Stateside: Think life is tough on mobile? Try getting your game onto Steam

Why mobile is PC's master

Stateside: Think life is tough on mobile? Try getting your game onto Steam
Chicago-based Carter Dotson is a senior writer at, which was acquired by publisher Steel Media in 2012.

Hey mobile developers!

Ever feel frustrated about how hard it is to make money on mobile? Well, take a moment to be thankful that mobile has far fewer hurdles in the way of making significant amounts of money compared to the PC market.

There, Steam has become such a dominant force that for many developers. It's resulted in a situation where developers are forced to beg to get their game onto the store – even though there appears to be a wealth of different ways they could choose to distribute their titles.

Hot and bothered

The key flaw in the way Steam operates was revealed recently when the developers behind Paranautical Activity revealed that they had entered into a publishing arrangement with Adult Swim Games in order to get their game on to Steam, but in the event found their game rejected.

Why? Because they set up a Greenlight page that went dormant months ago, and because Steam didn't want to send the message that Greenlight could be bypassed just by getting a publisher.

Now, the problem is that Steam works in exactly that way: Certain publishers can take shortcuts to get their games on Valve's all-important store. As a result, indies are essentially second-class citizens on Steam.

And because it's such an important source of revenue for developers, they're left to begging for votes on their Greenlight pages, even for games that are already on sale elsewhere.

Even Paranautical Activity has a beta version for sale, and yet there's a brouhaha over its makers apparent inability to get the game onto Steam.

The indie cause

It's no wonder that some developers have reacted by pulling their Greenlight pages altogether - though there's still plenty willing to dance to Valve's tune in order to get onto Steam, simply because they believe they need to be there if they want to succeed on PC.

Compare this with mobile: Apple may have a walled garden, but at least it lets the wide majority of developers and their products in, from one-person studios to multinational conglomerates.

Both extremes get the same amount of virtual shelf space, and Apple has been willing to promote indie and relatively-unknown games along with the big studios' games. This has led to everyone being on theoretically-equal footing.

Yes, there are small studios struggling, but by scale, even EA is finding life tough in this brave new world. There's still plenty of developers both big and small making a living, and of course the occasional smash success story, like Imangi and NimbleBit.

And lest we forget about that tiny Finnish company named Rovio that created a cultural phenomenon.

Everyone's faced with the same challenges. Supercell theoretically has to wait the same amount of time to get an update approved on the App Store that a 7-year-old girl has to. What's more, the stores are open to anyone who pays the fees to get in.

Yes, Apple's aforementioned walled garden is no mean, but Steam is Augusta National Golf Club in comparison. You have to be extremely privileged or extremely good at what you do to play there.

Price points

It would of course be disingenuous to suggest life on mobile is superior to that on PC in every regard.

Steam, for instance, has been a friendly environment for the indie developers that have managed to launch on the marketplace largely because they stand out compared to what the big publishers are doing.

They frequently represent interesting low-cost alternatives to the largely full-price titles that the traditional giants are pushing.

Consumers on Steam aren't choosing between Activision and a two-person team's 99c game, they're choosing between a small studio's $9.99 game and Activision's $59.99 game - that's an important distinction.

In comparison, mobile is not always a fair fight because everyone – both big and small - is increasingly fighting at smaller and smaller price points.

In fact, this is where companies like Apple and Google driving more premium content to their stores could be paradoxically a good thing for small studios.

Better the devil you know

If publishers like Take-Two - which has plans to sell its games on tablets at price points closer to its console releases - can thrive on mobile with premium pricing, it could reshape the market.

If big-name studios weren't forced to go free-to-play with everything and had the ability to push out releases at $10 and higher with regularity, then small studios that need to release at lower price points may be able to appeal to more customers in comparison, and the markets could support a wider array of releases.

While problems could arise should publishers port PC or console releases across to mobile cheaply – something all the more possible now smartphones are getting more powerful by the year – until mobile markets can effectively handle multiple tiers of content at appropriate price points, this all may be irrelevant.

Despite such flaws, the openness of mobile market has been the spearhead for the gaming revolution we've enjoyed during the past few years, uprooting the the traditional structures of game development and distribution and opening it up for far more developers appealing to entirely new audiences.

Steam provides a lot that the mobile market can learn from, but – as it stands – it's a flawed system that's burning plenty of smaller studios, and ultimately stands inferior to mobile's openness.

Stateside columnist

Freelance writer covering mobile and gaming for @toucharcade, @Gamezebo, and more!