Steam is "essential" for indie developers - Mode 7

Valve's distribution service valued for quality control and willingness to experiment

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 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.

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Latest comments (10)

Daniel Vardy Studying HND IT, De Montfort University9 years ago
I have friends who play Frozen Synapse who say it is actually quite a good game and they probably would not have found it if it was not on Steam. It is Steam and its relationship with Indie devs which is keeping PC gaming at the forefront of the industry.
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Yury Andrianov Coder 9 years ago
Valve rejected for some good and fun indie games like Dino Run SE and Koya Rift. I think they should accept more interesting projects in Steam.

Edited 1 times. Last edit by Yury Andrianov on 12th July 2011 2:49pm

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John Tearle Founder, CEO, Flix Interactive9 years ago
The guys from Mode 7 are fantastic and they deserve to do brilliantly with Frozen Synapse, it's a far better game than most AAA studios have churned out within the past few years. It's a refreshing change that's well polished, combined with a healthy portion of innovation. Great interview Paul.
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Show all comments (10)
Derek Smart Software Developer/Engineer, 3000AD, Inc9 years ago
Like every publisher, Valve has the right to determine the type of games they want on their system. After all, it is not a social experiment and they're not in business to make people feel good about themselves.

Business is about money. Money is more about leverage that someone's good graces.

So, while signing every game may seem like "the right thing to do", it has to go beyond that because believe it or not, there are [Valve] resources involved right from the start to the day that the game is deployed and beyond. Even after your game is up there, it still costs Valve money and resources even if it doesn't sell a single copy.

People tend to forget this crucial part and are quick to anger when Valve doesn't sign some game or another.

Is Steam a monopoly? Well, uhm, no. That's like saying ATT is a monopoly because they make more money - and are more popular - than MetroPCS, Sprint etc. I've lost count of the number of DD outlets out there.
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Tim Carter Designer - Writer - Producer 9 years ago
Steam is not acting like a true publisher. To get on Steam, you need to secure funding elsewhere.

Also, Steam, like most of the publishers, are not opening up other methods of financing games. Specifically, minimum guarantees and pre-sales. They have more than enough sales data to offer minimum guarantees, but they don't even do that. They are unwilling to take on risk.

So I guess that an indie game developer who doesn't have much knowledge of what Steam *could* be doing to support indie developers must think they are awesome. But they are in it to make money, like everyone else.
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Tim Carter Designer - Writer - Producer 9 years ago
Also, Derek, if you believe that games are an artform in *some* respect - like let's say even 10% - it's adamant that you do something to pro-actively foster new talent and new visions. Valve / Steam plays it very very cautiously.

Taking on risk is really what anyone who claims to want to develop entertainment should be doing. (After all, this isn't the mining business or something.)

In film, the distributors will take much more of the risk off the core creative's shoulders. They will offer minimum guarantees - which creators can bank to finance projects before they have begun. Steam won't even do that. Creative takes on virtually all the risk, and Steam comes along only after the tough hurdles have been navigated. At least a "normal" publisher will finance a game before it is made.

Edited 2 times. Last edit by Tim Carter on 12th July 2011 5:09pm

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Euan Macinnes Managing Director, Pointscape Pte Ltd9 years ago
It really depends how you define the word "Publishing". Steam "Publishes" only really in the sense of self-contained distribution, advertising and promotion, so it may not be right to think of it as a holistic publishing solution, if the definition of Publishing includes finance as well as translation, localisation, Q&A testing, print media integration, or any of those services that a more traditional publisher would provide. I don't feel that it's in Steam's best interest to head in that direction. It'll make Valve too big, and it'll lose innovation on the distribution end by weighing it down with true publishing duties.

That's not to say the industry doesn't need a better solution, but Steam is only part of the puzzle.
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Graham Simpson Tea boy, Collins Stewart9 years ago
Free key for a friend is a great idea. No surprise why Valve spent some money making that happen for the indie lads who thought of it. I reckon we'll see a lot of that in months to come with other games.
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Ashley Tarver Indie 9 years ago
@Tim - I think you're confusing Steam as a distribution portal and Valve as a publisher. The Frozen Synapse guys basically self-publish and sell their game hrough Steam.
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Derek Smart Software Developer/Engineer, 3000AD, Inc9 years ago
@Ashley - yes, he is confusing the terminology methinks.

Steam is a distributor, not a publisher in that sense. They distribute titles that they want. Not unlike brick & mortar stores such as GameStop. They also publish & distribute their own games. Not unlike EA.

Valve never came out and said anything about "goodwill to all men". Again, Steam is a business, not a social experiment, charity event or half-way house for "art".

Edited 1 times. Last edit by Derek Smart on 13th July 2011 12:55am

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