"It's very hard to not go on Steam and make a commercially viable game."
- Spy Party creator Chris Hecker shares his experience selling the game without Steam
The number of games that come to Steam in any given month has risen significantly in just a few years, in many cases leaving indie developers wondering if the popular digital storefront is the right place for them to launch their game.
PC Gamer got in touch with a number of indie developers, some of whom have opted to sell games direct rather than through Steam, to gather their thoughts on the crowded digital platform. The story has a lot of insight to offer other developers that may have been doubting Steam’s usefulness as a platform for smaller or niche games.
As Spy Party creator Chris Hecker tells PC Gamer, there are a number of pros to selling directly from a developer’s own website rather than on Steam. The biggest perk, he explains, is that direct sales allow him to maintain a closer relationship with his customers. In some cases, Hecker has responded to a direct sale refund request by speaking with the customer to fix whatever issue or bug they’ve encountered in the game.
In that same vein, One Hour One Life developer Jason Rohrer says that direct sales allowed him to directly email affected customers when he accidentally messed something up with an update to keep in contact and let them know a fix was inbound.
On the financial side of things, the interviewed developers offered up both pros and cons for using Steam. On one hand, Hecker says there’s a perception of trustworthiness that Steam has that is difficult for direct sales to achieve. And, crowded through the platform may be, Steam can still grant smaller developers access to a potentially large audience if the stars align just right.
But it’s a difficult balance to achieve, points out Finji founder Adam Saltsman.
"As we move into a period where platforms, for 90 percent of the games on them, absolutely fail to provide adequate exposure, the default 70/30 split seems pretty antiquated," says Saltsman, referring to the 30 percent take Valve receives from every game sold on Steam. "When you're a small, focused game with a small, focused team, getting to put an extra 10-20 percent of your revenue back into development has the potential to produce a much better game later on.”
The full story on PC Gamer, of course, dives deeper into this complex issue and is well worth a read from anyone wondering if Steam is still a viable platform for indie games.