Just this last week, Steam launched a service called Greenlight. This enables smaller indie developers to submit their game to a community review process. Get enough positive votes from your fans and peers, and your game will be sold on Steam! A potential audience of 40 million players? Yes please. Don’t get enough votes, and you’ll have to just…. keep not making money, I guess. Seriously, how many typical PC gamers use ANYTHING besides Steam to download games, excluding the five die-hard EA fans that like Origin? Yeah, not a lot. But there’s a catch, something holding a lot of small developers back from even trying to submit, a catch with the potential to unravel the democracy of this entire idea.
From Greenlight’s “Submit Your Game” page:
To get started, you’ll need to pay a one-time submission fee to grant your Steam account access to post and update games within Greenlight. All proceeds from this fee (minus taxes) will be donated directly to Child’s Play, a charity dedicated to improving the lives of children in over 70 hospitals worldwide.
That doesn’t sound so bad. A one-time fee to show that I’m serious with my just-created indie game. This will keep out the spammers and the troll games, ensuring that my game has a better chance of being seen as the glorious, innovative gem it is! How much? $100. And that’s not even to get your game on Steam; that’s just to get the opportunity to get voted on to maybe possibly get your game on Steam.
Oh. That’s… a lot of money. That’s like, 25 games on a Steam sale. That’s two copies of my rendering software. That’s enough money to re-do all the sound for my entire game. For an aspiring indie trying to make his dreams come true, $100 could be the difference between eating this month or not. The worst part is that this fee was implemented with the sole intention of keeping out the spammers, and the troll games, and, apparently, anything with boobs. Well, it worked. Now nobody will want to submit.
What Valve and Steam don’t seem to realize is that poor people have some terrific ideas. Necessity is the mother of invention, after all, and when you don’t have a lot of technology or money on your side (but you have plenty of time!), you’re forced to come up with some unique ways of doing things. The bottom line though? Steam is a business. They are here to make money; they are not here to make you money. Having the “best” games (as voted by the paying community) on their service will net the largest return for them. It’s a win-win for Steam.
This submission fee is not unique to Steam. In fact, it’s not even the steepest. Want to make a similarly community-rated Xbox LIVE Indie Game that’ll probably sell (if you’re lucky) 2,000 copies? That’ll be $99/year for up to 20 games. How about getting your iOS game on the App Store? Also $99/year. Amazon’s Appstore is free for now, but word is that they’ll start charging a fee in the near future. IGF submissions are $95 a pop. What people seem to ignore is that Steam is this elite, monopolizing, gated community that lets only those games they want in. Games that would sell even without Steam. Games that don’t even really need the extra exposure of a Steam Sale to drive sales. These games make money, and Steam makes money.
But what about the little guy? Some say, “$100 isn’t a lot of money,” or, “If you’re not willing to bet $100 on your game, how can you expect people to spend $10 on it?” Those people are jerks. Indies have drive, and passion, and time. Money is none of those things.
Earlier this year, a bunch of indie devs got together and created the Pirate Kart – a collection of over 300 games from over 100 developers – and submitted it to the Independent Games Festival as one huge entry. Because the 100 people couldn’t afford the $95 each, they decided to pool their efforts and work together to prove that, no matter how little experience you have, anyone and everyone can make a game. Many of the games were little more than prototypes, many of them barely functioned, and many of them weren’t even fun, but that’s not the point. The point is that, when the indies work together, they can do glorious, new, terrific things. In fact, some indie game companies like Dejobaan and Nicalis have already pledged to loan the $100 to a needy developer that can’t quite scrape together the money. But the fact that game companies have to donate money to other game companies to donate to charity to maybe sell a game they’ve already made is, well… kinda dumb.
This Greenlight submission fee, while not a concept that’s unheard of, is seen as a huge affront to the seemingly open world of PC game development. Many indie folks are mad – seething, even – and rightly so. Steam, the biggest (and, for many, only) place to buy PC games online isn’t really as open and democratic as they’d let you believe. This submission fee will only serve to keep good ideas out while the big, dumb, household names get greenlit before you can say, “Surprise.”
So what’s the answer? Well, if Ouya turns out to be something that’s not a complete scam, that might be a start. And if you find a game you love, even if it’s only a direct download (wait, what??? the developers get all the money for the game they made?!), tell your friends. Support the indie bundles, even if sometimes it feels like there’s too many of them. Pay-more-than-what-you-want. If you’re an indie developer, get together with other indies. Make your own Pirate Kart, make your own Steam (Desura is a start), make your own future.
The games that succeed on Greenlight will, in all likelihood, deserve the attention and sales they’ll inevitably receive. But the games that fall through the cracks…? I’ll bet you $100 that at least one of those is amazing. I don’t want to miss out on that just because a one-man development team isn’t very good at getting people to vote for him on Greenlight by pleading on his personal Facebook page.