It’s unusual that Valve is the target of negative criticism from the gaming community, but they found themselves under fire mid-2012 for their rejection of Renegade Kid’s Mutant Mudds. Valve denied the game without giving a detailed explanation, leaving developer Jools Watsham with no idea how to move forward. Despite complaints about Valve and Steam being rare nowadays, it wasn’t long before other indie devs were stepping forward with similar accounts.
The confusion concerning Steam’s approval process was exacerbated by the release of Revelations 2012. Revelations, a poor re-skinning of Valve’s own Left4Dead, was despised by both critics and players alike. Despite it’s lack of quality, not only could you buy Revelations 2012 on Steam, but it was promoted within the store’s prime “Today’s Deal” spot.
As it turned out, Valve wasn’t ignorant of their shortcomings and were preparing to launch a project entitled Greenlight, their way of making the selection process transparent by handing the bulk of curation duties over to their customers. Shortly after Greenlight launched, however, it was obvious that the project itself needed some form of curation. Submissions ranged from the legitimate to people demanding the 2005 movie-licensed game “Robots” be released on Steam. Valve’s solution? A one-hundred dollar charge for anyone wanting to submit games to Greenlight.
The Greenlight fee was controversial, but I felt it was appropriate. There is a reason that Xbox Live Indie Games as well as other totally open distribution platforms aren’t so popular or have a bad reputation: A lot of the games look explicitly amateur, and it’s difficult to find jewels midst rubble. The listing charge worked as intended, as it is much easier to find promising titles on Greenlight now than it was during the program’s debut.
It’s been a little over four months since Greenlight’s August 30th launch, and as a supporter of the concept from the start, I’d like to share how I think the service is faring thus far. Spoiler: I think it’s kind of a train wreck.
“Basically I’m shocked by the sheer number of ways the indie ecosystem is presenting me in which I can spend ~$75 in order to be ignored.” – mcc
This is a common sentiment among independent developers, who pay literally hundreds of dollars a year in game festival submissions and other means of self-promotion for their games. The idea of one more fee, and one just for the chance at maybe making it into a digital retailer’s listings, was a hard pill to swallow. However, I think developers have more to gain from Greenlight than some of them believe.
Personally, I have discovered dozens of games through Greenlight, games like Super Skull Smash GO!, Legend of Dungeon, and Project Black Sun. If it weren’t for Greenlight, I may have never heard of these games. Daniel Fedor (former Bioware developer, current N.E.O. Scavenger developer) has first-hand evidence of Greenlight’s usefulness:
“So far, Greenlight has proven to be a valuable marketing tool, if nothing else. It drove a significant number of sales on its own, and the comments on the Greenlight page have served as a welcome ego boost.” – The Effects of Desura and Steam Greenlight
Is there a chance that a developer could pay the Greenlight fee and see absolutely no benefit? Absolutely, but there’s also a very real chance that their game gets noticed by dozens, maybe hundreds who would have never known it existed before. It’s a gamble, but perhaps not a worthless one.
Unfortunately, that is the most positive thing I can say about Greenlight. It may be a good marketing tool for some developers. By any other measure, I feel that Valve has failed.
If the point of Greenlight was to make the approval process more transparent, sensible, and to empower Valve’s customers in shaping the face of the Steam catalog, it hasn’t done its job in the least. Mutant Mudds, the game that was at the center of the controversy that necessitated Greenlight’s existence, is still not on Steam. It’s on the 3DS eShop, GoG, GamsersGate, Desura, Renegade Kid’s website, iOS, and is soon to be released for the Wii U, but it’s still begging for upvotes on Greenlight. Other games are in a similar situation. Gunman Clive, Knytt Underground and La-Mulana have all received the thumbs-up from gatekeepers at major digital storefronts and have been positively received by the public, yet these titles still must wait in the Greenlight queue to see a Steam release.
The situation hasn’t changed at all. Proven titles still aren’t on Steam with no clear reason as to why, while a hot mess like The War Z can still make its way into the store with no one at Valve noticing the game is a sham until people have already bought it.
Beyond my kvetching, I have an idea for fixing Greenlight: Get rid of it.
If the issue is curation, then why not simply allow developers to distribute their games on Steam unlisted? Valve feels that Steam needs to have a heavily guarded storefront, and developers feel that they can’t sell their games very well if they aren’t available on Steam. I believe that allowing developers to create unlisted store pages that customers can access via direct link or search is the most sensible compromise. From there, Valve can see which unlisted games are selling well and promote top-selling games into Steam’s catalog.
What greater measure of quality would Valve need to observe than a game selling well? If Valve were to make this compromise, Greenlight would become redundant and they could put this promising yet poorly handled experiment to rest.