Steam Curators, Anxiety, and Paid Reviews

Since The Real Laser Ball is my first game, and a pretty simple game at that, I didn’t do a full court marketing push. I am instead relying on Steam curators, user reviews, twitter, friends, and Reddit. I won’t be doing a full press release to gaming sites for this one(Though, if Rock Paper Shotgun covered my game in any way I think I would shit my pants) and will be saving that for the next game (already in the works, more updates to come). On Sunday night I sent the game out to around 65 curators that I thought would enjoy it, or that cover similar games.

It is a strange feeling to send out a copy of your game to a bunch of strangers for them to review it. It’s been two days of nervously refreshing the curator connect page to see who downloaded a copy and if anyone has left a review yet. I think the anxiety is much less about them liking it and more about it not breaking. My mother attributed it to “Hoping the other kids at school like your kid.” But I think of it more as “Hoping my kid doesn’t take a shit on the desk in home room.” However, much to my extreme relief, I did just get a recommendation that doesn’t say the game is a desk shitter:

“A unique propulsion-based movement mechanic makes Laser Ball a deviously simple arcade score-chaser with a diabolically addictive and challenging spin. A chill synthwave soundtrack just seals the deal” That actually sounds cooler than any of my marketing lines! I am super excited now to see what the other curators have to say.

On the other side of the marketing coin I have been getting some super shady e-mails from “Promoters” who I assume just constantly scan the Steam upcoming releases section and send e-mails to the the devs/publishers. Some of them are fine, and possibly even useful, but some of them have been selling paid reviews. Which pisses me off to no end.

Story time! When I used to live in Orlando a group of my friends and I decided to start an online nightlife magazine (Off The Bridge Orlando, now defunct). We did this because we kept seeing shit restaurants and bars PACKED to the brim due to the amazing reviews they were getting in the Orlando news papers and lifestyle magazines. We had spoken with a good friend who owned a a phenomenal pub and found out that these publications would essentially sell a positive review to anyone willing to pay for it. After speaking with many more owners it seemed that this was just how the system worked. This meant that solid, interesting, and well managed establishments were ghost towns while terrible places were swimming in customers because they were willing to shell out a few grand for a thumbs up. We started our site and exploded fast since we were upfront that our reviews were based on our opinions and the quality of the establishment and we in NO WAY charged or received money or perks from or for our reviews. People flocked to it because they could trust in that what we wrote wasn’t based on a cash grab. Mom and pop places that truly deserved customers started to get them and even though we eventually failed as a business (Some not too smart decisions when it came to one of our live events kinda sorta made two of us homeless and we shuttered the site) we felt great that we were able to be a part of a change in how people discovered which businesses deserved their patronage.

Circle back to now and I am getting shit like this:

This was the cheapest option.

That is not only super shady, but fairly fucked up when viewed through the lens of a consumer. I look at the list of games that this curator has recommended (quite a lot) and I gotta wonder if they are indeed any good? Or if they just look great because they shelled out the cash.

I want to make money off this endeavor. I want to keep creating digital toys and eventually stories. I want to not have to sit in a cubical again and still pay my bills. I think every indie dev feels the same way. But, once we start fucking the consumer by manipulating the system that allows them to find the games/developers that deserve their patronage we will be no better than the titans in the industry we all find so fun to hate. Maybe it’s because I am just new to how this whole system works, but this seems like an extremely dangerous path to go down if Indie Gaming is to thrive.