The past few days reddit and the steam discussion forums we’re plagued with posts about page traffic having gone down a lot with the recent updates to the steam visibility algorithm.
In short it seems that the “More like this” section is recommending top performing games in and out of the genre of the main game’s page. For example if you check out Ebony Spire: Heresy’s steam page and check out the “More like this” section you’ll see games like Rocket League, Counter Strike and Player Unknown instead of the usual (like Rezrog, Delver or Ziggurat).
Couple this with recent changes (and by recent I mean changes since I launched Ebony Spire) that Steam did to it’s visibility algorithms and it seems that I have to approach the viability of running my own one-developer company differently.
Did you know that if you game’s page is not localized in Chinese, Russian, Spanish or etc it will not show up in other regions? Or better put if your game is only localized in English you’re only being exposed to the English speaking audience. Fair enough but a big difference than it used to be.
Here’s my problem: for the first time since launch Ebony Spire went 5 days without a single sale. The More like this category used to bring me 20-30% more traffic to the store page. It’s a lot but here’s the kicker: it was targeted traffic. Players of similar games to mine would find out about it from other games. That 20-30% chunk of traffic that is gone? That brought me 70-80% of my revenue on the long tail.
Maybe the changes to the More like this section are just a bug bound to be fix soon, that’s fine. It’s Steam’s court they can do what they want. But I’m not sure I want to rely on steam to be able to make and release more games. It’s a beautiful platform. It allows me to deliver updates easily and hold beta tests. Gives me a forum to talk with you guys. Gave me the initial exposure and tools to grow my audience. But I think it’s time I try to home grow my stuff.
I’m going to treat Steam and the beautiful little itch.io as a payment processor from now on. As secondary ways to purchase my game. The main way to get access to my games will be via a purchase button integrated with paypal. If you don’t like paypal or you like to purchase games through Steam you can get them like that. But no account will be needed by purchasing directly. Steam will be a payment processor that also get’s me some traffic during the initial launch but I’d rather move things to my side.
I’m lucky enough that I don’t have to rely on revenue from my games to survive anymore and I can afford to do this. Hopefully, in a few years, this will pay up in the end. I’m trying to see if I can integrate discord into the website and point people to go there for communication. Steam forums are nice but I’d rather get the people to form a community under my control.
However this brings some caveats with it. For example, most people will prefer Steam (and I get why). So I’m probably going to try and give some incentives to my purchasers to get it directly from me. For Ebony Spire 2 I’m thinking about offering extra content (like a few new enemies or cosmetic variations for items). Signing up on discord and joining the server will probably have a similar reward.
I prefer designing single player games and experiences. No back-ends, no tracking no stuff like that. Just pure, distilled, games that people can play, run and enjoy forever. So there will probably be a few different builds running around the place. The steam version, the itch version and the dev version. Might be a bit harder to maintain 3 separate builds (or more if I end up putting the game on Humble Bundle or GOG) but I believe that I can automate this by implementing the game in smart way. Like how in ESH you can add new enemies and effects by just editing a CSV file.
From now on, after the anniversary update, if you want to purchase one of my games you can do so directly. I’ll get you access to the steam version if you want and supply steam keys (I’m already doing that on itch). I’ll also retain a bigger cut from the full sale price.
Steam is awesome and I always dreamed of being on it. But it seems I have to pull in more and more effort to drive views and traffic to the game on it and I might as well put in that effort into my own community. Steam is a zero sum game traffic-wise. More traffic to one game means less traffic to another. And I can’t fight the big guys in terms of money for visibility.
If game A converts better than game B all eyes will be on game A. And even if game A has a different audience than my game it will still affect me. Especially if A has a huge marketing campaign behind it.
In the early days of the industry distribution and making the game available to people was the hard part. The shareware model was the way to go. The internet kicked in and made distribution easier. Tools came in and lowered the barrier to entry in gamedev. So naturally a new bottleneck had to appear. With the entire output of the indie and triple A industry being in a single spot (talking about Steam) other barriers had to appear. And it’s okay and I’m fine with this. But I’d rather compete on my own terms and grow my stuff over time.
Everyone wanted to be on Steam! I think it’s time we get off of it and do out own thing. Until everyone will want to be on the new thing again!
So giants, from now on, if you can purchase my games directly from me I will love you forever. As time goes by I’ll make it easier and easier to get my stuff directly (and faster) but I need your support for that to happen. Join me on Discord and scream at me from the top of your beards. That’s the best place to get support or information on how to mod your game. ESH is under MIT so you can roll your own version of the game. ES2 will be released under MIT or GPL3. Future games will follow the same path.
But yeah, I love Steam and I’m thankful for it. But I’m not going to put effort into driving traffic to another platform when I can grow my own stuff. I might be wrong but we’ll find out next year.
Thank you giants!
P.s check out this video from my dev-crush Jeff Vogel about failing to fail. He talks about the advantages of Steam and what it means for his business.