Last week, I wrote about my frustrations trying to get my money from Desura. If you’re not familiar with the recent Desura controversy, that’s a good place to start getting up-to-speed. Short story version: since at least November a number of developers, including Vision Riders Entertainment, have not been getting their payments from Desura, and were getting the runaround when trying to contact them about it. As of posting this, I have still not been paid.
Yesterday, Desura posted an update concerning the matter detailing their side of the story and giving a list of changes that they’re planning to make going forward. You should go ahead and read that now, since I’d like to address a bit of what they said.
I don’t know how big Bad Juju is, so I hate to come across as “picking on” what may very well be just a small handful of people, but there’s a lot that I feel really needs to be said about this whole thing. Ignoring the problem is not going to make it go away; sometimes sunlight really is the best disinfectant. I’m glad that they’re publicly talking about what’s going on, but it’s still only a first step.
First off, there’s quite a bit of talk in the update about “Desura 2.0”. That’s great and all, but making more promises on top of old ones is not exactly helping devs right now. The fabled Desura 2.0 is something we’ve been teased with since way back when Linden Lab owned the site. Lists of features to come are great, but at the moment people aren’t avoiding Desura simply because of missing bells and whistles.
Second, Desura is quick to assure us that they’re not going out of business. Which is nice and all, but I don’t think you can fault the public for assuming the worst. A storefront’s primary purpose for a developer is to facilitate the transfer of funds from their customers. When those funds aren’t getting through, something has gone terribly, terribly wrong.
Companies in financial trouble about to go under typically do their best to keep their biggest creditors placated while keeping everyone else in the dark. When Desura’s problems first started to surface, only big name devs and those who made lots of noise on social media seemed to be getting their payments resolved. The squeaky wheel gets the grease. When guilt was not admitted until a half year later, I don’t think people were automatically wrong to assume the worst.
Now let’s address the payout threshold. Since the dawn of time (or at least since Desura originally launched) developers have had to hit $500 worth of sales in order to get paid by Desura. This is $500 after Desura takes their share, mind you. It’s a ludicrous amount for an indie portal. But people put up with it because, one, most newbies think they can make it no problem and, two, Desura was the only game in town for the longest time, back when the chances of getting your game on Steam were lower than the chances of you getting elected president of the United States.
I am only exaggerating slightly.
Granted, yes, you could contact Desura directly and ask for your payout early. But a lot of devs didn’t realize this (skimming through, I don’t even see it mentioned anywhere in my contract), and even then that’s one more annoying hurdle between a dev and what may only be fifty bucks. After years of people complaining about this, Bad Juju finally decided to do something about it:
Bringing in the changes to the payout system, as well as new contracts being lowered to a $250 threshold will both help prevent this from being a recurring problem in the future.
$250? Seriously? Yes, that puts it in line with Humble Store, but it’s still an enormous feat for a small dev to achieve, especially if they’re selling a game for just a dollar or two a pop. This is further compounded by the fact a lot of games are available through multiple storefronts. Another Star only hit its payout threshold via the Humble Widget because people were adding tips to their purchases, and it only hit the threshold on Desura because it was included in an Indie Royale bundle. And don’t forget that this is a $10 game with over a hundred copies sold (not counting the ~3,000 Indie Royale sales)!
There’s also this passage, which I think is misleading:
Additionally, contracts have always had a $500 minimum payout threshold, and when an account does not reach that limit, it does not trigger for payment. This has caused some accounts to go significant lengths of time without being paid.
While I’m fairly sure this is unintentional, it makes it sound like developers were just complaining about not reaching the payout. This is not the case. Another Star‘s sales passed the $500 threshold in November. Since the payout doesn’t take effect until 30 days thereafter (which would have been in December), Vision Riders should have gotten paid at the beginning of January. But this didn’t happen. The status report simply rolled over to “payment pending” and nothing happened.
I also think I should touch on a couple issues concerning social media. Some people, on Twitter and elsewhere, are upset that people are making a big deal about all this. They accuse of us of dogpiling on Desura, and that we “unfairly” hurt Desura and their reputation.
Look, here’s the deal: Desura has a legal and ethical obligation to pay the developers on its store front. They failed to do this in a timely manner, and getting in contact with them directly changed nothing. Despite growing signs that something was wrong, the company didn’t even admit that there was a problem for over six months. Nothing changed until the gaming press got on Desura’s case about it. So, no, it’s not “unfair” to Desura at all. It’s unfair to devs that they had to make such a big deal in the first place just to get noticed.
There’s also a big stink going around about, “well, if you’re not making that much money, why are you even selling the game?” As if Desura deserves to keep the little guys’ chump change because they’re not EA or Activision or something. To begin with, it’s the dev’s choice to sell or not to sell, not yours. I knew Another Star wasn’t going to make me rich, but I chose to sell it instead of giving it away to help pay for future projects. That money has already gone directly in to Linux and Mac versions of the game, which wouldn’t have happened otherwise. And, more importantly, it really doesn’t matter whether it makes money. Desura is providing a service, and they need to make good on that service, even if some random person on the Internet thinks the game in question is crap.
So, in closing, here’s what’s going to happen on Vision Riders’s end:
- Another Star will remain on Desura for the time being.
- Anyone who bought the game on Desura or through the Indie Royale bundle will still get updates and their Steam key. (I would have made sure of this even if Desura really was going under.)
- However, the link to Desura on the game’s “buy now” page will not be restored in the foreseeable future.
- Cross-store sales and promotions will not be applied to Desura. The game will remain at its normal US$9.99 even when it’s on sale elsewhere.
- No future Vision Riders Entertainment games will be going up on Desura.
I appreciate that Bad Juju is working on getting this whole thing resolved. However, it shouldn’t have taken nearly this long for something to happen. Trust is something that is slowly earned, but quickly lost. Desura and Bad Juju have a long way to go if they want to restore the trust they’ve lost. Words alone aren’t going to accomplish that. They’re going to have to do it with their deeds. And it’s going to be a long, uphill process.