Miklós posted up this morning’s story about Minecraft developer, Markus Persson, feeling uneasy about moving to the Steam platform considering it would mean possibly losing the “indie developer” title and merely becoming another option in the Steam catalogue that can be sold for peanuts on Steam’s regular weekend and holiday sales. I find that a bit weird considering that I’ve been following Gabe Newell on the ‘Net lately and he’s been complaining about the exact same thing.
At the Casual Connect Game Conference (wait, where the hell did that one pop up from?), Newell decided to voice his opinion that he’s not really a fan of Windows 8 and the direction Microsoft chose to take regarding taking the OS to the Web 2.0 level. Said Gabe: “Valve wouldn’t exist if it weren’t for the PC. Id Software, Epic, Zynga, Facebook, and Google wouldn’t have existed without the openness of the platform. I think there’s a strong temptation to close the platform. If people look at what they can accomplish when they can limit competitors’ access to their platform, they say, ‘Wow, that’s really exciting.”
Wait, what? I’m seeing double here.
It looks like both game developers are complaining about the possibility of larger players in the industry stifling competition, so that one company may make all the money while others have to rely on said company to keep on making money so that they have a share of the gold as well. I know, its a weird way to think about it, but it makes sense in my head. Microsoft’s Xbox LIVE platform, for example, isn’t free – you have to pay to have your game on the service and you have to pay Microsoft each time you update the game to have it re-certified. Sure, the developers are getting money and the opportunity to sell their product on a well-established platform, but some are unable to make it on their own in that same area because of the lead companies like Microsoft, Steam and Origin have over the newcomers.
EA’s Origin itself was in the same boat a while ago, being a me-too service that is trying to differentiate from the other, larger players out there. The company recently gave incentives to developers to publish games on the platform, asking for no fees for the first three months while the game is published and promoted. EA started Origin (or rather, revamped their online store and gave it a new name and a local client) because they were concerned about their over-reliance on Microsoft and Steam and other companies like Direct2Drive to sell their games for them digitally and in larger numbers than what they were doing themselves. In the end its not about serving the gamers and fans who buy their titles in the best way possible, its all about the money.
I think that (and this is my opinion, which I’d welcome comment on) for most developers who are published and make decent amounts of money from their titles, making great games eventually becomes a secondary thing because they still have to put food on their table, petrol into their cars and money into their credit accounts. They still make great games and have fun making them, but their ability to continue to make money is more or less their primary concern. That’s why you see those titles on the shelves that should only be in bargain bins, because the publishers force the developers to churn out titles to make money for everyone involved.
Its possible that, reading between the lines, Notch is worried about the company’s ability to keep itself above water and relevant in the game market should they ever decide to pull out of the other platforms after investing heavily in them. Its a bit nonsensical being wary of Steam when the company recently put Minecraft on Xbox Live, selling millions of copies in mere hours. Its effectively the same trap but from the looks of things they’re not too concerned about it. I wouldn’t be either, considering the massive, massive fanbase of Minecraft players there are today (now hitting over fifteen million copies on all platforms).
But how is that similar to Newell’s concerns that Microsoft is the one to be wary of? He’s worried that having one of your largest customers in the industry suddenly turn into your biggest competitor isn’t great once they figure that they can do without you. With Microsoft’s Store, the company is on the road to attempting to emulate the success Apple has had in the last decade, making inroads on both the hardware and software front.
On the hardware thing I can at least see what other companies are moaning about. If you’re a tablet maker creating tablets with Windows on them and suddenly Microsoft comes up with one too that does away with the costly OEM licencing (because, hell, they own the software they’re selling) then you’d have every right to be mad and angry and pissed off at the world for allowing this to happen. If you’re a software developer its a little similar, but at least you have the option of playing the system, finding a way to make it work for you and hedging your bets on multiple platforms to make sure things don’t go sour.
Newell’s concern that Microsoft will attempt to monopolise game sales on their platform is a little paranoid, if I’m honest. The only reason why Windows has the userbase it boasts today is because it had the ability to run whatever software you wanted, that allowed it to become so ubiquitous. They could have done it with Games for Windows LIVE but they didn’t, because it was a half-hearted attempt. The Xbox Live integration in Windows Phone 8 and Windows 8 aims to change that, but its still not the huge threat everyone seems to think it is right now. People will still flock to online retailers like Steam or Good Old Games because they have content no-one else has.
Put another way, if you have something original and cool that everyone wants, why not get it out there in as many ways as possible? Why not have Minecraft on Steam, where its far more accessible to gamers looking for fun? Why not create a Metro version of Steam for Windows or even have the Steam app in the Microsoft store, considering its your biggest customer base and will remain that way in the future? Doubting that change of any kind is good for you will only lead you to pick and deliberate and mull intently over every decision until you’d been left behind because you didn’t follow the trend.
That’s how the world works – go with the flow, or else you’d better have something concrete that allows you to play by your own rules. Valve has that in spades and so does Mojang. Worrying about it won’t help anything.
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