New Distribution Option for Game Developers

Over the years, the game distribution market became incredibly versatile. While during the 90s and the beginning of 00s, you literally had to sign with a publisher to get your game in the store, today it’s a much easier process.

In this little post, we’d like to have a look at the existing options on the market and maybe show some solutions, which are not so widely used, but still, present substantial interest for the publisher/developer tandem.

This article will be most useful for smaller companies, who are trying to reach the global market, but, hopefully, bigger publishers will also find something interesting here. If you want to share any information with us, please make suggestions in the comments.

The Steam Train

This year Valve officially closed Steam Greenlight — a program, which for many years was the main focus for the majority of smaller publishers. There was a whole industry of companies, who ‘helped’ you to get your game on Steam and get through the Greenlight process. Fortunately, now you don’t have to waste money and resources on these helpers. The cost of entry is just $100. But with the lower entry fee comes the incredible saturation of the market. Currently Steam is fighting with discoverability issues (and has been fighting with them for quite some time) and there’s actually no way of saying when this is going to end.

Valve has taken a number of steps to limit the prevalence and reach of the laziest cash-in games on the service, most recently requiring developers to provide tax paperwork and an application fee through Steam Direct. Now, the company is collaborating with some of its harshest critics on YouTube to make further changes to fix what is widely called the service’s “discoverability” problem — the issue of finding the good games among the thousands of bad ones. (via ArsTechnica)

Still, it’s too early to say how the situation will progress. There’s no reason to believe, that Steam sales will go down or start stagnating. Just have a look at the stats on SteamSpy. The number of games on Steam is staggering, which raises questions of “how much can the platform take in the future”?

The Humble Way

Obviously, Steam is not the only way to go. There are a number of very interesting alternatives, which still allow you to grow sales to very lucrative numbers. One of these ways is Humble Bundle. This little distribution operation started back in 2007 in San Francisco and quickly became one of the best-loved ways of purchasing games. The Humble Bundle way today is selling large packs of great games for bargain value. Unlike some companies out there (we’re looking at G2A), the whole licensing process is very transparent and legal, so the publishers and developers actually get their money from these massive Humble Sales. In recent years we’ve seen Humble Bundle partner with bigger companies like HQ, Deepsilver, SEGA, and Origin. The value is definitely there and the coverage is mighty impressive. Probably nothing compares to Humble Bundle in the way of growing your game’s install base.

However, most recently gamers actually started to question the “humble” approach of the company. One of the most recent initiatives from the company “Humble Monthly Bundle” got under a lot of heat. It was supposed to be a very curated “surprise experience”. Consumers were not aware of what they were getting. Not surprisingly the initial sales numbers were low, cause the users were not sure what they were buying. There are other issues as well.

I feel like the Humble Bundle is losing its focus, or at least the focus it had at its genesis. It started with some indie darlings, some bigger than others. Along with the weekly sale, there have been plenty games I haven’t played or encountered before. However, now that they’re the biggest bundle site in town, they have set their sights hell of a lot higher. […] I guess there’s not much to complain really — people get games and charities get donations, but it does seem to defeat the purpose of having “Humble” in the title when you’re offering the biggest AAA games from years past.
User ch3burashka at GiantBomb

From the point of view of the developer though, Humble Bundle doesn’t work as the best place to launch in an exclusive way. If you have a bunch of well-done games, which are past their peak, it’s a good way to attract more sales. But if you are looking for the prize spot in the front row, the bundles won’t cut it. Same goes for similar services like Indie Gala. These are great if you want to raise awareness, increase the number of sales. Some witnesses say that Indie Gala, for example, distributes most of the keys it gets for free, failing to attract the necessary sales. This is all word of mouth, so you should take it with a grain of salt.

Your own Way

With this is mind, it seems like modern distribution systems still leave much to be desired. Their main problems lie in the area, where they originally succeeded: discoverability, high commissions, obscure terms and lack of support. Basically, you are not selling your games with most of them, you are giving your product for free. To find a way from this situation one can with a mode ‘hands on’ approach to game distribution. You have to sell it from your website.

That’s a tough choice to make. Distribution of your content from your own platform is a hard and courageous move, which only few companies are able to make. Blizzard is doing this, EA is doing this, Epic Games, Ubisoft, Tencent. Most of the companies that strive to increase their revenues and sales, work with their own platforms. We’ve talked with the developers, who are building their own distribution platforms with the existing middleware solutions (namely Pay2Play from Xsolla) and discussed how they work out the problems and overcome the challenges they face. You can ach a eve similar effect with other solutions on the market, but Pay2Play does have a number of advantages, which will hopefully be evident from this post.

Control & Coverage

Life is Feudal: MMO was in development for quite some time. We’ve invested a lot of effort into the epic product, and when it came to distribution we wanted to keep as much control over it as possible. Pay2Play gives us the necessary freedom and security. We can sell the game directly from the official website, without any limitations, and with much better rates. The great thing is that we’re not just limited to distributing activation codes (Steam, Origin, uPlay, etc.), but we can actually sell direct DRM-free downloads. This solution also works great for the projects of global scale. We’re launching in United States, Russia, South Korea. Pay2Play is ready for global launch. It’s easily customizable, it could be updated and localized easily. All that makes our distribution much easier and more streamlined. Plus we get to have our own launcher, which greatly helps the sales of our future games.
Vladimir “Bobik” Piskunov, PhD, CEO/CTO of Bitbox Ltd.

Such choice of distribution provides a variety of possibilities for game sales. You do get more control over the way you work with the sales. There are options to add your own discounts, edit packs, set up various prices for different regions. There are literally no restrictions on how you can use it in your work. Very flexible solution.

Customization & Speed

Pay2Play is basically just a set of codes, which could be customized as you see fit. The developers can use their own visuals, add their own graphics, work out their own particular visual design to better fit the web page. For example, guys from Worlds Adrift created a very detailed and colorful page, where you can buy their content. Pay2Play was integrated seamlessly into the whole experience, helping to achieve a very natural feel of the production.

Unlike various other solutions out there, most of the middleware solutions are very easy to add to your website. You can literally add the whole thing in a matter of hours. This proves to be essential for smaller companies with big products, who want to start sales through their website.

Additional Bonuses

Just like Humble Bundle, these integrated interfaces can also be localized. You get 24/7 hour support so that your clients can clarify some of the problems they might have and you can get support for over 700 payment methods (with Pay2Play). It’s all available in one particular package.

We were incredibly happy with the opportunity to work with the Pay2Play widget. When we first started with the publishing of such long-awaited game, our team wanted to expand on the number of possible distribution options. We figured that Xsolla provided a perfect way for us to sell content directly through game’s official website. And it’s got all the back end Xsolla can provide customer support, anti-fraud and so on. It’s essential for a smaller developer to delegate some of this important tasks on a service provider so that we could concentrate on the game. It worked out perfectly for us.
Evgeniy Grygorovych, GSC Game World

Self-distribution might not be the ideal way of doing things, but so far it’s the best we can all agree on. Most of the tech artists and game artists are selling their content the same way. Bigger stores no longer cut it. With going solo, you have more options, more flexibility, and responsibility for your business. Maybe when the magic wand is gone, it’s high time to cook some miracles.


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