Desura: ModDB Takes On Steam

By Lewis Denby on March 8th, 2010 at 4:30 pm.

Desura's Installation Wizard checks out your current system to make sure you'll be able to play the mods and games you're after.
“Steam has done a tremendous job,” says Scott Reismanis, founder of DesuraNET. Their soon-to-be-released digital distribution platform, simply named Desura, might be competing in the same market, but Reismanis is keen to point out the worth of Valve’s own service. “Introversion software – makers of the great Darwinia game, among others – claimed they were ‘the last of the bedroom programmers’. Now, it seems that couldn’t be further from the truth.”

So where does Desura come into play? On first sight, it looks very much the Steam-alike. There’s an online store, on which to purchase a variety of PC games, and a client through which to play them. Even the colour scheme and layouts are familiar. What’s somewhat different, though, is Desura’s focus on bringing independently developed PC titles to the masses.

It’s set to do this in a couple of ways. The first, quite simply, is to provide a service that encourages and nurtures independent development. “Steam still rejects a lot of the indies,” says Reismanis, “and I’m not sure they explain why. We are still going to employ quality control, but we aim to be as approachable and transparent as possible, so we can coach and help teams polish their game up to the point where it can be distributed. The difference between an indie and a big commercial game is, usually, an indie is made by a small team of people who control their game from start to finish and care what their fans think. Because Desura is a dynamic, community-driven site, developers will be able to interact with their fans – and vice versa – which I hope will yield better games, since the developers who care will have a dedicated and willing userbase to seek feedback from 24/7.”

Users can rate and comment on the games and mods they've downloaded.

The Desura team’s focus on independently developed games comes as no surprise, given their background. Since 2002, Reismanis and co. have poured their professional lives into ModDB.com, an expansive and community-driven database consisting of a vast array of indie games and user-created mods. At present, more than 6,000 games and mods are available to download from the site, where its two million unique users can leave feedback on others’ work and request help with their own.

“Desura’s a natural evolution that’s been planned for years,” Reismanis explains. “ModDB is a great site for developers and gamers that want to explore off the beaten track and find interesting games and mods to play. Desura is a great service for those gamers who want to dive straight in and play.”

The two services serve different purposes, then, but are carefully designed to complement one another. “We view Desura as the distribution channel, while ModDB is the development channel, for all content at all stages,” Reismanis continues. “The beauty of this setup is that games and mods that want to publish on the platform can set up their profile from day one and slowly build a fanbase via ModDB’s huge and active community. Then, when they are ready to publish, they ‘click a button’ and all of their content magically appears on Desura.”

The two sites work hand-in-hand behind the scenes, as well, sharing login details and much of the same content. Aside from the indie focus, the other big aim seems to be accessibility. Playing around with an early beta version of the service, I was delighted to discover that Desura’s much-touted ‘one-click install’ feature really was just that: quite literally a single press of a button, a short wait, and the game was on my hard drive and ready to launch through the client.

“Ease of use and minimalist design is our mantra,” Reismanis says. “After all, simplicity is what has helped Google, Apple and Amazon become rock stars in the online world. One-click install is an essential part of the service – I don’t know why anyone would possibly want to manually install and patch their games any more when Desura can do it for you.”

How does it work? There’s a pause. “The app developer tells me it’s complicated,” he smiles.

Desura’s focus on indie games might be its selling point at present, but Resimanis has high hopes for the service’s future. Eventually, he hopes Desura will be a “one-stop shop” for gamers worldwide. “Our focus on launch is to perfect our product by working with the indie teams, and helping them get on the platform first,” he says. “After all, that is our background and expertise, so for us this approach makes sense. But once we are ready, we have every intention of inviting major publishers to release their games on Desura. Big or small, our only criteria is that you make a great game.”

By April's launch, Desura aims to have fully integrated a variety of community features.

Its potential effects on the modding community could perhaps be the most significant, though. Since the birth of user-created content, even the most enthusiastic of PC gamers have considered mods to be impenetrable, difficult to source and even trickier to get working. Given Desura’s astounding accessibility, that stigma could well be lifted.

“The main problem modding communities face,” says Reismanis, “is that the majority of gamers don’t know what a mod is or where to find them, and even fewer know how to install and play them. There’s a large barrier to entry that instantly rules out a large majority of gamers. Desura knocks down this wall.” The service even includes an Installation Wizard, which checks your system to ensure you’ve the right versions of the right games installed to be able to play the mods on your wishlist.

“So many mods are amazing and deserve their 15 minutes of fame,” says Reismanis. “Blizzard knows this, and that is why a ‘modshop’ for Starcraft 2 is one of their big selling points. Desura going mainstream would be a game-changer for mods, and great for the PC games industry.”

One of the great appeals of modding is the strong sense of community it thrives upon, and this too is something Desura hopes to incorporate. Much of this functionality is missing from the current build, but Reismanis is already talking about a variety of methods by which Desura’s users can become actively involved in the service, maintaining communication with developers the world around.

“Instead of creating static game profiles with a handful of images and a trailer,” he explains, “developers can post news, features, downloads, images, videos and all manner of content any time they want. Our community can then track, rate and comment on all of this content, bridging the gap between games, developers and players by providing a platform where they can interact. In the long run we believe this will increase player satisfaction, word-of-mouth promotion and feedback for the developers, enabling them to build better titles and to release to more people. This sets Desura apart, and makes it much more fun to be involved with.”

The service is designed to help independend developers create the best possible products. And these captions are here as the piece was originally written for another site, and only latterly finds its way to RPS. Hurrah for facts!

The service has been vaguely stated for an April launch. Is the team still on-track to meeting that target? “Done when it’s done!” Reismanis jokes. “No, April it shall be. We have a few core things to finish first. Expect Desura to be continually evolving, and the first public release to still only be a taster of what is to come. It will take a while for our catalogue of games and community to grow, so we just need to manage expectations and ensure people know that what they see in April is still only the early ideas.”

But even now, the signs are promising. With only a smattering of games and mods available to download, and a mere fraction of the community features integrated, it’s already shaping up to be a valuable service. Since its announcement, the hype within the independent development scene has been rapidly growing – and with good reason. “We wanted to make our first impression last,” says Reismanis. “I believe we have achieved that, but the real goal is taking Desura public and start selling games – and that is a challenge we are definitely looking forward to.”

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55 Comments »

  1. AndrewC says:

    Jiminy, hope this works. PC Gamers who are interested but often confounded by mods describes me really well.

  2. Dreamhacker says:

    Wouldn’t putting a pricetag on a mod greatly slash the userbase? Also, what if someone made a mod for a game doing X (for example, included a suit of… horse armor) and started selling X on Desura. Then someone else makes a mod that does X but wants to release it for free. Would it be accepted onto Desura too?

    If the answer is no, my interest = out the window.

    • Lewis says:

      I have literally no idea from where you got the idea that people will be charging for mods.

    • AndrewC says:

      (I think you should read the bit that says who write the article)

      Edit: ah, there we go. All is good in the world. Biscuits for everyone.

    • DJ Phantoon says:

      Yes I read partway through the article and realized none of the hive mind writes this way. What stuck out at me the most was

      How does it work? There’s a pause. “The app developer tells me it’s complicated,” he smiles.

      It then occurred to me I was reading a story, and I’ll be having none of this book lernin, thank you.

    • Maltose says:

      I thought that it was obvious that Desura would be selling commercial games, not mods. As in, mods will be in Desura, for free, alongside paid commercial games.

  3. qrter says:

    Playing around with an early beta version of the service, I was delighted to discover that Desura’s much-touted ‘one-click install’ feature really was just that: quite literally a single press of a button, a short wait, and the game was on my hard drive and ready to launch through the client.

    Isn’t this what Steam has been doing though? I mean, it’s a good feature but also not really breaking any new ground. It has become a standard for me, I guess, anything less is a negative. Maybe I missed something?

    Now, if it did the same with mods for its games, that would be more interesting, I think.

    • Ginger Yellow says:

      Steam’s pretty simple, but it’s not one click. Even discounting the checkout process (which may or may not be present in Desura), you have to click to install, click again to confirm, click again to go back to My Games, and then when it’s downloaded do the first time install procedure, which may ask for a CD key (eg Bioshock 2).

    • sana says:

      I’m pretty sure installing game mods with 1 click is exactly what it does.

    • Glove says:

      Yeah, it’s the single-step installation of *mods* that make this so exciting.

  4. jsutcliffe says:

    @AndrewC

    I agree — I used to avidly follow mod news, and would know what and where the best mods were and what was required to run them. Now it seems like far too much work to keep up with all that nonsense, which is why I like things like the occasional “here are some good mods for game X” posts on RPS. A central location to get mods, and a good way of browsing them, should make things much easier.

  5. Leperous says:

    Well, yes – is this the underlying rraison d’être of the site, to sell you previously-free mods?

    I’m not accusing them of this, just pondering.

    • DJ Phantoon says:

      Depends if they’re “mods” like Natural Selection or mods like Dystopia.

      At least, it should. Would be idiotic to charge for something free because I can’t click three times.

  6. PC Monster says:

    This is most definitely A Good Thing. Mods are oft-times difficult beasts to even track down, never mind install. A site devoted to helping inexperienced and neophyte Gamers through that process would open up huge new worlds for many.

    Us old hacks might appreciate the One-clickinstalls, too, now and again. ;)

  7. Lewis says:

    I’m trying to work out where I managed to accidentally imply that mods would now not be free. I can’t work out where I might have done this, but apologies for the confusion either way. Mods will remain free. However, the service will also sell commercial games, for money.

    • El Stevo says:

      @ Lewis:

      And one-click install applies to mods as well as full games?

    • Edawan says:

      The confusion is understandable.

      Steam sells games.
      ModDB provides mods.
      “ModDB takes on Steam” (news title)
      Conclusion : ModDB is going to sell mods.

    • BooleanBob says:

      Actually I assumed much the same. Innumerable legal issues aside, is there really altogether that much reason for moral outrage, were that to be the case?

    • Rich says:

      Well, for some of the big mods that have clearly had a lot of work put into them, sometimes so much so that they’re practically a new game? No not really. Black Mesa (Source) looks like something I wouldn’t mind putting a few £s down for. The They Hunger trilogy was pretty money worthy too.

      Still, there are lots of mods I’ve played that wouldn’t have been worth it. I’d have to see a demo first.

    • MWoody says:

      Maybe it’s a regional thing, but where I come from, “takes on” means “competes with.” So for them to compete, I have to assume they’re intending to make money. If the title were something like, “ModDB takes a page from Steam,” there might be less confusion.

    • Vinraith says:

      @MWoody

      They are intending to make money, by selling games.

  8. Will Tomas says:

    I agree with Lewis – I never thought that this implied Mods would become paid-for.

    Anyway – they can’t, without the agreement of the people who made the game that is being modded at least, since the people making the Mods don’t own any of the tech and therefore it’s illegal for them to profit from them. Mods are like fan fiction or fan films – they are legally dodgy but since they are obiously A Good Thing then the creators of the game being modded has much more to gain by allowing them to exist – not least the fact that people will need the original game to run the Mods.

    I’m more interested in how this integrates with the Mods scene – if the copy of the original game you own is on Steam (eg HL2) then will this service allow you to download Mods for it in a way that works, or will it just point you in the direction of downloading them as before? Or ignore the Mods for games you can’t buy on their system?

    • Lewis says:

      Should’ve made that clearer: the one-click install and installation wizard features work for both games and mods. It’s all rather neat.

  9. Hmm-Hmm. says:

    Interesting. However, I fear (or, rather, loathe) exclusives, just like those which Steam has. By which I mean ‘game X is only available through Steam’.

    • Dominic White says:

      Given that a lot of mods are available only through the creators own site (usually unstable or low on bandwidth), having a community-run resource like this is a damn good thing. I’ve lost count of the number of mods which were almost lost completely when servers went down, and were only saved because fans had the files knocking around in a dusty old directory somewhere.

      Bring on Desura, and get the word out to every mod creator worth a damn that they should at the very least put a mirror up on modDB, even if they don’t fully migrate to it. A lot of the best mods out there are hidden/obscure/unknown because they only exist on some tiny, impossible-to-search backwater website. Searchable databases are GOOD things.

  10. Cooper says:

    If this truly streamlines mod installation, they should be heralded as saints of PC gaming.

    I dread to think of the hours I’ve spent installing 2 copies of games, editing ini files, copying folders, and extracting zip files and so forth getting mods to work.

    -Sometimes- (such as with source games) they can be a simple case of copying a folder into a specific location. More often than not, they’re a headache. If this really does do away with all the manual work of installing mods, this will be amazing.

    I just think that may be too good too be true – mods, by their nature, are often awkward affairs.

  11. Vinraith says:

    Making mods easier to find and install is a good thing of course, and perhaps this will also serve to popularize user generated content among those less in-the-know and make other platforms (like Steam) more mod-friendly. I’m not sure how I feel about it being yet another client-based distribution platform, though.

    • Wulf says:

      That line of thought makes sense.

      Though if you take it solely as a simple way to install your mods, then it can’t possibly do any harm, to the contrary, it’s great. I remember the instructions on a lot of sites, and… it’s like piracy, the vast majority can’t wrap their minds around installing mods. If they had a simple interface where they could browse mods, click Install on the ones they’re interested in, and have a system do all the complicated bits for them… well, that’s a boon for the mod community.

      That’s primarily why I’m excited about this, not because it’s another distribution platform — and really I could care less about that — but because all those modders who had to try to explain how to install their mods will be able to put them up on this thing. Mods that deserved so much more attention and love will likely get it. And frankly, I hope the client includes a direct-donation system too, where people can toss a small bit of money at the mods they like, with minimum fuss.

      If all this is the case, it could breathe new life into the modding scene, and that’s grand!

  12. Ffitz says:

    This is one of the many, many reasons why I love PC gaming.

  13. Britpunk says:

    Why’s everybody banging on about mods? for me the most interesting bits are:

    What’s somewhat different, though, is Desura’s focus on bringing independently developed PC titles to the masses.

    and

    “Because Desura is a dynamic, community-driven site, developers will be able to interact with their fans – and vice versa – which I hope will yield better games, since the developers who care will have a dedicated and willing userbase to seek feedback from 24/7.”

    I know it’s realtively easier to talk to indie devs than majors, but it’d be nice to have a centralised place for doing so, rather than the current ‘registering on a million different forums’ method.

    • jsutcliffe says:

      For what it’s worth, I have conversed with a number of developers on Steam’s forums, so you could argue that there’s already a centralized place where this can happen.

  14. Resin says:

    May be a dumb question but, if I buy a game from steam can it then be modded from Desura or vice-versa?

    • Rich says:

      I think it works by just installing the mods into the correct place in the Steam folder. When you open Steam it spots the new mod and adds it to your games list.

  15. BooleanBob says:

    The service looks great. I’m one of those (I suspect many) PC gamers who feels modding to be an exciting world full of potentially tremendously rewarding experiences that require just a little too much of a sustained sortie from the comforting realm of on-tap, mainstream stimuli to really make the most (or perhaps anything) of.

    Just wanted to add that I thought the article made for an intelligent, engaging and clean read. It’s not really the sort of subject that requires laffs-o-plenty and I’m glad Lewis didn’t try to go down that route. Did wonder whether the Reismanis’ explanation of why some gamers generally find mods so impermeable and the author’s own , which are essentially the same, couldn’t have somehow been amalgamated or condensed. Not sure if that’s even really a useful observation or whether I’m being a condescending thicko. Still, there it is.

  16. PixelCody says:

    Very exciting! ModDB already is already a wonderful place for indie developers to gain some exposure and start up a community.

    I hope Desura focus more eyeballs and get more traction than the site already does. Steam launched with Half-Life 2 and Impulse had the Stardock games to bring people on board. Desura will need something special to attract people who don’t yet know that they’d be interested in the distribution platform.

  17. IncredibleBulk92 says:

    I’ve been using Desura for a while now and I think it’s great, it’s just a shame there’s not much content on there right now. I’d love for Desura to support Fallout 3, Oblivion or ArmA2 to the same degree it gives Half Life and UT3. I honestly believe that the ease of use of the service could make mods far more popular in the future, installing mods is a complete pain in the ass sometimes.

  18. Vague-rant says:

    Whilst I’m all for competition between digital distribution, I can’t help but feel the market is getting a bit saturated. This wouldn’t actually be a problem for me, if I didn’t have to have various programs already installed to launch different games from…

    It’d be nice if some company could buy up a few other distributors, just for the sake of convenience…

  19. Jad says:

    I love the idea of easily installable mods. I remember spending hours upon hours searching for mods for Oblivion, comparing them against other mods, checking compatibility, downloading, unzipping, installing, reading readmes, copying files to specific directories, etc. I loved the mods for Oblivion, but I spent so much time on them that I felt hesitant to delve into any Fallout 3 mods, and I still haven’t, which makes me sad.

  20. Mistabashi says:

    This looks like quite an interesting service, and given ModDB’s presence in the modding scene and the numerous successful cases of mods turning into commercial ventures in recent years I’m sure it’ll be a success. With the existence of UDK and Unity it seems it’s getting back to the oldschool days of bedroom programmers making commercial games, and this can only be a good thing.

  21. Xercies says:

    I’m just wondering how the one button install is going to work for some game Mods, sure some games are easy where you just put it into a folder and its done. But some games require you to do some weird stuff like change ini files or whatever else. i just wonder how this service will do those games with one click.

  22. terry says:

    This sounds pretty exciting, moreso because it’ll give me a reason to install and play some more mods. I may be in the minority, but my ineptitude with faffing about with archives and config files put me rather off trying some of the more off-beat efforts. Ask my horrific version of Oblivion which is inexplicably missing huge swathes of landscape and has really strange looking Khajits. Anything to streamline that mess is a plus in my lengthy book.

    • Wulf says:

      This is true, so true.

      I mean, I remember installing PoopMods, and I know a lot about Oblivion and how mods work. I installed everything, it all worked, and then I threw in the werewolf mod, I checked for compatibility, used all the relevant tools, did my research, checked the load order, even checked the script of the damn mod itself, but for some reason the introduction of the werewolf mod made the game crash and burn. Even after removing it. I was left sitting there and scratching my head. Eventually I figured it out, as I’m prone to do when presented with any problems, and I did it without pestering people, but it’d be nice if someone else was willing to do that work for me.

      What I’m getting at here is that not everyone is willing to do this kind of work, and sometimes there can be baffling and almost inexplicable stuff. What will come of this? People will have greater access to mods, mods that can install cleanly, and when something goes wrong, there’ll likely be a link from within the client to a relevant forum, where a person can just make a post telling the relevant people that there’s something wrong with the install process. To be honest, I’d even be willing to get in on this on a voluntary basis, just to help set it up so that mods work. I’ve done my time with that, I have plenty of experience with making stuff work, and I’d be happy to.

      I just love the accessibility of this, because I feel that accessibility is important. The thing is, I’m visually disabled, and it’s not something I can do a damn thing about. I’m willing to dig through the guts of a game though to change things where I can, and even get inventive with stuff like windows magnifier, but sometimes I’ll just be stonewalled, there’s going to be no solution for me, and unlike my mod tamperings I’m not going to be able to do anything about it. I feel that other people are going to hit upon such a wall too, and I’d be able to help them with their accessibility concerns, I’d feel great about that.

      This isn’t like piracy, after all, and pirates I really don’t want to help. But someone trying to install a mod just to enjoy content that’s been created and freely given by a group of really great people? That I’d want to help with, even if not for the user installing it, but to help the mod creators themselves, because that’s a brilliant thing to be able to do, isn’t it?

      There are many reasons why I think this is a great idea, and I could question why it’s never been done before. I really hope accessibility is the future, because it could mean accessibility in all things, and that would make me very happy.

    • Vinraith says:

      @Wulf

      The problem is, I don’t see how any automated system can possibly handle a problem like you had with Oblivion. Bethesda games running multiple mods are complicated beasts. Usually all the mods were authored by different people, frequently mutually conflicting etc. You can sometimes work all that out by hand, but I’ve never seen an automated tool that could handle anything beyond the most common mod combinations. The real issue is Desura, and the ModDB team, can’t fix that issue. It would have to be an effort on the part of the mod community themselves. Might Desura motivate that kind of community collaboration? I very much hope so. Does it guarantee it, and for that matter does community effort guarantee success? Sadly not.

      None of this is intended to rain on the parade, so to speak. Making even relatively easy to install mods more acessible to more people is a very good thing. I just don’t think we should count on this platform to start working miracles. :)

  23. Shadrach says:

    This sounds really good, if only for having a single high-bandwidth site to download mods from, and not have to go through the often dodgy “free” download sites that most mod devs use.

    One the issue of “one-click” install of mods I’m more sceptical, having enough experience with modding to know that it is seldom a straightforward process for any mod.

    If it can also distribute indie games as well I’d say they have a bright future.

  24. Petërkopf says:

    Hmmm.

    I’ll support indie and mod making anytime, anywhere, but with an interface that close to Steam I can’t help but smell a whiff of skullduggery going on. Seems to me like they’re setting up a pretty basic Steam alternative and trying to brand it as the underdog by including the underground, which is admirable but also quite arguably very a good piece of populism (Especially in a time where Bad Company 2 is somehow percieved as better than Modern Warfare 2, Arma 2 better than OFP 2, etc. etc.)

    Not that Steam actually needs anyone calling bullshit on their behalf, they’re laughing all the way to the bank. I welcome Desura though, I do love me some mods, and if nothing else it might drive down the prices on Steam a little bit.

    • Dominic White says:

      The interface is Steam-like because it’s a simple, intuitive interface that people already know their way around. And they’re saying it’s indie because it is. It’s largely non-profit at the moment, and largely exists to help promote and efficiently distribute user-made content, the likes of which Steam couldn’t help to keep up with, but via integration with the ModDB framework, Desura could keep up with.

    • y3k-bug says:

      FWIW, publishers set the prices on Steam, not Valve.

      Since Steam makes up at least 60% of the digital distribution market, I hardly think publishers give a shit about the Desura service, especially if their main focus will be indie games.

      So I really don’t think this will effect them at all.

  25. Wulf says:

    I like the idea behind this, very, very much. I’m excited about it, intrigued by it, hopeful for it’s future, and I’m very eager to get my claws into the actual thing.

    Modders always deserved something like this, and when this comes out, it might be time for me to dust off some old games, reinstall them, and play some mods!

    ‘Nuff said.

  26. RagingLion says:

    Sounds interesting. Will keep my eye on how this develops.

  27. Robert Yang says:

    For Source devs, I’ve found it pretty easy to get your stuff on Desura — you just click to import your ModDB profile, and then you zip-up your mod folder from \sourcemods\ and upload it.

    It’s the mods for other games, though, that will decide whether Desura becomes anything more than a repository for Source mods… On one end, you have pretty convenient SEMPQ distributions for Blizzard games, but what about the weird edge cases that need INI file changes and file juggling and stuff? It’ll be difficult to maintain the “one-click install” mantra for everything.

  28. Yuhe says:

    Sounds more like they will sell indie games, and feature both mods and indie games.

  29. Fumarole says:

    Anything to ease use of mods is nice. I wonder if it’ll function similarly to TorchLeech for Torchlight, just on a wider scale? That application is wonderful.

  30. Scott says:

    Reismanis here from the Desura team (apologies for hijacking the first comment).

    Firstly, thanks for the article RPS & Lewis. Secondly, I wanted to emphaise that we are still in an early beta phase, and while comparisions with Steam are inevitable, we are not at that stage.

    We are still perfecting the service and working with devs, gamers and publishers to make this happen. If you would like to see what stage we are up to send us an email for an invite to the beta. At the moment we are focusing on factors that differentiate us (i.e. seemless user-made content / mod install is a big one, community driven interaction and developer posted content being the three primary areas). We welcome all ideas and appreciate the support shown in the RPS comments so far.

  31. Joe says:

    Honestly I just want Steam and Desura to have beautiful babies together, if Steam simply implemented the mod functionality of Desura it would be perfect.