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. He wasn’t successful when he was alive simply because his ideas were considered bad at the time. Should he of been successful because people in the future recognized him as brilliant? The answer to that is “No”.

    Wow. That is the most subservient thing I’ve ever read. Does the status quo really have to be defended that much? And what the hell is the point of going indie if we think like that? Why don’t we just make mainstream games?

  2. Lucas

     /  September 7, 2012

    Are you trying to tell me that the opinion of your audience isn’t important? Your intended audience shouldn’t have to bend backward to think your game is fun or enjoyable or a good idea if it’s not.

    It’s not supporting the status quo. Whether you like it or not, you have an audience. Yes, you should make something that’s important to you, something that interests you, but you should also think about your intended audience so you give them something they enjoy as well. I’m not saying “MAKE MORE CALL OF DUTY CLONES” but at least think of something your audience will enjoy or think is a good idea.

  3. What about creating new audiences? What about expanding the way people think? Without people like William Blake, there would never be any progress.

  4. Lucas

     /  September 7, 2012

    Then don’t be surprised when you fall on your ass.

    You don’t just hand people something different and expect them to love it and embrace it. People want new things, but they want it to be familiar too. People want games to be fun and interesting, not confusing or boring.

    Being adventurous and taking a risk is one thing, but you should realize that you’re probably going to fail rather than make a sleeper hit. And when that happens, you take what you learn and make something better instead of complaining about how unfair it is that you failed.

  5. See, you’re trying to make it about me again. I didn’t fall on my ass. And I don’t think my fans (or the reviewers) would think so, either. That this doesn’t translate to having a ton of money to throw around is part of the point.

  6. Lucas

     /  September 7, 2012

    You is just the easiest pronoun to use.

    And it has nothing to do with throwing money around. If you have a good idea that people enjoy, something that they believe in, they’re more than willing to help. In ways that don’t involve just throwing money around. It’s already clear that greenlight is about more than having money to be successful. The thing that you need most of all is word of mouth, to get people to look at and upvote your game, and the best way of doing that is having a game that people believe in, that they have faith in. If you can’t raise the $100 necessary to get on Greenlight, chances are you’ll have difficulty getting the word of mouth needed to get on Steam.

  7. Sigh, we’re just going in circles here. :/

  8. aman

     /  September 7, 2012

    lucas, you sound like a douche bag.
    this isn’t about the game itself or greenlight.
    its about social preconceptions and the value of a dollar, the value of indie games, the value of someone’s work.

    more than half of the world’s population lives on less than 2 dollars a day. This is about poverty.

    keep in your cave please mr troll.
    Hi from kotaku.
    say hello to the world jonas ^_^

  9. This debate has become very, very silly, and it is hard for me to take seriously these developers who continue to rally against a $100 fee as a symbol of classism. If we want to give the poor a voice in game design, simply crossing our fingers and hoping the financial barriers to development and marketing somehow disappear is wishful thinking. Instead of attempting to demonize the simple costs of business, we should accept them as a standard part of the capitalist model, which by its fundamental nature will always discriminate against the poor, and fruitlessly pointing fingers at which fees are and aren’t justified gets us nowhere.

    Instead, I propose that we should focus our effort on creating programs which assist struggling devs, and giving the underprivileged access to game making education and tools (much like Public Access Television). This strikes me as a perfect example, with video production being a field which requires obvious costs (a decent camera is at least a grand or so), something which presents an obvious barrier to entry for the poor. However, rather than demand camera manufacturers to bring costs down, or ask film festivals to do away with submission costs, we rationalized that these are essential parts of the filmmaking process, and it made much more sense to help finance them for those in need rather than argue they should be done away with.

    That’s why this debate has gotten out of hand. Class issues are not solved by dismantling specific aspects of capitalism, but instead giving the disadvantaged a chance to compete on the same field. Doing away with the Greenlight fee would level the playing field, at the expense of re-introducing the flood of crap it was meant to dissuade. Whereas keeping the fee in place and setting up a way to help truly disadvantaged devs afford it, is a simple and logical solution.

  10. That wasn’t directed at you Jonas, rather at the articles that continue to crop up which suggest the fee is an issue, as opposed to the reality of poverty.

  11. Hello world! (Wow, you’re big.)

  12. That’s why this debate has gotten out of hand. Class issues are not solved by dismantling specific aspects of capitalism, but instead giving the disadvantaged a chance to compete on the same field.

    I’d say they’re solved by dismantling capitalism, but that’s not really the point of this discussion.

    The real question is what we want the indie scene to be. As I said, I think the fee is a mistake, but that’s all it is – a mistake, and one that can be fixed. Better systems can be put into place. But none of those systems will be any good if the indie scene itself starts judging and excluding people by these standards.

  13. Thing is, I’m more than okay with indie gaming moving towards semi-professional platforms like Greenlight, even if it excludes a select number of devs. I think the benefits offered by larger distribution platforms far outweigh the minor hardship it places on devs who wish to be a part.

  14. Lucas

     /  September 7, 2012

    Quick question, who do you think decides the future direction of gaming? Do you think it’s developers who have the final say?

  15. aman

     /  September 8, 2012

    im glad you’ve dropped your passive aggressive stance Lucas.
    however, don’t just assume that your opinion is in line with every consumer.
    The one size fits all idea isn’t a real world solution.
    what you might find uninspiring and boring might be fun and interesting to the next person.

    On another note developers have more power than it is assumed. Refer to crash of the 80′s and the death of arcades, the consumers didn’t have a lack of choice back then.

    p.s. if you do know what they’ll want I’d like to congratulate you early for coming up with the next angry birds or call of duty or dota and capitalizing on it.

    We consumers don’t have an idea of what we really want, but once we find it we buy it, and it changes constantly.Refer to history. Nobody has been right with prediction of consumer buying trends in video games .

    go read up some books on economy while you’re at it. Get the idea of poverty.

  16. Lucas

     /  September 8, 2012

    Really, People are poor? You mean they don’t pluck money right out of the sky? Thank you Captain Obvious, I have seen the light.

    Gamers always have a say. The crash in the 80s happened because developers kept on trying to push new hardware on consumers as well as releasing games for all of those different pieces of hardware. And that was an era when gaming was more expensive than it was now. It has nothing to do with the consumers not knowing what they want. And if people didn’t enjoy CoD or WoW, then you wouldn’t see all of these other developers trying to capitalize on that success. Hell, we probably wouldn’t have the New Super Mario Bros series if gamers weren’t voting for platformers with their wallets.

    And people do know when they see a good idea. Are you going to tell me that something like the Double Fine Kickstarter was some kind of miraculous stroke of luck?Do you seriously think people went “OH MAN THESE GUYS MADE PSYCHONAUTS SO ITS GOING TO BE LOLSORANDUM AND FUNNY?”

    Go back to your shitty “Gaeman journalism lol” website where they talk about a Chicken Sandwich in China being too spicy and how JRPGS should remove voice acting because it annoys them. Truly the pinnacle of gaming journalism that everyone should aspire to.

  17. uriele

     /  September 8, 2012

    @Jonas: I love Blake, and one of my favorite works are his engraving for the Dante’s Divine Comedy; I like them even more than Doré’s one… but
    but Blake was an employee of Basine for many years, an apprentice who was payed by his master to work on what the master wanted and to learn the rope, and so were Raphael, Michelangelo, Leonardo, …

    And this is what happening even in the indie scene when we are looking to people that make a living with their art: there are a lot of indie who worked years as software developers or as programmers/developers for small companies when they where creating their own games: Andy Schatz (Monaco) worked years for Cyan (The Journeyman Project, Myst III); PIXEL worked for 5 years to his masterpiece when he was a software developers (and he released for free one of the best indie game ever made); Tim Schafer and Ron Gilbert… well, we all know where they started; the founders of Telltale? They were all ex-Lucas.

    We are talking of art and making a lot of parallels with author of the past, but how many of these author made it without a payed apprenticeship under a master (Mozart father was a talented teacher and a composer) or a Patron (even Dumas was a scribe for Louis Philippe).

    We had a lot of lone indies who became big names at the dawn of videogame history ( Carmack and Romero, Garriott,…), but they usually came from technical backgrounds and they revolutionized the industry (Carmack had the idea of not redrawing the screen at each frame and brought the platformers to the PC, he also invented the Quake engine from scratch). Sometimes it happens even today (think about the Yerli brothers and their Cry Engine), but it’s harder without a tech background (think about Derek Yu and Alec Holowka) and/or experience in the game industry.

  18. Aman

     /  September 8, 2012

    @Lucas: crash of the 80′s wasnt an issue of hardware as much as you’d like to think.
    Go look up on e.t.

    I’m stunned by your thick headedness tbh.
    So you do understand people are poor yet you accept a barrier which prevents from displaying their art. Which some others might enjoy .
    Just in the case of Jonas, considering that he isn’t someone in dire need of money, his games are really really good. Try them out . The characters are surprisingly nicely developed. Loads of references to popular media . A vague yet interesting storyline.

    The whole point of greenlight was to find these types of game .
    There could easily be another developer who has worked part time on his pet project and supposedly loses his main job . He’ll keep developing. It’s expected. It hard to give up hobbies. Dare you to disagree. The 100$ is something that will stop him from bringing out his work. It’s about those people.
    Since you know that people are poor . You must know how they get poor in the first place . Still, why do you continue to be a jerk ?

    The website is fantastic. I’m there as you lurk in your cave covered by darkness and misery, curling up to the quiet sounds of emptiness . Am I feeding you well troll ?
    Do my replies bring fire to your soul?

    If you honestly believe the thing’s you’ve said above you are ,quite frankly,a terrible person. Especially considering you’ve heard rob’s story.

    I’m hoping youre just a troll though . I wouldn’t be surprised if you had a submission up for greenlight too.
    People seem to have forgotten what cause the instatement of the fee in the first place

  19. Lucas

     /  September 8, 2012

    Yes, because steam is the only way to get your game out there. Clearly nobody knew about Cave Story before it was released on Steam. Clearly nobody in the west knows about Touhou Project since it’s not on steam. Clearly Minecraft isn’t available to everyone because it’s not on steam. Obviously if it’s not on Greenlight it can’t possibly be seen by people.

    Holy shit. The $100 fee doesn’t stop anyone from getting their games out there. Is steam a large audience? Yes. Does it stop anyone from getting exposure if you’re not on there? Hell no.

  20. Aman

     /  September 8, 2012

    More than anything else though.
    The 100$ is just another hurdle indie devs will have to jump to get their product out to the mass.
    A 100$ doesn’t sound much to all the critics over here.
    But it doesn’t just cost 100$ to make the game .
    People are talking about how photoshop and maya and other professional tools cost such and such amount of money.
    They have the answer right there.
    Undoubtedly there are developers out there who need to prioritise their spending. That 100$ going to steam could easily go towards these tools . You know the ones they actually need to make the game.

    Reading these negative comments towards jonas’s article it surprises me.
    I picture some people as having eyepieces and suits drinking rich French wine in their tweed suits cause they do sound stuck up and ignorant.

    There are calls of supposed coming to reality. Learning to do business. How they should factor it to underlying costs Etc etc .
    This is business. There’s a little word for these costs .. Overheads.

    You know what the 100$ is doing for these indie devs ? Increasing overheads.
    And this 100$ doesn’t guarantee sales.

    Remember the last time you bought 100$ worth of lottery tickets.
    Or your last 100$ donation.
    Or the last time you went and played a single bet of 100$ in a casino .

    If you can’t remember then you have no right to criticise these devs.

    It’s just a matter of catching somebody’s eye. Popping up on somebody’s list. It’s more luck orientated than some might agree.

    In any case it’s just a bet.

  21. Lucas

     /  September 8, 2012

    Why even bother if you’re not confident that you made the best game you could and that people will enjoy it?

    If you’re making such an halfhearted effort that you’re not certain if at least 15 people will buy a $10 game, or 30 people will buy a $5 game, then maybe you shouldn’t be bothering at all. It’s supposed to be an investment in your own effort, not a gamble.

  22. Aman

     /  September 8, 2012

    @lucas

    Omg finally . That’s the point about greenlight.

    Valve want to make money from the next mine craft, the next cave story, the next pushmo .

    They want in on the next big indie thing.

    The indie devs are basically selling their ideas in the first place.
    Jonas’s article just explains that the troll buffer isn’t appropriate.
    I.e. it could’ve been 25$ which is affordable yet would deter trolls.
    Moderation happens regardless or has happened is more proper.
    I support his ideas and I’d like to see works like his on steam.
    It’s just terrible that we will miss out on golden content purely because the dev didn’t wanna fork out 100$ for a shot at a pot.

    It’s not about proving your product. Jonas’s works speak for themselves .
    And frankly it’s annoying to see people who weigh his work without trying it first.

    The fact that green light was free says that valve just wanted a chunk of the next fez or meatboy. While helping people too getting them to prominence.

    Ps. I especially hate when people complain with ‘hurr durr work at *popular burger shop* hurr* . It’s not demeaning or anything but do respect that some of these devs have put their heart and soul into their works and they want their 100% to show in the game .

    I like the ‘notch’ hypocrites too. They say the things from the last paragraph ^ then they mention notch. You know , I’m not sure what his opinion is on this. However, I would think he’d take to green light. I would also like to think he’d be appalled by the fee. This is the same guy complaining about windows 8 cause it has a store . < overheads, notch cares about them too .

    Rather than being all hoo hah over this and making pretentious comments comparing someone's blood and tears and at the same time demeaning the dollar. We should agree that the fee was steep and it needs to be moderated better instead of the pay wall acting as a troll buffer.

  23. Aman

     /  September 8, 2012

    @lucas

    It isnt simply a one person case.
    I’m quite confident jonas has got a nice amount from his games.
    But green light and kickstarter help build the game up as far as I know.
    Yes with sandbox games it would be possible to start off with a kick starter as an incentive.
    But with an incomplete game with focus on storyline ,which I think is a lot of indies , is a hard sell.
    And I think we agree on the amount of indie debs out there.
    They could all very well have something with USP .
    But game devs aren’t businessmen as far as I know . I believe you need to factor that too . The nice thing about indie games is that they are fun . It’s a for gamers by gamers thing . No corporate bs . But it’s the corporate bs that sells the game and makes the money. I think green light is that corporate bs necessary for indie to take off even further.

  24. Aman

     /  September 8, 2012

    When I said kickstarters I meant to say that the incentives would be beta releases and such .
    With the bet thing.
    Yes it’s undoubtedly a bet .
    It’s a 12/274 chance of your game popping up in the lists when someone opens up green light. ( on the basis that the person doesn’t know about the game as indie devs are hardly marketers too cause they’d rather polish their game, this is my opinion anyways . )
    Then on top of that 1/3 chances of getting that important vote up. Out of yes no and leave page.

    This is where the demo bit is interesting yet important.

    Imagine if minecraft wasnt as big. If it was low key . And they had screenshots of this blocky game . Would you honestly say you’d want that ? ( without Trolling )

    There will be a lot of judging by the cover . Which is yet another hurdle for these guys.
    And raising capital is in no way easy. These guys will be reluctant to let the quality of their work decline undoubtedly. Some of the will have made many sacrifices. From personal to financial.

    This 100$ is another one they’d rather not part with.

  25. JediaKyrol

     /  September 8, 2012

    Now, I know that you’ve gotten some harsh critiquing since Kotaku linked to you, so I’ll try not to sound like an ass.

    When you are trying to get a project accepted and distributed by a big-name producer, would you rather bring it to a board review full of marketers and bigwigs or pay what you make selling 10 copies of your game on your website to completely bypass them and have a massive peer review?

    On another note…your game is reasonably priced…but what is your opinion of other indie devs who price their games at the $30-$50 level? I’ve seen many 1-3 man teams on Desura with such price tags and they typically state that they “deserve” it…
    One dev even replied to questions on the high price tag for a game that could be completed in a few short hours with no variation in play style or ending (so no re-playability) by calling everyone uncultured morons who didn’t understand his “art”. Needless to say, I gave every single one of his “masterpieces” a pass.

    …sorry, I get wordy sometimes.

  26. uriele

     /  September 8, 2012

    @Aman: well, Notch made pretty clear on his blog what he thought about publishing on Steam, and it was a pretty ethic position:

    As much as I love Steam, I do somewhat worry about the PC as a gaming platform becoming owned by a single entity that takes 30% of all PC games sold. I’m hoping for a future where more games can self-publish and use social media and friends to market their games. Perhaps there’s something we could do to help out there? I don’t know. If nothing else, we might work as an inspiration for people to self-publish.

    It’s probably obvious from this reply, but we’re trying to figure out what we want to do long term with the position we have now. We only recently decided to stay as independent as possible and cancelled an unannounced project that we were doing in collaboration with someone else. It’s going to be an interesting future.

    and the indies are not selling their idea to Steam (there is Indigogo and Kickstarter for this). They are asking a spot for a finished and polished game they think it’s mainstream enough to sell well (in fact, even if I backed Cognition, I’m not sure that greenlighting it before having a finished game would be the right policy)

  27. Now, I know that you’ve gotten some harsh critiquing since Kotaku linked to you, so I’ll try not to sound like an ass.

    Actually it’s been fairly harmless, most of the genuine lunatics had already found me before.

    When you are trying to get a project accepted and distributed by a big-name producer, would you rather bring it to a board review full of marketers and bigwigs or pay what you make selling 10 copies of your game on your website to completely bypass them and have a massive peer review?

    That’s two different questions. The one is about who the game is exposed to: Valve or the Greenlight community. Personally I’d probably prefer Valve, but that’s not the point of Greenlight, and that’s OK.

    The other question is money, and here I think I’ve already made my position clear. It’s just not as easy as “selling 10 copies.” I wish that it was. (It’s easier for me than for some people, but not much.)

    On another note…your game is reasonably priced…but what is your opinion of other indie devs who price their games at the $30-$50 level? I’ve seen many 1-3 man teams on Desura with such price tags and they typically state that they “deserve” it…

    That’s tricky. You see, on the one hand, it’s terrible how developers have been forced to (via competition, bundles, etc.) to lower their prices to the point where only a massive success will bring any meaningful income. Some indie games are worth way more than $10. But not all of them, of course. So, all in all, I think indies should have the right to sell games for more than they are at the moment, but that doesn’t mean every indie game needs to be expensive.

    (I do wonder why people don’t apply that to the industry, though. Games that cost $60 and have, like, 8 hours of gameplay? Are you kidding me?)

  28. JaFO

     /  September 8, 2012

    You know what is even worse about those people who think that a developer should spend that 100$ to get their game on Steam ?
    They wouldn’t want to spend 100$ to buy that game …

  29. Sibbs

     /  September 8, 2012

    @JaFO It’s probably the publishers that get us used to the idea that ‘actual’ games cost $60USD dollars (or $110AUD in my region roughly $111USD), but the market sets those prices and in my honest opinion I shouldn’t have to put up $100+ dollars per game.

    In relation to the article (or at least some specific detail) I can’t see why it is a surprise that most people can’t conceive poverty let alone understand the struggles to pay $100.
    Gaming in itself is a luxury, therefore it is a pastime that will, inevitably, be dominated by the middle class (and above), of which many know next to nothing about true poverty (myself included).
    I freely admit that it is difficult to comprehend that someone can’t scrounge $100, but I know it exists, even if it isn’t visible in my day to day life and in all honesty it’s unfair and does punish those that may have a fantastic idea but not the liquidity to support it all the way through.

    To refer to the catalyst, Valve have an ill conceived solution to an ill conceived idea. Yes Greenlight has promise but it wasn’t thought out enough and this fee is an admission that Valve want to ‘support’ the indie community but only if they don’t have to spend any money themselves on it, which is clearly not the way to have the best content available.

  30. JaFO

     /  September 8, 2012

    @Sibbs :Maybe it is difficult to comprehend, because as consumers we have *ahem* alternate means *ahem* to get what we want whenever we can’t justify spending money on a game.

    Developers OTOH are screwed, because every option costs either money or resources of some kind. Never mind that getting your product in an app-store or Steam isn’t the end. So any money/resources wasted in that process means less resources to promote your game and thus less chance of consumers hearing about it unless you get lucky.

  31. Great editorial, Jonas. There’s a serious problem with the present business model Valve are fiddling with—and make no mistake, this is, in fact, a “business model”—if only because it bilks money from the people Greenlight purports to support, people who oftentimes don’t have that cash to spend anyway.

    While I was initially not disturbed by the $100 entrance fee, as I well understand the reason for that hurdle, your editorial underscores the philosophical error therein. I’m more impressed, though, that you have outlined sensible alternatives to Greenlight’s $100 barrier. Instead of lambasting the process, you have provided thoughtful, positive, productive commentary.

    I’m disheartened by some of the reader comments here. Even if there were reason to disagree—which is fine, since there will always be dissenting opinion—I’m shocked at the outright hostility some readers are conveying toward the “poor.”

    More to the point, arguments like “get over yourself” and “hoist yourself by the bootstraps” are only baffling to me, as these remarks are being leveraged against people who already demonstrate both tremendous work ethic and entrepreneurial instincts. Many indie developers and freelance writers have audaciously chosen the harder path already.

    Some of the most educated, cultured, intelligent, artistically sensitive people I know have chosen, not to be poor, but certainly to work a little bit harder for what they earn. Encouraging the working classes to work still harder for their scraps really improves nothing. It isn’t even an argument for or against anything at all. It’s only very disappointing.

  32. JediaKyrol

     /  September 8, 2012

    @Jonas Hey man, thanks for the response…I can kinda see better where you are coming from now. Yeah, I admit that “10 copies” snip I made was kinda crap…I wasn’t really considering how hard it was for people with zero fanbase. You’ve had some of your other stuff on Newgrounds for a while, so that helps you a tiny bit. But for someone who it’s their first released project…nada.

    Speaking of Newgrounds…the portal seems to have worked for years without a fee…except in rare Strawberry Clock-like situations. There is a heavy amount of web-advertising though.

  33. Belatedly I remembered—without rereading anything, thank you!—that the money isn’t actually going to Valve but to charity. That’s very nice, very not-evil, and in this particular case it means I was wrong to call the process a “business model.” Apologies for my inaccuracy!

    (I think I can get this comment in before the other comment is moderated and posted, which is to say, nobody shoot! I’m unarmed!)

  34. Steve

     /  September 9, 2012

    Couldn’t agree more with this article.

    I’d call myself a fan of indies, but as a consumer I guess I’ve been getting lazy hunting them down, and now rely almost exclusively on Steam and Indie Bundles, Humble or otherwise.

    I feel compelled reading all this to get back to my roots and start digging around for (and supporting) more obscure titles again.

  35. JiminyJickers

     /  September 9, 2012

    You can’t downvote a game, the thumbs down should really be called “Ignore”, it doesn’t count against the game or and upvote.

    It only serves to remove the game from your yet to be rated list.

  36. By the way can I just say that while I agree with most of your original points I think you kind of hurt your argument by mostly responding to debate with “has been covered” or “cliché!” without actually addressing specific points and even resorting to ad hominem attacks (which, when this was pointed out to you, you responded basically with “people I disagree with are always saying that”), plus a lot of making assumptions about people’s backgrounds (which is falling into the same trap you are criticizing others for)…

  37. When I wrote “has been covered” or “cliché” it was because those points had been covered, or were clichés. Just because some people can’t parse text or are too lazy to read doesn’t mean I have to say everything ten times.

  38. You neglect to consider that some may have read and parsed the preceding text and did not feel it adequately addressed their points at all. This is the nature of debate. If you choose to respond to them in this way you are doing your argument a disservice.

  39. Sorry, I’m not interested in playing this game. I know how it goes.

  40. I’m sorry you feel that actually engaging people in a reasoned debate is ‘a game’ in which you are not interested in participating (though I’m not sure why you allow comments on your blog in that case). Goodbye.

  41. Lin

     /  September 9, 2012

    I have a 38.5 C fever right now, so forgive me for going out of character for a second:

    @Martin Pilkington: FUCK YOU!

    “You are bemoaning how poor and unfortunate you are, when in reality you chose this path by being an indie full time for 10 years despite the lack of success.”

    How arrogant and ignorant can you be, to pass judgement on the life choices of someone you don’t know in such an insulting manner? And just how stupid and superficial could you possibly be, to measure the success of an artistic endeavour by its financial gain?

    I think if I hadn’t already been vomiting all day I would start now. I can’t keep on reading these comments, dear child Martin here seems to be where I finally boil over. This discussion isn’t about Greenlight, that’s another chat that we should have one day. This post was about the fact that some people are simply not willing to challenge their assumptions. That seems to have flown past the heads of the majority.

    How much money is too much money is not a question you should feel entitled to answer on anyone else’s behalf, PERIOD. When someone tells you they can’t afford something, you just take their word for it, unless you think they’re about to try to scam you of your money. When someone tells you they can’t afford something, and they want nothing from you, and you don’t know them, and they live in a different country than yours, and you know SHIT ALL about their life, you take their fucking word for it! Just how is that incomprehensible for some people? How is it possible that we’re having this argument?

    And yes, some people choose life paths that don’t lead to financial comfort, or not in any direct way. In fact sometimes financial comfort doesn’t factor all that highly in the decision. People choose their paths because of necessity, capability, tradition, chance, duty, calling, any number of weird reasons. We can sit here on our comfy chairs and make assumptions and agree or disagree with some of these notions (“duty”, “calling”, “art”), but that doesn’t in any way change the fact that they are all legitimate reasons to make legitimate life choices for /someone/. That someone isn’t necessarily us. NONE of other people’s choices are about us. No, really! They never ever are! And none of these choices disqualifies ANY person from voicing an argument in a public discussion, nor does it disqualify them from “bemoaning” being poor. No one is poor by preference. This is becoming as absurd as the “gay by choice” discussion.

    One has to be either too stupid to challenge their privilege or totally unaware of it, to assume that people stay poor WILLINGLY, or because they ain’t trying hard enough. And if your argument there was “You don’t make enough money in your job or vocation ERGO you suck at it”, then I don’t want to live in your world.

    Trust me, no one chooses underprivileged. And the least a thinking individual can do is recognise their privileges and be aware of them. I’m aware of my white privilege, so the least I can do is not make assumptions about the problems non-white people face. That’s it. It ain’t that hard work. Just acknowledge them. Question yourself. No one is stealing your privilege away. No one’s saying you aren’t trying. All that’s asked of you is to THINK.

    I’m gonna go throw up again now.

  42. I’m actually going to side with ND a little here. As you’ve seen I do broadly sympathise with your points, Jonas. But there are other people on here that aren’t quite seeing it, some of whom I know a little, personally, and many of whom I’m sure aren’t terrible people.

    It’s not your responsibility to debate any of these people, and you can obviously do as you please, but I do feel like it’d help you out if you were a bit more patient with them, and maybe engaged with them a little more to try to re-explain where you’re coming from.

    I know you feel you’ve already done that, I know you feel people are missing the point left right and centre, but a lot of these people are the kinds of people who would respond well to “here’s where I think you went wrong and this is why”, much more than “same old cliches”

    The other day, Mike Bithell tweeted you about his article, in the hope of finding some common ground. You pretty much brushed him off. He was reaching out to you – it doesn’t matter who is in the right here, or how much of the point he missed, if you don’t even entertain entering a dialogue, then that feels like a missed opportunity to build some bridges.

  43. @ND: Did I say debate was a game? I did not. (Would I have posted dozens of responses otherwise?) I said that what you are doing is a game – and one I’ve seen many times before. The whole “oh but you didn’t listen to the bigoted/irrational/already covered arguments someone posted, that means you’re intolerant and harms your argument!” Every discussion about anything progressive in which someone asserts a clear, detailed opinion ends up with someone playing exactly that game.

    @surplusgamer: I read the article that he posted (even after he retweeted the entirely vile Aztez one). He did nothing but reiterate the same nonsense about $100 being perfectly easy to earn. He did it in nicer language than the Aztez people, but it was exactly the same thing – the same dismissal, the same unwillingness to engage with the possibility that people live differently, the same “oh if it’s easy for me it must be easy for everyone else.” There was nothing there that engaged with any of what I or Rob or anyone else wrote. Not a word. So explain to me why I should just write every single one of my arguments again when the person doing the “reaching out” isn’t willing to engage in the slightest?

  44. Jonas, as I said, you’re under no obligation to. It’s entirely up to you. It really depends if you have any interest in actually changing minds, rather than simply venting – I’m not making judgement on that, both are valid goals. Maybe you are just venting. But I suspect you hoped to change some people’s minds.

    I don’t know anything about poverty so I can’t really talk about it. But by way of analogy I do know, for example, about how hard it can be to explain to a straight person exactly how deep a heteronormative society runs, and how that can be for someone on the other side. They don’t have to be a homophobe to not get it, it’s just that it runs deep – people are blind to things that they take for granted, and even if you point them out, they often won’t see why it’s a big deal until you spell it out in a dozen ways.

    If he was completely uninterested in hearing what you had to say, he wouldn’t have bothered getting in touch with you. The fact that in your opinion he got it utterly wrong is irrelevant – if you have any genuine interest in challenging norms then you engage, and if it doesn’t work, you engage again, use different words, try different analogies, not because that’s ‘fair’ or that it’s your obligation whatever but because sometimes that’s what it takes. It sucks that this stuff takes explaining and re-explaining, but -especially- when people are actively reaching out to you, your patience may end up being worth it.

    Finally, perhaps you aren’t explaining it as thoroughly as you believe. Maybe there’s a point you feel you explained very well, but on account of being different people, some people just aren’t able to join the dots in their head. The point of re-explaining and using different examples and analogies and bothering with all that hassle is that ultimately you’re helping to join the dots. Doesn’t matter that you think they should be able to join the dots themselves. They’re not you, and that’s an easy assumption to make.

  45. This logic ultimately puts responsibility for every form of discrimination with the victims, and confuses a nonaggressive tone with a willingness to engage. My post is easy to understand, as is Rob’s. If someone asked for clarification of individual aspects of anything I said, then I would gladly have provided such. But that’s not even remotely what occurred. Instead I’m being criticized for not posting again what someone didn’t even attempt to engage with the first time. If there was even a shred of an iota of an attempt to understand, even the tiniest reference to any of our arguments, I might have responded. There was not. There was just someone trying to feel better about himself without facing any facts about the world and other people’s lives.

    “When I tell any Truth it is not for the sake of Convincing those who do not know it but for the sake of defending those who Do.” – William Blake

  46. I don’t think it puts responsibility on the victim because it’s really not about whose responsibility it is, or who the victim is or anything. It’s about being willing to accept that maybe – maybe! – someone’s lack of understanding isn’t due to them having a defective personality or being awful people. All what you said may be true – they may have failed on every level to grasp your point, they may have misunderstood so completely that it boggles the mind, but I still have to assume they aren’t monsters.

    It seems to me you’re giving up on them way too soon, and worse, you’re making very broad assumptions about them as people before you’ve even had a real discussion with them. As if when someone is wrong, they’re not only wrong but broken top to bottom, no chance of being fixed. As if they’re just defective people you’ve decided to give up on. Is there no middle ground? No ‘okay, I think you’ve absolutely failed here and I think you’ve shown my arguments no respect, but I do think you’re human so, since you’re willing to talk, let’s see if we might be able to get back to a point where we’re having a real discussion.’?

  47. @Lin: I’m sorry you’re feeling ill and hope you feel better soon. However, your post is somewhat misguided. I was done with posting to this thread but I feel this post requires a response.

    My point was not that $100 is a lot for some people to pay. The point I was making was that if you’re trying to be a full time indie developer, be it of games or of other software, you are doing it as a business. It is a fact of this world that you need money to fund things. I’m sure you, I and everyone else on this thread would love to be able to make stuff and give it away for free, yet still be able to buy food and put a roof over our heads, but unless you’re rich from something else then that isn’t going to happen.

    In any business in the western world (and note that point, as none of this applies to poorer nations. Of course there are often more pressing concerns for people in those nations than how to get a game they’ve made onto Steam), if after 10 years in business you find it hard to justify $100 as a business expense that is necessary to your business, your business is not doing very well. Short term cash flows are fine, you may not be able to handle $100 right now, but I don’t think at any point the OP was implying that. If your business is in that bad a state that you cannot even think of affording a $100 business expense, you need to do one of two things:

    a. Change something
    b. Give up on the business

    Option a is obviously the preferable option. In our industry we all have skills that are in high demand and are highly paid. This is why, as I stated before, many indies fund their own projects by doing contract work, or by having a full time job and working on this at evenings and weekends.

    Now, if you don’t care about money in the slightest and do this only for the enjoyment, then $100 can be a lot steeper. However, at the same time you are only doing it as a hobby, rather than as a living. As such it isn’t essential to get onto steam quickly. You could save, over the course of years if you had to.

    I fully expect this to be shot down as a “privileged” point of view yet again, further diluting the word for use in real cases of privilege (of which as a straight, white male living in a 1st world country I am well aware I have a lot of over others). However, I don’t feel this is necessarily a case of privilege in that sense. It’s merely a case of simple business economics, and the privilege that success allows over not having the lucky break that gives you such success. Running a business is hard.

  48. @surplusgamer:

    Ah, but you are placing the responsibility with the victim; the victim is supposed to not give up, to selflessly keep explaining, to give the oppressor (intentional or otherwise) vast amounts of leeway. It’s the same accusation every resistance or rights group ever has gotten: you’re not friendly enough, you’re too militant, lie down at their feet, ask for a dialogue when they beat you, if only you would sacrifice yourselves to make them understand, etc. But it is not up to me to force them to behave like human beings, to have respect and understanding for others. The failure is theirs, not mine. Auntie Pixelante doesn’t need to explain to transphobic people what dys4ia is about, and I don’t need to repeat my arguments just because someone is unwilling to listen.

    Let me be clear: the blog post in question did not attempt to engage with anything that I or Rob or anyone else wrote. Not attempting to engage is not the same as misunderstanding. To smile and repeat the same platitudes as before is not to engage, and trying to convince someone who is not interested in understanding is a waste of time.

    But again: it’s not up to me to make them understand. It’s not about “let’s all have a dialogue and get along.” When someone is incapable of empathy, openness and compassion, the fault does not lie with the person he or she cannot understand. If you want to tell someone off for not trying hard enough, how about you pick the people who refuse to even try to imagine what it might be like for someone else?

  49. @Martin:
    You didn’t really understand a word Lin said, and you manage to be condescending once again (“somewhat misguided”, really?). As for your view of the world, in which all we can do is adapt to the mainstream and are reduced to nothing but numbers, well, I’m glad I’m not you.

  50. Rob B

     /  September 9, 2012

    Just a heads up this article was featured on the gaming website Giant Bomb. Patrick Klepek talks about this issue in his weekly round-up article.