Indie developer Blind Mind Studios has decided to remove the option to purchase their game Star Ruler from Impulse after GameStop officially takes over the digital distribution service from Stardock. As their website states:
We are ending sales through Impulse due to GameStop's long, negative behavior toward the PC platform and independent games. We would never have signed onto distribution through GameStop, and being forced into this situation has only made it worse for us. We feel GameStop cannot serve as the leader of a true competitor in the digital distribution market.
Blind Mind stresses that while they have nothing against Impulse itself, this decision was made due to the GameStop takeover, and a result of having to make a quick decision for a number of reasons.
This doesn't mean the game will be dropped from Impulse; people who own the game will still be able to download it and the studio is trying to arrange continued updates through the service. If the latter doesn't work out, future patches will still be compatible with the Impulse version. The forum thread for the announcement provides some additional insight on the decision.
A Blind Mind Studios dev pitched in by elaborating that "when we wrote that we had to make a decision rather quickly that that was meant in the most literal sense possible."
It seems GameStop's history with its own digital distribution service -- and its lack of support for both PC games generally, and indie games specifically -- doesn't breed confidence for the studio to keep supporting Impulse as a platform. Given a limited timeframe to act and possibly contractual changes if they remained on Impulse, the studio chose pull Star Ruler.
Blind Mind summarized its conclusion as follows in its announcement:
- GameStop's business practices stand opposed to our goals.
- We feel they would not respect our customers.
- GameStop consistently focuses only on large budget titles and safe bets, shying away from the independent market.
- We supported Brad Wardell's direction of Impulse, and his absence ruins our faith in the service's future.
While not surprising, this is an interesting development and we'll have to see where this goes. GameStop doesn't have a good reputation right now when it comes to indie games support, and while no-one can tell in what direction the new Impulse will go without the direct leadership of Stardock's Brad Wardell -- who once wrote the Gamers Bill of Rights -- Blind Mind Studios will probably not be the only indie studio who is wary of the current developments.
Brad Wardell talked to Joystiq recently, saying he thinks the GameStop takeover will be a win for PC gaming and that "having someone like GameStop get involved and become a major player in this space greatly increases the opportunities for developers like us and all of the other indies out there."
However the indies feel about the Impulse takeover, the development itself once again raises a question that has always been on the back of gamers' minds: what happens to my games (or movies) if the digital distribution platform I buy it on ends up changing its policy or goes under? Steam is a very stable platform right now and will likely be around for many years to come given its current market share and profitability. But you are still dependent on the platform to be able to actually play your games.
For competing platforms, the future may not be quite as secure -- especially given the amount of platforms currently out there. A look at a "digital download" section on a random Paradox Interactive product page lists the following digital distribution channels: Steam, Amazon, GamersGate, Direct2Drive, Gametap, DLgame, Gamesload, eptiSoft, Pontofrio, Xgames, Mobily, and Spawnpoint.
Even though some of those are country-specific -- Mobily is a Saudi digital platform for instance -- how many of you buy a new game from any place other than Steam or directly from indies themselves (e.g., Minecraft, Humble Bundle)? I've seen a lot of "lol D2D" comments during holiday sales and similar promotions, and to be honest I don't even know anyone who buys their PC games on anything else than Steam and Good Old Games these days (not that I'm indicative of the average user).
The reason I stick with Steam and GOG is because I know these two services have a passionate team of people behind them who are unlikely to just close down their service and leave their customers with unusable games. They are also large enough and continuously expanding, which lowers the perceived risk of closure. These are things that Blind Mind Studios perhaps once thought of Impulse as well, but they now appear to feel that GameStop will not adequately advocate for the platform's future -- especially with regard to passion over profit.
GamersGate CEO Theo Bergquist also wonders which direction GameStop will be taking, focusing on whether or not GameStop can adapt to the reality of modern distribution channels. In an op-ed published on Industry Gamers, he says: "Unless Impulse has a few unreleased features and concepts ready to launch immediately so GameStop can get a flying start, I really don’t see a great fit. In its current incarnation, Impulse is nothing more than a few games and an outdated digital distribution platform."
In the end, the future of Impulse under GameSpot is of course still unwritten. But the retailer will have to pull a lot of punches to transform Impulse into a strong competitor to Steam. While GameStop can use its leverage to offer better deals and value for popular games in order to grow the userbase, it seems it has a long way to go to capture the trust of indie developers and to win the hearts of skeptical PC gamers.