Note: "Running the Greenlight Gauntlet" is "DaHjaj SuvwI'e' jiH" in Klingon, in case you were wondering… (aren’t we all constantly wondering how to say things in Klingon?) Actually, the Klingon phrase refers to the Rite of Ascension Gauntlet, being a chant a warrior says meaning "Today, I am a warrior" - so yes, I’m stretching it a bit there.
Back to the Real, Actual Greenlight Thing
Last week I put my graphical roguelike game, Voyage to Farland, on Steam Greenlight to see if I could tempt the millions of Steamers into trying a classic old-school roguelike.
Gamasutra has featured several developer experiences with Steam Greenlight in the past, including Flippfly’s Race the Sun’s woes (which led to the disruptive NotOnSteam sale and a quick greenlight for their game) and more recently, David Gallant’s long, hard-won success at being greenlit with “I Get This Call Every Day”.
To be perfectly honest, Voyage to Farland is a fairly niche game, being inspired by (but NOT copied from!) the classic Japanese console roguelike game, Mystery Dungeon: Shiren the Wanderer. So going into the campaign, I knew it was an uphill battle.
But recent news in Steamland had me thinking often about a Greenlight campaign for the game. Gabe Newell has mentioned that Greenlight will go away soon-ish and that they’ll perhaps replace it with a more open system, possibly with something like the Humble Store. Valve has also picked up the pace of approving games recently, greenlighting 225 games in April alone!
You may be asking, “If your game is so niche, why bother with a Greenlight campaign? Why not stick with Desura & the Humble Widget?”, and I’d say that’s a fair point. But after I became obsessed with the harder Mystery Dungeon games and started making my own game using them as inspiration, I’ve found myself reluctantly transforming into a weird sort of proselytizer for this particular roguelike sub-genre. I honestly feel western gamers need to experience the pleasure and pain involved in playing one so that they can see the eye-opening - dare I say enlightening? - experience they bring. Or to rephrase that last bit, permadeath is a brutal taskmaster, it makes you take your gameplay decisions seriously for a change.
Problems with Greenlight
There have been many articles and forum posts written on the shortcomings of Steam Greenlight. I won’t rehash them in depth just now - but a quick-n-dirty assessment might go something like:
it can be scammed
it pits developers against one another
it’s mostly a popularity contest
just make a zombie game damnit
other things I can’t recall at the moment
still more things that I’m not even aware of yet
seriously, just make a zombie game (not that there’s anything wrong with that)
So to survive the Greenlight Gauntlet you have to get creative (we game developers can be creative, right?) - which leads me to...
When you’re a one-man team (yep, oxymoron) you have to get creative with promotion - from touting your game as un-fun and exhorting players to pass on it (thus pulling a clever reverse psychology, game-dev jujitsu move piquing the interest in it) to sinking to a whole new level and doing something I did recently.
That terrible thing I did was to make a purposefully strange, disturbing promo video inspired by the creepy Japanese horror film “The Ring”, in which I put a curse on viewers that will force them to buy & play the game. As an aside, playing a traditional roguelike game DOES involve a lot of dying, so it’s not that far off from “The Ring”...
Actually, the video ended up being so cheezy it was funny and they say laughter (including at oneself) is a powerful medicine. By the way, if you’re wondering whether the curse actually works, the download stats on Desura, IndieGameStand, Humble and Itch.io are telling me “No”. So the good news is, it’s safe to watch!
Zen and the Art of Greenlight Maintenance
I mentioned that I started the campaign last week, and it likely was influenced in part by a strange “whatever will be, will be” attitude I had at the time. Dealing with feedback as a game developer (both the solicited and unsolicited kind) takes a certain amount of fortitude, especially mental fortitude. Getting your inner Zen on also helps.
There were a goodly amount of positive comments about the game (probably from gamers who understand the hardcore Mystery Dungeon games) along with the “No! It’s a broser game!!!!” (sic) For many of the negative comments, I thanked them for checking out my campaign, and occasionally threw in a bit of wisdom (for the dude who described the gameplay as simple - clearly someone who’s never set foot in a roguelike dungeon).
I clicked through to a few of those “No!” users’ profiles to see what types of games they enjoy and more than once blurted out, “Ah, that makes sense!” when I saw that they play HD FPS military-themed games exclusively.
One interesting result about putting your game up on Steam Greenlight is that it’ll make you take a painfully close look at all of your promotional material. There are rough parts of our creations that even we as proud mothers and fathers of indie games can plainly see in our “children”.
I’ve known for a while that some of the graphics assets need tweaking, but as the hits to the Greenlight page poured in (thanks Google Analytics!) I busied myself with improving some of the sprite and background tile work for the game. (Fair Warning: there be animated GIFs at the end of that link!)
If - no not “if”, WHEN! - Voyage to Farland is greenlit, I want to be ready to launch on Steam within a few weeks, so I’m staying busy working through the graphical assets, polishing here and there, adding a few particle effects, and more.
Personally I’ve found starting a Greenlight campaign to be a good motivator to up my game, improve some rough spots and discover my inner Buddha in dealing with interweb criticism.
To be honest, I’m hoping Voyage to Farland takes a while to be greenlit so that I can go on a fly-fishing vacation. But so far with my vast week’s worth of Greenlight experience, I can say it’s been a frustrating, fulfilling, and freaky roller coaster ride!