Friday, October 25, 2013

This Dark Matter Thing Was Handled Poorly

For those of you who don't know, which is everyone because no one cares, there was once this group of guys who were modding an FPS. Anyway, they made a really popular mod and then they made a free-to-play FPS based on that and it was sorta popular in some circles.

They didn't make much money though and they didn't like their publisher. They suspected said publisher was only out to make a quick buck and not concerned with the long-term health of the property. So when those guy began working on their new title, Dark Matter, they didn't bother with a publisher.

Then they ran out of money so they tried a Kickstarter. The Kickstarter failed at around 12%. A few months later, they released Dark Matter on steam. Despite the fact that they clearly detailed the content of the game on the site, it ended abruptly at around four hours in. With a text screen of all fucking things.

Players were displeased and some ad-hoc PR (an executive on the Steam forums) said the game was complete, but the story wasn't over. Despite the fact that Dark Matter was listed and described as a complete game (by default, mind you. Because folks are expected to signpost when they're just putting up "Episode One"), it was intended to be part one of a series.

No one was mollified by this and eventually Steam took the game down and some refunds are already going out to folks who bought it.

What's crazy is that this isn't unexpected. In a Game Front interview just after the Kickstarter failed, members of the team said they'd sell what they had and hope it was successful enough to get a second episode. They could have put this on their page. They could have released it under Steam's beta program that lets folks sell their game while it's still in beta.

Instead, the guys who didn't want to rip off their customers for short term gain ended up doing that, Steam is locking out a promising game and enthusiastic set of developers, and customers aren't going to have the possibility of getting more Dark Matter.

Everyone loses and the real tragedy (considering that we're talking about a $15 game that people play for fun) is that no one had to lose. They could have talked to Steam. Steam could have talked to them. They could've talked a bit more about how they planned to release the game in episodes. They claimed that the gaming press wouldn't talk to them, but the gaming press rabbit hole is pretty motherfucking deep. I work for a Z-list site right now. The Z-list would've been happy to have interviewed the developers of a game only a few thousand folks have heard of. Hell, Game Front did interview those guys.

Look, I treasure skill and knowledge. Obviously, these guys can put a game together (by all reports the only real complaint about Dark Matter is that it literally ends too soon). The thing is that success is more than that. It's easy to hate on publishers as the smarmy, take 10% (or whatever percent) of the games industry while they do very little, but publicity, connections, messaging, etc. are all important to making a game sell. Merit doesn't sell itself, sadly. Well, it does sometimes, but it's always better with a push. That's what this is, a messaging failure. A communications failure.

While I couldn't give two shits about a 2.5D sidescroller, it's a little depressing that none of these folks could get their shit together and find a solution that was equitable for everyone. Now Dark Matter is a villain who lied to people (in spite of the fact that they said they were going to do this) and Steam is doing the right thing by kicking them out and denying them any more revenue.

Anyway, it's just stupid and I don't like it.

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