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.
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.
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.
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.