Last week I wrote an article about distributing software (including games) using Web 3 via the blockchain, using NFTs for licensing. This time I wanted to talk about how to handle software distribution on your own, using Web 2, which would be the “current gen technology”. I began working on this a couple of weeks ago and now everything is ready to go, and the technology I used is WordPress and a free system called WooCommerce, that plugs into WordPress perfectly. While I plan to use this to sell games, you could use it for selling any digital goods, like 3D models, textures and even your own art.
I have to point out I am not a WordPress expert, and this was actually my first time setting up a WordPress website. I mention that so you know that if I could do it, then so can you, since I was either at your same level or even lower.
Now, the first question is why would you even want to build your own software distribution website, when you can just distribute your software or games via regular channels (like Steam, Microsoft Store, etc.). Well, personally, I have three reasons: First, the most obvious reason is store split. Steam and others can take up to 30%, or more. Even if you were to use Itch.io, and set the revenue split to 100%-0% (meaning you keep all the money), you’ll still have to deal with revenue splits, since PayPal and Stripe (the payment systems used by Itch.io) take a commission every time they process a transaction (albeit the amount they take is far less than the 30% Steam takes).
Second, I have become less trustful of payment processors as I’ve seen them suspend accounts or withhold funds due to misunderstandings or other reasons. For example, I saw the case this YouTuber that began to sell his comic on his website, and he got so many orders PayPal locked his account (imagine being told “we’re locking your account because you’re too successful). And third, because sometimes platforms have these weird double standards when it comes to enforcing rules. For example, AAA games can feature full frontal nudity for either adult male or adult female characters, but if your indie game has a female character in a revealing outfit (the kind of character you can find in some of the amazing art you find on the Renderosity website), you have to change that. I don’t appreciate being told we can put in our games, specially because we never add stuff “for the sake of controversy” or similar reasons.
And if any of these reasons resonates with you, then you also need your own store.
Back to the subject. From what I understand, all major website hosting services offer WordPress integration right out of the box, so you first need to enable your WordPress site builder. This step may change from hosting to hosting, so check your hosting documentation to find out more. The next thing I did was select a template for my website. The template I picked is called “Astra” and it’s available for free in the WordPress templates. While I was doing my research, I found that template was very good to start my own online store, so I decided to use it.
Then, I enabled WooCommerce inside WordPress and that way I could start adding products.
To add products, just go to the Products category in your WordPress dashboard, and then add a new product. You can add photos and descriptions of your products and, if you’re selling digital products, just enable that option and add your file (you can set your product link to be always available or to expire after a certain period of time). As you add products, they show up on your website and you can add them to a cart.
Something cool about WooCommerce is that you have access to pretty much anything you need. WooCommerce allows your visitors to create an account so they can keep track of their purchases, and can re-download stuff if they need to, and a full shopping cart. Of course, you won’t be able to purchase them yet since you don’t have a payment processor. This is the part that you have to figure out by yourself, since you have to see what you can get based on your location. In my case, I am using a service provided by a bank that charges less than 3%, which is way better than Steam’s 30%.
On the other hand, editing the Astra theme in WordPress is very easy. You just log into WordPress and then go to “Customize” under “Theme”, and start editing text and images. On the other hand, if you visit your site directly, you’ll see a bar at the top and a button says “Edit with Elementor” and that lets you change other aspects of the site. This is the most confusing part of the whole thing, since every version of editing lets you change different things. For example, editing within WordPress lets you modify menus and such, while editing with Elementor lets you change logos, images, texts and such.
Of course, since I will continue selling games on Steam, I plan to take things to the next level. WooCommerce also has access to a lot of plugins, and I’ve found plugins that let you distribute serial numbers (I haven’t tried it yet so I can’t tell you how it works). In my case, what I plan to do is sell Steam keys directly. This way, people get their Steam version of the game, and I get 97% of the revenue, which is really cool.
But maybe you want to sell physical products. For example, maybe you do handcraft, do print on demand, or anything. You could either start a Shopify account, for $30 a month right off the bat, or you could use WordPress and WooCommerce to start your own store, which is the most cost-efficient option. WooCommerce works for any kind of product, so you can sell anything you want.