Wednesday, July 10, 2013

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Why Linden Lab's Acquisition of Desura Might Be The Smartest Thing It's Ever Done -- Think Indie Gaming

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Janine "Iris Ophelia" Hawkins' ongoing review of gaming and virtual world style

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.

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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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Mixed reality iris 2013Iris 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.

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Eric

Thank you for this explanation. Thinking about it, it is pretty smart. I don't think you can make money with indie games, 99,9% fail, not because they are bad, but because there are just too many and the players tend to stick with the well known titles. That is why facebook games are in a decline. I mean there are games out there, playing them is like a full time job. But if you have a platform to market these games, that is very likely a very promising business. Because just like shop or club owners in SL, they are willing to pay to get the word out.
Btw, your website broke the record with 16 trackers according to my ghostly add-on. Not even the worst tabloids have that many;)

MC

No, Facebook games are in decline because they suck giant donkey balls. And not in a good way.

Ezra

Definitely their smartest acquisition in my opinion.

With this I hope Linden Lab returns focus to doing the one thing they've proven good at: providing stable user to user economies, now with indie game and game mod content in the portfolio.

Hitomi Tiponi

There's some nice indie games on there and it does continue Linden Lab's approach of fostering creativity. The big problem I see at the moment is that Desura is seen as the poor cousin to Steam Greenlight - just look at the number of game developers on there asking for their games to be voted onto Steam. If Desura does become more successful this will just encourage Valve to make the massive Steam marketplace more accessible to indie games. If that happens it could mean that indie game developers are the winners and not Linden Lab.

Orcsipoopsie

Big deal!
What got it to do with SL and virtual worlds?

Just wasted another precious 2 minutes of my life for gathering useless info :/

Adeon Writer

@Hitomi: Stream Greenlight is awful.

100 USD just to get voted on, and most just sit there never getting enough votes. I'd love to buy them, but I'm not allowed to.

As I've said before, the only two Desura games I've purchased have been titles I saw and really liked on Steam Greenlight, but you'll never get enough votes due to obscurity.

Arcadia Codesmith

I concur. Second Life is essentially a platform for content creation. It's a natural evolution to explore other avenues of distributing user content while allowing creators to receive payment (as opposed to the weird sort of paradigm at other companies where users donate content to a for-profit company in exchange for a pat on the head and a virtual cookie).

Renmiri

"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"

Minecraft always was the "poor man's SL". Only difference is that corporate greed made Linden Labs bleed their content creators dry, while Nocht and Minecraft welcomed content creators with open arms. Guess who got more profits ?
Charging thousands of dollars to people who want to create content for your online product is shooting yourself in the foot. The talent either gets rich patrons or leaves SL. I'm amazed SL is lasting that long with their model of making talented people pay dearly for their love of building, added to their lag issues and unreliable SDK. Only amateurs and dilettantes with a patron have the patience to fight with SL to get something exciting going. Properly funded game designers take one look at sim crossing issues, hair on butt and Ruthing mishaps and say "I'm outta here".

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