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How Digital Distributor Steam is Picking up Steam

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How Digital Distributor Steam is Picking up Steam

Here's a conversation I had last week during an interview to become a member of 1871, Chicago's new tech startup co-op:

Q: What do you do for a living?

A: I make video games at a small indie game company called Lunar Giant. We have a game on Steam called Delve Deeper.

Q: [pause]

A: You know, Steam. It's a digital distribution platform for video games with over 50 million users? It's a pretty big deal!

Q: Oh really?

This isn't an uncommon reaction, but I bring it up to provide context for this blog. Compared to the life of the games industry, digital distribution is still in its infancy. For many in the broader tech world, it isn't even a blip on their radars. But the last few years have been particularly explosive for digital distribution as platforms like Steam have grown and given small companies (Lunar Giant included) a shot at a large audience -- the same audience as the big guys have access to. Put simply: Steam is changing the landscape of gaming.

So that's why Steam is important, but how do small guys like Lunar Giant (or you) get on it, and why would we want to?

Publishing Our First Game

After two long years of development, Lunar Giant released Delve Deeper in June of 2009 to little fanfare. Following the initial release we set several months aside to reach out to press, digital distribution platforms, and other relevant parties to drum up sales for our game. Anybody who knows anything about selling games knows this should've been done pre-release, but anyway.

Initial reactions on the digital distribution front were tepid, as Steam and other platforms declined to pick up our game. We pressed on anyway, selling Delve Deeper on our website and ramping up our press push. We contacted indie games sites, mainstream game sites, and integrated ourselves in the developer community through websites like TIGSource and Reddit. Our mantra: focus on outreach, and everything else will follow.

The work paid off, and as Delve Deeper began to pull in positive reviews from critics, other doors began to open. Soon our game was being sold on distribution sites GamersGate and Impulse, which pulled in even more positive reviews. And then, out of the blue, we were contacted by Steam representatives to publish our game on their platform.

A month later, we were in business.

A short blog post on this process hardly seems to do the work we put into this justice, but there it is in a nutshell. From speaking with other developers it seems like our story of hard work and persistence is a common one, and honestly, my guess is that this is exactly what the people at Steam are looking for. Lunar Giant has been publishing through Steam for a few years now, and it is by far one of the best business relationships we've established for our company. Quite probably, we wouldn't have been successful without it.

With stories like ours becoming common in the world of digital distribution, it's hard to see Steam (and other non-traditional distribution networks) remaining a secret forever. Who knows? Perhaps soon bringing Steam up in a conversation won't produce a glazed look followed by befuddlement.

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If you'd like to hear more about digital distribution, and you live in the Chicagoland area, consider checking out IGDA Chicago's "Summer of Arcade" event on September 26 at 7 p.m. More information can be found at igdachicago.com.

Jay Margalus is a game developer at Lunar Giant, and chairs the Chicago chapter of the International Game Developer's Association. He can be reached @Poplicola on Twitter.

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