"Apply to Steam, be rejected, release without it, get popular, be noticed by Valve, release on Steam."
Steam has since overhauled its submission process with Greenlight, a crowd-sourced method of voting games onto the service. Now from a developer's perspective, the indie submission system needs a related makeover and a new name. We suggest the Incredipede process:
"Post on Greenlight, be rejected, release without it, get popular, be noticed by the IGF and through an award nomination get a deal to release on Steam without Greenlight at all, haters."
It's a little more complicated and relies on a smidgen more luck, but the Incredipede process is one of many new ways to get an indie game on Steam. No matter the system, the goal remains the same – a Steam launch can propel an indie game from "hobby" to "day job," or change a sales outlook from "disappointing" to "happy."
"More and more Steam is the place to be for indie games," Northway tells me. "If I had $15 for every time I heard the comment, 'I would buy this if it was on Steam,' then I'd be much happier with the sales. Which is why I'm really looking forward to the Steam release."
Through its own convoluted yet successful process, Incredipede is coming to Steam for PC and Mac on March 18.
Incredipede launched on Northway's site in October and since then he says sales have been disappointing.
"Some of that is my high expectations: I'm so proud of it, and think it's so good that I expected it to light the world on fire," he says. "Some of it is that it's not on Steam."
That last part is being remedied, thanks to a nod from the IGF for Excellence in Visual Art. This year Steam invites all games nominated for an IGF award to launch on its service, bypassing Greenlight entirely. Not that it would have mattered for Incredipede – it was on track to be voted onto Steam through Greenlight, sitting at No. 8 when the IGF finalists were announced, just days before Steam accepted another round of games.
Northway contacted Steam right away to get Incredipede off of Greenlight, not wanting to take a spot from another game not involved in the IGF madness. Valve was already on top of it.
"While I didn't enjoy the Greenlight experience, after you get through it the Valve people are amazing," Northway says. "Steam integration could not have been easier, and people have answered questions I've had about the system and release promptly and thoroughly. You can tell they really care, which is the secret to doing anything well."
Greenlight was a rocky experience for Northway and Incredipede, offering what felt like a step back in the submission process and hinging on the inherent hypocrisy of crowd-sourced services.
Greenlight was an unpleasant experience for me. It felt weirdly arbitrary with a lot of really good games getting no attention, and some not-really-good games getting Greenlit.Colin Northway, Incredipede
"Greenlight was an unpleasant experience for me," Northway says. "It felt weirdly arbitrary with a lot of really good games getting no attention, and some not-really-good games getting Greenlit. I don't see how Greenlight is ever supposed to function for unreleased games. If people can't play them, how can they rate them? You can send Valve a work-in-progress but unless you want to do a for-reals public beta you can't do the same for Greenlight.
"I have the same problem with Kickstarter. What a game promises and how it looks is different from how a game plays."
Incredipede players can attest to that – while the game is, at its heart, about a strangely lovable creature's stroll through a rich jungle, many players find its mechanics to be deceptively difficult. So much so that Northway is completely overhauling the game for the Steam launch, making its current gameplay "hard difficulty" and adding 60 new, more accessible levels of "normal difficulty."
"Games are about learning, and Incredipede is about learning to get better at moving and controlling these creatures," Northway says. "But there has never been a game like Incredipede where you build things that move in this way, and even though we spend all day in bodies that are made of bones and muscle we have little intuitive understanding of how they work. We're great at walking, but we're terrible at consciously understanding how a person's legs actually move when they walk. Bennett Foddy's QWOP is a good example of this."
Incredipede v1.5 will include two new sets of muscles, blue and yellow, controlled by the K and L keys. These join the red and purple muscles controlled by the A and S keys, and should enable players to "run over, grab an apple and run back, or fly over the land and pluck jewels up with their legs," which are both levels in the updated game.
The original Incredipede has players build creatures and then try to control them, while 1.5 features pre-made amalgamations, placing the focus on mastering the mechanics and feeling how a "winning" creature moves. The meat of the game will still be the hard levels, but now the learning curve isn't so steep, Northway says.
Steam PC and Mac players will get a chance to try their hands (and fingers and bones and cartilage and muscles) at Incredipede on March 18, with a Linux launch down the line. Northway, his wife, Sarah, and Incredipede artist Thomas Shahan will be at GDC 2013 for the IGF awards and to host a panel, "The Art of Incredipede."