UPDATE: Desura's parent company has now filed for bankruptcy.
Desura is a service once known as an alternative for indies that Steam turned away. Before the rise of itch.io and other sites, it was one of the only stable places for smaller game developers to post and sell their projects. Sadly, it seems that Desura (and their IndieRoyale bundle offshoot) has recently been having issues paying the developers of the games they sell. This was first brought to our attention via posts on Reddit, although those posts are certainly not the first time developers have spoken out. We reached out to Bad JuJu, and they stated that they've had difficulties working with Desura's antiquated payment systems and infrastructure since acquiring the service. It's the second such transfer of power in recent memory, with Linden Labs acquiring the service in 2013 and then selling it to Bad Juju Games in November of last year.
TechRaptor also reached out to several indie developers, and they all seemed to tell a similar story. Payments were infrequent before because of the $500 barrier for payout and low sales compared to other distributors. Places like Steam that have a much bigger audience, and itch.io where you cash out no matter how much money you've made. An example of this was posted by the duo behind Sirius Online on their blog earlier this month. Those developers who had reached the Desura barriers had seen a delay or nothing sent in payments recently, with claims the problems go as far back as the Summer of 2014.
Of course, 2014 was also the year that Steam's Greenlight program really kicked into gear. Gamasutra reported in April of that year that the number of new games appearing each month on the service had jumped from 50 to over 200. The floodgates had been opened, and smaller distributors like Desura were no longer filling the same niche.
Jedrzej Jonasz is the creator of Battle Fleet 2, which launched on Desura in the middle of last year. He was also the developer who initially brought the issue to our attention on Reddit:
"Once my minimum amount was reached I contacted Desura's developer support asking about the payment. Tony Novak from Bad Juju responded saying that they are finishing a financial audit and apologized for the delay and said they should be "back on target shortly", that was in November 2014. Since then he, nor any other member of the desura team has responded back to any of my emails."
He also made clear that " ... It's not really the money I'm that concerned with as much as the way they are treating the developers that need help the most. My game has since launched on Steam and has received a lot of great reviews and done well financially."
Mike Maulbeck is, in his own words, the "creator and destroyer of Paranautical Activity," told us that he "really liked the old management even if Desura's interface and policies were frequently frustrating, so I was sad to see the company change hands but excited that it might see some growth."
Maulbeck stated that he didn't pay too much attention to Desura sales until his game was pulled from Steam, putting him in the same position as many smaller developers:
"We started to be hurting for cash. PA had been taken off steam and since we weren't actively developing the game anymore sales were pretty slow on other platforms. I checked in on Desura and saw we had months of payments just sitting in our account. We hadn't heard from them about why we weren't getting paid, and there wasn't any information on the site as to what the hold up was. I sent an email to the support email address that I had used for years. The same email that was still listed on the sales dashboad as the email to use for questions about payments and sales. A few weeks pass with no response."
That lack of response would continue, and Maulbeck would eventually be distracted by the work on his newer project:
"I came across a reddit post about someone else who was having the same problem. I commented on the post to share my experience and then went to twitter to vent about it and warn other devs that Desura was potentially just refusing to pay all developers. After all this was a solid 4 or 5 months without any payment, they weren't answering my emails, and apparently no one else was getting paid either. Floods of developers came in on reddit and twitter saying they had the same problems and within a few hours I got a long email from one of the higher ups at Desura/BadJuJu.
When I saw it I assumed I would be getting an explanation, but instead it was just an email attacking me for having the audacity to speak out publicly against Desura. Personally attacking me and citing my outburst at steam that got my game removed as ammunition against my character. The email exchange that followed was childish and unprofessional for both parties, but it ended in them agreeing to pay us. That day my sales dashboard updated to say my payment was pending, and at the end of that month we did in fact get paid."
Desura has issued their first official statement regarding the situation, stating that the upgrade of the service has been complicated "by the office being relocated, and by the current hospitalization of our CEO." Also included is a message directly pointed at the developers affected by the issue:
"We are not refusing to pay you, this is a promise. There are delays, and issues which need work to correct, but we will absolutely be paying all accounts due. If you have not reached out about your issue, please email one of the above addresses, and you WILL get a reply from me personally. You do matter, and we are taking this very seriously"
In a statement to TechRaptor, Lisa Morrison (LadyAijou on Twitter) promised again that an automated payments system was in the works and further detailed some of the future plans for the service. Their aim is to bring "feature parity with Steam and other platforms," and to do this they've been reaching out to developers for ideas (as evidenced in the Sirius Online blog post). Some of their main priorities besides the payments system include a "lengthy list of social features" and allowing developers to update their games without going through a convoluted process.
Despite the public statement, multiple developers have shown a willingness to abandon the platform altogether. Several stated to us that new releases would skip Desura altogether. Some have attempted to pull their games from the service, others have raised the price to ridiculous levels to ensure that no more sales are racked up. Although Jedrzej Jonasz shared that there might even be problems with leaving the site:
"There is no way to pull down a game without contacting their developer support, but if they don't respond then they have your game and can keep selling it until you send them a letter from a lawyer. This is a completely unacceptable situation, if they are having financial problems they should be transparent to their developers and keep everyone informed of the situation instead of just ignoring us."
In the week since the controversy was brought to light, I personally have seen quite a few games I owned on the service shift into "Invite Only", which is the equivalent of getting pulled from the store. So it's obvious that some requests are getting through, and the problems Jonasz describes might simply be a logistical issue for Desura's staff.
I'll let Mike Maulbeck have the final word:
"Desura STILL isn't paying developers, STILL not answering emails. Developers are still so frustrated they're turning to reddit and twitter to vent, and we now get the very first public statement from Desura on the matter. A statement which amounts to merely saying "Hey, no ones getting paid, but A for effort! We're trying!". A statement in which they lean on the health of their CEO to try and distract from over half a years worth of unpaid developers and ignored emails.
As cynical as I am, and as upset I am that this is still happening, apparently Desura is hiring new staff. In fact one of their new staff members was apparently the one who insisted they make a public statement. So maybe things are gonna start getting better. For now though, they have a tiny share of the market and a mountain of bullshit to deal with if you want to partner with them and it's just not worth it."
We here at TechRaptor will provide updates on the situation as it develops further.