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Leadwerks Company Blog

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Game Launcher and game distribution


Josh

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Three years ago I realized we could safely distribute Lua script-based games on Steam Workshop without the need for a binary executable.  At the time this was quite extraordinary.
http://www.develop-online.net/news/update-leadwerks-workshop-suggests-devs-can-circumvent-greenlight-and-publish-games-straight-to-steam/0194370

Leadwerks Game Launcher was born.  My idea was that we could get increased exposure for your games by putting free demos and works in progress on Steam.  At the same time, I thought gamers would enjoy being able to try free indie games without the possibility of getting viruses.  Since then there have been some changes in the market.

  • Anyone can publish a game to Steam for $100.
  • Services like itch.io and GameJolt have become very popular, despite the dangers of malware.

Most importantly, the numbers we see on the Game Launcher just aren't very high.  My own little game Asteroids3D is set up so the user automatically subscribes to it when the launcher starts.  Since March 2015 it has only gained 12,000 subscribers, and numbers of players for other games are much lower.  On the other hand, a simple game that was hosted on our own website a few years back called "Furious Frank" got 22,000 downloads.  That number could be much higher today if we had left it up.

So it appears that Steam is good for selling products, but it is a lousy way to distribute free games.  In fact, I regularly sell more copies of Leadwerks Game Engine than I can give away free copies of Leadwerks Game Launcher.

This isn't to say Game Launcher was a failure.  In many cases, developers reported getting download counts as high or higher than IndieDB, GameJolt, and itch.io.  This shows that the Leadwerks brand can be used to drive traffic to your games.

On a technical level, the stability of Leadwerks Game Engine 4 means that I have been able to upgrade the executable and for the most part games seamlessly work with newer versions of the engine.  However, there are occasional problems and it is a shame to see a good game stop working.  The Game Launcher UI could stand to see some improvement, but I'm not sure it's worth putting a lot of effort into it when the number of installs is relatively low.

Of course not all Leadwerks games are written in Lua.  Evayr has some amazing free C++ games he created, and we have several commercial products that are live right now, but our website isn't doing much to promote them.  Focusing on distribution through the Game Launcher left out some important titles and split the community.

Finally, technological advancements have been made that make it easier for me to host large amounts of data on our site.  We are now hooking into Amazon S3 for user-uploaded file storage.  My bill last month was less than $4.00.

A New Direction

It is for these reasons I have decided to focus on refreshing our games database and hosting games on our own website.  You can see my work in progress here.
https://www.leadwerks.com/games

The system is being redesigned with some obvious inspiration from itch.io and the following values in mind:

  • First and foremost, it needs to look good.
  • Highly customizable game page.
  • Clear call to action.

There are two possible reasons to post your game on our site.  Either you want to drive traffic to your website or store page, or you want to get more downloads of your game.  Therefore each page has very prominent buttons on the top right to do exactly this.

Each game page is skinnable with many options.  The default appearance is sleek and dark.

Image6.thumb.jpg.29bc76364b7e74d307fd5dc5177f0411.jpg

You can get pretty fancy with your customizations.

Image5.thumb.jpg.09565a53730acbeb44b1f9bd561a13d5.jpg

Next Steps

The templates still need a lot of work, but it is 80% done.  You can begin playing around with the options and editing your page to your liking.  Comments are not shown on the page yet, as the default skin has to be overridden to match your page style, but they will be.

You can also post your Game Launcher games here by following these steps:

  • Find your game's file ID in the workshop.  For example if the URL is "http://steamcommunity.com/sharedfiles/filedetails/?id=405800821" then the file ID is "405800821".
  • Subscribe to your item, start Steam, and navigate to the folder where Game Launcher Workshop items are stored:
    C:\Program Files (x86)\Steam\steamapps\workshop\content\355500
  • If your item is downloaded there will be a subfolder with the file ID:
    C:\Program Files (x86)\Steam\steamapps\workshop\content\355500\405800821
  • Copy whatever file is found in that folder into a new folder on your desktop.  The file might be named "data.zip" or it could be named something like "713031292550146077_legacy.bin".  Rename the file "data.zip" if it is.
  • Copy the game launcher game files located here into the same folder on your desktop:
    C:\Program Files (x86)\Steam\steamapps\common\Leadwerks Game Launcher\Game
  • When you double-click "game.exe" (or just "game" on Linux) your game should now run.  Rename the executable to your game's name, including the Linux executable if you want to support Linux.
  • Now zip up the entire contents of that folder and upload it on the site here.

You can also select older versions of Game Launcher in the Steam app properties if you want to distribute your game with an older executable.

Save the Games

There are some really great little games that have resulted from the game tournaments over the years, but unfortunately many of the download links in the database lead to dead links in DropBox and Google Drive accounts.  It is my hope that the community can work together to preserve all these fantastic gems and get them permanently uploaded to our S3 storage system, where they will be saved forever for future players to enjoy.

If you have an existing game, please take a look at your page and make sure it looks right.

  • Make any customizations you want for the page appearance.
  • Clean up formatting errors like double line breaks, missing images, or dead links.
  • Screenshots should go in the screenshot field, videos should go in the video field, and downloads should go in the downloads field.

Some of the really old stuff can still be grabbed off our Google drive here.

I appreciate the community's patience in working with me to try the idea of Game Launcher, but our results clearly indicate that a zip download directly from our website will get the most installs and is easiest for everyone.

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In my opinion, the game launcher would have successful if the UI was completed. It seems like every time I tried to share a game with it, the other person couldn't find my game. The biggest issue being the name of the game wasn't even visible, just some number below a screenshot. Nothing that couldn't be overcome but it prevented me from saying "Hey go try my game on the launcher, it's called The Hankinator's stupid game". Even worse if someone just opened it up and wanted to browse the games. I know the image had the title in it but that wasn't always all that readable when it was scaled down to a 2 inch square. Even I wouldn't bother looking around there because it was awkward and time consuming just to see the name of the games. Often times even using the Leadwerks website to "launch" the launcher would end in steam reporting an error. There were other things that I think should have been added to the interface like a list of games that the user had already subscribed to, that would have made it easier for the user to come back and play the game again rather than looking through page after page trying to remember what the game image was (cause the title sure wasn't there!) to play it again. Heck I remember opening the launcher a few times and the UI was totally hosed(I think this was around the time that the UI was revamped). I know early access means there are issues but if I tried an early access title and saw that I'd uninstall. Speaking of which did the launcher ever leave early access? I think some people avoid early access stuff, I usually do. Maybe all this was fixed recently, but I feel like there were very significant UI problems for months if not a year+. I think these and other issues killed any "steam" behind the launcher from day 1.

Sorry for the rant but the game launcher was one of my favorite features of Leadwerks and I really wanted to see it succeed.

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Thanks for the feedback.  I have been waiting to let it leave early access because that is the last shot I can fire.  Honestly, it's just going to get buried without the ability to participate in a sale (being free).  I've seen other free products struggle on Steam because you really only have visibility during a sale.

In spite of all those problems, if the potential was there Game Launcher would be getting 10x more traffic than web downloads, but instead the reverse is true.  I mean yeah, if Vectronic got 100,000 installs we could power through all these problems, but that is not going to happen on Steam because those users have a very specific behavior and only act in a certain way.

And the rating on Steam is good so I don't think we can attribute this to angry users or shortcomings of the implementation.

At the same time the Steam platform itself has just become massively devalued and I am hedging my bets elsewhere.

Before Game Launcher, people were already coming to this website to download free games.  If we had spent the last few years building that up, any game in the system would get a ton more downloads than Game Launcher and probably a lot more than itch.io etc.  We had much much less traffic when FF got 22,000 downloads and much fewer games, so if we had just kept on that path Furious Frank would easily have 100,000 downloads by now.

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If anything, it would make more sense to build a client that hooks into leadwerks.com and downloads games from the database, since that has much more traffic than Steam Workshop.

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Conceptually the game launcher made a really good use case and a strong selling point, but in practice I found it annoying to use. The few games that I have subscribed to often blocked up because of downloads making the launcher respond rather slow. The UI style wise was good, but its functionality often seems to A) not work B) or feel sluggish. 

I would focus on getting the templates up again. Most importantly would be the how the Games page is designed. It currently lists all games but it really needs some categorising. https://www.leadwerks.com/community/games 

gamepage.jpg.9da0bc681a3a38a72bd1da2a9bd2043c.jpg

 

  • Like 1
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The random reports of Workshop not downloading items or taking a long time is another issue.  There's probably nothing I could do to improve that.  I have occasionally come across that myself.
https://forum.paradoxplaza.com/forum/index.php?threads/workshop-mods-not-downloading.870652/
https://steamcommunity.com/app/281990/discussions/0/350532795338161800/
https://steamcommunity.com/app/72850/discussions/0/611702631228016726/
https://www.reddit.com/r/CitiesSkylines/comments/2zaqgj/help_steam_workshop_mods_do_not_install/

Again, this is something we could live with but the problem is the first step in the user acquisition funnel isn't there.  This is how people discover your game:

  1. Visit the Game Launcher Steam page
  2. Install the Game Launcher
  3. Play a game

Step one is completely missing because products on Steam only have visibility during a sale.  I see this with the engine itself as well.  It's not a small difference, it's like zero verses a thousand.

So we can conclude that "being on Steam" means nothing unless you have a paid product with frequent price discounts.  Without that, the overhead of the platform becomes a liability (downloading bugs, complexity of the system) and your visibility is actually worse than just being on a web page.

At the same time we ignoring what are arguably our best quality titles.  Of the top 8 on the games page that I think are the best, only two are available in the game launcher because the bigger games tend to use C++ (plus two old ones that are written in Blitz but still look great).

I never deleted the old games listing because there is an amazing history of things you guys have created.  Even the concepts that never came to be are still inspiring.  It's been long enough that DropBox and Google Drive files are starting to disappear and I don't want to lose any of the content the community has created.

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Here is a very crazy idea: We add a paid DLC.  The DLC goes on sale frequently, driving people to the store page for the game launcher.  Who cares if they buy the DLC, it just gets the free game launcher more installs because it is more highly visible.

What kind of DLC?  One that effects the way all games are played with no changes to their code and no updates required.

Ssfiitlogo.png.fb0f1ab6f1239d66ab2c3c58476297f5.png

The Turbo DLC adds an option in the launcher to run the game at 150%, 200%, or slow motion.  This is passed to the game as a command line parameter and a variable is added internally in the engine to manipulate the game speed.

The Game Launcher is still freely available but gets a bump in the number of installs every time the Turbo Mode DLC goes on sale.

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To put things into perspective, I have Google analytics hooked up to everything.

The leadwerks.com website, in the last week, has three and a half times as many views as the game launcher store page.

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Is that excluding the forum? Because I am always surprised to hear about people who use buy Leadwerks, but then never seem to register on the official forum. They just never thought of it as an option somehow.

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Thank you for such a valuable information. I was looking for a long time detailed explanation. Really appreciate your reply!

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