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Red Light, Parking Break, another bad car metaphor; why I took an off-ramp away from Steam Greenlight
by David Gallant on 08/08/13 05:14:00 pm   Expert Blogs   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.


On December 28th, 2012, I ponied up $100 to Valve and added I Get This Call Every Day to Greenlight. It was a bit of a lark; I knew the game had limited appeal thanks to its terrible visuals and deliberate focus on mundaneity. 

I started keeping a journal of my experiences. Greenlight was a bit different back then, without any relelvant stats for developers. Gamespot let me publish the journal as an editorial of sorts. 

On January 29th, 2013, I was fired from my day job because of the game. Many "Let's Play" videos of the game hit YouTube, some by incredibly popular webcasters (the Yogscast has well over 5 million subscribers, and their playthrough video of the game has been viewed over 1.8 million times). Thus came a fair spike in votes and ranking, reaching as high as 90% of the way to the top 100.

On May 31st, I removed I Get This Call Every Day from Greenlight. If you're curious about its final standing, check here.

At the time, I was pretty pissed at what happened to Paranautical Activity. However, it wasn't a single incident that informed my decision. I was already pretty sour on Greenlight as a system, starting from the realization "everything was made up and the votes don't matter." Even now, games are Greenlit at Valve's discretion alone, with vote rankings but one factor used to make their decision. That's a reality I accepted when I paid for the service, but others certainly have not: I've seen my fair share of complaints when games high in the ranking get "overlooked" when new games are added.

Greenlight was also a great source of negativity. I didn't have things as bad as, say, Depression Quest, but there were still a fair number of hurtful comments. Here are some gems:

It is absolutely appalling that a 'game' like this even makes it into Steam Greenlight. What kind of person actually votes for this?
- [ò_ó] Sheepocalypse 

'i'm a game developer' you could have at least tried to make it polished, this is just pathetic.
- Deity

Poorly made flash game with bioware like decision making game that nobody wants to buy. Don't crap up steam with with this shit.
- FEEDel Castro

Ungrateful employee. Will not support ANYONE with this individual's nonexistent work ethic.
- anthonypants 

Before removing the game from Greenlight, I copied the entirety of the page's comment section and dumped it into a spreadsheet. Then I rated each comment by the emotional reaction it inspired: Positive, Negative, Ambivalent, or Confused. Here are the rather surprising results:

Emotional Reaction to Greenlight Comments
Over half the comments were positive, and yet I still had the impression that the majority of them were negative. Hell, I even tweeted them out under the hashtag #greenlightcomments as a coping mechanism. Even though less than a fifth of all comments were negative, they were powerful enough to overwrite the supportive ones, a lot of the time.

Now, here's the biggest thing. I believe in communities of mutual support. The successful help the less successful, and they help right on back, or pay it forward, and hopefully everyone becomes more successful in the process. When it comes to making games, we aren't really competing with each other. Greenlight is not a mutually-supportive community; it is a competition, where one game's success directly and negatively impacts every other less successful game on the service.

Every upvote received by I Get This Call Every Day knocked other games back in the rankings. Every game that surpassed I Get This Call Every Day in the rankings knocked it back further as well. Near the end, I could watch the ranking drop daily. Some days I could get a few hundred votes and not make a dent; in fact, the biggest jumps would come when other games left Greenlight (either by being removed, or by being greenlit).

It's not a community; it is a mountain for everyone to scramble up on the backs of everyone else.

That's not for me, sorry.

I'd like to apologize for all 14,181 people who said "Yes, I would buy I Get This Call Every Day if it were on Steam". I'm sorry to have disappointed you. Will I ever use Greenlight again? Maybe. The fee's paid, after all, and Valve is still making changes to the service.

There you have it (I'm bad at endings). 

EDIT: 30 October 2013

I have made myself a hypocrite and returned I Get This Call Every Day to Greenlight. Since this blog post, Greenlight hasn't improved significantly; rather than fix any of its issues, it has simply greenlit more titles. Unfortunately my financial reality can no longer afford me to pass up the opportunity to potentially see the game on Steam. I have created a new page for I Get This Call Every Day, starting back at 0 votes. You can find it here.

EDIT: 7 April 2014

I Get This Call Every Day has been greenlit by Valve, and will soon be coming to Steam. I reflect on the experience in this blog post: 310 Days in Purgatory

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Kim Delicious
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Thank you for writing this. I hope more people become aware of just how terrible Greenlight is and make the same choice you did.

Jack Nilssen
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If it's one thing to be learned from this it's that nothing can be gained by dwelling on the negative reaction to your work.

Paul Grayston
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For me I always knew that Green light was a really bad idea, it was clear from the start it would be like that scene from the movie "the ONE" with Jet Li at the end on top of the Pyramid fighting for his life beating the crap out of everyone else trying to get up there with him.

What I am really taking away from this Article is that pie chart, in fact that whole idea of counting and classifying comments is such a good idea that I plan to use it in the future, its human nature to focus on the negative, I think it probably has something to do with survival our brains are wired to zone in and lock in on things that are hostile, negative or dangerous so we remember them more than those things that are positive.

So Ignore the Hate, focus on the Love :)

Mike Renwick
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I think it's interesting as it shows your game hit a much wider target audience than you might initially have planned, and I'd take those comments as a sign that people who aren't used to that sort of game were getting exposure to it. I'm aware of the broader context of all this and I'm sure the volume of comments and the negative outcomes here must have been overwhelming, but these sorts of comments really aren't the kind to be upset about (in my ignorant/humble/untested view!)

They may not like the game, and let's be honest, the internet makes it easier to be blunter about that- but personally, from these I'd have taken:

Comment 1: I take the commenter as having a different view about what constitutes a game to you, and different expectations. Could be more nicely worded, but it's not an invalid view. The interesting thing about this comment is that they didn't perceive your game to be a game. It opens a broader debate that is raging everywhere. Art had similar debates in the 1900's. I don't even necessarily agree with the conclusions that some made about what could constitute art. It's merely a view. If you cared about this demographic, it's not difficult to make something that they would consider unequivocally to be a "game". It's up to you whether that matters to you or not. Deciding whether it does or not is a useful exercise. You start to understand who your potential audience is, and more importantly, isn't.

Comment 2: Person believes that the game wasn't polished. Decide for yourself whether you think they're right or wrong. Next game you make, either polish more (if you kind of agree) or don't (if you don't agree). It's not necessarily unreasonable for someone paying for something to expect a certain amount of quality, and "polish" is often perceived as an easy heuristic to determine the amount of effort put into making a game. On that note- as the commenter stated they're a game developer, in my experience, game developers spend an enormous amount of time polishing and crafting their games and are likely to be more sensitive to "polish". Also more likely to feel insulted when their 400 hours of hard graft on a traditional game is whipped by your (less?) hours of work on a simpler title. Simple jealousy. Don't ever respond that it is such, but hold that thought in your hand smugly.

Comment 3: Ok, so it's an insult. You have to decide for yourself whether your game is poorly made or not (or if the commenter is confusing an art style they don't like with something of poor quality). What are they *really* saying. Does your game work consistently, not crash, run reasonably efficiently? Then it's probably not poorly made. That's your own internal call to make, and it might prompt questions like "do I need to put more detailed/better art in" to make it *seem* to be less "poorly made"? Decide on an answer, either way, and apply. The positive thing about comments like this, is you become more sure of yourself either way, because you either enumerate the number of people making the same comment in various ways (i.e. "I don't like your art" disguised as comments about art quality / paint crudeness / quality) and do something about it next time (spend more time / money on the art) or don't (feel justified that the crudeness attracted attention, was sufficient to explore the theme, or simply, wasn't the point of the game).

Comment 4: You put personal stuff in your game, you will elicit personal comments that if sensitive can seem like completely unfair attacks. People can be douches, and I'm the first person to agree that bullys and people who troll evilly should be shut down. That said, that particular comment is really just an opinion. It may be ill informed. It may be right or wrong, depending on the persons personal views of work ethics. Only you really know either way. I think as an artist, putting anything of your self in work risks this kind of response. The only thing you should be taking away from this is that maybe the mundanity and inhumanity of your job wasn't *quite* communicated enough for this person. Shrug. Most people (more than half) "got it". Not everyone will. Take away that next time things that can be construed as your character flaws might get in the way of the message you're trying to communicate. It was always thus. People might ignore good advice because they dislike the person giving it due to their.... hairstyle. It's not something to get bent out of shape about.

So yeah, I feel for you in that you had a comparative deluge of comments that would have been overwhelming especially if the seemingly negatives, but those comments you cite aren't without value. Don't mistake critical comments with things that are purely negative and valueless.

Also, just keep making games.

Aaron Brande
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You said it yourself, you entered as a lark/joke. Your game is not of a sufficient level to be on Steam, it is however suited for something like Newgrounds. To honestly believe otherwise is delusion, but you said it yourself "lark". There is nothing wrong with being unsuccessful with your "lark" submission. That's why Valve takes the final say. Users will vote on things "on a lark" too.

Jakub Majewski
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I'm pretty sure he makes it clear in the article above that he did not quit Greenlight because he was unsuccessful...

Matt Boudreaux
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I agree with Aaron. You went for greenlight on a whim - take it all as a learning opportunity.

Greenlight is a terrible system (even Valve admits as such). The fact that Yogventures was greenlit before they even had ANY playable code just makes my head explode. But hey, you get your 5 million fans to vote for your project and what choice do they have?

Maria Jayne
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It's interesting how we ignore positive feedback and focus on the negative. It does sort of explain why we don't bother making much of an effort to tell people when we enjoy a game, but when we hate we go to the official forums/metacritic to have our say.

Sometimes I think it's because you're expecting people to hate your work that you look for the negative comments as a way to confirm your fears. As soon as you see those fears realized in the words of another, you feel vindicated in your negative worries. Doesn't matter if you had 100 people saying positive things, this one guy hates your game and he is the one you pay attention to, because he is the one you were looking for.

As for Steam Greenlight, firstly the application fee goes to a charity, so it's not for Valve, they use it as a deterrent to stop people putting fake crap on there. Secondly, Greenlight is supposed to stop the majority of applicants from just sailing past..that's the whole point.

Vinicius Couto
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Thanks for sharing that graph. It's really interesting to notice how much impact negative comments have and that they seem the majority, even though they are not.

As for you removing the game from greenlight... I haven't played it (yet), but if it got you fired, it must be really interesting, to say the least. I hope you find a way to release it somewhere other than Steam (or some other way to release it on Steam). Greenlight is not perfect, and it's more suitable for some kinds of games and developers than others. If you found yourself in the "less suitable" side, I guess you're better off this way.

David Gallant
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I Get This Call Every Day is already available for sale directly from my website (via Humble Store widget), as well as on Desura and Indievania. I even outlined sales stats in a previous blog post. It's been doing pretty well for me thus far.

Dave Kay
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I appreciate that Greenlight needs work. Perhaps a lot... but I would like to offer some observations balanced against your viewpoint.

1. Democracy sucks. It's the best system we have, perhaps, but it's still a pretty flawed system. As much as we'd like it to, popularity does not always correlate to quality. It's also easily abused, swayed, etc. I've heard rumors of a service that basically has the voice of quite a few steam accounts at it's control, and will vote up your game for the right price. I don't know if it's real, but it's conceivable. That's part of why Greenlight doesn't just function of votes alone. I'm not suggesting the current mechanism is superior - I simply don't know - but I think it's important to consider that a pure voting system is seriously flawed also.

2. In the end, you're dealing with a commercial enterprise. It will always be, to some degree, a competition. As a gamer, I simply do not have enough time to play every game made... I'm going to have to pick and choose which ones I play, and I'm going to play the ones that look the most interesting to me. That means that the more interesting your game becomes, the more likely I will choose it over another... and that basically forces a certain amount of competition.

I understand and agree that it's not ALL ABOUT the competition... and that shouldn't be the focus... but I'm not sure a purely supportive system is possible. More supportive than the current structure, perhaps, and I'm all for working for moving in that direction... but I suspect it's actually an extremely difficult problem.

Lihim Sidhe
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"It's not a community; it is a mountain for everyone to scramble up on the backs of everyone else."

That's life. Every success you have is the success that someone else could have but you're not laying down, giving up, and refusing to pursue your dreams because your success could be someone else's right? That's nonsense.

Put your game back up and don't give up this time. Learn and grow. Don't run away.

[User Banned]
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This user violated Gamasutra’s Comment Guidelines and has been banned.

David Gallant
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Bad analogy, as the person denied the job I occupied has other employment opportunities to find elsewhere. They weren't left unemployed simply because I was employed.

David Gallant
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That's a very cynical view of life.

Not everything in life is a zero-sum game. Every sale of my game did not deprive a sale from any other game. I belong to communities of game developers that regularly help each other rather than compete with each other.

I can appreciate if you view everything in life as a competition, but in my experience, that world-view is a choice.

Joseph Majsterski
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I don't think Greenlight is necessarily a zero-sum game either, because the games near the top of the rankings get Greenlit and removed, clearing room for more games. I read somewhere else that the number of votes needed to be in the top 100 remains pretty constant rather than continues to go up.

Tyler King
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I agree that is a choice on how we view things, positive or negative we always have a choice. However it doesn't change the fact that in this case it really is a competition.

There is only so much money that people can and will spend on games. If 1 game gets popular and takes x% of the money out there, then there is only y% left to be spread around. We sadly can not all have the same success story as minecraft or super meat boy.

If you want to make a living off of making games you have to make better games than everyone else. If you only care about making great games, then give them away for free and do it as a hobby. However if you want to make money off of your games you have to let people know why they should spend money on your game over someone else's game.

Luis Blondet
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"You can the the ripest, juiciest peach in the world, and there's still going to be somebody who hates peaches."

-Dita Von Teese

Nestor Forjan
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I'm a bit confused by the use of the term "service" here. What service is being provided, exactly? I guess somebody else is providing a service to Valve by curating their store for them, but I wonder if that was the intended meaning. Are they referring to Greenlight as a "service" internally?

Maria Jayne
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The Service is for the Steam customer/user.

They get a say in what is on the digital platform they use. It's not the final say and it shouldn't be, but the service is quality control. Admittedly that quality control can be influenced with fake voting but that is why the final decision is still with hopefully they can spot the fake voting and refuse it anyway.

james sadler
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I'd say most of us hope to get onto Steam one day. I don't think anyone will say that Greenlight is a good service, but its what we have. I think the main issue is that people still don't know what it is that Valve uses as a way of determining what it is exactly that motivates them to put one game or another through the process. There is the popularity component but obviously that doesn't really do anything but bring the game to the attention to the approval staff. As such I think every game on there is a "lark" as there is no formula and one person's success is as likely as the next. It all ultimately comes down to the game. Quality, polish, popularity, and overall "fit" on Steam (as vague as that is).

I understand that this isn't what your article was really about though. The issue was about the flood of comments and how you processed them. Being as Greenlight puts its "approval" content in front of their audience first we developers are subject to their often cruel and unaware comments. It sucks but ultimately this is a game's potential audience. You should feel even more uplifted than your chart shows as people are a lot more willing to post/say negative comments than positive ones. The problem is that people (both developers and the audience) focus on those negative ones more than the positive ones anyhow. It really is good that you were able to quantify all those comments into something visual that you can look at and truly see where the comments fell. It really is a good idea and I bet a lot of other developers will follow suit. I'd agree that Greenlight and Steam probably isn't the right platform for your game, but there are plenty out there. Good luck.

Justin Sawchuk
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talk about cutting off your nose to spite your face.

TC Weidner
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I agree greenlight needs to do away with the podium for negativity. Why even ask, " if you arent interested". Thats a stupid question to ask. Especially if you ask " is this something you are interested in". There is no need for both. And only allow people write a comment if they voted, and the only way to vote is to say you are interested in the game.

Pretty simply really. There should only be one choice.... "Yes, im interested in such a game," and then you are able to leave a comment as to why. That is all that is needed here.

There is no need for negativity here at all. If someone isnt interested in a a game, simply move along.

Joseph Majsterski
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I think the idea is that people could offer constructive criticism as to what the game is missing, or what could be done to gain their support. But a lot of people just gripe without anything useful. I've definitely seen comments on some games there that were like the ones David mentioned, where people just said, "How can this crap even be on here?" Totally useless. I've seen games I didn't like, but I know they're someone's baby.

Mike Fredricks
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I have the same opinion greenlight needs to do away with the platform for negativity.really liked your blog. Fantastic work, cheers.