Why Linden Lab's Acquisition of Desura Might Be The Smartest Thing It's Ever Done -- Think Indie Gaming
The news that Linden Lab recently acquired indie game distribution platform Desura came completely out of left-field for both those who follow Linden Lab and those who follow indie gaming. Not only does this break step from Linden Lab's recent acquisitions of sandbox games and creation platforms like Creatorverse and dio, but Desura is not exactly a budding project. It's not a funny little thing still in development. It may not be as omnipresent as its key competitors Steam and Origin, but make no mistake, Desura is a well established service.
And honestly, this might be one of the best moves that Linden Lab has made in a while.
I've been incredibly critical of Linden Lab's past acquisitions, and I haven't been shy about that. At points it's seemed like they were snapping up promising creative gaming projects and hoping that one might magically blossom into the next Minecraft, but they've yet to demonstrate the follow-through that would be necessary to make that happen. None of these projects were nurtured during their betas/early release periods in a way that might have fostered a devoted community, nor did any of them have notable pre-existing communities attached to them. They've essentially been buying new cars without the gas to drive them out of the lot, or the inclination to get out and push.
But Desura is very different. If we're talking about Linden Lab buying up projects to see what will stick, Desura's already well into the process of sticking, if not already "stuck".
Desura is Steam for indie games. That's not an oversimplification or a way for me to kind of explain it in terms most people can understand... That's just what it is. Steam has been around longer than Desura and deals with bigger titles and studios so it's not fair to compare them in terms of their scale and reach, but if you're big on indie games you're probably big on Desura too.
Indie games are what you could call a BFD right now -- a big fucking deal. In the past few years, some of the most memorable games have been indies that seemingly came out of nowhere. Hotline Miami, FTL, Mark of the Ninja. It turns out that amazing things can come from the work of people who are following their passions. Maybe I'm romanticizing it a bit too much, but this segment of game development is big (and only getting bigger). Desura appeared at the perfect time to take advantage of this, making an array of publishing and vending tools available to just about anyone with a game they wanted to sell. Of course Steam also noticed the growth in the indie market and launched Steam Greenlight as a way for indie games with significant interest or fan followings to claw their way onto the service... But if you think that detracts from Desura's promise then you likely don't know much about Greenlight.
Getting the right degree of attention at the right time on Greenlight isn't easy, and tons of good games just don't make the cut. Even so, Greenlight has been one more way to increase the visibility of indie games, making services like Desura that offer them in abundance even more valuable and in-demand. Their other main digital distribution competitor, Origin, only offers EA titles, so it's not a valid option for a growing number of players. It's also worth taking into account that Desura's DRM-free stance, significant modding community, and use in conjunction with Humble Bundles and similar events have made it something of a darling among a subset of PC gamers. With all that in mind, Desura is nothing to sneeze at.
That's why this could be a brilliant move. The indie game development scene is still growing, making this a smart and timely acquisition. Desura's biggest issue at the moment, and likely what holds it back the most, is that it's not a particularly clean system to navigate. The marketplace is so flushed with content that it can be difficult to separate the the wheat from the chaff and find products you're most interested in. LL has stated that they intend to maintain the multi-platform Desura service and, provided they can keep what momentum it has and improve on some of its shortcomings, this could be the best acquisition Linden Lab has ever made. I'm not worried about Desura "sticking", so long as Linden Lab sticks with Desura.
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Iris Ophelia (@bleatingheart, Janine Hawkins IRL) has been featured in the New York Times and has spoken about SL-based design at the Fashion Institute of Technology in Manhattan and with pop culture/fashion maven Johanna Blakley.