It’s now been a year since I first showed Black Annex (way before the game had been revealed publicly) to a distributor. I’ve spent the last year contacting distributors, getting to know them, reading contracts, researching them, and preparing a product for them. I’ve managed to get my head around *most* of the distributors that I have decided to launch with, and I thought I’d write a few words about each of them (except Steam because I’ve covered that well and enough already).
Hopefully you find some of this helpful in your endeavors.
Who Are They?: Some people call them “Gee Oh Gee”, I call them “Gohg Cohm”. I can’t remember which is correct. GOGcom are the biggest online digital distribution portal beneath Steam. They’re also a lot more exclusive, and have a much more targeted demographic. There’s no unified way to just put a game on to their service. Games on GOGcom need to appeal to the GOGcom audience, which does not exactly consist mainstream gamers. GOGcom used to be called “Good Old Games”, and build up a userbase of people coming to buy classic PC games repackaged and patched-up for modern PCs. This remains a huge part of their business still today, but they also welcome many new titles which appeal to a similar demographic. Retro City Rampage and Hotline Miami are obviously fantastic fits for their service, where-as Call of Duty or Street Fighter IV might not be so much.
I once said in an interview “Getting on Steam [via greenlight] means you won a popularity contest, getting on GOGcom means you made a good game.”.
Another important thing to note is GOGcom’s distribution model. They will not sell your game if it has any DRM, they won’t allow you to use your own installer, and you can’t use an icon of your choice for your game’s executable. All GOGcom games use an installer that has a couple of ads for GOGcom in it, and their games all use icons which feature art from the game in a little circle (at least as time of writing, it’s changed once before). I personally have no issue with any of these things, but some people might, I guess. Purchasers of your game can re-download the game as many times as they like by logging into their account on GOGcom, and they receive an installer which has zero DRM in the installation process.
What Will They Sell?: So, while GOGcom is an incredibly important player in digital distribution, there are some games that they will reject instantly, with fairly quick prejudice without even playing the game based on their initial impressions. You might need to accept that your game might never be a fit for their service.
They’ll sell finished games for Windows and Mac. No Linux and no Alpha funding/early access stuff. They don’t do demos, either.
Submitting Your Game: Back when I first contacted GOGcom, there was a tiny form you could use to email the team, and you’d just send it to “Business Enquiries” and tell them you were making a game. Eventually it would get into the right hands. Now, there’s a slightly more formal page to use at http://www.gog.com/indie but it still just shoots an email to the people there and they’ll take a brief look at what you’re sending in. You’ll likely end up engaging in a dialogue with one of the business development people there after a short wait.
What to Submit: GOGcom very specifically advise you’re able to provide them with the following things before they’ll look at your game. Expected release date and price, a trailer or some game-play videos of the game, a build of the game for evaluation.
The evaluation build would ideally have 2-3 hours worth of playable content, and be mostly feature-complete. They’re obviously fine with missing features and lots of bugs, but they want to be able to sit down and get a really good idea of what the game is like before agreeing to anything.
Who Are They?: You probably know Humble for their “Humble Bundles”, which began with the DRM free “Humble Indie Bundle” and have since branched out into other (DRM inclusive) bundles, weekly sales, and their “Humble Store” and “Humble Widget” platform. If you’re planning on selling your game “Direct” (a link on your own website, which you drive traffic to yourself) your best option is to use Humble. They’ll give you a little box you put on your own page called a “Humble Store Widget” which lets people buy your game and download it from their service. Humble will take approximately a 10% cut of your sales in exchange for providing you with hosting and a unified purchasing platform.
For the buyer, it means that they purchase your game once, and can always re-download it from their account at humble’s website. However, they can’t make the initial purchase at Humble’s website, you have to drive the traffic yourself. Humble won’t help you market your game, or put it in front of customers’ eyes. They are your “Direct sales” platform.
What Will They Sell?: It seems like they’ll sell a lot of stuff. They even have a couple of movies on there. They’ll do Beta stuff. Windows, Mac and Linux are all cool, and you can throw in stuff like Soundtracks as well. They’ll let you give-away Steam keys with your games without hesitation, too. If you have an arrangement with other distributors for keys, Humble will let you put those in, too.
Submitting Your Game: Humble Store has a little web-form you need to complete to send them information about your game, it’s fairly informal. The URL to the form doesn’t seem to be something publicly available, so I’m not going to go ahead and post it here in case it’s meant to be a secret, but if you just email them at firstname.lastname@example.org and ask really nicely (I actually had to email three times to get a reply) they’ll link you to the form (It’s not the “Game Submission Form” on their support site, by the way.). You’ll need to actually supply them with some kind of build as part of the submission process. They’re not going to give you a hard time, once you have the form, just wait until your game is ready before you bother submitting.
Who Are They?: Amazon are some massive online retailer. I bought a Bayonetta guide from them once, I think they’re a lot more popular in the USA than Australia so I don’t have a ton of experience with them from a customer perspective. They hate selling games to anyone outside the USA for some reason (even digital games) so a huge “fuck you, Amazon!” for that one. But other than that, they’re certainly a digital distributor with an “Indie Games” section. As far as scale goes, I’m not sure how many people are turning to Amazon for their digital download needs. I bought the BioShock triple pack there for $19.99 (had to create a fake USA account to do it) and it gave me Steam keys. That is my entire experience buying from them.
What Will They Sell?: Despite my back-handed comments about them, they actually do want to sell indie games, and they will talk to you and be helpful about getting your game on their platform. It looks like they’ll on-sell Steam Keys, which are emailed to buyers when they purchase. Get a load of this, though. You can go to your “Purchase Library” on amazon and just click “Download” to download the game directly from Amazon. This downloads a 1mb Installation file. This installer downloads a .html file from Amazon.com and puts it in a folder on your PC. This .html file has a Steam key in it. I thought that was pretty funny.
They probably actually do provide real downloads for indie games, but I just haven’t bought an indie game from them before, so I wouldn’t know.
Submitting Your Game: Amazon are actively seeking indie game developers, so you might actually get contacted by them if you’re making enough noise on the internet about your game. They’re really easy to talk to and, as I said earlier, they do want to sell your game. If you want to get in touch with them, send an email to email@example.com with the subject line “Bring Me Gamers”. Kinda dumb, but that’s what you do.
Who Are They?: Greenman Gaming is a pretty broad distributor. They seem to be, as far as content goes, pretty similar to Steam. They sell basically every type of PC game, they do Early Access/alpha funding, they re-sell keys from other services (almost primarily, actually) as well as running their own download service. There’s nothing particularly amazing about their service in comparison to others, but that’s no reason to pass over them. They have an easy-to-use system and a decent user-base. I’ve only bought my first games from them today just to see how it works and it really just consisted of them emailing my some keys and download instructions. Nothing I purchased was supplied by their own download service, all third-party (I purchased FFXIV and Reus).
What Will They Sell?: They’ll do alpha funding/Early Access, and they’ll sell Steam keys for you, but as far as direct purchases, I think they only do Windows games. I might be missing something, but I couldn’t find any Mac or Linux games on there.
Submitting Your Game: Much like Amazon, Greenman Gaming actively approach developers who are actively promoting their games. If you want to approach them, email Alistair at firstname.lastname@example.org. They’re pretty easy to talk to, and not the fussiest bunch in the world. They won’t really need to play your game before sending you a contract if you’re able to at-least demonstrate a working product to them with an active community around it.
Who Are They?: Gamer’s Gate have been around for bloody ages. I think Penumbra Requiem was originally launched on there, because I bought that when it first came out on Gamer’s Gate but haven’t been back since (also, don’t buy it, it’s awful). They’re pretty similar to Greenman Gaming in that they just pretty much sell everything from AAA titles down to indies, and they have a piece of software you install on your PC to download the games that you have purchased. I managed to log in to my old account and for some reason I own a game called “Volvo The Game” along side Penumbra Requiem, so I guess that’s good?
What Will They Sell?: They’ve got Mac and PC sections, and it looks like they’ll also sell “Guides”, too. I believe they’ll do Alpha funding as well, as they’ve discussed it with me in brief in the past. They’re not very picky, and they’re happy to deal with indies.
Submitting Your Game: They’re actively approaching developers, so don’t be surprised if they email you out of the blue, but if you want to put something in-front of their face, email email@example.com, they’ll want you to just give them the usual stuff like your planned release date, price, info about the game with some screenshots and a video, and a little write-up to help them understand what you’re selling them. Don’t stress over it, they won’t ignore you if you forget to mention something. They’re human beings; they’ll talk to you.
Who Are They?: Desura are awesome. Put your game on Desura. Just do it. Seriously, though, I left Desura until last because I wanted to book-end this post with my two favorite distributors. One way to think of Desura is that they’re a shop-front that sits on top of IndieDB, kinda. It’s the same account system and mostly the same content database. If you’ve got your game on IndieDB (which you really should) you’ve probably noticed there’s a “publish” button at the top there. That’s for selling your game on Desura. It’s super easy to aggregate your game content between IndieDB and the Desura shop page, and the IndieDB and ModDB community is fully integrated into Desura. Also, they’re an Australian company.
Desura uses a super cute client that runs on Windows and is really good (it’s low profile and easy-as-hell to use while actually having fun community features). You use the client to download games, but you can run the games independently of the client afterwards.
What Will They Sell?: Anything, really. They’re very open, you can put builds of your game up however you like, and they’re a popular place to run alpha funding and beta testing because of the large community there which are all interested in indie gaming. Desura is pretty much all indie games, mods, and community content, so alpha funding is pretty welcome there. Windows, Mac and Linux are all good to go with them. You can set your own price and really do whatever. They’re just swell.
Submitting Your Game: If you don’t already have an IndieDB page for your game, go make one. It’s never too early, even prototype stuff should have a page if you’re planning on expanding it as time goes by. Once you’ve got an IndieDB page up, just click the “Publish” button to submit it to Desura for sale. One thing they do require is that you provide at-least 10 screenshots of your game before they’ll sell it. Not sure why, it’s a definite requirement.
Comedy Option: Origin
hahahaahhaahhahaha no. (seriously, they charge you a bunch of money to sell games on their service and act like they aren’t actually desperate for decent games to sell and who the fuck buys games on Origin that aren’t Battlefield 3, Mass Effect 3 and Sim City?)