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As mentioned in my previous articles, like whether or not we need curation in our online stores, and about the hidden gems of 2017, being an indie dev is hard. But after a bit of research, I see how bad things are getting. And the way things are going, I am willing to bet that the indie scene(or the better part of it) will be moving their primary attention away from Steam. Some even already have.
The main problems being an overflooded market, lack of increase visibility options, and Valve's “guidelines”.
The first point is the easiest to understand. With each passing year, game making platforms get easier and easier to work with. Ready for use assets become cheaper and cheaper. And of course, tutorials get better and more accessible for everyone. As such, the number of independent titles skyrocketed! Statistics show that over 5k games are released each year on Steam (as of writing this, May 2018 there are almost 4k games so far). “But what's the problem”, a person may ask. Well, simply put, a majority of these games are terrible and their overabundance is a problem for the good titles out there.
These titles are just the first level tutorial made games, with only pre-bought assets, made in less than a week, and just banged out on the storefront. From here you can get even worse type, like “asset flips” and “achievement hunter” titles, who all have the same purpose, which is to just exploit the system.
These titles are the source of all the problems the PC indie scene have. They overflood the marketplace, they give indies a bad rep, and above all else, they take attention away from the good titles. Sure there is coverage of good games, but let's face it, videos or articles with the title “Worst game ever” is more eye-catching than anything else.
Ok, so even though there could be a point to make that the risk of censorship could doom some titles. Titles that might not have much going for them technical wise, but has that one unique thing going for it (be it narrative, that one unique gameplay mechanic, etc.). So how about promoting the good ones on the front page. Yeah, that's again a problem for small guys. The way to get on the front page is to be popular. There is an algorithm based on the number of pre-orders, wishlists, and sales. And that is excluding the fact that now by default, half of the store page is recommendations of game similar to the ones in the user's library.
So, in other words, for a game to gain any traction, the dev's have to be very LUCKY and have the right internet personalities to cover their game, and then have at least a part of that person's fans, actually buy the game. But since there are plenty of “hidden gems of X year”, you can see that a lot of the time, there is not much luck to go around.
And the final problem that Steam has, is with its constantly shifting guidelines. Oh, sure they are simple enough on the surface: “No Pornography”, “No Hate speech” etc. etc. However, the problem comes when a major part of these guidelines are ignored, and the parties involved get away with it, and the ones that do follow them, even contacting Steam personnel directly for a compliance check or whatever, but yet still can get there work removed. There have been recently two major cases of this. The mass email warning VN dev that their game will be removed and greenlight and eventual release of “Active Shooter”.
A week or so ago, as of writing this, many visual novel indie devs, with games with an adult rating, had received a mass email by Valve. It stated that in a couple of weeks their games will be removed for “sexual content”. Even though they have passed all tests, to have their games on the store. And after an outrage and some censorship groups claiming victorious responsibility, Valve made a statement that it was all an “accident”(yes, somehow an email targeting small games with adult content, being massively sent, is an accident). But the fact that people's livelihoods are just several clicks away to be destroyed is concerning for most devs.
But the most recent problem is a game called “Active Shooter”. A bad looking shooter, where you can play as a SWAT member or a SCHOOL SHOOTER! What's it defense? It is meant to be taken as a “simulation/ training for what to do”. Which would be fine… if, you know, you could play as the SHOOTER! Like congrats, your defense made it your situation worse. The dev of this game makes offensive, meme-based games, so it's obvious why this exist: to shock or disgust players. The problem… THAT LITERALLY THE 7TH POINT OF “No” IN THE GUIDELINES!
“What you shouldn’t publish on Steam:”
“7.Content that is patently offensive or intended to shock or disgust viewers”
But hey, it does not have static pics of anime boobs, so its fine, right!!!
I hope this highlights the main problem with Steam. Like it or not, Steam holds more or less a monopoly on PC games, and they have the right to do whatever they want. But what they are doing is driving quality indie games away from the platform! I am not joking. More and more indies are either making their games exclusively on consoles, like the Switch or PS4. Which, if you know your consoles exclusivity, you know that those games will never come to the PC.
Overall, while PC gaming would suffer much, if Indies games leave, it would be worse for it. And like it or not, Steam would be at fault.