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Steam Greenlight: What To Expect
by Colin Walsh on 07/24/13 03:36:00 pm   Featured Blogs

The following blog post, unless otherwise noted, was written by a member of Gamasutra’s community.
The thoughts and opinions expressed are those of the writer and not Gamasutra or its parent company.


It's been about two months since I put my game Drifter up on Steam Greenlight and it's been going okay with the game having received nearly 10,000 yes votes and the ratio of yes to no votes is pretty much even, which is probably not all that bad for a niche space trading game. If you ask me, anyway.

Still, progress has been a bit slower than I was hoping and it hasn't been all that easy getting people to visit the page on a consistent basis. These are my problems to overcome of course, and I will overcome them in time (I hope) but in the interests of sharing information to give everyone a better idea of what to expect before bringing a game to Greenlight I have been posting the Drifter Greenlight stats page daily at and am writing this post with some insights into the Greenlight process that I hope will help others prepare themselves for what lies ahead.

Also, I wish to acknowledge that Greenlight has its fair share of problems as a system for getting games on to Steam's curated storefront and that it is not a perfect system by any means. Even Valve have admitted as much though they insist that they are trying to make things better. That said, given that at this point in time Greenlight is one of the only avenues available for independent games to get on to Steam and because Steam represents such a large percentage of the PC digital distribution market it makes sense for us to arm ourselves with as much information as possible before tackling this seemingly Sisyphean task.

First off, not to be immodest, but in order to frame this piece, I'd like to think that Drifter isn't exactly some unknown game coming out of nowhere with no work put into promoting it. It's gotten coverage from numerous high-profile gaming press outlets over the past couple of years. I ran a successful Kickstarter campaign last year which helped build up an early fan base for the game. I even have a relatively large number of followers on Twitter and my mom says I'm pretty cool. I figured if over 3,000 people wanted to give me money for my game, it should be a walk in the park to get a bunch of people to go and vote for it for free.

In retrospect, that was somewhat naive of me.

The problem isn't exactly in getting those votes, it's the sheer number of votes required to get to a point where Valve's internal approvals team will pay attention to your game. That point is somewhere within the Top 100 games as ranked by yes votes received. Ostensibly Valve also looks at other factors to help determine if a game is going to be greenlit such as crowdfunding success or how rapidly a game may be getting votes, so the general idea is that they are paying attention to the Top 100 but the Top 10 (or so) is where most approvals have been happening.

Currently, to get to the Top 100, you are going to need approximately 16,000 to 17,000 yes votes. The good news is that no votes do not count against you and that games are ranked against each other by yes votes received however if your yes to no ratio is not very high it means that you need to get considerably more people in front of your game to get the votes you need. The bad news here is that Greenlight has been designed deliberately to make it difficult for people to find games via Greenlight itself apart from the voting queue that doesn't seem to generate very many votes, perhaps 100 per day at most. The idea here, at least in theory, is that a game must be able to stand on its own merits and show that it has an audience who wants to play it and more importantly, pay for it. What this means in practice is that you will likely be spending a considerable amount of time and effort on promoting your game to get it on to Steam.

Once into the Top 100, the goal of most games is going to be to reach the Top 10. By my estimates a game is going to require somewhere around 50,000 yes votes to get into the Top 10. At the current "Average Top 50" split of 60% yes/40% no that means a Top 10 game is going to need to drive a little over 83,000 voters to their game. For a game like Drifter with an approximately 50% yes/50% no voting split it means you'll need to send over 100,000 voters your way.

Unless your game has a large audience already or are otherwise fortunate enough to get a large amount of concentrated word of mouth surrounding your game while it is on Greenlight it will likely take a few months or even longer to get into the Top 100 and then into the Top 10. While this may seem daunting, there is no time limit so at the very least this will give you time to get feedback on your game and its presentation and it will hopefully give you an opportunity to improve your chances of getting the votes you need. Also hopefully by this point you have your game available for direct purchase or pre-order through your website so you can start selling it even if you're not on Steam.

As for the approvals themselves, it seems like Valve have been approving somewhere between 5 and 10 games every 2 to 4 weeks lately, though it can vary and initially they were approving more games less frequently. When games get approved the rank of all of the remaining games goes up, and those that have forward momentum will move closer to getting greenlit. For instance during the last two batches of approvals Drifter jumped around around 3% of the way towards the Top 100 each time. So at the very least this means that these more frequent approvals will hopefully keep the list moving forward, at least somewhat.

Anyway, that's about all I have to offer for now though I hope it is of some use! To those that are working their way through Greenlight and those who are going to be there eventually I wish you luck and I hope that your game makes it through as quickly and as painlessly as possible!

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Russell Sullivan
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Great write up. Love the alpha version so far. Best of luck!

Gryff David
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This was great. Lots of useful information. Thanks! Your game looks magnificent by the way! Good luck!

Samuel Green
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This is rather scary for a guy hoping to "just release my game on Steam" like it's going to be easy to do. I really need to catch up on the whole Greenlight malarkey, I'm very out of touch.

It makes me wonder, was it easier to get a game on Steam before Greenlight?

Gryff David
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I'm in the same boat as you are.

From what I've heard, it wasn't easier before. Your game would basically go to a board of people at Valve who would play it and then decide on their own (Without any community input) if it was viable for release. The big problem was that there was only a limited group of these people and they were receiving 10's of submissions a day which bogged the whole process down and they couldn't get through them fast enough. And if your game went through the selection process and wasn't chosen, you didn't get any feedback, it was pretty much just, "No". So Greenlight isn't great, but it's a massive improvement over the previous system, I believe.

Robert Boyd
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Pretty sure they were receiving hundreds, if not thousands of submissions a day.

Jorge Ramon
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What about early-access? If you going that way do you still need green-light?
As long as your game is not finished, are you supposed to get your game in early access automatically or you need another kind of valve selection process?

Thanks for the article!

Colin Walsh
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Pretty sure you need to be "on steam" to use early-access, whether that means getting on via. Greenlight or not.

Tyler King
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So even though right now it only takes 50,000 votes to break the top 10 isn't that going to change as time goes on? Because as time goes on and the same games slowly accumulate more and more votes eventually it would seem that there is going to be some kind of vote inflation that goes on making it so eventually you need double or triple that to get on.

Colin Walsh
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Not necessarily, because as Steam approves games near the front of the queue it should reach some sort of equilibrium as games with the most votes get removed from Greenlight.

Hugo Cardoso
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There is a certain amount of inflation but seems to be pretty stable.
About 2 months ago you needed 16000 upvotes to get to #100, before this latest batch 2 days ago you needed 18700 and now it's back to 16900.

Maria Jayne
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I think the day Valve stop curating Steam is the day we lose the best thing about it. Everybody thinks they deserve to be on Steam, if everybody was on steam, it would look a mess, finding anything decent among so much crap would be a chore.

Truth of it is, if you spend any significant time looking through Steam Greenlight, you see how much crap there is. I don't think the barrier to entry is a bad thing, I happen to think the barrier to entry is the reason Steam is so well respected among it's users.

My comment in no way reflects my feelings toward the authors game, just my irritation that everyone thinks they are entitled to be on Steam and apparently oblivious as to why it being difficult is actually a good thing.

(I'll concede War Z/Infestion is the fly in the cream though!)

Colin Walsh
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I'd also like to clarify that I'm generally in agreement that Valve's curation gives Steam a value to users and the games on there. I just think that the process is still deeply flawed and I hope that they continue to work on improving it.

Maria Jayne
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I'm sure they will continue to make improvements, there was mention of a hiatus while they did their Summer Sale but that's over now.

It's worth remembering while it is hard to get on Steam, once you're there it's a golden ticket, since all your future games no longer have to go through greenlight (as far as I'm aware).

Good luck with Drifter, if it's any consolation, I already upvoted it a few months ago. ;)

Joseph Majsterski
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Totally agree with this. I voted on about a dozen Greenlight games over the weekend, and most of them were only meh, and a couple were absolutely awful.

Arthur Hulsman
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Colin Walsh
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Certainly feels this way sometimes.

Eric Salmon
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Game looks good, upvoted.

My biggest problem with Greenlight right now is exposure. I have a feeling most users don't even know it's there (I wish it was under at least under Store rather than Community, even if the games technically aren't on the store). I had to ask my wife where Greenlight even is to find it just now, and I was actively looking.

Neil Doherty
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Thanks for all the useful information. I was under the impression that Greenlight was helpful in increasing visibility, but it seams that isn't the case like it is with Kickstarter. Thanks for getting rid of those misconceptions. I'll have to raise a lot more awareness before expecting Greenlight to happen.

Ian Boswell
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Well I have this to say:
I was able to get greenlit by using my connections on Steam's user-base to actually use STEAM itself instead of Facebook, Twitter, Youtube, Kickstarter etc...

Heck my Kicksarter even failed, miserably:

But I was able to get greenlit, because I know how to actally USE Steam Greenlight, unlike 99% Of Greenlight submissions. That is the key get getting greenlit, to know how to actually USE STEAM as a social networking tool. Because 100% of steam users who own a game can vote for your greenlight game.

What % Can Facebook / Twitter users vote? Less than 1% most likely.

See my Greenlight page for evidence on how to do this right:

Daniel Holbert
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Thanks for the pose, Ian! I almost didn't read the comments, but now I'm glad I did!

Could you elaborate on what you either think or know worked the best. I see that Updates, Comments, and Discussions are the three main ways of interacting directly through the Greenlight page. Is there anything else that you'd like to highlight? Thanks!