Desura: Digital Distribution With Roots In Modding and Indie Development

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Dave Traeger, the man behind the indie and mod focused digital distribution platform, Desura, was able to answer a few question for us in this e-mail interview.  You will read about how Desura came to be, pricing methodology, modding, competition in the digital distribution world, PC indie development and much more.

Please tell us a little bit about yourself and your role with the development of Desura.

Hello I’m Dave Traeger Overlord and puppet master for Desura and our other websites ModDB and IndieDB. My role within Desura is to work with game developers and publishers looking to work with Desura as a release platform, sift through our support channels and direct them to the staff member who can best answer the questions and tame the beast that is our community on a daily basis.

Where did the idea for Desura come from?

Originally Desura started as a way for ModDB to reach larger audiences, we do quite well with people who know what modding is and have some idea of what it requires. We wanted to pull in more people and to do that we needed to lower the barrier of entry of installation. So we hired a programmer, worked him to death (not really) and Desura was born.

What are some of the successes and failures you learned from in developing Desura?

That just because you make games available DRM free with competitive prices does not mean people will purchase them from you. It takes a lot of work to make the games attractive to people wanting to throw cash around the Internet. It is a learning process but we have found that games with bigger communities for modding like the Mount & Blade series do well on Desura.

In its current form, how close is Desura to your initial vision?

That is really hard to answer; my vision has changed so much since we first started talking about the idea of Desura and what it was supposed to be. Right now we are focusing on building out in the direction of Linux and building a bigger back catalogue for Windows. The initial vision for me was mostly about modding; in the past few years my focus has expanded to include Indie games as well. So to answer the question: nothing like my initial vision, but that is a good thing!

What do you look for in a title when deciding whether or not to sell it through Desura?

Is it unique? How much effort has there been put into developing the title, and most importantly… is it fun? For example there are a lot of games for FPSMaker, and titles built for Flash / mobile type devices. While these games can be amazing, most of the time they are not suited to PC digital distribution and are better off on mobiles and more casual gaming portals.

Are there any differences in the negotiations with indie developers as opposed to AAA titles and or publishers?

Plenty, Indie developers normally have an ideal way that they want to sell their games, most are very hands on and they want to learn how to use the systems. Which makes us happy, after all we are a developer driven network of websites without developers we wouldn’t have much content at all. Publishers are still just as friendly but most of the work is done by Desura staff once all the contracts have been signed.

Why are new release digital versions of games not discounted?  From the view of the customer, there are no discs to copy, no boxes to create and no manuals to print and therefore should not cost as much.

As far as Desura releases are concerned we don’t have excessive prices, if you are talking in general here I honestly think because they can get away with it. Paying in excess of ninety Australian dollars for a new game over a digital distribution service is damn wacky. I know for a fact there are websites that will sell you CDKeys for games and nothing more, the prices are anywhere between 30-40 AUD for the same title.

Savvy customers shop around for better prices, if there were more competition willing to do just that it would keep developers and publishers honest.

One of the knocks against the various digital distribution platforms is the user having 4 or 5 different programs in order to play their games.  How do you react to this?

Well to be fair these people want two things, they want a program that will house all their games in one place, keep it neat and organized. They also want great prices however they start to become invested within these programs that house all their games, so when the prices are high within their favourite program they don’t have much of a choice. Within Desura we designed the application to allow people to play the games without Desura running, find all the titles on your PC that we support regardless of if you purchased them with us. Eventually you will be able to use Desura to be that program to organize all your games.

In terms of regular and sale pricing, how much say do you have when making games available via Desura?

We leave that up to the developer, however a good sale is one that will make your game which was previously not worth the cost attractable. Something to think about when deciding on how much your game is worth to other people.

How do you feel about the digital distribution platform as a whole?

It’s brilliant, totally open and tons of choices. However at the same time it is troubling because not all of these “choices” will survive, which will be bad for the consumers. And troubling because with so many portals all wanting to release the same games, for developers it can be hard to choose which portals will release there games and which won’t. Personally I believe they should release everywhere, because that is essentially free exposure on hundreds of sites – even if the sales from some sites are not meaningful. However that isn’t possible due to the time and legal constraints of each, which means some developers, are just opting for one or two portals to release their games on – which isn’t a great outcome.

Do you believe PC retail outlets still have a place in today’s market?

Brick and mortar will always be around for console games, PC not so much. When was the last time you played a game that required no updates at launch? I’m not sure if it is because of the mindset developers have now, or if this is just developers taking advantage of the Internet but when I can play a PC game out of a box that requires no updates and no DRM software is when PC games will come back into stores (it won’t happen).

Tell us about your relationship with The Humble Indie Bundle and to allow those games to be activated on Desura. 

We first met the Wolfire boys back when they first started developing Overgrowth, Desura was still a scribble on a notepad and John’s beard was still growing. We worked with the lads, helping them spread the word about their game. The first HiB was a surprise success; the second HiB is when Desura got involved. It was a simple as mentioning it to John and Jeff since Desura meshed well with the no DRM model it was not a hard sale.

It has been a blast watching the success for the Wolfire guys grow; they are basically a household name now. We will continue to work with the boys well into the future.

How important is it to get instant feedback about Desura from users through online message boards and other social networking sites?

Feedback is always important regardless of the application; we made it as easy as we could to report problems. We do get angry emails sometimes but the reaction is always surprising when the answer is human, so if you have an issue or a question about Desura just get in contact. We don’t bite.

What is your reaction to the recent launch of EA’s Origin and the announcements for the upcoming IndieCity and GameFly digital distribution platforms?

Competition breeds innovation so it’s great, however I mentioned my concerns earlier and that is with the market so spread, it is hard for game developers to choose where to release their games. Everywhere just isn’t an option now, which means some portals will have some games and some will have others. That’s not ideal, especially when consumers have a tendency to want to use only “one” place to buy their games. The consumers lose, and developers lose especially if they are denied the ability to release on the big platforms that dominate the market.

How do you feel about the various indie bundle promotions and the “Pay What You Want Pricing” methodology?

Love it; it gives people no reason not to play great indie games they have never heard of. How often would these people pay for a game they have never seen before? It removes the issues of being indie from indie developers.

What are your thoughts on how the PC gaming industry as a whole are dealing with the problem of intrusive DRM and piracy?

Well we run a release platform that is DRM free. DRM is silly, unless the DRM is built into functionality. A good example would be Diablo 3 (modding issues aside).

How do you feel about DLC and its current implementation in the PC gaming industry?

Day one DLC is stupid, so is store specific pre-order DLC. DLC should be extra content for games not shiny golden weapons for GameStop purchases.

Recently, there has been a lot of talk about modding of PC games and the relationship developers have with modders.  How do you feel about the online modding community in general and what are some of your favorite mods?

Modding is where I got my start in the gaming community, so you could say that it is something I respect quite a bit. With the recent announcements of official games not outright supporting mods, I think they will get quite a surprise. Modders always find a way to change their games around. In the case of BF3 with the tools being too complex, I believe that is more to the side of “not many people will have the required hardware to make levels” however the wording of the announcement could have been better.

What are some of your favorite PC games or genres?

I always love a good dungeon crawl, rougelikes also tickle me the right way.

For anyone hearing about Desura for the first time, is there anything else you would like to say?

Desura will surprise you, if you are a player expect to see a world of mods you have never seen before, if you are a developer come explore what it is like to be on an open platform where you control everything. – End

We would like to thank Dave and the rest of the Desura team for taking time out of their busy day to give us a glimpse of how to run a competitive digital distribution platform.  Check out Desura right now to see all it has to offer.  You can also stop by ModDB and IndieDB to learn more about the modding and independent development scene.

Desura Pty Ltd is based in Australia.  Everyone knows that is where man-eating spiders, boxing kangaroos and giant crocodiles live.  Let Dave know you care and are thinking about him by leaving a comment!

3 thoughts on “Desura: Digital Distribution With Roots In Modding and Indie Development

  1. Pingback: - The Weblog Indie Game Links: Flattery or Thievery

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