This week, Discord announced they will be adding a storefront to their game focused chat and voice software.
You’re probably familiar with the size of Discord already, but if not, the program has 150 million users and 19 million of those use it every single day.
That means on full launch, the Discord store could actually be the first serious competition in the PC gaming space since GOG started to sell newer games alongside classics.
In fact, I’d argue it’s more significant than that. Asking users to install yet another client to manage their games has always been tricky, and in a world where even the Nvidia driver software wants to connect to you on Facebook, Discord has the advantage of not only a large install base but actually being useful by its own merit.
The nature of Discord as a communication application is important. A lot of people don’t buy games on Steam for value (despite sales, it’s not often the cheapest place to buy), and they certainly don’t buy for customer service.
They buy for the community and being able to easily connect with friends: the whole purpose of Discord up to this point.
Curation could be good news for good games
We all know Steam is a mess, in terms of actually having your game discovered.
While Steam has made some strides to fix the problem, the store has never been as helpful, either to developers looking to sell games or to players looking for a new game to enjoy, as it was before they opened the floodgates to anyone with a spare $100.
Curated lists and other tools that have pushed discovery onto the Steam users tend to rely on your game already having an audience who can review and recommend it. Meanwhile, discovery algorithms too often simply lump games together based on genres and remain flooded with low-quality content.
It’s true that there are simply far more high-quality games being released now than ever before, but it will also help to have a storefront where the real garbage – we’re talking unity asset flips, half-finished school projects, games with actual malware in them – don’t get chances for exposure equal to, say, Dead Cells.
A fully curated store isn’t perfect of course, as anybody who has prayed nightly for an elusive Editors Choice on the App store can attest. Still, with the right gatekeepers and an intelligent storefront, Discord could offer a level of visibility we’ll never see from Steam again.
Discord is not as indie as they want you to believe
The Discord announcement wants you to believe it’ll be “similar to one of those cozy neighborhood book shops”, and there’s plenty of language focused on friends and community and how it will “fit in differently than other stores out there, ours will be driven mostly by friendships”.
But let’s not forget that Discord has raised $30,000,000 in funding from companies like Tencent and Time Warner. They anything but a cosy neighbourhood bookshop.
Now, there are some good intentions here. The “First on Discord” games which are being funded by Discord as part of an exclusivity deal are a nice touch that both Sony and Microsoft employed at the launch of their consoles in order to entice and encourage developers, and their short exclusivity period shows they understand the market for indies.
However, this deal is only going to be available to a handful of developers, and the rest of the language used feels like lip service when according to an exclusive interview with Variety, Discord is asking for the traditional 30% cut.
30% of your games entire revenue is an incredible amount of money to send a bit of data and take some payment details.
Yes, you have to pay for the bandwidth, and yes, you pay for the critical mass of community and exposure you’ll receive compared to a store like itch.io. I’m not saying storefronts, which require staff and programmers and customer support are free to run and shouldn’t make a profit, but store overheads are lower than ever, bandwidth is cheap and 30% is not a fair take.
The 70/30 split is a hangover from the days of physical retail when stores had significantly higher overheads, less competition and were more involved in the logistics chain. It’s not a fair cut now, and it’s something Discord are doing simply because they know they can get away with it.
Even a 75/25 like Humble would have gone a long way to backing up some of their indie-friendly sentiment with action.
I’m not saying you don’t have to put up with that share – it’s a standard share from Steam, Apple and many other retailers and right now there isn’t an alternative with enough of a user base to make them a viable place to sell your game. That doesn’t mean it shouldn’t be called out though, especially when a company specifically wants to trade on an indie-friendly reputation.
Don’t forget that another storefront means another set of assets to make, even if many of them do end up being the same resolution and formats as Steam. In the future, it may also mean another API to code for, another set of ‘trading cards’ to create. It’s likely that, just like Steam, GOG and Humble, it’ll be up to the developers to do the vast majority of the work to have their game live on the store.
And you’ll be doing all this for free while still having to give away 30% of your sales.
It’s a shame that despite some genuinely nice touches, an indie funding scheme and what feels like proper attention and care being put into the store, the revenue share isn’t going to reflect any of that.
Overall though, the addition of the Discord store is good news. It’s not nearly as exciting for developers as it could have been with a more reasonable revenue share, but any and all competition in the previously monopolised PC gaming space is likely to be a net positive.
That is, providing you’re not working hard on a Unity asset flip right now…