$100

Hello.. anyone still here?

So yeah, there’s a big debate this week about greenlight’s $100 fee. I thought I’d come on here and type up my fully formed opinion, because I continue to put my foot in it on twitter. I think others are saying far wiser and more interesting things on the subject, but I want to put my own opinion up, then shut up..

FULL DISCLOSURE: I am a full time Lead Designer at a social games company by day. This is a full time job, and therefore gives me a wage. I’m by no means loaded, but I do not rely on my indie games for my income. Instead, I spend most of my free time making games like Thomas Was Alone, then selling direct, and via other people’s portals. I do modestly well, I couldn’t survive off it, but it sufficiently funds my projects. I have made more than $100.

The thing that freaks me out here is the class aspect. I could understand criticisms of whether this is a good way to stop spam (I’m on the fence) but the idea that reactions to this problem define my economic politics, standing or class makes zero sense to me. I’ve said as much on twitter, to a resounding chorus of ‘aha, that’s EXACTLY what a rich person would say’. I’ve even had some criticism for using crowdfunding (my only alternative to getting a bank loan to make Thomas what I wanted it to be).

But I don’t get it. And I refuse to let my liberal shame make that the end of it for me. I think this opinion needs to be challenged. My opinion can be summarized with the following statement:

You have the right to choose to put your game on Steam or to not put your game on Steam. If you are in the developed world, you can earn $100 on top of your existing income by taking two days off from indie development and doing a temporary, minimum income job. You shouldn’t though, because shelf stacking sucks. You should instead use an equivalent to steam with no barrier (Desura, Indiecity, Indievania) to sell your game. From that money, reinvest $100 in taking a punt on Steam, if you think it’s worth it. Or don’t. There are plenty of financially successful games which are not on Steam.

I thought this was how selling stuff works.. You make something, you sell something, you use some of the money earned to sell more. I wanted a well composed soundtrack. I wanted professional VO. These things cost money, and I decided to take a personal financial risk against the hope of making money at release (crowdfunding didn’t cover everything, I still had to take on some debt, now paid off through sales).

The last part also seems an issue. People are acting like Steam is the only place to sell games. Tell that to Notch. If you don’t like a service, don’t use it… that’s how I’m single handedly bringing down the meat industry (just you wait and see). Does Steam owe us all exposure? Should they support games they don’t think are financially viable?

If you’ve genuinely got an incredible, potentially lucrative game, but not $100 you are in fact very lucky. You’ve been born in a time where that presents zero blockage. Use crowdfunding. Sell direct. Send it to one of the successful indies who’ve offered their help. There is no shame in needing help. If asking is a problem for you, it’s your pride, not class. I sent begging emails asking for talented folks to help on Thomas, I got discounts on everything by waving the indie flag. People are always happy to help, if they believe in the idea.

Why complain? Why react aggressively to well meaning nerds on twitter? Be a part of the solution.. No one is stopping your awesome game from being out there, financially successful and critically liked. It’s hard. But we chose this. We chose to make games outside of established businesses. Our creation of games against the odds is a badge of honour.

Oh, and feel free to go help me pay for the next game by buying Thomas at thomaswasalone.com

Thanks for reading.

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13 Responses to “$100”

  1. Axyraandas Says:

    I don’t understand the problem. I agree with your opinion on selling- you make something that people want, they buy it, and you use that money to live and to make other things that people want. Insisting that you have to put your work on a certain popular platform like Steam, despite the non-trivial cost, is irrelevant to the basic process. If the cost becomes trivial in comparison to the increased revenue from putting it on Steam, then it’s up to you whether you want to put it up or not. That’s just the privileges we get from living in relatively developed countries- we’re only rich compared to people that struggle to put food in their mouths, and our actions reflect that, I think.

    Also, crowd-funding gives people a choice, about whether to donate or not. It makes the choice more specific too, since if people don’t give money to banks they can’t get credit and the various benefits that ensue, but if they don’t give money to you, then they could miss out on what proved to be a good game. Exploiting people with an “all or nothing” approach (You either get all the benefits that donating to a bank can offer if you comply with our demands, or none of them.) provides less choice than distributing money to individual projects that do more specific things. Gah, I’m terrible at explaining things. Um, example. Let’s say you had to pay $1000 to buy products X, Y, and Z, but you only wanted product Y. Despite this, there isn’t any choice to just pick Y, so you have to buy everything. Now, if X, Y, and Z were each sold at $350, then people could just buy one or two of them for a smaller price. Now, instead of products, it’s an audience. Putting it on Steam (buying products X, Y, and Z) might show it to a wider audience, but you don’t seem to want that. You just want product Y, a size-able audience. Other places like the ones you mentioned offer just product Y, so there’s no reason not to pick that.

    I type too much. I’ll stop now.

  2. greg (@postags) Says:

    My problem with the $100 fee is that I haven’t heard a good reason for why it’s better than any of the non-exclusionary alternatives that have been presented.

    In fact, every time I’ve posted about alternatives the point is ignored completely. Literally, not once have I gotten a response. The fact that it’s so easily ignored for the sake of repeating the same “go on Kickstarter/get a job/if your game hasn’t already earned you $100 then it doesn’t belong on steam/(insert some form of use your noggin and go away, dummy)” set of ideas indicates, to me at least, that some deep nerve is being stroked a little too hard. I’m not sure how I’d characterize that nerve, but it is one that is definitely wrapped around people’s general assumptions towards poverty and how it works.

    Does Valve owe the poor anything with Greenlight? Of course not. It would just be nice if it tried to set a better precedent for these kinds of things, particularly since they seem to genuinely interested in doing good in their realm.

    • mikebithell Says:

      I think the difference in our thinking here is at the comparison point for the $100. Of course there’s a difference between a poor and a rich person’s opinion of the amount compared to their income.

      But that’s irrelevant when talking about it as a business expense. All our games cost between $5 and $20. Assuming all our games have an audience that wants to pay (not making a value judgement, a lot of fantastic games out there which don’t have an audience) then we’re all equally capable of paying, it simply becomes a percentage of earnings. Whether it’s valid is entirely up to you.

      If I ran a coffee shop and had to decide to buy a cheap or expensive machine, I’d tot up how much I thought I could charge, how many I’d sell, then make a value judgement. My personal wealth wouldn’t come into it.

      • greg (@postags) Says:

        I understand what you are saying about business expenses, and I understand why people have a desire to liken it to being just like any other business expense, but here’s what I’m hearing:

        It takes money to build something that makes money. Hiring people costs money, equipment costs money, marketing generally costs money. That’s just the way things are, period.

        Here is what I’ve said in response:

        In this specific situation, there is no reason for things to continue being that way. This isn’t buying an espresso machine for a coffee shop, nor is it raising money to fund development of a game, nor is it paying Microsoft $100 to put your game out on their marketplace, because in this situation the money goes nowhere. It doesn’t pay for anything. It doesn’t pay for equipment, it doesn’t pay for salaries. Its sole purpose is to act as a signifier of someone having considered whether putting their game up is genuine in their intentions, and to prevent jerks from gumming up the system.

        Given that, why is $100 still the best solution over a plethora of others that will accomplish the same goal without acting as an arbitary barrier?

    • mikebithell Says:

      Ummm as I said… “I could understand criticisms of whether this is a good way to stop spam (I’m on the fence)”

      So yeah, I agree with you that this might not be the best approach, my only point was that it’s not a class issue. $100 is exactly the same to any indie dev who makes games people pay for.

      • greg (@postags) Says:

        Well, I’m becoming exhausted so I’ll let this stand as my final comment.

        Let’s first define classism so that we can both be sure that we’re on the same page. Merriam-Webster says, “prejudice or discrimination based on class.” It defines class as, “a group sharing the same economic or social status.”

        I would like to add that being a classist isn’t a choice, and that it isn’t something most people would cop to. It’s like being a racist or an asshole: it’s based on ignorance. In this case, it’s ignorance of what poverty is like and how it works.

        So now that that is out of the way: my basic point is that while you (like many others) won’t admit it to yourself, you are taking a classist position on the issue at hand, and may in fact unwittingly be a classist yourself.

        If you’re on the fence, then why is your summary statement “Why complain? Why react aggressively to well meaning nerds on twitter? Be a part of the solution. No one is stopping your awesome game from being out there, financially successful and critically liked. It’s hard. But we chose this. We chose to make games outside of established businesses. Our creation of games against the odds is a badge of honour.”? It sounds like you’ve made up your mind that $100 is the solution that is here to stay, and that you don’t mind it or its pointlessly exclusionary nature. You then go on to say that indies deserve this bad decision it because they chose to make games outside of the system, and finish up with a few words about honor.

        All of this would be fine if it were simply your statement of purpose, and you kept it posted on your site as something like your personal creed, but in the context of telling other people what to do vis-a-vis a brouhaha over a bad policy decision by an online retailer, it is a classically classist load of shit, one which seeks to romanticize, excuse and encourage the suffering of others.

        So that’s where I believe you are coming from with a lot of this.

        Of course, dismissing your bolded statement outright for ad hominem reasons won’t get us anywhere.

        The ideas you use in the bold are:
        1) “get a job” advice, which you back away from because jobs suck
        2) raise money on Desura/Indievania/etc
        3) Either pay the $100 to put it on, or go it alone

        Here’s the problem:
        1) Well if only it were that simple, then I suppose problems in the world just wouldn’t exist now would they? Classist assumptions about why people don’t have money drive this point, which you back away from for other reasons.
        2) This idea inevitably leads to the “if your game can’t generate $100 then it doesn’t belong on Steam in the first place” idea that’s been going around, which I’m sure we can agree is erroneous. Not classist, but not right.
        3) In other words, either pony up for the potential of the opportunity to join the most successful digital game marketplace in the world, or hope to God that you get lucky. Classic classist maneuvering: pay up or good luck in the wasteland, bud. I heard they have some really nice slums out there. Why right now, Desura has almost 9000 users online.

        This is disingenuous logic, since Steam also helps shape a major portion of the marketplace. Unless someone really does have some hot shit, a rarity like Minecraft or Dwarf Fortress, then chances are their game would benefit tremendously from being on Steam. Faced with this decision, the only reasonable response for most people who hope to make a living is to just give in and pay the tithe and hope the lottery with more visibility pays out. To quote a cliche, it isn’t a matter of if they pay, it’s a matter of when.

        Ah, I know what you’re thinking right now: “So what, then is doing business classist? Is charging money for something classist? Is charging more for higher quality goods classist?” My answer to those imagined hypothetical question of yours is to say: questions about classism revolve around the concept of fairness and money. Is it fair to charge more for a higher quality product? If that quality is the result of a higher cost of materials, construction and development then certainly. Of course.

        But if it is just to plug a hole in a half-assed product, then I would say that it isn’t fair simply on principle. I’d even go so far as calling it an abusive business practice, likening it to the widely-considered-a-scam reading charge that some unscrupulous literary agents demand from prospective clients.

        Except these aren’t even literary agents. They’re jerk-offs on the internet. On principle, it is fucking stupid for Valve to crowdsource its catalog decisions, and then create a situation where creators are forced to pay $100 to solicit a bunch of jerk-offs for their opinions.

        But then, all that is just my emotional response to the whole thing. My rational one is that it’s bad because it excludes poor people and doesn’t have cost-related reason for doing so. The classism comes in when the only response anyone is capable of having is to tell poor people to go fuck themselves and deal with it.

        That’s the classist shit.

        Which brings us back to you and your position. What’s so classist about paying $100 to attempt to try to sell games on Steam? Only the entire context it exists in.

  3. rumoko Says:

    I’ve been watching the complaints for this stack up on Reddit also (always a good source of complaining). I think it stacks up to one thing – Entitlement. Something, evidently, many game developers have in common with game consumers.

    I would have preferred to buy TWA on Stream to be honest – just because that’s where all my other games are (now). I bought it on Desura (not being aware of the platform prior) because I like at least someone other than me to be responsible for my things (otherwise the installer would end up in some random “Stuff 2012” folder on some forgotten hard drive).

  4. Andy Green Says:

    I agree with the $100 and to be honest I don’t give a damn what it signifies.

    If there’s a better solution to the green light spam situation then I’d like to hear it. And I mean it, but lets face it, it’s money going to charity, so to say it’s going nowhere is offensive.

    If you won’t put up $100 because you don’t want to, or if you can’t afford to, and can’t convince enough people that it’s worth at least that then why are we even talking about your game? This romanticised notion of what indie game development should be is getting out of hand. It’s lots of hard work and successful indie’s have gotten there of their own volition not someone’s hand holding. Heck I’m not an indie, and it’s hard enough working when there’s a studio with money behind you and the team.

    When I first herd about this whole shit-storm I thought steam were charging $100 per game, but it’s a one off fee. Apple charge this per year and it get’s you less IMO. I know this isn’t about Apple and they are universally regarded as the digital highway-man, but some peoples naive attitudes towards how steam should do business are troubling.

    • Andy Green Says:

      Although that being said, does $100 really stop games which are ‘steam-worthy’?

      I realise that seeing $100 as a modest investment is a very western view of it.

      Is it possible that there’s people out there across the world making great games but can’t even enter due to their economic backdrop?

      My stance still remains, if you can’t get that kind of cash together, the chances are that the game isn’t up to scratch. But I have to call out my own ignorance here on this.

  5. Dev Links: Open Wide | The Indie Game Magazine - Indie Game Reviews, Previews, News & Downloads Says:

    […] $100 (Thinking In Rectangles) “So yeah, there’s a big debate this week about greenlight’s $100 fee. I thought I’d come on here and type up my fully formed opinion, because I continue to put my foot in it on twitter. I think others are saying far wiser and more interesting things on the subject, but I want to put my own opinion up, then shut up..” […]

  6. Dev Links: Open Wide | DIYGamer Says:

    […] $100 (Thinking In Rectangles) “So yeah, there’s a big debate this week about greenlight’s $100 fee. I thought I’d come on here and type up my fully formed opinion, because I continue to put my foot in it on twitter. I think others are saying far wiser and more interesting things on the subject, but I want to put my own opinion up, then shut up..” […]

  7. DoctorMikeReddy Says:

    I miss you writing here. Surely this isn’t the end of Thinking in Rectangles? Mind you, my own blog rarely gets visited by me, so who am I to talk…

  8. Elizabeth Pelcha Says:

    I really used to like this game, I wish I could play it again, its been a really long time

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