Spiderweb Software's Jeff Vogel has warned PC indie developers that the "bubble" in which they have existed is about to burst. The problem: "Too many games."
In a post published on his blog, Vogel, who has operated Spiderweb Software independently for almost 20 years, addressed the issues raised by the enormous number of games that have been added to Steam this year.
In short, the extremely lucrative context in which games like Braid, World of Goo and Castle Crashers made small fortunes prompted an avalanche of new developers to make games, flooding the market and driving the value of games into the ground.
"So what this grumpy old fart is saying is that there are Issues. They should be discussed," Vogel said. "There are new obstacles that should be planned for and forces you may blame for your problems that, in fact, you shouldn't. If you are a green developer, face these facts, or I believe destruction awaits."
"My games have been in a million sales and bundles. It's what you have to do now, and I'm just as at fault as everyone else"
As evidence, Vogel pointed to recent data suggesting that as many as 40 per cent of Steam purchases are never launched at all. The reason for this is simple: the consumer never wanted them in the first place,
"Indies now do a huge chunk (if not most) of their business through sales and bundles, elbowing each other out of the way for the chance to sell their game for a dollar or less," Vogel said.
"Indie gaming started out as games written with passion for people who embraced and loved them. Now too much of it is about churning out giant mounds of decent but undifferentiated product to be bought for pennies by people who don't give a crap either way.
"It's not sustainable."
Vogel is careful to relieve Valve of responsibility for the glut of product on Steam, despite its decision to leave curation in the hands of its users. "If, in 2008, I'd written my dream list of what a publisher could provide to help the little developer, Steam would have done it all, and then some," he said. Valve just made, "calm, rational business decisions," in much the same way that the companies running the now ubiquitous bundles did.
"It just can't last. Bundles used to earn a ton, but they don't anymore. If making pennies a copy selling your games in 12 packs is the main source of a developer's income, that developer is going to disappear. Also, all of the bundles and sales encourage users to expect to pay a price too low to keep us in business. It's just the same race to the bottom as in the iTunes store, except this time we were warned, and we did it anyway.
"And hey, I'm not blameless in this. My games have been in a million sales and bundles. It's what you have to do now, and I'm just as at fault as everyone else."