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Steam Greenlight: Is It Broke, and How Do You Fix It?
by Enrique Dryere on 04/26/13 06:51:00 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.


 steam greenlight

It’s no news that Steam’s Greenlight can be a daunting and often times discouraging process for an indie developer. Obviously, the difficulties my own project, Ring Runner: Flight of the Sages, might face as it struggles up this very competitive ladder are a problem. But they’re not necessarily a problem of the system; they’re in large part due to my brother and I being completely unknown. We have no right to have it easier than anyone who’s already worked hard to establish themselves in the market.

I’d also like to state that this article is not intended to address the inherent problems of crowd-sourcing your review process. Clearly it’s not an ideal system, but board review isn’t without its shortcomings either.

That being said, I believe there is one major problem inherent in the current Greenlight process, which can be resolved in a simple way that’s mutually beneficial for both Valve and struggling indie devs like myself.

The Problem:

Developers have no access to Steamworks prior to being Greenlit.

Why Is It a Problem for Developers?

You can’t develop with all of the benefits of Steamworks in mind. In the event you’re fortunate enough to be Greenlit, you’ll likely have a good deal of work on your hands before your game is ready for distribution on Steam.

Of course, this also means that you can’t pre-sell your game through Steam or even promise Steam compatible versions on fund-raising efforts like Kickstarter.

Why Is It a Problem for Valve?

By not allowing developers to pre-sell their games through Steam unless they’ve already been Greenlit, Valve is losing millions in potential revenue.

Why Doesn’t Valve Just Let Everyone Through?

Opening the floodgates and letting every aspiring developer onto Steam would arguably dilute the power of making it onto the service. Valve is careful to curate their content, which is perhaps one of the main reasons that players flock to Steam.

So then, how can you possibly allow developers access to Steamworks and to pre-sell their games via Steam without some kind of filtration?


Draw a clear line between Greenlight and Steam. It could really be that simple.

The separation would work similarly to the division between Xbox Live Indie Games and Xbox Live Arcade, except that the process of going from one side of the wall to the other would be facilitated for titles that prove themselves through methods similar to what currently exists. Games that find success in the Greenlight market would be pushed onto Steam.

Good for Developers

This would allow developers early access to Steamworks, cutting back on potential development time and letting them better tailor their game to the service’s strengths. It also enables developers to pre-sell their game to Steam users who are legitimately interested in buying and supporting the title, often after hearing about it from an external source.

Good for Valve

Desura, amongst other distribution systems, already provide a streamlined process for developers to handle their pre-release sales. As this segment of the market continues to mature, it’s in both Valve and developers’ best interests to establish a reliable, high-profile medium.

Good for Users

Steam users would be able purchase and play Greenlight games without having to wait and hope they’re Greenlit. They would launch very similar to the way a traditional Steam game would, but could be placed under a separate tab of their game library. In this way, Valve can be clear about which games have not passed through their quality assurance tests and preserve the power of actually publishing a title.

This arrangement could also help mitigate some of the issues that both Steam and developers face when pre-alpha games get pushed onto the actual marketplace. Clarity is essential. Players should know what kind of quality and level of completion they can expect before they potentially sink money into a project.


By drawing a clear distinction between Greenlight and Steam while allowing developers access to Steamworks and giving them a venue through which to pre-sell their games, the value of making it onto Steam is preserved, but the approval process is no longer a hard wall. Through this arrangement, both Valve and independent developers will increase their reach and revenue.

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Arvind Yadav
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I really hope valve will implement something like this, because just the ability to redeem a key and launch the game from steam will remove a lot of barriers - especially in the case of players in the "steam or no sale" category.

I feel (in my admittedly biased opinion) that some games just don't have the broad appeal to get enough votes to pass the cutoff point on greenlight - this will help them a lot.

Tom Kail
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I totally agree with this, all the way through. I'm certain that Valve, in all their infinite wisdom, considered this at some point. The interesting point for me is why they didn't opt to use it!

Kyle Redd
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Newell has alluded to a solution like this in the past when he criticized Greenlight himself. The major problem remains though: Without going through the QA process, a lot of games would get through that would end up causing major stability problems on users' PCs, and likely there would be instances of serious malware as well. If a developer releases a game that irreversibly corrupts my computer, is Valve liable?

Further, the games in the Greenlight section of the store would obviously not be hosted on Valve's servers, so it's inevitable that a few or possibly a great many games would have major accessibility issues, with people unable to download the games they've bought either temporarily or permanently. That would put a big spotlight on the lack of ownership and control that Steam users have over their libraries, which is not something Valve would like to call attention to.

Dan Nichols
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Although this idea is really interesting, I think that the only reason Greenlight is working at all right now is because of Steam. Separate the two and Greenlight is just a crowdsourced indie game review site with no real value.

As time goes on, and more people are familiar with Greenlight this could be something they look at in the future. As for how long that could be, who knows.

Being unfamiliar with steamworks, just how vital is it to have in the early stages of development? As far as I can tell from the website it looks like it's geared towards beta/pre-release features.

Dave Wishnowski
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Agree 100% with your proposed solution. My game had a clear rally of support when Greenlight was a new service but now languishes below the top 100 for no real reason other than visibility. If all Greenlight games were simply given their own corner of the Steam garden the process could push the cream to the top much more efficiently, despite the flood of sub par titles that would obviously take advantage of the marketplace.

Bruno Xavier
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I think this is a utterly terrible idea... Just no.

Look, I know that everyone building a PC game want and NEED their games onto Steam to make some money... But the ideia of turning it into a XBLIG would just make things worse.
I have a concept page for a project in there, but if I'd create a page where people can vote for the game to get in or not, I want it to reach Steam because the game deserves not because Valve did open the gates to everyone.
If my game don't get in there?! (And probably won't because I am one more Joe Nobody from City Nowhere) I gonna have to deal with it. Find other ways to sell the game.
I see Steam as an opportunity to kick your foot in the 'real' industry and if they become another 'Google Play', players eager for quality probably would again turn their backs to PC and play on consoles only.
There are already planty of portals selling indie games of all sizes, Steam must be that 'something else' to stay on top.
Anyways, my thoughs on this:

"The Problem":
Steamworks won't ever turn a bad game into a good one. Having no early access to this is no problem at all.

"Why Is It a Problem for Developers":
Is not THAT hard to add Steamworks to the game. If you already have all achievements documented on your GDD and is a single player game, doing so takes at max a week or two if you have no clue what you're doing.
Again, this is no game feature. It becomes a feature only if your game doesn't have it and players will maybe complain about it.

"Why Is It a Problem for Valve":
Please, Greenlight is no revenue source for Valve. Their sources are still the big boys and will always be; Don't expect Activision, EA, Ubisoft, Squeenix greenlighting their products...
Greenlight is just a move to deal with excessive approval submissions.

"Why Doesn’t Valve Just Let Everyone Through":
As you said, there are already too many open store out there; Steam is closed because their consumers so want it to be. Turning Greenlight into a really open platform would drive public away from that.

"Good for Developers":
Yes that would be good. But you don't need to sell your product immediately after greenlit, you still have time to work on it. And again, SteamWorks is no selling factor. It only is a problem... If your game doesn't have it.

"Good for Valve":
Again, Valve doesn't need us. We need them.

"Good for Users":
You don't need to be greenlit to publish a demo build.
And many developers are doing that already with their games. A forced greenlit status would just drive away the small amount of steam users greenlighting games. They like to think that a game is greenlit because they helped the game to get in.

So... I think the focus here is blured. The focus should be care more about building a community, not worry about Valve, Steam or Greenlight.
The big problem though is... You will only be able to build a community if your game is 'good'.

Ryan Bowen
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How can anyone agree with this? This is a terrible idea.

1) He likens tbis horrendous idea to the seperation of XBL/XBLA; a system infamously blamed for poor sales for indies!
2) He mentions the reason behind Steam‘s popularity is its quality control; the suggests removing that!

I‘m assuming the fools who commented their agreement didnt read the whole article!