It’s hard to not say that the indie development landscape has changed. Steam seems to be a major reason in this, as the PC gaming service is the biggest gaming seller on PC, and is only really not contested for indies by itch.io. However, in the last six months, this has turned into a downward spiral for indie developers.
One thing that seems to be a point of contention among indie-developers is Valve taking 30% of their sales, and while this is a standard procedure for consoles, Mike Mood explains that this not helpful for indie developers to survive, and prefers the lesser taking of itch.io(10% default, this can be changed), Gamejolt(10% or less) and the new Epic Store (12%). This is also not helped by the fact that Steam seems to be favouring AAA games, as they appear more on the front page. Not helping the fact that steam searches will be geared more towards AAA games rather than indies, which stops awareness of these games. While it is understandable that steam wants to focus on the market space that can make them more money, it is not ethically right for them to push a group of developers to one side, not mentioning that this group of developers is one of the most vocal in game development.
By far one of most vocal indie developers about this topic in Emma “Enichan” Maassen, the person behind Kitsune Games which made Midboss and the upcoming Lore Finder. She has been complaining about no organic traffic from steam what so ever. Valve, like YouTube, does not share details about its algorithm, and in October, Valve made changes to its algorithm that organic traffic and review drop between 33% and 80%, cause a staggering drop in games wishlisted. Wishlisting a game is good for estimating sales, and when that drops. It can be scary for indie developers, as most developers tend to just get by on sales. In addition this, she reported that the during Summer and Winter Sales, sales were extremely slow, and this is extremely concerning, as this where most indies make their sales. She reported an almost 30% drop in gross revenue, and while many people may put this up to marketing, Emma notes in a previous tweet that luck and connections are also factors.
The question that remains now is: what can Steam do to help? The first is to be more transparent about their algorithm. This would be extremely helpful to developers, as they would be able to know how their traffic is being affected, as Steam sales make up the majority of sales of developers, so taking a major cut here is not helpful to indies. It’s understandable why they are not transparent with their algorithm(the idea that knowing how something works makes it easier to abuse) The second thing is to lessen the cut that is being taken by Valve, as with Epic, another big player, taking a much lesser cut, and smaller companies taking an even smaller cut(though with, it looks as if Steam has no excuse, and while a 30% has been a standard cut for the Valve-developed platform, with more platforms looking more economically stable for indie developers, there is no real excuse at this point, as the low sales of an indie developers + 30% cut would push them away from the platform. Steam also needs to hold itself accountable for this mistake, and if possible look into a featured indie game every week, or let curators review a certain amount of indie games each month to increase the reach of those games, hopefully seeing an increase in the number of wishlists and indie game sales. While I can understand the idea that marketing is what sells games, and that it is the fault of the company, like I said before, luck and connections are bigger factors.
Steam as a company seems to be leaving smaller creators by the wayside. If this keeps happening, expect itch.io and GameJolt to be where to find your indie games.