I’ve agreed with Campster before – his other videos and observations are spot on – but the above strikes me as a little black and white.
The problem with the completely open argument is, and using the mobile app stores as an example (both Apple and Android), they don’t really push good content in the happy “cream floats to the top” way described. There’s the top ten list, which is feedback loop of increased sales and… everyone else. I agree, sure, that Angry Birds was a phenomenon of games going viral, but that wasn’t really the app store’s doing, it was the fact that the game was addicting and charming and delightful and word spread “You’ve got to download this game!”
It would be a hard argument to suggest that Angry Birds wouldn’t exist if there were a $100 entry fee to get in the store. If this is even remotely accurate, they spent $140 000 on development. So $100 would be 0.07% of the total cost. A fraction of the drop in the bucket. Like any business, that’s part of development cost that (hopefully) gets regained when you start making the kind of money Angry Birds did. It’s a gamble.
Now, the immediate counterargument is correct: “It doesn’t cost $100 for Steam to provide this service, it’s an infinite shelf space.” But that actually isn’t the point. You’re not paying $100 to get shelf space, you’re paying $100 as a token of “I believe in this idea enough that I’m willing to invest in it” because anyone who’s put any sort of effort into something should be willing to say exactly that. I don’t want to sound callous but $100 is working a saturday at a cafe down the street; it’s not exactly an impossible sum to come up with. If you think your idea is good enough to pursue and develop it into a working game, you probably already believe in it enough to put some money down. If it is truly good, you’ll make it back in sales. On the other hand, if you’re some kid in his mom’s basement making games (and I was this kid, years ago) you probably shouldn’t be clogging up the shelves even if they are infinite. Back then we had the Gamemaker forums and you’d post your amateur games to that. It was awesome. The community made up of people using the same language and playing with the same ideas would give you feedback and there was no barrier between me making absolute rubbish (and I did!) and posting it. With that said, Steam should not pursue that as the goal. There’s a big difference between indie games and basement games. Call it a walled garden, but I see it more as a “wash your hands before you come inside from the sandbox” sort of measure.
The expansion of that is the ultimate open marketplace: distributing your product without Steam at all. A perfect example is Blendo Games who made the brilliant Gravity Bone and distributed it via their site for free. It was an .exe and picked up it’s own fantastic reviews for being awesome, passed on by word of mouth and eventually the bigger game news sites. There was no bar to fill up via likes but there was an entry fee: hosting his Blendo site. I’m just guessing based on my own hosting, but it’s probably around $100. Per year. Fast forward a bit and we see other crtically acclaimed success in the 3rd Humble Indie Bundle and eventually 30 Flights of Loving, the soul sequel to Gravity Bone (and, I should say, also fantastic) on Steam for $5. Outside the garden entirely was where Brendon Chung (the one-man studio) proved himself / his ability to make good games and demonstrate that they were worth paying money for.
Youtube is a wonderful thing, as is Vimeo and Society6 and Etsy and Ebay. These are places where you can do things for free because some way or other, they’re making money out of your dealings. That’s fine, we agree, because we get something out of that exchange as well. It’s symbiotic, but it’s not a direct comparison for the ecosystem of paid games. Even 99¢ apps create a sort of hesitation and weight that simply clicking on a Youtube link doesn’t have. Again we see the cream doesn’t float to the top; Errant Signal itself (who, despite this rebuttal, I do love and would describe as quality content) has just over half million combined views and yet the most inane, brain numbing crap on the frontpage gets millions per video. In a just ecosystem this wouldn’t be the case and I genuinely wish channels like Errant Signal got the respect deserved. But, that’s a side note as example of how Youtube shouldn’t be the gold standard model.
TL;DR Should there be an arbitrary like bar? No. If you pay the entrance fee, you’re in. Should there be an entrance fee? Yes, I think it’s a good way to keep the market honest with ideas truly believed in. If you want to make dumb little games there are more than enough channels already available for distribution.
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