Saturday, March 30, 2013

Muddy Steam - Before and After Greenlight

When we decided to port our critically-acclaimed and award-winning title, Mutant Mudds, over to the PC I looked at the library of game available on Steam to get an idea of pricing and genres available. Based on the games that are available on Steam I expected that Mutant Mudds would not have a problem getting on Steam. Not because I think Mutant Mudds is oh-so deservedly so, but because the library of games available on Steam ranges greatly in genre and quality. It does not give the impression of any strict guidelines.

My development experience with Renegade Kid has primarily been with Nintendo platforms. When we submit a game to Nintendo they test the game to ensure it does not crash or have any major bugs that impede gameplay. If the game contains any issues in this regard Nintendo sends us a report that explains why the game was failed. We fix it and resubmit. Nintendo works with developers where needed to isolate issues and correct them.

Valve is a successful company that is reportedly in good financial shape. With this in mind I assumed they would have a robust team in place that provides a similar submission service as Nintendo. I was lucky enough to be introduced to a Steam team member via email thanks to a friend. The Steam team member sent me a friendly email with a link to the submission form and said they look forward to checking out a playable build of Mutant Mudds.

I filled out the form and uploaded a playable PC build of Mutant Mudds with the hope of opening up a dialog about the game to see what features they would like to see supported on Steam, such as achievements, etc. I received an email from Steam about 10 days after submitting:

Thank you for submitting "Mutant Mudds" for potential Steam distribution. We have taken a look at the information provided and determined that Steam is not a good fit for distribution. It is our company policy not to provide specific feedback on a submission but we would like you to consider Steam distribution for your future products.

I was shocked. Like most developers, I never truly know whether one of my games is good or not, but due to the high review scores and fan reaction we received for Mutant Mudds on the 3DS I assumed the game was at least above average and at least on-par with the quality and genre of games currently found on Steam. Steam’s rejection of Mutant Mudds made no sense to me. And, to boot, their policy is not to provide feedback. That’s helpful.

Soon after this, news of Steam Greenlight was heating up and offered potential for Mutant Mudds on Steam – and possibly offered an explanation for Mutant Mudds’ rejection. Did the Steam team want to include it as a relatively ‘well-known’ title in their new Greenlight system? Maybe. Many folks tweeted me saying as much, and I wanted to believe them. I felt fortunate that the Steam team wanted to include Mutant Mudds with the launch of Steam Greenlight. That was awesome.

And then, it quickly seemed as though the games that were being received well on Greenlight were either first-person games, contained zombies, and/or were supported by a built-in PC community or a unique publicity angle. Mutant Mudds could not find its audience. Greenlight is, after all, a popularity contest. Some seem put-out by calling it this. There is nothing wrong with it being a popularity contest. Isn’t that the point of asking a community of thousands to vote? It is what it is. But, now do I need to launch a dedicated PR campaign to get my game(s) noticed and accepted on Steam? I respect and commend those teams that have had their games greenlit. Nicely done, ladies and gents!

Mutant Mudds sits at #82 on the Greenlight list right now. It has hovered around there for some time now. It was at around #40 or so at one point. About 30,000 folks have voted either yes or no for Mutant Mudds to be included on Steam, with a 54% / 46% split in favor of yes. Yep, those numbers pretty much sum up what the Greenlight community thinks of Mutant Mudds: polarized. At this rate I can’t see how Mudds will ever be deemed suitable for a Steam release.

It is puzzling though. How can a game that has been accepted with open arms on one platform be shut out on another? It is truly a fascinating case study. The 3DS audience is more-than-likely very different than the Steam audience, which is one factor for sure. I suppose Steam’s original rejection of Mutant Mudds is somewhat justified now that the community itself has also not accepted the game. Perhaps this means that a game like Mutant Mudds is not suitable for Steam. But, hang on... there are games like VVVVV, Offspring Fling!, Capsized, Beep, Braid, Serious Sam Double D, Super Meat Boy, and even Commander Keen available on Steam right now.

How is Mutant Mudds not a good fit for distribution? I wish I knew. I briefly chatted with a Valve employee at PAX East, who asked for feedback on the Greenlight process. I was not expecting to be chatting about Greenlight at that moment, so I had nothing to offer. Perhaps I should have told them that it is my “policy not to provide specific feedback”, but that would have been rude, right?

13 comments:

  1. Going to post this Anonymously mostly because I feel it will probably cause some people to be upset, and I certainly don't mean it that way.

    One of the main differences in the 3DS vs Steam is availability. On Steam, and the pc in general the selection and choosing between games is so vast. A direct comparison of it and the 3DS library wise is like a pond vs an ocean.

    On a pc there are probably tens of thousands of platformers that people can get their hands on, vs ones made specifically for the 3ds is well under a hundred.

    It's much harder to gain large scale public opinion or following on the pc, unless you are really doing something truly different and unique, or something that just appeals to a large group. Hence the popularity of zombies.

    Mutant Mudd's is a good platformer, but the problem is, it's just that. It has a nice retro style artwork, but that has been something used and done by hundreds of games in the past few years. Anymore that doesn't make anything unique in a broad appeal.

    The reason some things take off on the 3DS vs other platforms is that the 3DS appeals to a certain small niche demographic. Take that Gunman Clive game. It has now outsold IOS and Android on the 3DS.

    Simply put because it is a good game, with good controls (On the 3ds version). Which sadly is something that is not as common on the 3DS. There are good games on the E-Shop, but as I said when comparing it to other platforms, the selection diversity is so different it isn't even comparable.

    So naturally people on closed platforms usually jump on a good experience more often, because they are usually more starved for it. It creates a chain reaction within their community which bolsters support for the team that made it and their other products. They want to support them, because they in turn get supported with games.

    In a larger eco system this kinda small niche relationship between consumers and developers is harder to find, because the quality and selection is so vast and diverse.

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  2. I sympathize with you Jools, it really seems strange that they deny a game like Mutant Mudds on Steam, but approve garbage like WarZ and other fps games.

    I honestly haven't bought the full game on 3DS, but that's because of lack of money not because I don't want it.

    I tried the demo and I truly enjoyed it a lot, it has just the right level of challenge and solid platforming that doesn't fill floaty. The only thing I'd recommend is using some kind of checkpoint system.

    I hope the people in charge at Steam come to their senses and admit that their is definitely something wrong in their approval process. The least they could do is provide some feedback.

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  3. Skipping the general mess that is greenlight, it is disappointing to hear about your experience with Valve. Perhaps some of what anonymous mentions is a factor, though believe it or not some of us in the microscopic/niche 3DS world also play PC games. Infact I've been into PC gaming for 20+ years now, on steam for 10 and have only recently come back to consoles. (Wii/3DS) Not sure if that adds or detracts from the niche factor...

    I've played a number of the games mentioned and don't see how Mudds is somehow less of a title than say VVVVVV. SMB is a different beast especially with the level editor and Meat World area.

    So I guess I'm saying if there are hundreds or thousands of better platformers out there for PC, I guess I'm missing them...

    Not sure why Valve just doesn't sell the game, take their cut and move on. There's plenty of questionable material on steam as-is.

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  4. First of all, I write as annonymous because I don't want people googling my name and finding comments on videogame sites. Yeah. Now, about the games.

    Somebody suggested that it was because of quality standards. It's true there are thousands of games on Steam, but many of them are garbage, so what are those standards? They just released The War Z which is both a clone and a scam. Many others have been released with console interfaces, missing features, or in an otherwise broken state.

    "Super Meat Boy is a different beast", well indeed. The Mac version of SMB has been unplayable from day one, just check Team Meat's blog to see this issue. Even though the game has made millions, they refused to hire somebody and fix it after years. Of course a similar move by EA or a famous publisher would have provoked a media storm, but since they're these indie devs who appeared in that movie, and they're cool with the "community" (?), it's alright.

    So it just seems arbitrary. It's their company after all, but people are free to criticize others, right?

    On a side note, something I find frustrating as a user, and I imagine would be worse as a developer or publisher, is the media's unwillingness to criticize some people. Valve seems to be the most sacred of all, as they're a very secretive private company and all info they release is carefully worded PR bullshit. ("Our Workshop business grew another 500% in the last year" - man, their business has quadrupled every year since 1996).

    If there is any consolation, I think it's the fact that the PC is such an open platform. Steam commands a very particular market: buy-to-play, single-player games. Of course that's the market for Mutant Mudds, Skyrim, VVVVVV, and others. But it's a niche. Most PC players these days are on WoW, WoT, LoL, GW2, SC2, Minecraft, and such. Name the ten most popular PC games, and you'll find ten games that are not on Steam.

    If you really, really have a popular PC game, it can do well by itself. If you have a Super Meat Boy or a Mutant Mudds, well, yeah, Steam is the best distribution method. So their attitude is a bummer.

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  5. I am posting Anonymously, because well, i want to express my opinion freely without forming a tension which can come back at me as i am a developer of a successful game on steam.

    So, the first question would be, "When we decided to port our critically-acclaimed and award-winning title, Mutant Mudds, over to the PC.."? what is critically acclaimed in your eyes? i'll ask it differently, Fez just recently revealed it sales numbers. after a year, with the giganticly huge free publicity it got, those numbers he posted (200k) in steam terms are still relatively low. have you sold anything like Fez? if you have, yeah, steam has an issue. and you have an issue, you don't have an active community on the pc, the only place where such community can be formed.

    Although i wish you all the best, it would disappoint me to see you get uplifted and greenlit above and before other games that fare better than you on the greenlight system just because of this post.

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    1. Well, I think critically acclaimed and award-winning means exactly that: positive reviews from established game sites and awards won by the game.

      You mentioned Fez's sales numbers, but sales numbers represents commercial success, not critical acclaim. Many good games are critically acclaimed but underperform in sales, the posterboy being Beyond Good & Evil.

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  6. Well, Gabe Newell himself is displeased with Greenlight: http://www.gamasutra.com/view/news/186168/

    I imagine that if they were to implement this, they plan to keep their curated store as is, but you would be able to upload your game to Steam and sell it through custom created stores.

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  8. I talk a little this last Idéame with Bertil Hörberg and he was telling me that it's kinda odd to need more people to be accepted at steam, than people you need to make your game an economical success. I don't really understand this situation. If this continues, Steam can lose all the achievements done in the past with the indie market, and that would be really sad.

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  9. With the last batch of greenlit titles, and keeping tabs at certain developers (for example, the devs of Day One: Garry's Incident said it was #16, but Steam picked 18 games and among them Garry's Incident was nowhere to be seen), I came to one conclusion: Steam Greenlight is now the same system to pick games as Steam was before Greenlight. The Steam employees, apparently, just pick whatever they want and don't care about the consequences; Greenlight is just a way for them to narrow down the choices a bit, but if a game they want isn't on the top of the list, they'll just choose it and ignore other games with more votes.

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  10. I certainly understand desire to sell on Steam. However, we are all grown ups here (I hope) and should clearly understand where indie fame ends and business begins. Steam is a distribution platform for PC. If you go into hardware stats, you will notice that 90% of the gamers are with dual core CPUs, 4Gb of RAM and have DX10+ class video cards. The sentiment for 8bit looking games on PC at its dusk. Those indie times when one could make 8bit game and sell it in measurable numbers are over. PC users want to play games that utilize potential of their PC. The don't expect for indie games to look like AAA titles, but they definitely want for indie games to not look like they were ported from NES.

    Ask yourself a question. Would you trash your premium distribution system with 8/16bit looking platformers and create dissatisfaction for mass market, or please small niche of indies and followers who say DayZ and alike are trash games (despite the fact that those so called trash games generating ton of cash which allows people to keep their jobs, pay bills, etc.)

    I've never heard of Mutant Mudds before Develop ran an article on the subject. I don't judge the game, because it's certainly fun for people who play platformers (I don't play those kind of games, but in no way it means platformers suck). However, when I saw the video, I get why Steam doesn't need this game. If you would made it 3D, with flashier visuals, Steam would be more inclined to take it. There are other silly games that shouldn't be on Steam IMO, but those game have made a lot of cash before Steam, people talked about them and based on desires of mass market Steam took those in (again, I have never heard of Mutant Mudds, however I've heard of SMB, VVVVV, etc. long before they made it to Steam).

    Another question is if you are on 3DS, iOS (not sure about Android), why even bother being upset with Steam and complain, thinking you will get something positive out of this issue? Every single press, every single famous developer keep telling us that iOS and 3DS and Android and web-based portals are cash cows. Isn't it the case here? If it is, make a game that will fit Steam's format.

    Good luck with all future endeavors, although keep in mind we are in 2013, dawn accessible VR and AR. It's time to evolve from 8bit visuals.

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  11. It's unfortunate that they don't give feedback.

    Critique is essential in order to improve or adjust design aspects or even marketability.

    Perhaps generating a community is the way forward? It would also increase the likeliness of it passing Steam Greenlight.

    I know Braid, Fez and Super Meatboy have been successful, but some people prefer to play platformers with a controller, hence castle crashers success on Xbox Live.

    It may well also be due to the 8bit style graphics? Obviously a perfect match up on the 3DS but I wonder how it fairs on a 1080p screen or even a 2560 x 1440 screen?

    I certainly hope Steam don't consider platformers less likely to succeed...

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  12. Have you checked into gog.com?
    I don't know anything about how to submit or sell through them, but there are indie games available there.

    I'm sorry that Steam didn't work out for you guys, Renegade Kid makes fun games.

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