A Red Light for Steam’s Greenlight

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.

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9 Comments

Filed under Editorial

9 responses to “A Red Light for Steam’s Greenlight

  1. That it’s not a lot of money is the strangest argument I’ve ever heard. While I would not call a context-less $100 on its own a lot, it is a lot to pay for the privilege to get down-voted by the Steam community.

    Why is voting “no” even an option? If I want a game I’ll say so, but if I don’t, why would I say it should not be on Steam? There are some strange comments on some games saying that thing, not saying that game is bad, but that it just doesn’t fit on Steam. Is Steam no longer a platform for games but rather for a specific subset of games? Specific genres?

    Is the money worth spending? If you actually get on Steam it sure is, but is it worth gambling?

    • arron

      Why not make Greenlight free, but have the $100 licence fee to publish on Steam dependent on the popularity of the game on Greenlight?

      The $100 is basically a barrier to entry to remove poor quality developers and spammers. You don’t need to pay to have your application soundly rejected by a community of gamers. Most of them will do that for free on Metacritic and other sites. Random reviewers will more than happy to go mental injecting spite and bile into their authoritative anonymous review condemning it.

      If the game is overwhelmingly popular with the gaming public, then Valve could waive it given they will make a few bucks selling on Steam in excess of the $100 regardless.

  2. arron

    It’s basically the indie game equivalent of political lobbying. You’re paying a premium to get the opportunity to get your measure (“game”) voted through congress (“the internet”) to be adopted as law so it will affect everyone..on Steam. And just like political lobbying, the monetary “barrier to entry” keeps out everyone who isn’t already rich gaming the the system. No wonder Valve were worried about Windows 8 app store – it’s going to be cheaper to develop for Window App store as developer licences are free, rather than pay-for-lobbying people on Greenlight to give you the opportunity to get your games where people might be able to buy them. Given Valve Steam is probably making far more than building new games like Half-Life III, it would be bad for Valve if the Window App store became easier to use and more popular than Steam as a result..

  3. wtf im actually mad about no sexy time games. WHERE’S MY EROTICA SECTION, STEAM? HMMM?

    • arron

      Computers like sexy time too 🙂

    • arron

      If there is a open market for “sexy time games” that have been “personally approved by Mumbles”. I guess there’s nothing stopping you doing it yourself. Probably with some scented massage oil and some nice music playing in the background..and not Valve. They weren’t interested.

  4. James

    I’d say the $100 pop was probably a rush decision, Steams a big thing and with greenlight they opened the doors for anyone to submit the games they had worked hard on. But Valve forgot what people were like so of course it got spammed with the silliest things, and when you see something like that you panic a little and you’ll agree to anything that will shut the spam down.

    The hope is that valve will take a breath and then take another serious look at the greenlight system with this new information in mind, and adjust things to a comfortable place. But again, that’s the hope.

    But yeah $100 is more than a lot of people think, cause you’re not considering all the other costs that go into making a game. No game no matter how Indi was made with no expense. To even get on Steam you have to compile your game in a certain way and if you don’t know how to do that you have to pay someone £300 to do it for you.

    If you do get on Steam those costs are worth it, but that’s only if you do. Greenlight was the perfect answer to this, to help small games have a chance to get in, and with all that bubbly excitement of opening your doors it’s easy to forget not everyone’s gonna play ball.

  5. Torsten

    Every time an internet community is given an opportunity to give negative votes on ideas, the voting system turns from “let’s support this idea” into “let’s bring this idea down to make sure it will not succeed”. Greenlight is already full of comments like “I dont like this stuff, so I dont want this on Steam”. What on earth were they thinking at Valve?

    And yes, I support the idea of erotic games on Steam. We have plenty of ways to buy games with various levels of violent content, but nothing for games with adult content.

  6. dK

    I feel that this is a huge mistake for Steam to charge $100 for the ‘Little-guy” to gamble on the chance for the community to Troll their hardwork. I mean I believe that Greenlight should be what it is intended for, “The community”

    for Steam to turn around and create a service with Indie game developers in-mind and then slap a $100 dollar submission fee, only makes them look like a hard business sell. Now before I get flamed or trolled by someone who says that my opinion is one-sided I do feel like there should be some way of screening each submssion to make sure the game isnt spam.

    Instead of hiding the truth to make money behind the alterior motive of Filtering out they should just come out and say we want The community to help fund Greenlight. it would br be better than saying ok developers We are going to get rich, now get out there and make those games so you can pay us to submit you for review. Wow what a racket.. Just think like this, $100 x 10 games a day = $1000, now multiply that by 7 days =$7,000, now multiply that by 4 weeks = $28,000, and finally multiply that by 3 months for the quarter of the month = $84,000 just off of 10 games a day being submitted.

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