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Code Avarice: Valve "pulled the rug out from under our feet"

Code Avarice: Valve "pulled the rug out from under our feet"

Mon 03 Jun 2013 8:02am GMT / 4:02am EDT / 1:02am PDT
PublishingDevelopment

Paranautical Activity facing a battle to publish on Steam

Independent gaming studio Code Avarice is facing a battle to publish its Paranautical Activity on Steam, after an old Greenlight page lead to Valve blocking the developer's publishing deal with Adult Swim.

"We had a deal with Adult Swim to publish our steam release," said Code Avarice's Mike Maulbeck.

"However since we had an old Greenlight page set up for the game Valve decided they 'didn't want to send the message that indies can seek out publishers to bypass Steam Greenlight' and pulled the rug out from under our feet. All of our promotion and planning has been done expecting to get on Steam with no problem, so we're in a pretty rough spot."

Code Avarice is a two man team, Maulbeck and Travis Pfenning, and the creators of DimensionZ. It set up its Greenlight page for Paranautical Activity in September last year.

"So now we're just dead in the water, we've got a Greenlight campaign that we haven't touched in months and we have to resurrect it from the ashes," Maulbeck said in an interview with Green9090.

"Whose dick do I have to suck to get on to this f***ing platform?"

Travis Pfenning

"And Adult Swim, I've contacted them because really the only reason I even considered giving them a chunk of our profits is because they said 'we'll get you onto Steam' so now are you going to help promote this Greenlight campaign? Because if not then I'm not going to give you 40 per cent of my money. And then they hit me back and they were like 'well we don't really want to get public with this yet because we don't want any backlash from Steam', so they're not even going to help us with the Greenlight campaign at this point."

The pair also revealed they currently had no commitment to Adult Swim, but were still tempted by the funds they could provide to support advertising and travel expenses.

Pfenning also suggested that the pair could explore other publishing routes, away from Steam, if the situation continued.

"If that is the case and we're going to get boycotted from Steam or we're going to have to jump through this hoops then we might want to make a move pushing towards something like Sony Entertainment or something like that."

They've actually been approached by Sony Computer Entertainment Europe about the game appearing on console, but admit they'd have to do some "tricky business" to make it run properly on the machine.

Press surrounding the situation has caused much discussion on the Paranautical Activity Greenlight page, but whether that will translate into votes is yet to be seen. Unsurprisingly the events seem to have made both men a little cynical about the whole Greenlight process.

"It's not about having a good game, it's about knowing how to trick people and convince people to click that little button. You can see that by, no offence to the developers of some of the games, but some really poor stuff that's not seemed quality that's been getting onto Steam," said Maulbeck. Pfenning had a blunter take on the situation.

"I feel like it's one of those things, whose dick do I have to suck to get on to this f***ing platform? And I really don't think that that's fair."

24 Comments

Jack James
Editor - Owner

3 3 1.0
This is what happens when there's only one viable distribution platform calling the shots.

Except there isn't. There's also Desura, Gog.com and the Humble Store (and Mac App Store if applicable). Hard to sympathise if they haven't at least looked into these alternatives.

Edited 1 times. Last edit by Jack James on 3rd June 2013 12:38pm

Posted:10 months ago

#1

Morville O'Driscoll
Games Blogger & Journalist

1,374 1,024 0.7
Mmmm... Greenlight isn't great. But it's going to improve, if only because of this situation. Until then, I'm sure Adult Swim can help this game see the light of day through other stores. Steam may be the largest store, but there are other places, and this whole deal can actually provide a thought-provoing means of motivating gamers to be more platform agnostic.

Posted:10 months ago

#2

Iain Stanford
Experienced Software Engineer

26 82 3.2
So are Valve actually now saying the only way an independent team can get a game on Steam is through Greenlight, and not from the backing of a publisher?

The quote 'didn't want to send the message that indies can seek out publishers to bypass Steam Greenlight' seems a bit worrying does it not? Why can't they seek out a publisher?

@Morville, hoping it gets fixed isn't much use for people who need to bank on it for success on the PC platform...and if the quote is accurate it sounds like this particular area *isn't* going to improve. Its not about platform agnostic, a game isn't developed "for steam" and won't work in GOG.com for example (bar a view community APIs that you just turn off). Its not that developers aren't being "platform agnostic" but that being on Steam dramatically increases your revenue and visibility. You still see people comment that "if a game isn't on Steam I'm not buying it".

@Jack Yes there are other areas, but lets face it, Steam is "the big one". Sales figures from other stores can pale in comparison to sales figures from Steam. If you were selling books would you be ok if you couldn't get on Amazon? You could still sell through other sites and stores...

Posted:10 months ago

#3

Jack James
Editor - Owner

3 3 1.0
@Iain: Then I imagine the blame should lie with the publisher. If they aren't interested in the 40% they'd get from Steam sales, is it a big deal? If they should be concerned but aren't perhaps that doesn't speak well for them.

To use your example, had Amazon refused to stock my book, I believe that's an issue I'd take up with the publisher, not with Amazon.

Edited 1 times. Last edit by Jack James on 3rd June 2013 1:59pm

Posted:10 months ago

#4

Morville O'Driscoll
Games Blogger & Journalist

1,374 1,024 0.7
@ Iain

It's less "hoping it gets fixed" and more "when it gets fixed". Gabe Newell has already said that Greenlight needs to be improved, and that they're trying to find the optimum manner in which to get games onto Steam. The only problem is that there's no time-frame on that (though, to be fair, there might be, but only certain developers are currently privy to it).
Its not about platform agnostic
...
You still see people comment that "if a game isn't on Steam I'm not buying it".
Hence my point about "motivating gamers to be more platform agnostic". Gamers can make it so that GOG and Desura have more influence, but it does require them to be less "Steam-keys or gtfo," which is... asking a lot.
Why can't they seek out a publisher?
Part of it may be that some publishers may purposefully wait-out on games until they get a certain amount of votes on Greenlight, then sweep in, take a cut, and leave. Essentially using Greenlight as a free-publicity machine and quality-control system all-in-one. Which is what it is, it's just that it's supposed to be for the benefit of indie developers, not publishers who are seeking a popular game to get a little easy cash on.

In addition, it's the developer who pays the $100 Greenlight fee to charity, so for the publisher to come in after that's been paid... Well, it doesn't give a great impression, does it?

All of which isn't to say that what's happened is good - it isn't. It's just that there needs to be some clause which allows developers an out in case a publisher can truly benefit a developer, but isn't so easy an out that the system can be taken advantage of.

Edited 2 times. Last edit by Morville O'Driscoll on 3rd June 2013 2:14pm

Posted:10 months ago

#5

Joshua Rose
Executive Producer / Lead Designer

191 74 0.4
And then they hit me back and they were like 'well we don't really want to get public with this yet because we don't want any backlash from Steam',
It's funny that nobody's mentioned this part of the whole article.

A major publisher, that's afraid of 'backlash' from Steam? Has Valve turned their entire presence in the digital distribution space into a case of "piss me off and you won't make any money"? Because that's about the biggest thing that quote says.

If this is really the case, than there's a serious problem. I understand the reasoning behind Adult Swim's logic. They make money selling stuff on Steam, they want to continue to make money selling on Steam. But at what point is it more extortion than trying to maintain a solid business model?

If one publisher can throw their weight around and get other publishers to say things like this and actually mean it, then how are other 'alternatives' supposed to get any piece of the pie? You can have all the bells and whistles imaginable on your client platform, above and beyond that of Steam even. But it doesn't mean jack if all the publishers are 'afraid of backlash.'

Posted:10 months ago

#6

Jack James
Editor - Owner

3 3 1.0
@Joshua: not really any different from retail then!

Posted:10 months ago

#7

Tom Pickard
Lead Environment Artist - Campaign Map

308 382 1.2
One guess as to why this has come to terms is that by committing yourself to Greenlight you're asking the community to support you..

On the Other hand, maybe Steam takes a much bigger cut of Greenlit games than it does of Publisher backed games.. So If publishers start raking up Greenlight candidates that are promising valves service will become a proving ground for publishers who then swoop in and take the best products once the community are backing them already..

From the Steam FAQ on Greenlight -

What is your revenue split? - We donít discuss our revenue split publicly. Once your game goes through Steam Greenlight, we will get to those details..

What other fees come out of my revenue share?
There are some specific adjustments made depending on such things as fraud and returns and these are outlined more fully in our distribution agreement that we will send to you if your game is going on Steam. We do not make deductions for marketing or bandwidth.

Either way I'm sure theres a little more to the story than just this. At the end of the day Steam is making a service available and have had some issue.. And the developers have their issues and ultimatly want to release their game. Surely a compromise can be found fairly quickly, I think the developers come off as a little immature in the article though, you have to wonder If they've gone through the channels they need to, to get this sorted..

Posted:10 months ago

#8

Jakub Mikyska
CEO

178 880 4.9
Popular Comment
I cannot believe there are still people who defend Greenlight and Valves attitude. This arrogant and unhelping communication is something we are getting from Valve as well. Greenlight is a tool to keep the little guys out of Steam, not to get them in.

Posted:10 months ago

#9

Joshua Rose
Executive Producer / Lead Designer

191 74 0.4
@Jakub

It would be interesting to see just how many other indie developers are getting burned by Steam (pun intended). Your reply proves that Code Avarice isn't the only company that's had a less than pleasant interaction with Valve.

From the sound of it, Greenlight seems to be one of those 'services' where once you're in, you're locked in if you ever want your game to see the light of day.

Posted:10 months ago

#10

John Cook
Senior Partner

25 10 0.4
I like Steam as a consumer, and as a business type I also think it's great.

But Steam desperately need to officially clarify what their policy is regarding Greenlight and what that means if a developer joins the program and subsequently decides it's better for them to go with a publisher (for whatever reason that may be).

Posted:10 months ago

#11

Joshua Rose
Executive Producer / Lead Designer

191 74 0.4
I don't think Greenlight is meant so much to keep 'the little guys' out... more than it's meant to keep 'the little guys', little.

Posted:10 months ago

#12

Mark Venturelli
Game Designer

14 19 1.4
But the message Valve sends out with this one is actually "think hard before creating a Greenlight page, because you won't be able to change your business strategy afterwards". Which does not seem healthy for any of the parties involved.

Posted:10 months ago

#13

Morville O'Driscoll
Games Blogger & Journalist

1,374 1,024 0.7
It isn't, which is why Valve have been talking to developers recently about Greenlight (there was a roundtable only a month or two back), and why it will change.

Edit: https://crunchingkoalas.com/improving_steam_greenlight_aka_complete_waste_of_time/

Edited 1 times. Last edit by Morville O'Driscoll on 3rd June 2013 6:00pm

Posted:10 months ago

#14

Ashley Barley
Community Manager

8 5 0.6
The only thing I've heard about this game is that they can't get on Steam. Maybe if they did a little publicity they would be able to get through the Greenlight process, instead of assuming they can walk onto the platform with no prior titles to back them up?

Its also worth noting that Adult Swim told the devs that they did not get on to Steam for 'such and such' reason, this is only one side of the story-told by proxy. There is probably more to it than 'you have a greenlight page', maybe I'm just being cynical though!

Edited 1 times. Last edit by Ashley Barley on 3rd June 2013 10:42pm

Posted:10 months ago

#15

Christopher Bowen
Editor in Chief

393 503 1.3
@Morville - The things you say either should or could happen - like fixing Greenlight, a system that lives on the whims of the average gamer, or getting people to become platform agnostic when so much of their library is tied up on one platform - likely aren't going to happen, at least not without significant pain. This does point out a fatal flaw with the Greenlight model - and I do sympathize with their reasoning for not liking Greenlight; you would do if you read some of the utterly inane reasons games have been downvoted - but how are you going to fix what is essentially a mob mentality? How are you going to fix a group of people who by and large just look at something for five seconds, and go "ooh zombies", or "graphics suck, downvote"?

Edited 1 times. Last edit by Christopher Bowen on 3rd June 2013 11:16pm

Posted:10 months ago

#16

Morville O'Driscoll
Games Blogger & Journalist

1,374 1,024 0.7
Yeah, the (for want of a better term) "herpaderp" segment of the gaming community isn't something any of us are proud of. The problem is that there's so much material on Greenlight and so few people in power to curate it properly. Forcing everyone who votes to give even a 6 word sentence on the reasons why would be a start, but Valve still need the manpower to check over the comments. That said, it's already been pointed out that the votes are a data-point, not the datapoint for Greenlight, so staff are already looking at items in some amount of depth there.

Which is a convulated way of saying that the way to fix Greenlight (or at least make it better) is behind-the-scenes, and something only Valve can do, with the help of developers.

And i do sympathise with the developers here, and the Death Ray Manta dev ( http://www.merseyremakes.co.uk/gibber/2013/05/death-ray-manta-no-longer-on-greenlight/ ). Even I don't give Greenlight the time it deserves, and it's something that needs a proactive, eloquent, creative community behind it, in order to help give developers a chance. It could be truly wonderful, but as it stands now it's a great idea that's shockingly badly implemented.

Edited 3 times. Last edit by Morville O'Driscoll on 4th June 2013 12:06am

Posted:10 months ago

#17

Ashley Tarver
Indie

41 1 0.0
Ashley Barley makes the most sense in this debate.

Greenlight has GIVEN an outlet to developers - not taken away anything. Yeah it's got some issues. But the reality, like it or not, is that Greenlight on Steam is an extra avenue to get games out there - AND make more money in the process than releasing on niche outlets that 99% of PC gamers likely never heard of, or never go near if they have.

Edited 1 times. Last edit by Ashley Tarver on 4th June 2013 12:19pm

Posted:10 months ago

#18

Ashley Tarver
Indie

41 1 0.0
... Their greenlight entry is still on Steam, so this whole she-bang was about publicising their game?! Adult Swim should never have promised the guys that they would be able to bypass Greenlight, clearly Valve are not to blame here.

Edited 4 times. Last edit by Ashley Tarver on 4th June 2013 9:40am

Posted:10 months ago

#19

Khash Firestorm
Senior Programmer

37 36 1.0
@Ashley:
If entering greenlight blocks you from finding publisher which allows you to get to steam then yes, valve took away something as soon as you use this service.
Remember that success on greenlight is not really about your game but advertisements around it. If You fail on greenlight it doesn't mean your game is bad. Sponsor which see your game and sense great success with it can no longer help to publish it, now both have to find enough fans to push it through greenlight. So as soon as you enter greenlight you are not allowed to use normal ways to enter steam and thats worring and very limiting. If you can find 80k-100k fans to say your game is good, you can easily generate great income yourself. But game which doesnt have fans but great potential can still produce even more revenue if put properly in front of steam user base. Ant this is the problem when you recognize you dont have enough backers on greenlight.

Posted:10 months ago

#20

Tom Pickard
Lead Environment Artist - Campaign Map

308 382 1.2
@Khash - As has been said by a few people, the number of people is not the sole determining factor in greenlighting, its a part of an equation... If a really awesome polished niche game turns up and gets some press interest but low votes, Steam might push it through because of the additional interest in it.

We don't know the full story here, just that somewhere someone messed up and it's caused a situation that needs to be resolved.. It's a new system, Issue will crop up and need resolving and unfortunatly the small agile dev has to wait for a big company to get round to it so they can release. The Dev should have made an effort to find out in advance if this would have had a knock on cause before assuming it should just be ok cause to them it's how the world works,

Posted:10 months ago

#21

Adam Coate
CEO & Founder

34 34 1.0
If anyone needs any proof that Valve is just like every other greedy, risk-averse publisher out there, just look at its game output. The only game Valve has ever developed that was its own original idea was Half-life. Everything else has been bought from someone else and sequelized. There is no other independent developer/publisher out there with the resources Valve has. Yet they still make the same greedy, risk-averse, anti-independent decisions as companies like EA, Actiblizzard, etc. I can't wait for the day the Valve fanyboyism stops finally.

Posted:10 months ago

#22

Nicholas Pantazis
Senior Editor

968 1,162 1.2
Lots of judgement being thrown around here based on very little actual information. The internet does love to create imaginary badguys.

Posted:10 months ago

#23

Tom Pickard
Lead Environment Artist - Campaign Map

308 382 1.2
@Adam - Valve are a big company, they have to be "risk averse" taking risks to them is doing things like even allowing Greenlight to come into existence, they didnt have to do it, they didn't have to open their walled garden to additional people, And like all big businesses you need to have accountability and a plan, changes to that plan will move slower, as small failures at key points with a big system can mess up a lot of things. Also I think anyone in their right mind knows Steam is their main business, and their game development work is a side to the main product now.

As for the Fanboy comment.. As a PC developer Im pretty greatful that Steam came along and helped massively to revitalise the PC market to a respectable position... Fan boy or not, I buy games via steam alot, and I've never had an issue with Steam, unlike my few ventures to other less polished sevices..

Also a walled garden with a barrier to entry Isn't a terrible thing, I don't want to sift through 40,000 shitty games to find the really good stuff, look at Adroid store compared to ios.. sooo much crap on there to sift through, I now mostly get android games on freinds reccomendations, as I just don't have the time to sift through all of it. Whilst with Steam my indie collection grows quicker and I take a punt on a cool looking game more easily as I know the quality will be at a certain level.

Edited 2 times. Last edit by Tom Pickard on 5th June 2013 2:58pm

Posted:10 months ago

#24

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