The One Hundred Dollar Question

[When I originally wrote this, I was not fully aware of the way in which the term “privilege” was being used in the context of contemporary identity politics; people in the “scene” were using it, and I used it because I was trying to communicate. In retrospect I realize that was a massive error, as the term is used as a personal attack that you can’t defend yourself against and has nothing to do with an economic analysis of society. I still think the main points of this critique apply, but if I could rewrite it, I would phrase it very differently now.]

The last two days have been most enlightening, in ways I had not anticipated.

It all began when Valve announced that Greenlight, the vote-based submission system for Steam, would now come with a $100 price tag for developers. The money wouldn’t go to Valve, but to a popular (with gamers) charity called Child’s Play; the point of the fee was not to enrich Valve, but to stop all the bogus and unprofessional submissions that were flooding the system.

A few developers said “$100 is a lot for some people.” Then all hell broke lose, and my understanding of the indie scene was permanently altered.

My first thought after I filled out the Greenlight submission form for The Sea Will Claim Everything and clicked “publish” was wait, there’s no approval queue? That struck me as very peculiar. This is the internet. Any submissions system is likely to be abused within seconds. It’s entirely normal for blogs to keep comments for moderator approval to make sure they’re legit. Why was Greenlight allowing any submission to go through?

It was also peculiar that Greenlight was being advertised on Steam without any mention of the word “indie”. It made the service sound more like GOG’s Request Games feature than like a replacement for Steam’s old submissions procedure. But here were all these other games by my indie colleagues, so clearly I wasn’t in the wrong place.

There was more that struck me as odd. Games could be downvoted as well as upvoted, which didn’t seem to serve any purpose except to create negativity. (Why would Valve care how many people didn’t want to buy something? That doesn’t answer the question of whether there is a market for said something.) And, well, the whole system itself was kind of scary. Would it really be possible for games to be discovered here?

Maybe it was silly to worry about all these issues. Maybe I was just tired. It was four in the morning, after all. I’d been so excited to finally be able to submit my game through this much-hyped system that I stayed up all night. I knew my chances weren’t huge, especially because TSWCE doesn’t really fit into recognizable categories very well, but with the amazing reviews it had gotten and the support of the people who loved it, this was worth a shot, right? It would almost certainly not get a million upvotes, but maybe it would get enough attention and support for Valve to be interested. They had picked some “weird” indie games before, after all. That games like The Dream Machine and Analogue: A Hate Story were on Steam gave me hope.

Predictably enough, Greenlight was soon full of absurd submissions. Some were joke submissions by trolls, some were submissions of mainstream games by people who thought this was a request-a-game service. Some were just fakes that existed for no good reason. And then there were tons of submissions that were not games, but just concepts for games. These, however, were considered legit; apparently Greenlight was taking inspiration from Kickstarter. Except this made absolutely no sense, because a nonexistent game getting Steam approval doesn’t benefit anyone. It’s still nonexistent.

For the people browsing for games to vote for, it was almost impossible to discover a new game. The list of games re-ordered itself at random as you went from page to page, so you kept seeing the same games over and over, while other games never appeared. There were no good sorting options. It was a mess. The only games that were getting massive numbers of views were the ones that were already hugely popular, i.e. Project Zomboid. The sort of games, that is, that wouldn’t really have needed Greenlight all that much in the first place.

Other developers were getting really nasty comments from adolescent (physically and/or mentally) users who either didn’t understand Greenlight or simply hated indie games for not being Call of Duty. Games weren’t being judged by Steam’s massive international audience – those folks are there to buy games, not trade insults. Games were being judged by a subset of users that was not necessarily representative.

I got relatively lucky – after a few unpleasant comments in the beginning, it was all very positive, even from people who had never heard of my work before. But comments aren’t votes. Last time I saw the statistics for my game, before Valve removed users’ ability to see them, they were at 44% positive. And, as with most games, 0% towards getting on Steam. No wonder – other games had more than ten times as many views, and they were at 2%.

It was becoming obvious that Valve hadn’t thought this through properly, a fact which surprised most of us in the indie scene. Valve is normally pretty good about this sort of thing; if nothing else, they tend to be very professional. But by allowing game ideas (of which everyone famously has one – or a million) and not moderating the submissions process directly, they’d demonstrated a surprising lack of knowledge about the world of indie game development.

Then came the announcement about the $100 fee.

I wasn’t angry at Valve. I thought and still think that it’s a massive mistake for everyone involved, and I am in no way comfortable with Steam’s monopoly on the games market, but I don’t think this behaviour by Valve was meant to be malicious. They didn’t think “ha, screw the poor!” That the fee goes to charity shows that this isn’t about greed. The methods are misguided, but the intent is fine. So I didn’t get angry at them, and I’m still not angry at them.

But I did get very, very angry.

I wish the discussion that followed could’ve been about what would be a better system of keeping out the nonsense. I wish we, the developers, could have gotten together and written a letter to Valve that would go something like this:

Dear Valve,

We appreciate your attempts to make the process of submitting to Steam a better one. Even though many of us wish that the selling of games worked a little differently, the truth is that Steam is a very important market for a lot of indies, and can make a huge difference in our lives. But we’re sorry to say that you’ve gone off in the wrong direction. The $100 fee does not cut out the nonsense (at least judging from our experience with other platforms), but it does exclude many of us indies who come from economic backgrounds that simply do not allow them to spend $100 on the mere possibility of being judged by a subset of the Steam community that is generally not very friendly to indie games.

Thus, to make it possible for the cooperation between indies and Steam to continue and to be as pleasant and efficient as possible, please implement the following measures:

  • Hold submissions in a moderation queue.
  • Do not allow game ideas – only actual projects.
  • Require each entry to have a functioning demo.
  • Add better sorting options.
  • Remove the downvote option.
  • Reword descriptions to clarify that Greenlight is about indie games.
  • If necessary, require a nominal fee. Instead of $100, just $5 or even $1 would be enough to deter most trolls. Even a very high fee will not deter those who are delusionally convinced that their game is perfect.
  • (various other suggestions by people with better ideas than myself)

In this way, those of us from non-privileged backgrounds will still be able to participate in the Greenlight process, while a large percentage of unserious submissions will be eliminated.

Regards,

The Indie Game Development Scene

Wouldn’t that have been nice? Wouldn’t it have been nice if it was obvious to all these people that $100 is a lot of money to some of us? I mean, sure, people aren’t always aware of the ways in which they are privileged, but surely independent developers of all people would get that some of us have very, very low budgets? Surely independent developers, who have chosen to work outside the traditional system, should be those who know best that those with the most money are not always the most deserving? Having had to balance budgets and figure out ways of making games without the resources of a corporation, shouldn’t it be easy for most game developers to imagine that others, with a worse starting situation than their own, could find it impossible to spend this much money on what is essentially a gamble?

No, apparently not.

I have never seen the division of society along lines of economic class show itself so suddenly and so clearly. You’d think things would be a little more complicated than that. It’s bizarre and depressing that they are not.

A disappointingly large number of developers and journalists could not even imagine that some people don’t have this amount of money. I found this genuinely shocking. It’s not that they hadn’t experienced it themselves, but that they could not even conceive of it. That’s a disconnection from reality so fundamental that it is quite frightening. Ever wonder why there aren’t more political games? This is why. Not only are the majority of developers (those who have a voice, anyway) white heterosexual middle-class males from the US or the UK, but a scary amount of them have absolutely no understanding of the existence of anything outside their own experience, and are in fact offended by the very suggestion that anything else exists.

It began with statements like “$100 isn’t that much.” Some even added examples, like having spent $100 at a bar recently – as perfect an illustration of privilege as I can imagine. Then people were saying “if your game can’t earn $100 on its own, you have bigger problems.” Finally it was “if you don’t have $100 to spend, you’re not a real game developer.”

The sheer blindness that can cause people to say these things is staggering. How do you even explain something so fundamental, so obvious?

Some of us are poor. Poor isn’t like when you spent $100 at a bar  last night and you decide to only spend $50 next time you go drinking. Poor isn’t when you can only afford to go to one convention this year instead of three. Poor isn’t when you can’t afford to get the newest iPad because you’ve been investing in your business. Poor is when you don’t know how you’ll pay the rent. Poor is when you stand in the supermarket trying not to have a nervous breakdown because all you can afford is the same shitty pasta you had yesterday and the day before. Poor is when you’ve got crushing debt because your parents never had the money to help you, because they worked their whole lives and got nothing for it.

Poor is when every cent you earn goes to buying you another day under a roof, not to a gamble disguised as an investment. Why don’t we have a hundred dollars from selling ten games? Because we need to live.

It is particularly offensive when this is seen as some kind of insufficient desire to struggle – or even as entitlement. We struggle more than you can imagine just to be here. That we have, despite our poverty, managed to make these games, is a fucking miracle. We started with less than nothing, and we have the entire system sitting on our backs. “Oh, do you think I was born with a silver spoon in my mouth?” comes the response. Yes. Yes you were. Compared to some of us, to many of us in fact. And it’s OK, everyone should live like you do, or even better. I don’t want you to feel guilty. But at least be aware of it. Don’t be the guy in the middle who keeps everyone else down so the elites can stay where they are. Or at least don’t be an asshole.

To some people, $100 is not a lot of money. To me and my wife (who works two jobs), it’s a week’s worth of food or more. To others, it’s a month’s wages. Do we have absolutely no understanding of the fact that the internet is a global phenomenon and so is indie game development? Even ignoring the fact that developing games requires a great deal of time and effort, platitudes like “why don’t you get a job to finance your game development” don’t help much in countries where there are no jobs, or jobs pay next to nothing. Hell, have you read the statistics on poverty in the United States? Do you think these people want to be poor? Do you think they deserve to be poor?

Maybe that’s the heart of the argument. People have so internalized the ideological myths of capitalism that they believe the poor deserve to be poor. If you don’t have $100, your game must suck, because if it didn’t, you’d already be rich (despite not having access to not only the biggest market, but also to a major source of legitimacy in the eyes of consumers and critics). More than that, you’re not even a game developer – like Calvinists or Social Darwinists, the entitled are certain that their entitlement means they are the chosen, superior few, and everyone else is doomed anyway.

Platitude followed upon platitude in the debate, in a way that sadly resembled every other similar debate about poverty and class. If you’re unemployed, why don’t you get a job? If your audience isn’t big enough, why don’t you get a bigger audience? If you don’t like being a janitor, why don’t you become a lawyer? Hilariously, some touted the possibility of loans as a solution – the history of capitalism repeating itself as farce.

 —

Anna Anthropy, one of the indie gaming scene’s stars, is no longer a real game developer. Amon26 isn’t a real game developer, either. As for my own The Sea Will Claim Everything (“a must-have”, “delightfully evocative”, “an instant classic”, “made me truly proud of what the medium can accomplish”), it is a bad game, because if I hadn’t submitted to Greenlight before the fee, it wouldn’t be on there. I don’t have $100 to invest. And I’m already in a much, much better situation than people in countries poorer and/or more exploited than Germany.

Do the people who say “you’re not a real game developer” know that poverty is a real thing? That the games they play are often made by people who are quite poor? That the indie scene they see as a pathway to riches was to a large degree created and shaped by people who didn’t have $100?

Forget Greenlight. Forget Valve. Valve is just a company that made a mistake. The question isn’t what Valve is doing, the question is what we are. Is this what indie games are now? A playground for privileged folks who want to pat themselves on the back for being chosen? A space that is not about challenging the mainstream by expanding what is possible (and popular) with games but about reinforcing the mainstream by creating a niche where only what is alternative in a safe and instantly profitable way is supported?

They used to say indie game developers weren’t real game developers. Now they’re saying poor indie game developers aren’t real indie game developers. Meet the new boss, same as the old boss.

Is this how we will be judging not only games, but people from now on? Is the hundred dollar question the new criterion for who gets included? Because if it is, don’t put me on your list.

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282 Comments

  1. Joe B.

     /  September 6, 2012

    Personally I’m hoping the $100 fee is just a temporary stopgap measure although a ridiculous one considering it would have been a much better idea to suspend the service until they offered some sort of moderation. After all I’d be more than glad to wait for 24-48 hours to see my game properly submitted rather than have it instantly available for voting amidst a sea of lulz.

  2. nikodimov

     /  September 6, 2012

    This is a great post. And the whole thing is sad and unsurprising – capitalist agenda is strong and internalized since young age without any assistance on someone’s part, while understanding how this system works, the importance of social and economical issues, broadening one’s views requires studying, and who’s interested in that you’ll learn this? I’ve heard quite a couple of time how people take their upbringing for granted and are easy to blame others for laziness, lack of initiative, etc., and it’s, well, disheartening.

  3. Yes. This.

    I am lucky enough to be able to afford this, if I chose to spend $100 on, essentially, a lottery ticket. Huge swathes of people aren’t. That doesn’t make their games less good than mine.

    I come out of a different world (Indie TRPGs) but I always thought indie game publishing was about expressing your own ideas, believing in yourself, and the idea that anyone can make a good game. Seen a lot of stuff recently which makes me believe that the majority of independent designers disagree with me: that, having succeeded, their primary goal is to pull the ladder up behind them. It’s depressing.

  4. Hey Jonas. Your complaint that $100 to a lot of people is valid, and as someone who couldn’t afford this a few years ago I feel your pain. However I disagree with your conclusion.

    If you have trouble making rent and buying food then your priority has to be earning enough money to get out of that hole, not making games. It sucks, because it would be more fun to make games, but living comes first and games come second.

    A barrier to entry on Steam is actually a good thing. It means that almost all of the garbage non-games will no longer be submitted, and will result in your submission getting greater visibility (and therefore more votes). It means that voters who go there won’t develop fatigue from trying to sift through the crap, and will cause voters to become fans of the system and eventually buyers of the games. These are good things that will ultimately benefit you.

    $100 is a trivial barrier compared to the barrier of actually making a game (how much do you think TSWCE cost you, if you factor in your time?). No one complains about the iOS dev cost or IGF submission costs, which are both roughly $100. These are necessary barriers to keep the signal to noise ratio high for judges and consumers.

    I’m sorry that you feel this is unfair, but ultimately I think a game dev that can’t raise $100 for charity is incredibly unlikely to get their game selected for Steam. It sucks for poor devs but I’d suggest that they try to fix their financial situation first, before spending huge amounts of time and effort their games.

    Eitan, Fire Hose Games (feel free to reach out to me)

  5. I am a struggling filmmaker, and I regularly find myself forced to spend $50 or $100 entry fees in order to submit my work to festivals. Often times that money goes poof, without my work making it into the show, though I accept that the expenditure was necessary to help facilitate entries, and weed out those who would submit less than professional works on a whim, lightening the review staff’s load.

    Meanwhile, my friend Eddy is an photographer, and he regularly shells out money for picture frames in order to hang his work in galleries. Again, a necessary part of making art.

    Neither of these examples is anything I have ever heard referred to as creating a “playground for privileged folk,” nor have I heard any struggling artist point to the minor cost of festival / gallery fees as a way to keep poor people down. So why should I believe that this minor Steam fee is such a great sin? You can be a game developer without submitting to Greenlight, same as I could be a filmmaker without ever submitting to a festival. Point is, I see the value in exposure that a festival provides, and choose to make the expenditure. Sure, it would be nice if the festivals were free, but I don’t consider it a crime against the poor because there’s a minor entry fee.

    Point is, it’s ridiculous to spin Greenlight as an attack on poor people. It’s similarly ridiculous to get upset when average people rightfully challenge game developers who claim a $100 fee is a moral outrage. Yes, saying “you’re not a real game developer” is a step too far, but saying “one hundred dollars is a more than reasonable cost for potential entry onto this platform” is wholly valid.

    There are real class issues in this country. Stream is not one of them.

  6. Actually I think IGF submission costs are a disgrace, as do many other developers. And I feel rather strongly you haven’t understood much of what I wrote. “Just fix your financial situation” is not only patronising but just absolutely characteristic of a privileged perspective, assuming that everyone can get into your position simply through an act of will.

  7. You said:
    “Just fix your financial situation” is not only patronising but just absolutely characteristic of a privileged perspective, assuming that everyone can be in your position simply through an act of will.

    You’re right, not everyone can just fix their financial situation, and I’m not suggesting that is the case.

    However, I played your demo and saw what you did. A lot of code, art, and design went in to that. You’re clearly a talented person. So in your case I think you could fix your financial situation as you have the skills necessary to do so. I’m sorry if you read my comment as patronizing, I didn’t mean for it to come across that way.

    I don’t like IGF costs either but can you imagine what would happen if they didn’t exist? How would the judges ever get through the million submissions? How would the contest work? If you have a serious suggestion you should get in touch with the IGF folks.

  8. Point is, it’s ridiculous to spin Greenlight as an attack on poor people.

    An attack? Did I not specifically point out that it’s not malicious? I said it excludes people, but I guess to you people who cannot, like yourself, regularly spend money on such fees are simply not real. And I wasn’t even talking about the fee, but about how we judge games and people as a community.

  9. So in your case I think you could fix your financial situation as you have the skills necessary to do so.

    The problem is that you assume skill has something to do with it, and that poverty is the result of not trying. (Also, it’s not about me.)

  10. uriele

     /  September 6, 2012

    @Vito: you have to pay $50/$100 every time. This is a one-time fee, to allow to post game on your account. It’s not like the IGF or the iOS, where you have to pay $100 every year…

    @Jonas: I understand that asking for money could be tough, but what about a collective of game developers that publish on a single account. An account payed from each according to his ability

  11. I could easily afford the $100 if I had a game worthy of being submitted to Greenlight. I could not, however, justify paying that much money on a lottery ticket. And much as I hate to admit it, the tax will not stop crappy submissions. Much has been written about the overabundance of fart apps for the iPhone, either literal or metaphorical, and Apple has a screening process on top of the tax. And their screening process is itself harshly criticized, by the way; a manual review process is not a panacea either.

    If Valve is guilty of something, they’re guilty of trying a tactic that’s well known not to work. But I don’t know what else they could try.

  12. The indie devs you believe are being attacked for their poverty, are simply being chastised for being so absurd as to try and contstrue a publishing fee as a symbol of classism. As much as $100 may represent to those with lower incomes, it is a non-essential expense, and does not preclude anyone from being a game developer on other platforms.

    I understand your outrage is directed at those who think people who lack the hundred dollars aren’t real game developers, though I can’t believe this is a common opinion. If anything, they are simply baffled that someone who believes they have a viable product also asserts that it would be a terrible burden to attempt raise the minor entry fee through any number of ways (charity from friends and family, kickstarter, saving over a few months, etc). If Greenlight is so important to your success, save two bucks a week and you’ll be there by year’s end.

    So yeah, $100 is a lot of money to some people, but I would assert that anyone who truly believes that Steam is the only platform where their game can succeed, will somehow manage to find a way to come up with the money.

    And, if they’re truly unable to put a hundred dollars together at any point in time, then they have much bigger issues to worry about than game development.

  13. Bravo, you have just responded only in the patronising clichés that made me write this in the first place. Yes, yes, those poor people are very absurd and baffling, and they have all the options that are open to you. Now please go away.

  14. I believe anyone who finds moral fault with a business’s publishing fee is baffling, regardless of their economic background.

    I’m willing to listen to your point, I’m just very confused. What exactly has Steam done wrong here?

  15. Thanks for writing this. I think a lot of things here needed to be said, although (just focusing on the Greenlight thing for a moment, though I know your post is about a broader issue) I don’t even think we need to go as far as pointing out how some people really can’t afford $100 to see that it’s a bad idea as it stands.

    Even if we assume that every ‘worthy’ game developer (whatever that means) would be able to come up with $100, why should that be the decider? Why are we judging how much people care about their game by how much they’re willing to spend on marketing in it? It seems like such a blunt and crude way of gating things, when I always thought that Valve were capable of a considerably more nuanced approach, such as the one you suggested in your sample ‘letter’

  16. You’ve not really read the article, which is only partially about Steam.

    And if you think all business practices are equally OK no matter how they affect people, well, we have nothing in common. (Also – this is not a publishing fee.)

  17. A Sane Person

     /  September 6, 2012

    Sorry, but it should be assumed that if you think your game is worthy of retail success then you should be willing to invest the money to make it good. $100 is not a lot of money when you compare it to the alternatives.

    Get over yourself.

  18. uriele

     /  September 6, 2012

    Felix, the Apple user ARE privileged rich people: all their product is overpriced; the same NVidia Quadro 400 costs $400 more for a Mac; the iphone has a terrible reception and is still more expensive than a Samsung or a Nokia; and some companies, like Orbitz, have started to direct their users toward more expensive products, because they are more likely to buy them.
    I’m not surprised that a lot of rich kids could pay easily $100/year to publish their bullshit applications on the iphone. Steam, on the other hand, is mostly for Pc (Windows and in the future Linux) users, and the 200k+ votes is a great way to skim crappy submissions.

    Greenlight is a lottery for someone you is trying to publish directly on Steam. It’s an investment only for developers who have already self-published their game and who have a solid fanbase (something like the wonderful Frozen Synapse, for example)

  19. Sorry, but it should be assumed that if you think your game is worthy of retail success then you should be willing to invest the money to make it good. $100 is not a lot of money when you compare it to the alternatives.

    Get over yourself.

    How to summarize “privileged arrogance” in a single post. Well done.

  20. Greenlight is a lottery for someone you is trying to publish directly on Steam. It’s an investment only for developers who have already self-published their game and who have a solid fanbase (something like the wonderful Frozen Synapse, for example)

    You mean for the developers who no longer need the exposure because they’re already well-known with a faithful audience? Gee, that’s very helpful then.

  21. I read the article, and I realize it largely isn’t about Steam. That’s why I wonder why I’m being called patronizing for suggesting that it isn’t outlandish to accuse those attacking Steam’s business model as being reactionary.

    Your article seeks to point the finger at those who would attack devs, whereas I argue they are merely defending Steam, and cannot be called classist for doing so. When their arguments truly become “those unable to afford Steam licensing aren’t real devs” then your article will have a point, but rather the masses seem to be saying “no one is forcing you to publish on their platform, and the fee they are charging is not an unreasonable barrier to entry.”

    If you believe the fee they are charging IS an unreasonable barrier to entry, that’s a different article entirely.

  22. uriele

     /  September 6, 2012

    Well, yes and know. Being on Steam gives you a bigger exposure: you are on the same shelf of Dishonored, Bioshock Infinite, Spec Ops: the Line,…

    Having a faithful audience doesn’t mean a lot of sales.
    Ok, I spend a lot of time looking for good indiegames, but the vast majority of players are not like me (or you, probably). There are a lot of people who would buy you game if it appears on the top of the “feature games” tab (and sometimes, only because it appears there).

    How many people haven’t “Thomas Was Alone” only because it wasn’t on Steam?
    I played it myself only last week, thanks to an old article of richard cobbett, and it’s one of the most enjoyable game I’ve ever played

  23. I see you point… Also ,spending any amount of money to be reviewed by a bunch of inexperienced people who certainly are just looking for the next call of duty is not a very smart move for anyone, no offense.

    The entire system of greenlight is wrong, it is just a good (not great) idea with an awful execution.

  24. How many people haven’t “Thomas Was Alone” only because it wasn’t on Steam?

    If it was your game, would you pay $100 to learn the answer? What if the answer turned out to be zero? Would you feel that finding out was worth the money?

  25. Thank you for collecting your thought and providing such a well written piece expressing them.

    I’ve also been thoroughly disheartened by this view (repeated by the majority of the comments on all the news posts on most gaming websites) that everyone capable of creating a game must automatically also be able to throw $100 at a lottery of public opinion which, if won, will lead to a pitch meeting with Valve that may potentially lead to access to Steam and the largest of large pools of PC customers that would provide. I hope Valve realises this is not a solution (as seen by looking at stores like iOS and XBLIG which leverage a $100/year fee on their submissions) but that doesn’t change the fact that most of the audience for games seems to be unaware that the riches they possess is not a universal state of being (and derisive of those that express that view).

  26. Thanks for writing this. It’s massively depressing to see the same privileged attitude that you spoke against showing up in the comments. The article isn’t about Greenlight — it’s about the response from the indie community, and the fact that people will go to great lengths to defend a $100 fee for the privilege of having their game voted on. Is this a point of pride for some people? Do they feel legitimized by paying $100? I’m kinda disgusted that we can’t even entertain the idea of a game dev not being able to afford the fee. More disgusted than our being beholden to Steam.

    I’ll try to share this where I can! Good luck w/ TSWCE!

  27. uriele

     /  September 6, 2012

    Though luck! I’ll try to do better with my next game (or to reduce the price to see if I can sell more copies). And I would not have to pay other $100 dollars for my second game.

    (I would try to submit my game only if I had already earned at least 10 times the entry fee through self-distribution. Advertise your own product IS a job: the time you spend advertising, it’s time subtracted from making a better/new game. Being on Steam would release you of part of the burden)

  28. theStudent

     /  September 6, 2012

    This is the real world; there are no free rides. I am a college student who is working a serious job on top of a 18 credit hour course load to pay my tuition, rent, utilities, and pay for all the other expenses of living. my job does not pay particular well, minimum wage to be precise. and yet somehow, i can afford to feed and clothe my self, pay tuition at SMU. I live pay check to pay check and i can understand how 100 dollars looks like a lot of money. however i also know the time that goes into coding and building massive programs like games and if you were to do the math you have probably more than tripled the 100 dollars in time spent developing your game, this holds true for all game developers. if you cant put that money together then you seriously need to re-examine your lifestyle. stop blogging about how things are unfair and go fix it. I spent about an hour looking through through Valve and Steam websites and no where did i find the words “non-profit organization”. at its core valve exists, just as every other company exists, to sell products. Steam is not a charity, it is not a soup kitchen nor a food pantry. there are certain things that are required to be in any business, Degrees for professionals, Suits for business men and women. the fee is just a prerequisite for this particular service, if you can not afford it then find a different service you can afford, steam owes you nothing. rich or poor, the world owes you nothing, its not classist, its life. Get over it

  29. Jesden

     /  September 6, 2012

    It’s always interesting to see the difference in tone a writer has online when they’re on their pedantic soapbox as opposed to engaging with other people.

    Once other people start sharing their opinions that the author doesn’t agree with, that’s when they reveal themselves as the overly emotional children they are, unable to listen to alternative opinions and just crossing their arms in a huff because all the “privileged” people are out to get them.

    The most sensible words here are written by VitoGesualdi, who’s only acknowledged by the Author of this blog/article with attacks and defensive remarks.

    What a surprise.

  30. Duder

     /  September 6, 2012

    So, why don’t you say “FUCK STEAM AND EVERYONE ELSE!”, and get your game out the old fashioned way? In fact, Jonas, I demand that you pull your game OUT of Greenlight because even you admit that it’s only there out of sheer luck in missing the update.

    Greenlight, nor Steam is critical to the success of any indie game and neither are the people who accuse someone of being not a real developer for being pooir.

    Shut up and prove them wrong. Make Steam want YOUR indie game without paying a cent, or you can go the way of Minecraft and shove any DD platform off to the side.

    I see no problem if Steam or it’s fans want to exclude anyone. That just mean any affected developer has an even more vigorous chip on their shoulder with motivation. What’s the greatest motivation for someone to do something? Tell them that they can’t, and watch them burn the midnight oild until they do. Developers, you SHOULD be offended by this, but you SHOULDN’T complain like this article. You SHOULD act.

  31. @Jesden: You pretty much gave yourself away when you said “pedantic soapbox.”

    And no, I don’t respond with extreme politeness to arguments from people who haven’t read my post carefully. I wrote rather a lot about privilege and what one can afford; “meh it’s not much for me, so it’s not much for anyone” or “if I think you can afford it, you must be able to” aren’t going to get long and detailed responses when they are the very clichés that the text is addressing.

    Also, you don’t know what pedantic means. Go away, I might infect you with my poverty.

  32. @Duder: If you think this article is about complaining at Steam, you’ve missed the point. (Remember when it said “Forget Greenlight”?)

  33. Charles MacMullen

     /  September 6, 2012

    This is a beautifully written post.

    Interesting that even when their blind spot is called out so explicitly, you’re getting people in the comments who simply, fundamentally, don’t understand the disconnect.

  34. Duder

     /  September 6, 2012

    Jonas,

    Then perhaps you should have removed the majority of your text where you WERE complaining about Steam and questioning the motives of people who accuse poor developers for not being ‘real’. You can’t go on a diatribe about how Steam is misguided, and they say to forget about your diatribe.

    If it’s not about Steam or Greenlight, then remove EVERY SINGLE MENTION OF IT. Otherwise, all you are doing is holding out the trap so you can say, “butubut you didn’t understand 1 small blurb which was actually the point of my novel of an article.” Be concise.

    If Steam or Greenlight isn’t relavent, then DON’T FUCKING BRING IT UP AT ALL.

  35. Games are a luxury good, you stupid arrogant hipster. You aren’t supposed to make games to survive and pay the damn rent. Get a job.

  36. I am rather confused by this post and the comments. On the one hand, I understand the problem with being asked for $100 *per submission* in order for it to be judged by the general public (who by anyone’s measure are not very good at judging stuff). As someone who can easily afford that it doesn’t seem like much, but for someone who can’t easily afford that it is a lot to do every time.

    That said, in order to build a game you need certain skills. You need to be able to code, to design, to write. Regardless of what anyone says about the general economy in any western country, these are in demand skills. I think the reason many people are having the “you can’t afford $100″ reaction is down to why they believe that. It’s more of a “you have a computer, an internet connection and an ability to program and you are unable to use those to get the $100″ rather than an “I am a rich, white male who doesn’t know how privileged I am to be able to throw $100 away on a whim” reaction.

    Up until this year I was in a position of making very little money from being an indie app developer. A few $100 a month tops, which only kept me going as I’ve been partially supported by my parents since leaving university 3 years ago. Then a friend convinced me to do freelance work and now I’m looking at hopefully buying a house within the next 12 months. If you have programming skills, a computer and an internet connection, the work is most definitely out there if you look for it. And like 99% of successful indies, it’s the “main” job that ultimately helps them build up the indie side bit by bit until it can support them.

    Being an indie, no matter what the field, is not really for someone who doesn’t either a. already have a job or b. have a decent amount of savings. The reason is that running any business requires many up front costs as well as a lot of time. Nobody ever gets an overnight success, they often have to work for years with little to no reward before they can live off it, which is why you need the income or the savings in order to even consider attempting it.

  37. Duder

     /  September 6, 2012

    You even said that at one time, indie developers weren’t considered real. What happened when they weren’t coddled to or had every avenue possible to get their game out without bankrupting themselves? They dug a little deeper, the put a larger chip on their shoulder and they proved how awesome indie games can be.

    The reality is that you should admonish DD platforms AND Greenlight because it makes it too easy, and that’s when quality suffers. I don’t want an indie dev living the easy life…like many other artists I want them to live tumultuous lives with enormous amounts of hardship, pain and anguish to give them motivation to make their products the best that they humanly could as if their life literally depended on it. That’s how Notch did it. That’s how every indie developer should do it.

    Indie games have been flooded with shit because it’s so comparitavely easy, and Greenlight makes it so easy that people could TROLL games. Any true indie would and should reject these type of handouts, because only from fire can you forge strong and beautiful iron.

  38. ThatGuyWithTheMonocle

     /  September 6, 2012

    I think that it would be a good idea for those who cannot afford this $100 price tag for Greenlight to run a Kickstarter for their funds. If, in the age where the OUYA raised $8.5 million, a dev can’t get $100 from donations, there is little chance the game would get through Greenlight anyway.

  39. Good lord, some people! Amazing.

    Anyway… @Eitan, I found this comment strange.

    “If you have trouble making rent and buying food then your priority has to be earning enough money to get out of that hole, not making games. It sucks, because it would be more fun to make games, but living comes first and games come second.”

    I’m not entirely sure why you exclude making games from being something you should/could be making money from here. It seems a really weird statement on first glance, y’know?

    Making games indie games, as you well know, *is* work. So why disqualify it on those grounds?

  40. I would try to submit my game only if I had already earned at least 10 times the entry fee through self-distribution.

    In other words you think it’s worth the risk… if you’re NOT paying out of your pocket. That sort of defeats the point, don’t you think?

    Advertise your own product IS a job: the time you spend advertising, it’s time subtracted from making a better/new game. Being on Steam would release you of part of the burden

    But in this case, paying the fee would not, in fact, guarantee you any advertising, but merely a (tiny) chance to get some. Would you pay a taxi driver $5 to maybe take you to your destination? You know, if traffic’s light and the stars are right and he feels like it?

  41. Duder

     /  September 6, 2012

    Rob,

    It’s a question of opportunity cost. Even with the handout and indie-coddling world we live in, making a game still takes time a ton of it without any immediate gains.

    So, the question becomes:
    Do I spend a) 18 hours a day developing this game
    or b) do I work a shit job with guranteed pay for 12 hours a day and then develop the game for 6. Or, do I take up another shit job with guaranteed pay and put off developing the game for a month?

    Personally, I would much rather indie devs suffer so I get to play a better game. The more an artist suffers the more motivation they put into their work.

  42. Charles MacMullen

     /  September 6, 2012

    Even if it was only half-serious, I can’t think of a more paternalistic attitude than “I want artists to have to suffer because I think it makes their art better”

  43. Hey, Duder. All those romantic stories about struggling artists? They’re just that, stories. Fairy tales, specifically. Creativity flourishes when people have resources to spare, not when they struggle to survive.

  44. It’s perfectly possible to make a living from churning out rent-a-games hence my confusion about the exclusion of making games as a valid route to making money. I’m not saying I want more of these games in the world but I am saying that disqualifying games as valid work and work that can earn you money is a questionable logic.

    But I was querying Eitan here, anyway, given that a) we’re both aware of each others work and b) I have a lot of time and respect for him and was wondering how he came round to thinking this. I care little for your starving artist gutrot because it’s just that. Gutrot. So kindly save it for someone who wants to listen to it, that person is not me.

  45. Duder:

    “Personally, I would much rather indie devs suffer so I get to play a better game.”

    Even if this weren’t completely ridiculous (I mean seriously, you think that artists actually have to be destitute to do their best work? Come on), do you even know what you’re saying? Did you realise you just said that it’s cool with you if a bunch of people have crappy lives just as long as you get a few cool games out of it?

  46. Personally, I would much rather indie devs suffer so I get to play a better game. The more an artist suffers the more motivation they put into their work.

    You are a callous asshole with no idea what you’re talking about.

  47. So what the argument has boiled down is:

    1. Some developers can’t afford the Greenlight fee.
    2. It doesn’t mean they aren’t good game developers.
    3. Insinuating that a hundred dollars is an appropriate fee for ANY developer, marginalizes those who truly can’t afford it.

    Fine. Done. I only have issue with part four, which is:

    4. Suggesting possible ways to raise the hundred dollar fee is insulting, because it comes from a position of privilege.

    Making note of the various ways the community can help out struggling independent developers is not classist. What is so offensive about suggesting they take up donations through Kickstarter? Or scrape together some help from friends and family? Yes, there may be the rare case of extreme isolated poverty to which these aren’t a legitimate option, but to simply suggest them shouldn’t cause offense.

  48. Dusk Golem

     /  September 6, 2012

    I think you make some good points, but also feel a lot of your points were deluded by potential anger and failure to conceive the thought process behind Greenlight.

    Firstly, I agree with you that not everyone can afford $100. Some people are blind to others less comfortable situations, and many are struggling on a day-by-day basis to stay afloat financially. However, I also do understand that the fee is comparably cheap to most other services and media forms. Everything from submitting films to novels for review, shows, contests, etc have a fee, often a marginally higher price. And then the submission fee for Greenlight is a one-time deal that is associated with an account. It is not an annual fee, nor per project, but per person/team.

    On a side note, I also am touched a bit to see a lot of indie developers, bigger people in the industry, and consumers donating to help people get their greenlight process. There are groups forming to help the less fortunate afford the fee if they need the help and have a solid idea behind them.

    I don’t agree that Greenlight should just be about completed projects, and I think you’re missing both the point somewhat and also haven’t been following the news very closely. Valve has inputted in their news feed, as well as pinned a topic at the very top of the discussion area that users should not submit their ‘idea’ games at this time as a feature in the beta of Greenlight, a section for completed or near-completed projects and a section for more conceptual or in-development projects, were not added initially but will be added in the upcoming weeks. The idea is to help developers get active feedback on their projects, and gauge interest with a broader audience. Added, the impossibly high percentage is completely intentional right now, as Valve have said publicly themselves on several occasions.

    Some organization needs to be done, and from the outgo there are problems, but I don’t feel that Greenlight is a ‘failure’. I think when some more niche genres and games gets to a broader audience there will be some clashing at first. I do think this will settle down over time (and this is already evident if you look at more recent responses on projects as a lot more reception and actual feedback has started to be submitted, the forums less cluttered with requests, etc), and I do think Valve will and is building up on research in response to Greenlight.

    I also feel that a lot of your points are blinded a bit by anger at some individuals that these games obviously aren’t marketed towards and by trying to ‘revolt’ against the blindness of some, have gained some blindness yourself. By this I mean you pay close attention to some details that really irk you, ignore other parts of Greenlight entirely, and then just spout it’s a failure when it’s a week old. I attributed this to frustration, but I do think now is the time more to produce feedback to Valve, help develop the playing field rather than call it out as a failure just because it is not what you were expecting.

  49. What is so offensive about suggesting they take up donations through Kickstarter?

    Funny you mention that. Kickstarter only works in the US.

    Or scrape together some help from friends and family?

    Because depending on their background, it may not be feasible for them to gather the equivalent of a month’s wages for the sake of a gamble. Or because their family is poor, too. That’s why I made such a big deal of what poverty is. It’s not being “low on cash at the moment.” It affects everything about one’s life.

    It is not offensive to say “hey Bob, you could use solution X to get around this problem.” It is offensive to say “why do developers complain if they can just do X, that’s easy.” The former is a suggestion, the latter is simply the assumption that everyone is in the same situation.

    (Thanks for being more friendly to me than I was to you. My apologies for the grump, which should have been directed more strongly at others.)

  50. By this I mean you pay close attention to some details that really irk you, ignore other parts of Greenlight entirely, and then just spout it’s a failure when it’s a week old.

    Maybe you should have read my article a little more carefully, because not once did I say or even suggest that Greenlight was a failure.

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