Greenlight: Demanding the store when you have a cart.
Recently, Valve came to the table with Greenlight. I looked into it, and immediately stopped because I could not make heads or tails of anything there. It had been, almost upon launch, inundated with a lot of garbage submissions, junk submissions, etc. Their solution to the whole thing was, in my opinion simple, elegant and to the point: they instituted a $100.00 fee to submit to greenlight. They are not even keeping the money. It goes to Child’s Play.
However, almost immediately, a war broke out among developers over the legitimacy of this $100.00 fee. On one side, we had people saying, “You’re not a serious game developer if you can’t raise $100.00″. (Which is b.s.) On the other side, people welcomed it as it the fee had provided a barrier to submit, thereby substantially changing the signal to noise ratio. (Valid, but perhaps a bit of overkill) There was a whole different segment that started breaking out arguments about entitlement, etc etc etc. (total b.s.) There were developers who felt it was too much, there were developers who, talented in their own right, pointed out that $100 to them was in fact, quite a lot of money when it meant surviving versus taking a risk. While I understand that, (I have been poor, and at one time in my life, homeless.) I do not understand the vitriol heaped upon Steam. More to the point, I’ll come out and say this: the projectile bile aimed at Valve is misdirected, and out of line.
For better or worse, I want to throw in my $0.02 here and say: all of these sides have mostly missed the real issue here: success is a staircase, and not an escalator. It’s a ladder, not an elevator.
Double Cluepon is in Chicago. Here in Chicago, we have stores that sell stuff, we even have some malls. We have kiosks. Why, on the corner of Chicago Ave and Michigan Ave there is still an honest to goodness real live newsstand. All of these have their price and barriers to entry. But nowhere is the entrepreneur more apparent than the (probably) hundreds of food vendors on the streets, pushing carts or sitting by folding tables. Everything from Tamales and Elotes, to Gelato and Gazpachos is available if you know where to look. There is even an old guy who pushes an ice cream cart that looks like it’s from the 1950′s up and down the street where we are.
These people start smaller than small. A lot (but not all!) of them are minorities. A great many of them, especially the ones with tables outside their houses sometimes have a great many children playing in the yard. A lot of them are probably below, or hovering just above poverty level. For them, $100 is also about survival. So is $1000. Or $10,000. But you know what? They sell how they can, until they can afford to upgrade themselves to the next rung of the ladder. This is how success works. It’s not always fair. It’s not always a hit the lottery, boom, I created something everyone wants and poof I am rich. Sometimes, you have to bust your ass for years to break even.
There is a bakery on Pulaski and Milwaukee. A little hole in the wall in a strip mall. When the Payless shoe store folded in the corner of the strip mall, this little tiny bakery traded up. They had the money to finance the build out, and the means to provide more space. This was a gamble, a risk if you will on the expectation that, lo and behold, they might make more money with a larger space, despite the higher rent. There are no guarantees they will make it. Just the calculated risk they might do better on the next floor up on the staircase. With their little bakery, which they still occupy…they traversed the flight of stairs to the next floor.
When I was a kid, I grew up playing on Edgewater Ave, near Clark Street. Something like, 35 years ago, a little flower shop opened up. Over the years, as I moved and grew…so did they. Gethsemane Garden now takes up nearly the whole block between Edgewater and Victoria streets.
But imagine for a moment, if that street vendor…or that bakery owner walked onto Michigan Ave, and demanded free access to a storefront on private property for a price they dictated? What would happen if they elected to enlist the blogs of people in their trade and industry to write articles about how wrong the owner of the property was, for charging them such high rent in a high visibility area? What if we had people talking about elitism, and entitlement attitudes of the other owners of stores on the Mag Mile?
We would call these people insane for thinking they had a right to sell wherever they wanted for a rent cost they themselves dictated. I mean after all, how dare the property owners price their storefronts at a cost that keeps people without that much money out? How dare they?
But, here we are in the video game world. Here, we talk about entitlement. We talk about hurdles too high. To which I will say: if $100 is too much for you, that’s okay. The PC market for games is huge. There are other methods of selling your games. There are other, free and otherwise inexpensive venues with which to sell your wares. Apple runs a walled garden, where they are the only game in town if you want to be on the iPhone. That’s $100.00 a year, plus you MUST have a mac. ($2500.00+). Google and the Play store is a cheaper alternative to get onto mobile. PC gaming? You have a lot of options, your own site. Kongregate. Desura. Etc.
The hurdles of selling games are high. Getting traction is a big element of it. It’s hard to do. But the point is, while Steam can be a lucrative channel to sell games, they are not obligated to do anything. They own the store front here, and they, through their own hard work have created something awesome. The fact they are willing to open it up to indies, in this very cool way, in the first place says something. The fact that there are alternatives to the Steam retail channel (Desura) is even more amazing.
(Oh and by the way, if you think selling games is hard, try getting a line of physical product into a chain store (where sometimes they take 15 to 20% of a big markup) it’s a million times more stressful. Try talking to a buyer for a chain, these people are the true pimps of retail.)
But in 2012, nothing is ever good enough. No, charging $100 which they don’t even keep but give to charity is a travesty. Never mind that most companies would pocket the money outright, not give it to kids in need…no, let’s not even think about that. Let’s also ignore that Steam Greenlight is a service, requires staff and support. Something Steam is funding themselves as they are giving that $100.00 to charity. Steam is a private platform, and they have no obligation to make the entry fee lower because a smaller segment of the people who would use the service cannot afford $100 at this time.
Note, I said at this time. Because circumstances change. The table vendor makes a bunch of money, and instead of a folding table in front of their house, they buy a cart they can walk through the neighborhoods. Or the bakery has such good business they can expand to a bigger space.
Or the destitute indie game developer makes a killing off an awesome intuitive game and saves some of the proceeds, even if its only $0.50 or hell…even $0.10 a sale in in a jar for that $100 or for that $2600.00 for a mac, and access to the App Store. This is adversity. Adversity is a tough nut to crack sometimes. But adversity, if you meet it with your best shot…your best volley of shots, can and will fall. Adversity is the challenge you took when you got into this or any business, and like all things, adversity comes in varying degrees. From the $100.00 at Steam to the Free but promote yourself of Kongregate…each has their own hill to climb.
That’s how success works. If you can’t handle private sales channels, marketing yourself, or the fact that success is a stairwell you walk up, and a ladder you climb, then it does not matter how many awesome games you make. Nobody will play them anyway, because if you’re not willing to get your name out there, push, prod and market YOURSELF, it really does not matter if you’re on Steam. Steam is not a magic bullet. If you want to whine about how hard it is, or how the adversity in one of many different channels is simply too much for you to bear…then you you’re lacking something: the right attitude to get the job done. Note I am not saying you can’t be in games. I’m saying that you lack something even more important than that $100.00. You lack courage and the will to face what seems like impossible odds with the gumption to see it through no matter what. You need that like a player needs a blue key in Doom II. Go out and find that, I’ll wait here.
Okay, you back? Good.
Whether you have $100.00 or not is irrelevant. If your game is good, you should be able to get it out there and played despite Steam, or the App Store, or the Play Marketplace. Some of the most successful people in the history of our species chose to face the adversity of people and fees telling them no, with “heh, watch me do this anyway”.
There are plenty of awesome devs out there who definitely deserve recognition and high sales numbers. But you know what?
Deserve has absolutely nothing, and I mean nothing to do with this. Not one single solitary thing. You know what? I deserve to win the lottery. I can find 10 people to agree with me on that. It does not mean I am going to win. I could wait forever, and keep paying the “bad at math” tax. Or, I could go out, and try to make something to sell to people and climb the ladder. Oh, here’s a bonus, I could also try to make something I happen to love. That lessens the sting. But it won’t amount to a hill of beans unless I am willing to use any means at my disposal to get what I make out there. That means enlisting anyone I can get to listen to me. That means making hard choices sometimes. It means listening, and conversing and making a full effort each day. It might sound like cheap cliche team building bullshit, but there is truth in it.
That means, doing whatever I can to get people to play Double Cluepon’s games, to promote the company, and the people in it…and here’s the real ass kicker: doing it with absolutely no guarantee of success whatsoever.
I said on twitter, you should be able to get 10 people in your life to donate $10 a piece to cover the entry into Steam. Maybe that was a bit too simplistic. You should be able to get 10 people to commit to tell 10 other people about your game and get them to play. Convert those into sales, and then get those 100 people to do the same thing. That’s the hard bit. Steam is willing to help in this regard, for $100.00 bucks. (and if you think that’s steep, look at booth prices for a convention…) But if you can’t afford that, then you do it yourself. Like Valve did. Like Activision did. Like Bungie did. I’ll tell you something else: you will be better for it. Facing adversity never makes you weaker. It makes you stronger.
If you do that, you don’t need Steam per se. If you do that, you might find that your success leads you to an extra $100.00 of disposable income.
Whether you choose to use that to enter your game into Greenlight is your choice.