Steam is the go-to distribution platform for PC games, and as Valve’s store continues expanding with each passing week, smaller developers have grown frustrated with the company’s hands-off approach when it comes to supporting indie games that are struggling to find an audience.
For Polygon, Tim Colwill spoke to about 20 developers about their experiences with Steam, and most expressed some degree of frustration with Valve’s practices. Between the review-driven discovery algorithm, Valve’s 30% cut on profits generated, and the company’s inability or unwillingness to provide meaningful tech support, some developers say they’re wondering if Steam is worth the trouble.
“It seems like Valve are hoping the less popular games will just fail out of existence,” one developer told Colwill. “But they don’t mind collecting their share of those small profits as they fail.”
Some developers pointed out that Steam will automatically discount games in certain regions without any notice – they’ve discovered their games being sold in certain markets for 30% to 60% off the price they’d set in US dollars, for instance. And while it’s possible to manually set these prices, developers complained that monitoring 40 different currencies and adjusting each price accordingly is time-consuming and perilous – they risk lost sales if they fail to update prices frequently enough.
Other developers said that Steam’s review-driven algorithm system can be unfair: they have to maintain an aggregate score of 70% or above to be considered “positive,” and Valve will do little or nothing about user reviews that are obvious trolling or requests for tech support.
This hands-off approach might be less irritating for developers if Valve was taking a smaller cut of their earnings, but some developers told Polygon that for 30%, they think it’s reasonable to expect more robust support from the company in exchange.
Not all the developers Colwill spoke to had complaints, though – Morgan Jaffit, one of the developers of the Hand of Fate games, said the review system is generally fair, and Battlestar Galactica Deadlock developer Paul Turbett said both positive and negative Steam reviews are helpful in determining what to work on next for the game.
Still, as Steam has grown more and more, most developers seem to agree that Valve has done less and less, and they’re concerned about the viability of the platform in the future. Some said they’re increasingly looking at alternatives, like itch.io, as a means of getting their games into players’ hands.