Earlier this year Valve announced that they were discontinuing their Steam Greenlight distribution method. From an indie perspective this could make it more difficult for developers to get their games on Steam. Whether or not this is a good thing depends mostly on your perception of the current crop of Greenlight titles. One, perhaps unintended, consequence on the crowdfunding community will be the decrease in $100 campaigns, such as the current Space N Traders Kickstarter.
When I first started covering crowdfunded games I was often perplexed by developers who would launch campaigns requesting such meager amounts. It wasn’t until someone finally pointed out the obvious that I understood what was really going on. The goal wasn’t to make or improve a project. The developer just didn’t want to be out of pocket for the Steam Greenlight fees. It was a sobering realization.
Imagine if you will, having so little faith in your game that you needed to convince strangers to take the plunge on your $100 investment. If you as the developer wouldn’t pay $100 to get your game on Steam, why should anyone else?
The Price Of Living The Dream
I understand that game development is expensive and difficult. If it weren’t than everyone would do it, which is probably why Greenlight has seen such a sharp decline in quality over the years. By trying to make their platform more accessible to smaller developers, Valve unintentionally sent the message that getting your game on the same selling platform as AAA titles was a simple endeavor. Mostly because, for awhile it was. I can only speculate on if Steam Direct will prove to be any better, but it will hopefully deter some of the worst offenders.
Space N Traders is a perfect example of why this concept is so flawed. The campaign is frankly a wall of text where the developers, Digital Gamez ask for $129 to pay the Steam Greenlight fee. We are told that the game’s designer “has already used a huge amount of personal funding.” to develop the game. The Kickstarter is to “see if our project can support itself by getting itself into Steam Greenlight before it shuts.”
Let’s break that down, the game’s designer already paid for development (however much that may have been), but can’t shell out the final $100 to get on Greenlight? Space N Traders is a Space Invaders style shooter with trading. We’re not talking about mesmerizing next gen graphics and innovative gameplay. This wasn’t an expensive endeavor. Which makes the lack of campaign content all the more perplexing.
The Kickstarter video wasn’t even made by the developers themselves. Instead a YouTuber gives us a sales pitch (more on that in a moment) before launching into a gameplay video. Right, so can’t even pay for a proper trailer? What’s next? Ah yes, the pitch.
It Only Does Everything!
As mentioned earlier, the campaign page is at least very honest about the devs intentions. The title directly states that the campaign is for Space N Traders Steam Greenlight Funding. On the one hand, at least they aren’t being sneaky about it. At the same time, they couldn’t have shown more indifference.
The funding tier (yes just one option) gets backers a copy of the game for £10 (about $13). Even if you were feeling extraordinarily generous, the developers don’t want your $1 pity pledges. You either buy the game or GTFO. Not exactly the humble approach most developers take with crowdfunding.
This lack of humility is further driven home by the campaign’s text, wherein the devs lay out their glorious master plan for how their game will unite humanity. I’m only being partially facetious here. See, the team is made up of a group of artists, many of whom happen to be parents.
Space N Traders was their attempt to make a game that parents could play together with even very young children. This is actually a sweet idea, at least until they make it sound like their game is somehow special and unique in this regard.
They refer to the idea as “something we have not yet seen in the games industry.” Really? I play games with my kid all the time. They fall further down the rabbit hole with declarations that, “Our ‘ethos’ is to deliver games that have no negative impact on neither the parents nor the children who join in to help.”
What kinds of games have you people been playing with your kids before now? If you’re worried about it having a negative impact on them maybe play a kitten petting sim instead. I could make the argument that shooting everything that moves in space isn’t exactly a purely positive experience, but I don’t want to risk someone mistaking sarcasm for an invitation to argue a purely ridiculous point.
Modern Day Snake Oil Salesmen
Ordinarily, I’d wave most of this off as marketing fluff. Marketing says all sorts of new age sounding nonsense to give the impression of a more enlightened company culture. Really, though there has to be some limit. Some line between harmless blustering and arrogance so thick you could choke on it. Ah, here it is:
“Our Goal. Hopefully, our game can build bonds that make people struggling with mental hardships talk out issues instead of acting them out, then we have succeeded one of our main goals.”
Oh come on! Nothing about this game encourages people to open up about their mental hardships. If anything the shared controls add an unnecessary obstacle to co-op gameplay to make up for the lack of multiplayer. This overly flowery explanation combined with the lack of screenshots or development information isn’t just a sign of a bad crowdfunding campaign. It’s also the hallmark of a shoddy project.
Space N Traders is a product of Steam Greenlight’s “everyone can be a developer” attitude. A project that would otherwise never rise above a blip on a free distribution platform gets a full article while better projects languish because they lacked the audacity to be such overt money grabs. Hopefully, once Valve phases out Steam Greenlight it will mark the end of such low effort crowdfunding.