Usually I tend to stay away from news that just broke, mostly because it seems so click-baity to write about it and often people are just panicking for no reason until a few days later when things are explained to them again more clearly. But this time, I just had a thought and wanted to tell it to whoever may listen.
News broke that Valve will be shutting down its Steam Greenlight system in favor or a new system called Steam Direct. With Steam Greenlight a developer had to pay an entrance fee of $100 and could then submit as many games as they wanted. From there on, the game was put into a queue with all the other games in the Greenlight system and people could up or down vote them, as well as leave comments. If a game reached the top 100 of the queue, there was a chance of your game being evaluated and Greenlit – the game was ready for release on the Steam platform. Steam Direct removes this voting process, as well as the random factor of getting picked or not. You fill out a form, you pay per game a fee and if everything is in order, you get your game onto Steam. It’s simple and “direct”, and a process one might have expected from the start.
Originally, Greenlight’s intention were really good, but similar to how people tend to find and use exploits in games, they also found and used exploits for Greenlight, until it became the norm and the system was left broken. The voting system for Greenlight is basically a weak form of a scheme used by drug dealers and other shady sellers: “If you can bring me X amount of buyers, you’ll get a shot for free”. The voting system was supposed to be a useful thing for both Valve and the game developers. It was supposed to be a place where you can drive attention towards your game, all the while getting it up the ranks and eventually published. But since Valve is not evil™ they didn’t force the voters to any commitment, which is where the exploitation began. Game developers soon realized that all you needed for passing Steam Greenlight was to get a lot of people to just press that “Yes” button. It doesn’t matter, whether those people actually like the game or not, they just need to be convinced somehow to press that button and optionally leave a comment.
Besides the issue of getting low-quality games onto Steam, the bigger issue for Valve is, that these boosted games won’t generate enough revenue, because even though a few hundred or thousand people said “Yes, I’d buy this game if it were on Steam”, only a very low percentage actually bought it once released. So Valve is left with your $100 and 30% of a couple of sales, but has to provide a very highly available service, fast connection, lots of bandwidth, update procedures, dealing with complaints, refunds, etc. In the long run, this will not work out for Valve, which is in my opinion why Steam Greenlight has been broken for a while and is now being shelved.
In most conversations I have read surrounding Steam Direct, the main focus has mostly been on the mentioned Dollar values. “$5000 is way too much!”, “$5k will kill small indies!”, “So expensive, I live in a 3rd country!”, you get the idea. While it certainly is true, that games of the concept mentioned above will have a hard time justifying a higher entrance fee, those are the kind of games Valve has little interest in publishing on Steam to begin with. If your game doesn’t sell, your game isn’t generating revenue for Valve to cover their costs. Since the voting system will be removed, game developers aren’t required to provide a pool of potential buyers anymore, as such Valve runs a higher risk of not getting any sales in at release. To counter balance this problem, they have to raise the entrance fee and restrict it to each game. Remember that when Steam Greenlight first came out, there wasn’t even an entrance fee, those $100 were only added after the fact, due to people just submitting anything and everything, as such it acted more like a spam-filter. The new fee, however large or small it will be, will have to pay for the actual services that Steam provides, but again Valve is not evil™ because they’ll most likely let you recoup that fee, by not taking a cut or a lower percentage cut for the first game sales. So if you are smart as a game developer, you’ll simple write that fee off as an investment, then try and bring enough buyers to the Steam platform and you gain back the invested money.
In conclusion, I find Steam Direct a lot simpler and clearer. You’re no longer at the mercy of people voting for you. Over the years I’ve voted for many Greenlight games and rarely made a purchase afterwards, as such I’m glad that this broken system is being replaced. The discovery phase and additional exposure you could get through Greenlight might take an initial hit, but I’m sure Valve will introduce a different section if it’s really missing.
Let me know what your opinions are on the topic, by either leaving a comment below or tweeting me @DarkCisum.