February 1, 2010 1:00 PM | Michael Rose
Announced just over a month ago, Desura is ModDB's take on the digital games distribution service. Yet whereas the likes of Impulse and Direct2Drive have kept their shops mainly browser-based, Desura follows in the mighty footsteps of Steam and takes the form of a downloadable client, nesting itself in your system tray.
Desura is currently in private beta with regular ModDBers and developers getting the run-around with it. The big question is, given that Desura will launch with the ModDB's community backing of hordes of users, and its intent of bringing a big community focus to the system, will it have a chance of living along side the almighty Valve juggernaut?
I've been playing around with the client for a few days now, and although this is just a beta build at the moment, it's already looking like interesting stuff. My concern is that it maybe takes just a little took much inspiration from Steam (although, let's be fair, it's not surprising given Steam's success and appeal). After the cut I'll go into some detail, and you can decide for yourselves.
For the most part, the application is extremely simple to use and everything is where you'd expect it to be. Tabs along the top lead to different sections of the client (à la Steam), and there are small shortcut icons for navigating pages in each section.
The Games and Mods tabs lead to the shop pages, and work pretty much identically to each other, albeit with different content. The Mod section is definitely the most interested, filling a void which Steam has never really properly dealt with. Eventually Desura users will be able to sift through every mod available through ModDB, find details, videos, images and user comments on each, then simply click 'Install Mod' at the top right and download it straight to the Desura client quickly without all the usual mess.
Downloaded mods (and games, for that matter) then appear in the Play tab, which right now is nearly identical to the My Games tab in Steam - each of your games is listed, along with whether it's installed, its rating and the developer. Handily, however, each game can then be expanded to show all its mods directly below it, which turns out to be pretty damn useful.
The community aspect of Desura is going to be its biggest selling point. Forums, blogs, discussions, comments, reviews, ratings - all will be accessible straight from the client via the Community tab. Users can create and edit their profile, join groups and generally get involved. As of yet there isn't much to see - the groups aspect is in full swing and links are provided to each section, but given that community features kinda need, you know, community to work, this private beta version isn't going to give too much away for now. Still, it will be interesting to see how well it all flows once millions of users are pounding their keyboards all over it.
So what does all this have to do with indie gamers and developers? Quite a lot, it would appear, as the brains behind it all are hoping to rake in a plethora of indie developers and provide them with a means for putting their creations out to the public. In fact, there's a whole tab to this end - the Development tab.
Desura hopes that by supplying high-end tools of the trade for developers, it can gain a lot of interest. Just to name a few features developers can hope to have a play around with:
Sales: "Control your games price and when it is available on a per-region basis. Offer those who pre-order a discount to maximise your sales from day one. Post-release promotions and incentives can be setup and run to ensure a strong sales lifecycle."
Sales Stats: "View live sales data the moment your game is available to pre-order. Analyse the data by region and date, so you can respond to trends and make informed marketting decisions when and where they need to be made."
API Integration: "Tap into the Desura API and personalize the gameplay experience you provide to your customers. The API is exposed using XML web services so you can implement the functionality provided in a platform neutral way."
This is just touching the surface, too - developers will have tons to play around with. The Wolfire guys (Overgrowth) have already been hailing it as "the most exciting new digital distribution platform we've seen".
So, back to the original question - does Desura have what it takes to sit at the same table as Steam? In all honesty, the answer is that right now, it's impossible to tell, but most likely it will become a sort of underground accompaniment to Steam. The main problem is that those who already use Steam aren't exactly going to be happy installing and running both clients at the same time. It seems rather pointless, especially considering that Desura automatically searches for your Steam directory and uploads all your Steam purchases to its own Play tab.
Desura definitely has the edge over Steam in terms of community (an area in which Valve has never really got around to addressing properly) and given that it already has its entire ModDB user-base behind it, it'll definitely launch with a bang. I guess my concern is that it's all a bit too late. Steam has already grabbed itself millions of users, the majority of whom will not move over to a new client or run a separate client alongside Steam. This particular juggernaut looks near impossible to stop, and while others can attempt to tail along behind it, it's going to take something incredible to actually rival it.
Of course, Desura is still in beta and plans for release are still under wraps. If the Desura team can pull out all the stops, who knows what it can achieve.