Releasing Depression Quest on Steam Today
After a long uphill battle since getting Greenlit in January, Depression Quest was planned to, and approved for, launch on Steam today. Literally minutes after we got the notification, beloved actor Robin Williams was found dead from a suspected suicide after a long struggle with depression. We were all ready to hit the big red button the minute that the news broke.
So now I’m left with the question - do we launch, or not? I turned to twitter and my most trusted friends for advice because I can see going a few different ways. It’s not an easy decision.
The game is available for free online using a pay what you want model including absolutely nothing, with a portion of the proceeds going to charity to combat the stigma and culture of silence around this debilitating disease. A question that held up the porting process on Steam was the question of how to implement pay-what-you-want in a backend that doesn’t support it. The two ways we could ape it would be in app purchases (microtransactions) or through providing DLC that had different payment tiers. Both of these seemed suboptimal. The microtransactions require getting a secure server that I don’t have the money to maintain while praying that those who have already been very vocal about wanting to destroy both myself and my work wouldn’t be able to take it down, in addition to adding in ugly interface elements that hurt the design of the game. So that’s not really an option. The problem with adding in DLC with nothing that really offers much to the player is that is a good way to breed misunderstandings, and I don’t think it would be ethical to charge someone knowing that there’s a percentage of people who would feel ripped off or misled. I don’t want to take that chance.
So then the choice becomes do we charge or not? Many people were pushing me to charge, citing the help we could offer charities and the value of getting paid for your hard work and taking that money and making more things that could help people.
But none of that felt right. When making something you have to ask yourself what’s the spirit of the thing you’ve made. Why have you made this particular thing? And with Depression Quest, the answer has always been clear as day.
Depression Quest has always been an attempt to make a tool to help people understand depression and reach out to others living with the reality of this disease.
There is no way, in my mind, to ethically put something intended to be a tool for helping people behind a paywall. None.
This was the same guiding principle behind putting the game back on Greenlight after withdrawing initially due to threats and harassment. It’s a really really fucking hard thing to accept - that you have made something that can help someone else, especially when you yourself suffer from depression and have a very hard time accepting that you could do anything for anyone and aren’t totally worthless. But I’ve heard from too many people, heard too many stories from you wonderful fucking people, to ignore that. I love all of you too much to discount your lived experiences, so I accept that the game can help people seek help. Someone getting help or even feeling understood when they feel like an alien on their own planet is too rare of a thing to gamble with, too important to flinch from because you’re worried what people will think of you or say to you.
Similarly, that is why today leaves me conflicted. Majorly, massively conflicted. The last thing I want for the game is for the launch to seem opportunistic or like it is capitalizing on a massive tragedy like we’ve seen today. So again, I’ve turned to you. I’ve thought through a number of possible scenarios, and I feel like I have a responsibility to release today. I know there may be a worst case of people assuming the launch somehow is trying to capitalize on tragedy. However, I would rather have those people hate me than the people who are currently quietly suffering with this illness sit at their dinner tables tonight and hear the discussion of today’s news, hear people not understand how someone who had so much could kill themselves, and lack a resource they could have needed right then to point to and say “this is why”. I’d rather have people flood my inbox with threats again and call me a monster if it means that one person who was shocked by today’s news and maybe thinking of trying to reach out and get help could use this tool I’ve made to take the vitally important first steps towards clawing their way out of the hell that is this disease.
I feel like I have a responsibility to those who could be helped. Depression Quest was never ever meant to be just a game, and it has definitely done more than a traditional game might. I get regular emails from therapists who use it with their patients and families of depression sufferers to build a dialog and a bridge to understanding. It’s been used in classroom settings, people have played it with their parents and significant others to start showing them things they had a hard time verbalizing. Not taking those stories and those people seriously and accepting the role that this game was able to play in their own massive undertakings of self care would be disrespecting those people’s struggles. And I can’t do that.
There’s something here that people who don’t live with depression might not understand. When you suffer from this, the small windows of opportunity you have that you feel like you have the energy to and self-worth enough to try and take steps to change things, to want something more than feeling like you barely have your head above water, those chances and that motivation is fucking *rare*. I can’t in good conscience hold back offering someone something that could help them start making real changes in their life or even just offer a temporary relief or better understanding for the sake of reducing the risk of offending people or hurting my own reputation. If I was sitting down across a table from someone who asked me “how could you release the day Robin Williams took his own life” I would know how I could answer. I’d know why I did it, even if I felt conflicted about doing it. But if I sat down across from someone who asked “How could you hold back on releasing this game when I needed it” I would feel ashamed.
So I am launching the game. Quietly. I will not be promoting it until a respectful time later. But I want it to be out there and available in all the ways I can make it be available so that if someone needs it, they have it. After agonizing over it and asking the general public, they’ve overwhelmingly responded with pleas to release it. Especially among depression sufferers.
I never feel like I know what I’m doing, and like all I can ever do is do what feels right after consulting with people for outside perspective. This isn’t an easy choice, but I think it’s the right one.
Please, please, please take care of yourselves. Tell the people in your life you love them. Don’t stop pushing for more understanding and better care of those battling mental illness.
The game is available for free/pay what you want in the following places:
I love you all.