Sunday 17 December 2017

Giving Irish games the Greenlight

Screenshot from The Darkside Detective
Screenshot from The Darkside Detective
Frank Whelan

Frank Whelan

Even though the move towards digital distribution cuts down on many of the classic hurdles indie developers have to jump, getting games out to the masses is still a problem in a market growing increasingly crowded.

Steam Greenlight is one method of increasing a game's chance of being found, by getting on Valve's Steam digital distribution platform. With over 125m accounts, Steam is the biggest player in the digital distribution market and limited access to new publishers means it's not as crowded as an open service such as the Google Playstore.

Greenlight gives Steam users the ability to vote for a game and is used to gauge interest in the community. A game doesn't have to acquire a certain number of votes, but is compared to other games going through the process at the same time. Even if a game fails to make it into the top 100, Steam may still get in contact with the developer if they feel there's enough interest.

Irish indie game developers are no stranger to the process, with a number of games succeeding last year, such as BatCat's P-3 Biotic and Pewter Games Studios' The Little Acre.

The latest Irish title to get greenlit is The Darkside Detective, a paranormal point-and-click adventure game from developers Doomcube. The Darkside Detective managed to get selected after only five days, a great success by anyone's measure, so we spoke with artist Paul Conway about their campaign.

"To be honest I think we had a lot of luck on our side. When we put the demo up online it received a lot of positive attention. The screenshots we'd uploaded helped to grab passing interest, but having a free (if not very crude) demo engaged with the users. People were really into what we were doing. It was fun in a way that apparently appealed to a broad audience. I think we reacted well to the buzz we had unexpectedly generated, though. We got a facebook page and twitter account up for the game and started to accrue an audience there"

ShipAntics from Studio PowWow
ShipAntics from Studio PowWow

Conway went on to talk about the importance of early publicity before the Greenlight launch.

"What really helped us was some the gaming press picking up on the game early. Their preview articles drove users toward us, bolstering our audience numbers. When we released a polished demo (with new writing from Dave MvCabe and music from Ben Prunty, who is best know for his work on FTL: Faster Than Light) we had a thousand people to point toward it. Our online presence help us get more notice, so when we uploaded the demo to GameJolt (a huge game sharing site) it was recognised by one of the site editors and added to the featured games list. We accrued over 12k downloads in a week and gain a lot of new followers to boot."

"I think the most important thing which happened though was when The Verge featured a preview the dame day we were submitting to Greenlight. We already had a audience gathered we could broadcast to, but when we started to get web hits from the Verge we were able to steer them to the Greenlight page. This extra traffic mixed with our own (and the regular Steam users who browse Greenlight) quickly pushed us into the top 100 games on Steam. After just five days we were through the greenlight process. This is extremely fast, most games taking weeks if not months to get through. Timing might have been on our side, we may have shot up through the ranks in the same week Valve had decided to Greenlight another batch of games. We may have lingered on a bit longer otherwise. It's hard to say for sure".

Another developer, Studio PowWow, are close to success with their game Shipantics ( Review: ShipAntics - The Legend of the Kiki Beast) Shipantics was a success on the Appstore, but the desktop market is a whole different ballgame. We asked Stephen Kelly, Head of Interactive at Studio PowWow, why they went for Greenlight.

"It is our view that although our primary audience for ShipAntics is on mobile, there is a whole other fanbase for the game that like to engage on other platforms such as PC. Greenlight affords us the opportunity to validate that assumption."

Insane Insects: The Inception is an Irish game planning to start the Greenlight process in the next few weeks. We spoke to Angela Frewen, half of the two-person development team, about what getting greenlit would mean to them.

"I suppose the main thing with Greenlight is the exposure to potential customers. You get a chance to put your game in front of a few million gamers. If just a tiny percentage of those buy your game that could mean the difference between staying in business or not. That’s what it means for us personally but we also feel very strongly that every Irish game that goes on Greenlight, helps to build a profile for the Irish games industry and thus benefits every Irish developer."

Although Greenlight can ensure a place on the shelf, it's not a guarantee that a game will actually be made. Greenlight is full of great ideas that were never fully realised. With that in mind, we asked Paul Conway what's next for The Darkside Detective.

"Being Greenlit couldn't have come at a better time. We're about to head to GDC where we'll be meeting with potential publishers and press interested in The Darkside Detective. Being selected so quickly really helps to show we've an audience hungry and waiting. It also give us the power to publish the game ourselves or enter into early access if we choose to."

The Darkside Detective - A mysterious door, quite likely full of mystery
The Darkside Detective - A mysterious door, quite likely full of mystery

"While we are not fully certain what our next immediate steps will be, other than develop as good a game as we can, being on Steam gives us a lot of options and independence."

The latest bunch of Irish games are fortunate to be able to build on the experience of their predecessors and thanks to a strong Irish independent game developer community, new lessons learnt will be passed on to the next crop.

We asked Paul Conway what his advice would be.

"The number one thing for everyone to do before submitting to Greenlight is to build as much of an audience as possible. You definitely need a good product that people want to support for sure, but it's easier to get votes from people who already feel invested in your game. Bringing as much of an audience as you can with you at the beginning can help you make your mark early."

Studio PowWow's Greenlight can be found here

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