Laid Back Gaming “goes Steam”. Looking forward to buy LBG game(s) there.

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