Penny-Arcade, indie games, and distribution

Yesterday brought the announcement of Greenhouse, the new distribution service/game portal from the guys of Penny-Arcade. You can see further coverage at the Game|Life blog at Wired and an interview with by Chris Kohler the Penny-Arcade chaps about their new venture.

Of course, if the news of the arrival of Greenhouse doesn’t set your world on fire you are not alone. On the surface Greenhouse seems like YADDS (Yet Another Digital Distribution Service) and joins a crowded field of services like Steam, GamersGate, Direct2Drive, Gleemax, and countless portals all offering their own mix of popular titles and exclusives. So what moves are Mike and Jerry (Tycho and Gabe) taking to differentiate themselves in this crowded sea? First a quick explanation about Greenhouse itself from their own website:

The Greenhouse is a new distribution platform operated by Greenhouse Interactive, dedicated to supporting independent game development worldwide. We help indie developers get their games into the hands of gamers, and that gives gamers easy access to new and innovative games that they might otherwise have missed.

And from the Chris Kohler interview at Wired Gabe himself further explains:

“…but if you’re asking me what sort of things are out there right now that I would love to see on Greenhouse? The crayon game. Crayon Physics. That’s the sort of thing that I would love to put in front of our audience, and say, you guys should play this, definitely. And obviously, we can link it, but to be able to actually distribute it through Greenhouse would be fantastic.”

Beyond focusing on indie games and attempting to harness the support of the indie crowd to drive their success, there’s another key point in Greenhouse’s favor. And that’s the power of being backed by the Penny-Arcade brand. One of the biggest obstacles for any distribution service is gaining traction with people. And while differentiating itself through its indie offering is one way of creating a loyal audience, there’s another easier, more sureā€“fire method. And that’s exclusives.

On the Rain-Slick Precipice of Darkness.
Much like Valve helps drive Steam with its selection of titles, Penny-Arcade is in the enviable position of doing the same for Greenhouse. PA’s first game, Penny Arcade Adventures: On The Rain-Slick Precipice of Darkness is a great exclusive to help drive Greenhouse. You take the loyal audience of Penny-Arcade readers and give them only one avenue to acquire their game (at least on a PC/Mac/Linux platform). And in theory once that drives people to Greenhouse to quench their thirst for the latest episodic escapades of the PA duo, you also will drive them to see a selection of indie titles. And even more hopefully you’ll see a few of these titles perk their interest and thus lead to the glorious “transaction where money is exchanged for goods and services”, all benefiting the indies.

So here’s to Greenhouse and it’s promise towards indie developers. While there are a lot of details yet to be discussed and lots of vagaries that need to be addressed, Greenhouse by virtue of its creators’ pedigree is a challenger in the digital distribution arena worthy of notice.