The flexibility and experimentation of Valve's Steam distribution service is essential for the success of independent PC game developers, according to Frozen Synapse creator Mode 7 Games.
Speaking in a interview published today, co-founder of the small studio Paul Taylor told GamesIndustry.biz that while some consider Valve to have a monopoly in the digital distribution market, its willingness to try alternative sales methods - such as giving away a free key to a game with every copy sold - attracts players and developers alike.
"That’s one of the best things about Valve, they won’t say 'you are doing this' - which they could do very easily - they’ll say 'this is the kind of thing we want to do, this is why, how do you want to go about it?' It’s great, it lets you try stuff.
For an indie game that doesn’t have a lot of clout, they’re surprisingly flexible
Paul Taylor, Mode 7
"We’re doing some stuff on Steam that people don’t normally do, like the free key for a friend thing, or offering the soundtrack as a separate thing you can upgrade to. They’re quite different, and Valve had to do some actual system-related stuff to allow us to do that. For an indie game that doesn’t have a lot of clout, they’re surprisingly flexible and that’s great."
"When you’re a company with that much power and that size, you have to strike a balance between doing things that benefit you and things that create a good eco-system for everyone," he added. "I think they’re pretty good at that, and they think very seriously about it. It is astonishing just how important they are in terms of the PC. Steam is really essential for indie games at the moment."
There are contenders to Steam on the market, but none have the clout or scope of Valve's service. Consumers trust the quality control, said Taylor, as it doesn’t flood Steam with sub-par product, instead cherry-picking the best in independent games to sell.
"People really use it as a mark of quality. There’s a good reason for that, because not everything gets on there. It sort of doesn’t matter what price your game is, they want something they know is good, is clearly broadcasting waves of goodness at them in a very obvious and simplistic manner, because of the amount of stuff that they have, especially with a lot of PC games being incredibly deep."
The full interview with Mode 7 Games, where Taylor discusses the funding of indie hit Frozen Synapse and why independent developers work together rather than slag off the competition, can be read here.