Secrets of Raetikon Dev Speaks On Steam’s Game Dumping Pushing Indies Off The Homepage

Last week,  Secrets of Raetikon released its indie title in a day where it was followed by more than a dozen others in the span of a few hours. It vanished from Steam’s prime spot of visibility, the homepage, without a trace as soon as it arrived. We asked them, as well as other developers that didn’t comment, how this was received on their end. Broken Rules developer, Martin Pichlmair, responded:

Believe me, we are angry about what happened. Valve obviously completely neglects their role as a curator and just pushes games on Steam nowadays. We had bad luck with our launch day and it lead to disastrous first-day sales.

Secrets of Raetikon Steam Pc game

Later, talking to Felix Bohatsch of Broken Rules, we went into detail just how quickly Secrets of Raetikon went away. Felix said:

Yes, that launch on Steam was quite the disaster for us. We were gone from the Steam front page after merely 15 minutes!

Steam usually gives every game that launches a limited time in the Featured Games section. As fas as I know, we didn’t even receive that.

When we contacted Broken Rules on Sunday, there was a brief period where Secrets of Raetikon was visible in a “Specials” section on the Steam homepage. That has changed since then. Asking if that helped in any way, Felix stated:

It’s true that we are now at least in the pool of Specials, so sometimes we might still pop up on the frontage, if Steams algorithms picks our game.

Secrets of Raetikon Special

They continued to give their thoughts on this development on Steam, where a mass amount of games fight for attention:

Currently Steam seems to only feature the games that sell well. It seems to be evolving into a data driven hype machine. From a financial standpoint that’s understandable. But I can imagine that this will hurt them in the long time. It means that games that fall outside of current trends won’t have much chance of making money on Steam. So why should developers keep putting their game on Steam?

Personally I’d prefer a storefront that manages to give interesting games, that have not yet found a mass audience, a place in the spotlight as well. Not one that funnels all players to the games that are already successful.

To go on with that thought, we asked if they could elaborate on their thought that game picks items that already sell well. It seems counter-productive to benefit those that don’t need it, in some sort of Matthew effect, where gaps grow larger between haves and have nots. Felix replied:

Well, if you look at the featured games on Steam, you largely see already successful games. I think it is currently especially apparent in the Indie section. Games like Super Meat Boy, Garry’s Mod, Fez, Braid, Don’t Starve, Terraria, etc. are mostly old hits that have always been selling well.

Of course this creates a larger gap between the successful and not so successful developers. This is what I find troublesome. Basically this amplifies the power laws that are inherent to selling things. The rich will get richer. Personally I’d prefer a platform that curates and tries to dampen these effects in favour of the not so successful, but interesting games.

Steam Greenlight

When we last checked, Platformines and Life Goes On, another game affected by the April 17 releases,  were the only two recent titles we couldn’t immediately tie down to a heightened awareness. Pretty much every title listed by Broken Rules was still there.

Hopefully, that paints the picture on how Steam might be putting a few too many games, at least at one time. If this isn’t a cry for quality control or some sort of curation, then at least some sort of “cap” would be in order that allows X amount of Greenlight and/or indie games to be released per day, lower than it is now.

Maybe we could be so bold as to suggest not putting out the entirety of a franchise at the same time, since it’s unlikely anyone will play all of those, all at once, in any case. It just devaluates the previous iterations, so maybe put out one, then another on another day or week and so on.

As Steam has already stated that it would want to work towards opening up even more and allowing all manners of releases, some sort of restraint in this form could benefit all parties; Steam, creators and users alike. Otherwise, expect these types of events to return sometime soon.

Broken Rules did not disclose how many copies Secrets of Raetikon has sold to date.

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7 thoughts on “Secrets of Raetikon Dev Speaks On Steam’s Game Dumping Pushing Indies Off The Homepage

  1. Pingback: Even With An Approval-Happy Greenlight, Valve Can't Get A Break With Indies | Kotaku Australia

  2. And that’s why indie developers should always try to release on GOG (if they can make it through quality control there).

  3. Pichlmair believes that “Valve obviously completely neglects their role as a curator.” This comment sounds like a person who expected that Valve was going to do all the heavy marketing for him. And even if they did curate their store, who’s to guarantee that his game would get top billing? What would Pichlmair say then if Valve still chose other games above his own “interesting games?” Would he then complain about how their bias as a curator is ruining the market?

    I feel this guy, and many indie developers like him, forget their responsibilities as developers. It is the duty of any store (Steam, GOG, Desura) to only push the most publicised and highest demand products. It is the duty of the brand (Developer) to push their own product into the spotlight of the public consciousness. Pichlmair makes it sound like the only idea he had towards marketing was “Once it’s on Steam front-page everyone will know about it.” This sort of thinking is both lazy and shortsighted. As a consumer i only found out about this game TODAY and only because Pichlmair is complaining. I should have known about this game from MONTHS ago before its release. This isn’t the early days of the indie renaissance where simply making an indie game was note worthy as there are literally hundreds of thousands of indie developers, all with their own games and all competing for the same spotlight. I understand that marketing budgets are tight for any developer, but i didn’t see any previews, reviews, developer diaries, let’s plays, trailers or advertisements anywhere! A lot of those marketing ideas are both free and highly effective in getting a brand name out and into people’s minds.

    Before Pichlmair can get rightfully angry at the flaws of the digital distribution market he needs to assess how he publicises his games and correct his mistakes. Steam or any other digital/brick-mortar store isn’t a free publicity wagon to ride, they are platforms for you to sell a product. If you want publicity you need to put in the effort yourself to create a brand or realistically be prepared to hang out in the dark corner of the shop with all the other “no brand” games.

    I agree that the Steam front-page could be better designed and practical in MANY areas, however the onus of marketing is on the developer and the developer alone, not on Valve.

    • Thanks for the lengthy response! I think a lot of people criticizing Broken Rules are doing so assuming the simple omission of any marketing plans in the article means that they somehow didn’t market their game and I don’t think that’s fully correct. Simply because it isn’t mentioned, doesn’t mean it isn’t there.

      I can’t speak on their behalf for the degree of their reaching out, but I do now of at least one publication I’m with where Broken Rules reached out to them, so not vice versa, indicating active marketing campaigns. I also personally picked up on the game months ago through press releases, before the announcement of their Early Access campaign and have seen posts come up on larger publications, like Joystiq, Polygon, etc.. Again, that doesn’t equal immediate success or visibility, but I think a lot of people are taking this to extremes.

      More so, I believe the point of their frustration is aimed more towards a feeling of helplessness, rather than sheer frothing of the mouth. I’ve seen a lot of reactions stating they want “Steam to do their marketing” and I don’t think it’s implied here. All that’s really pointed out in the comment on Steam’s curation is that it could’ve stayed visible for a few more hours.

      Like it or not, the (PC) industry at the moment has a monopoly through Steam. You’re not on Steam = You don’t exist (See Race The Sun’s amazing story, for instance). Therefore, just those few hours of visibility that a large majority of the rest of the games have gotten until 2014, when their planning for Secrets of Raetikon was probably already due, would’ve already sent them on their way with more sales, equaling more people, equaling more mouths, equaling more visibility; each being a new branch to sprout from, if you will.

      An expectancy of just a few hours. It can make all the difference, certainly for smaller studios without the means of a media blitz.

      Once more: not an immediate contributor to success, but a fair shake, just like everyone else had received up to that point. Instead, that day, there were 2 or 3 publishers that decided to dump an entire catalog right at the same time, also immediately having each other vanish, where having just one of those titles come out per day would’ve solved the visibility problem and thus solved frustrations for everyone. That’s not the only solution, I’ve seen solid arguments pro/con this matter, but I don’t think it’d be good to think that Steam is free of any flaw here, because I don’t think events like this benefit all parties involved; you, me, Steam, pubishers, etc, if it’s not detrimental after the Steam rush indicates that no one will end up buying your game there anymore. Not that Steam will stop selling tons of games, but if it means it could lose out on other potential titles, whether interesting or not, that’s still a loss we all feel collectively. That’d be, what I think, is directly opposing their Greenlight ideas right now.

      Man, that was a long ass-rant on my part, so sorry about all that, I just wanted to put in my thoughts in a central place as well, without resorting to vague tweets for once.

      Thanks again for the response, I totally agree that stores rely heavily on “shelf space” even if it’s digital. I believe Total Biscuit made a few good arguments about that lately, but I’ll leave that, since otherwise this’ll get lengthier still.

      • Long ass rants are fine (as long as they’re constructive, obviously) and what you said does help moderate out a lot of the implied tone of the article. We seem to both be in agreement with some of the processes that Valve probably needs to add to the Steam front-page to repair the leaking. Overall i am still very critical of indie developers and the recent marketing trend that they are showing.

        For people like you and me who daily educate ourselves with a vast amount of news in the gaming industry it can sometimes be easy to forget that a lot of gamers are not interested in pursuing the news like us but instead want it served frequently to them in convenient bite sized packages. I still feel that ‘Secrets of Raetikon,’ while there was some marketing effort, fell short of being effective simply because someone like me, who is their target audience and who actively looks for news, didn’t know about it until today. Sometimes these developers can get lucky with that model and might find that word of mouth is a success for them. ‘Lone Survivor’ for example is one of my favourite games but i only found out about it by hearing about it from other fans ranting about it. To reach a broader level of success or to remove some of the luck you cannot rely on this model anymore, especially as an indie.

        Think about the massive indie releases that were well known across the gaming community when they came out, we can all name them: Braid, Super Meat Boy, Minecraft, FEZ, Spelunky, Journey, FTL, Hotline Miami, and the list does go on. Some of these are the ones that got extremely lucky and became big on word of mouth alone, but most of these got into the public’s consciousness through sheer effort of deliberate marketing. In all honesty i cannot think of many recent indie games that have put in any more effort into their marketing other than just trying to get Pewdiepie to do a let’s play. The accepted practise these days seems to favour word of mouth and the hope that you’ll find your target audience and they’ll take over the marketing for you. Exceptions of course exist, Frictional Games i believe are doing a good job with getting the game ‘SOMA’ into the public’s view and if their work with ‘Amnesia: The Dark Decent’ is of any indication of what’s to come then i expect another success from them, at least on a marketing level. The only other “big” indie game release that i can think of is ‘Goat Simulator’ and that only happened due to the cultural zeitgeist.

        With such saturation in the market developers do need to come to the realisation that they need to do more to stand out. Being “indie” just doesn’t hold the same cultural weight as it did in the past. I can respect that some indie developers have no desire to just be financially successful and only want to make their game and get it out there. But for those who do want to be financially successful as well, then more is needed from them on a marketing level. I believe the way forward is to look to the successes in the past and see how those indie companies built a community around them to propel their games forward into the spotlight.

  4. Thanks Daav for clarifying!

    Let me add some more: we know that it is our responsibility to market our game and create public awareness for it. We also put in a lot of thought and work into creating that. True, we did not fully succed in it, but we have been proactively reaching out to press and players alike.
    Independently of the marketing success, a feature on Steams front page makes a huge difference. That’s why even highly hyped games are still featured on Steam. A feature amplifies the sales by a lot, even for the games everyone knows about. That’s why being on the front page on your launch day is vital to your games future success.
    Look, I understand your annoyance, I also don’t like whining, but what happened to us was extreme. We were gone from Steams front page after 15 minutes (!) and didn’t get into the Featured PC section, which used to be default behaviour for launch games. At the same time we were seeing older hit games featured everywhere on Steam. That was shocking. We told Steam about our experience and they now added us to the pool of featured titles, which is great!
    Our launch exemplifies the new circumstances for releasing a game on Steam. I do think it is important for other developers to be aware of that. Personally I think that these cicrumstances make Steam a worse platform and a store I’m more reluctant to develop for.

    Hope this clarification makes it more understandable for you what we are complaining about.

  5. I saw someone link your game in a thread I frequent and looked at it. I added it to my wishlist based on what I saw there, but haven’t bit on it yet. There’s a lot of things you apparently misunderstand about how Steam works and false claims in this blog and it makes you look like an ass and someone I don’t want to buy a game from. May be something to consider.

    There are plenty of ways Steam could improve their whole system, but ranting about not being treated the way you thought everyone else was (when they aren’t) just kills your credibility. The 15 minute timeline obviously was an over site or error, and they fixed it when you contacted them. This rant will probably increase your awareness but not in the ways you would want. Talking about what you believe the problems with Steams’ current behavior and what they could do to improve it would be significantly better than just complaining that your game wasn’t marketed the way you wanted them to market it.

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