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Indie platform confessional: Steam, Humble Store, Apple, Android


The internet is kind of like a classic confessional – except it's not a box, it's a lot brighter and everyone can hear what you have to say. Still, we asked a handful of independent developers for their thoughts on what exactly makes a platform effective, and they spilled it all, dissecting the pros and cons of the most popular, current models of distibution.

Today, we feature answers from Ridiculous Fishing's Rami Ismail, Canabalt's Adam Saltsman, Octodad's Philip Tibitoski, Retro City Rampage's Brian Provinciano and others. This group of developers had specific thoughts about Steam, the Humble Store, Apple's app stores and the Android hub, Google Play.

This follows yesterday's batch of answers from the Steam, Humble Store, iOS and Android camps. Let the confessions begin:

Apple Mac App Store, iTunes App Store

Indie platform confessional Steam, Humble Store, Apple, Android
Ben Kane, DLC Quest

"The Mac App Store is the slowest and most corporate of all the services I have used. However, this is also the only one that actually reviews your software prior to it being made available to customers. Turn-around time on everything suffers as a result, though arguably the customer benefits from this. Urgent fixes can apparently be expedited, though I have not made such a request.

"Customers seem to trust Apple's garden, perhaps even more than the newcomer, Steam. While I feel I could probably reach a human being if I needed to, the basic interaction with the App Store has always felt automated. Very limited review codes. Overall, it seems to hit a different market than either Steam or Desura and has proven itself worthwhile. The App Store is accessible to any developer with $100 in their pocket and the ability to work through pages of documentation regarding technical requirements."

We have pockets, if that counts for anything.

Indie platform confessional Steam, Humble Store, Apple, Android
Rod Green, Brainsss

"iOS and iTunesConnect is fairly easy to use, however the provisioning side of things can be pretty confusing for new developers. Time between submission and release is slow – understandably, as it's not automated. Since the user ratings are tied to versions, some developers will hold off updating to preserve their good and/or volume of ratings, and bad or troubled developers update quickly to hide bad ones. There are no expansion packages or external memory to manage so it's nice.

"However, as a flipside to this, if you want a universal app then you have to include assets for all devices. So iPods have to install iPad 3 resources even though they can never and will never display them."

Indie platform confessional Steam, Humble Store, Apple, Android
Rafael Latiegui, Yesterday

Pendulo Studios specializes in adventure games, with a catalog dating back to 1994, and has launched on PC, handheld, console and mobile. Publishers generally handle distribution for Pendulo, but from Latiegui's perspective:

"The App Store has been for us a really nice opportunity for showing our adventure games, listening to the players' opinions – which is always something good for both players and developers – and also being able to support them. Also, the flexibility of changing the prices in a quick way works really well to promote and help the games sell more."

Indie platform confessional Steam, Humble Store, Apple, Android
Rami Ismail, Ridiculous Fishing

In his spare time, Ismail is a novelist. Not really – he's too busy making super fun games – but if he ever wanted to take a literary career path, he probably could.

"We think it's important that people realize that business between two entities – whether something as small as Vlambeer or as enormous as Sony – is just a bunch of people talking to each other. Like with any conversation, if you trust the other party to care and be capable, you're going to walk away feeling good about things. That's how deals come to be.

"Our experiences with Steam, Sony and iOS have been great. IOS is the platform on which we've earned most so far, followed by Sony and then by Steam. Some of those deals are revenue-share only (and tend to adhere to the industry default of a 70/30 split in favor of the developer), and some see the platforms support the development of the title financially.

"Developer relation teams are a big part of working with any platform, but the way Sony is dealing with things at the moment is impressive. They've been doing active reach-out toward developers, getting in touch with interesting projects instead of the other way around. Steam and iOS have always been good as soon as you somehow manage to get in touch with them. We're having good talks with some people at Nintendo, although nothing has really materialized as of yet – and we're having good conversations with people at OUYA, Google, Humble and Blackberry, too.

"To be honest, the only companies we're talking to that we haven't had great experiences with so far have been Microsoft and Amazon. Microsoft managed to promise a whole lot and never deliver anything, to the point of just not responding to an e-mail conversation they opened. Amazon still seems to be figuring out how to deal with 'indie' as a whole.

"We've had really good experiences with the platforms our games are available on – we've yet to release a game on a platform we didn't like. Honestly, we don't think we will ever do that, either. We're just two guys and if a cooperation is more work than convenience we'll prefer to let the opportunity pass to spend that time on making games instead. It can take weeks to come to an agreement and most of that time is spent sending back and forth NDAs, license agreements, content submissions and other paperwork. Before all of that even starts, you've talking to people about revenue shares (70/30), marketing opportunities, exclusivity (nope) and rights.

"So when a company like Sony emails us that they'd like to show our game at Gamescom, or a company like Apple gives us Editorial Pick, that saves us a week of negotiating. If Steam mails us to let us know they want to talk about what we think of a certain feature, or negotiating a deal with Sony only takes a day instead of a month, that means we know they care about our games more than our negotiations."

All that text and not a single curse word. Impressive, Ismail.

"In the end, we started Vlambeer to make games. We know we have to take the business aspects seriously – and we do – but in our games we try to cut out all the superfluous bullshit. We like that platforms increasingly seem to be handling their developer relations similarly."


Indie platform confessional Steam, Humble Store, Apple, Android
Rod Green, Brainsss

"Android/Play Store is very easy to use, and has minimal lag time between submission and release. Users can get burnt as developers might not test their apps as much because they can just hotfix as they go. It's nice to be able to update quickly if something does go wrong.

"User ratings are shown for all versions and which version is indicated in the review. Fractioned devices can lead to some hard-to-solve problems; the (un)official solution is to just block devices that don't work, once someone complains. We try to resolve the issue as best we can but most of the time it comes down to a Unity support problem. External packages are a little tricky but can allow for more customized content based on the device's capabilities."


Indie platform confessional Steam, Humble Store, Apple, Android
Tiny Build, No Time to Explain

"Hands-down Steam due to its powerful, curated homepage, easy-to-push-out updates (one button and everyone's game is updated!) and the community features."

No Time to Explain is a Greenlight success story, and Tiny Build is a fan of that entire community-curated process.

"Greenlight brings some level of objectivity to Steam's selection process. It helps games that wouldn't otherwise make it to Steam get noticed (like it did for us with No Time To Explain). I believe it made Steam's indie game selection process a lot easier, since there are just so many smaller games coming out, it's next to impossible to filter them out – so that's where I think is Greenlight's biggest value.

"If they shut it down and let everyone in, I fear for the quality level of games on the homepage."

True, though we fear for the taste level of the entire internet, too. But if No Time to Explain got through, maybe it isn't so bad after all.

Indie platform confessional Steam, Humble Store, Apple, Android
Ben Kane, DLC Quest

"With Steam, you are treated like a partner, not a customer. Interactions with humans are commonplace (and welcome!), and while that occasionally causes roadblocks, you are given ample freedom to accomplish your goals. You have enough rope to hang yourself should you decide to release a poor build. As far as overall effectiveness is concerned, Steam is hands-down the best, single way to distribute PC and Mac games. By the same token, it's the hardest service to get on."

That's two "hands-down" for Steam, but disparate views on its submission processes.

Indie platform confessional Steam, Humble Store, Apple, Android
Bill Stiernberg, Cthulhu Saves the World

"We (Zeboyd) only have experience with Xbox Live Indie Games and Steam, and essentially "second-hand" experience with iOS and Android (worked with a porting partner). As far as what has been our most successful platform, it has been Steam by a wide margin. As far as sales and revenue, XBLIG has not done bad, but rather been a reasonable additional sum to go along with the Steam revenue.

"The other platforms have faired mediocre-ish; it is hard to say if that is due to the nature of the platforms or by virtue of these ports coming out much later than the initial launch. As far as useability, I can only say so much so as to avoid breaking NDAs. But I can say that Valve seems to approach Steam with developers and ease-of-use and practicability in mind: how to make it easier for developers to get their games set up for the storefront, as well as supporting games post-release."

Indie platform confessional Steam, Humble Store, Apple, Android
Philip Tibitoski, Octodad

"So far we've only worked with Steam, but they've been really great. Once we got past the Greenlight process it's mostly been smooth sailing. We have a closed beta, which we can send out keys for in order to do some distance playtesting, and we can upload new builds of the game whenever we want. If we fix something at like 3 a.m. we can right then upload that fix without any interaction with the Steam team. It allows for a lot of freedom in how we manage our builds and is relatively stress-free since we always know if we muck something up we can fix it right away.

"Valve is always there to answer any questions we do have, and they generally answer things within a day or two of us asking. So any problems we have generally get resolved quickly.

"Greenlight is a difficult beast though because in order to be Greenlit you have to wield a large audience for your game. We had been building our playerbase for years before we launched on Greenlight and a lot of stars aligned in order to get the votes we needed. You can find out a ton more of how that went on our blog here and here."

For what it's worth, a game about a father octopus probably would have generated attention on Greenlight anyway.

Indie platform confessional Steam, Humble Store, Apple, Android
Brian Provinciano, Retro City Rampage

"Steam's definitely the most frictionless platform. No devkits are needed, no certification. You have access to realtime sales stats, allowing you to see the direct influence of your marketing and promotion and adjust on the fly. You control the magic button to put out updates and users receive them automatically."

Provinciano sees better daily sales numbers on consoles, as mentioned in the previous confessional.

Indie platform confessional Steam, Humble Store, Apple, Android
Jason Rohrer, Diamond Trust of London

"Aside from selling things directly through my own site (which is similar to the Humble Store model), the only distribution platform that I've found to be worthwhile is Steam. By 'worthwhile,' I mean that the money earned justifies the amount of effort involved to get your game accepted and working on the platform.

"IOS is still the same gamble that it has always been (mainly because it is uncurated), and the Microsoft, Sony and Nintendo platforms involve an extraordinary amount of negotiation and development work."

But Steam involves Greenlight now for a lot of independent developers. Do you know how that changes the situation?

"Sorry ... No, I have no experience with Greenlight. My game was put on Steam the old way (by getting approved by Steam directly). I'm not sure how Greenlight has changed the equation."

Indie platform confessional Steam, Humble Store, Apple, Android
Kyle Pulver, Offspring Fling

"The most effective digital distribution for me by far is Steam. The Steam audience is just huge and tapping into just a small fraction of a percent of it means a lot of eyes on my games. Unfortunately, Greenlight has become mostly a death sentence for a lot games, with a few exceptions, so accessibility for developers is pretty low, especially without a publisher.

"Uploading through Steam's process is really straightforward and awesome. Pushing updates is a breeze, and my tech support experiences have been great so far with them."

You sure sound like a Steam man, Pulver.

"Humble Store is also pretty awesome!" Well now you're just being cute.

Humble Store

Indie platform confessional Steam, Humble Store, Apple, Android
Adam Saltsman, Canabalt

If Saltsman could pick one platform to launch his next game on, it would be, without a doubt, "Humble Store!" That's what the exclamation point means – no doubt.

"I owe pretty much my entire survival the last few years to iOS, the Humble Store and to a lesser extent Android and Steam. I think these are all pretty good platforms, but each has some pretty serious flaws as well. All of them have platform fragmentation, lots of different devices to support ... iOS has some bad censorship issues to sort out, and like Android has some discoverability problems. Steam obviously is still a bit too closed.

How's that?

"It's just literally closed by humans. Like if I finished a game today and was ready to sell it there is no guarantee that it would ever be available on Steam. I think this will probably change in the next year or two, but it's still very true right now. Also the DRM requirements contribute to a kind of closed environment that gives me pause when I actually stop to think about it."

Indie platform confessional Steam, Humble Store, Apple, Android
Alix Stolzer, Legend of Dungeon

"The Humble Store has been amazing to us; they provide a great widget for our site, and they've been amazing at handling our fairly frequent updates and any issues that have come up. They are very communicative and helpful, even at strange hours. They even provided us with extra download options, etc., for our Kickstarter backers.

"Other than that our experience has been fairly limited, and we don't have anything up on Steam yet, though setting things up with them has been easy so far."

Legend of Dungeon got through the Greenlight process fairly smoothly, but that Humble Store widget proves hard to beat.

Indie platform confessional Steam, Humble Store, Apple, Android
Brian Provinciano, Retro City Rampage

Provinciano is the developer to talk to for this question, since he developed Retro City Rampage for 17 SKUs at once, and he likes to talk all about it. Close us out, Provinciano.

"For direct PC sales, Humble Store has been fantastic. It took almost no time to sign and set up, as the Humble crew do all of the heavy lifting. It also provides realtime sales stats."

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