Don’t blame Steam or bundles should the indie bubble burst, says dev

By Stephany Nunneley
27 May 2014 20:59 GMT

Jeff Vogel, founder of Avernum developer Spiderweb Software, feels that while the rise of indie gaming over the last few years “has been fantastic,” the bubble is about to burst.

Writing on his blog The Bottom Feeder, Vogel said while the rise of indie has provided the world with quite a lot of “great products,” one of the main issues is the market isn’t sustainable between the massive list of indies on Steam and the “glut” of games offered through bundles.

“The easy money is off the street. If you want to make it in this business now, you have to earn it. It’s a total bummer. Blaming Steam won’t help,” Vogel wrote.

“Steam released more games in the first 20 weeks of 2014 than in all of 2013. I don’t know why anyone acts surprised. How many times last year did we see the article, “Another 100 Greenlight games OK’ed for publishing”? This wouldn’t be a problem if there were a demand, but there’s not. After all, almost 40% of games bought on Steam don’t get tried.

“These games won’t keep people from buying new ones, though there will be some of this. People mostly don’t play these excess games because they didn’t want them. The problem is that a business based on selling things people don’t want is not a stable one. Because this flood of games is so unmanageable, Steam has been doing everything it can to throw open the gates and get out of the messy, stressful business of curation.”

Vogel said once supply and demand kicks in, with so many games out there, a “huge chunk if not most” of an indie’s business comes from sales and bundles. He argues that by striving to make “quick money by strip-mining their products,” it makes it more difficult for developers who come after to make a sale.

“Indie gaming started out as games written with passion for people who embraced and loved them,” he said. “Now too much of it is about churning out giant mounds of decent but undifferentiated product to be bought for pennies by people who don’t give a crap either way.

“It’s not sustainable. I’ve long been a vocal fan of Humble Bundle. They’re good people who want to make the game industry cooler. We use them ourselves. Their bundles started out as a fantastic way to showcase what our slice of the industry has to offer and help charity to boot.

“Now there are a lot of bundles. Many of them. As I write this, Humble Bundle is running two weeks of DAILY bundles. That’s, like, 3-10 full-length games a DAY. Spend a hundred bucks or so, and you’ll get enough solid titles to keep you occupied for years. You should do it. It’s a bargain. Then you’ll only need to pay full price for the one game a year you really care about, and you won’t need to worry about risking cash experimenting with new developers.

“Then, give it 2-3 years, and you won’t have to worry about new developers, because there won’t be any. It just can’t last.”

Vogel said bundles “used to earn a ton,” but not anymore because making pennies a copy through 12 packs will cause developers to disappear. These bundles and sales “encourage users to expect to pay a price too low to keep us in business,” he said, likening it to a “race to the bottom as in the iTunes store.”

“I’m not blameless in this. My games have been in a million sales and bundles. It’s what you have to do now, and I’m just as fault as everyone else,” he said. “If someone tells you this is the slightest bit sustainable, they are misleading you.”

You can read the entire piece through the link, and it’s a ripping good read at that. The point I personally took away from it, was that should the indie bubble burst, the developers only have themselves to blame: not Steam, and not Humble Bundle and its brethren.

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