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Steam Greenlights Games in Bulk Because Most of Them Don't Get Made
by Ryan Creighton on 01/03/14 09:24:00 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.


The vast majority of Indie Statik's hotly anticipated indie games are delayed by a year or more, according to a study done by me.

Barbarians at the Gate

Prior to Greenlight, the Valve-owned Steam digital video game storefront was once a supreme gatekeeper, mysteriously approving titles for distribution in a smoke-filled room. Well-connected indie game developers whose titles were approved could suddenly access Steam's then-30 million customers (the user base for the store has since ballooned to over 65 million players).

Eventually, the burden of approving games themselves grew too overwhelming for their staff, so Valve devised a system called Greenlight, whereby the store's own customers could vote for the games they themselves would want to play on the service. The popularity contest would float notable titles to the Steam staff, who would approve the games for distribution in trickles.

I'll take the three athletic-looking ones. You can have the fat ones and that cross-eyed kid.

Here Comes Everybody

In mid-to-late 2013, Steam surprised everyone by approving Greenlight games in batches of 100. It was suggested due to these bulk approvals that the days of careful curation were long over, and that the store would fill up with "just anyone" - an elitist attitude, surely, to match the store's elitist beginnings.

But there's a good reason why Steam is now approving Greenlight games en masse, and why innovative titles like Spellirium by Untold Entertainment (full disclosure: that game looks awesome) have been given a chance by Valve against all odds: Steam needs content, and the proverbial indie game devs working from their moms' basements aren't churning out quality titles quickly enough.

Indie Statik recently released their picks for the Top 100 Most Anticipated Indie Games Of 2014. Like Steam, they appear to have widened their net, perhaps to get more hits on base. Last year's half-sized list of 50 games, posted on January 1st 2013, has turned up only 7 titles that actually launched in 2013. The rest of the titles are either still in development, completely abandoned, or are slouching towards Steam to be born. Take a look at this pie chart:

Move eyeballs closer to the screen to enlarge

A full 82% of Indie Statik's indie game picks went unreleased in 2013. And they're just in it for the readership - put yourself in Steam's position on this one. You can Greenlight all the indie games you like, but the odds that they'll see the light of day within the year (let alone become "hit" material) are extremely slim. That's why it makes sense for Steam to start bulk-approving games for the service, and why bulk approvals aren't a sign of the End Times or of the store's slipping quality bar. To quote the late, great Mitch Hedberg,

It takes forever to cook a baked potato in a conventional oven. Sometimes, I'll just throw one in there, even if I don't want one. By the time it's done, who knows?

The "Lucky" Few

For posterity, below is the list of Indie Statik's 2013 hopefuls cross-checked against their current playability/availability. Games that you can actually purchase and play to "full release" are in bold:

  • New Game+ (Superflat Games) - incomplete
  • Lifeless Planet (Stage 2 Studios) - incomplete
  • The Underside (Insignificant Studio) - incomplete [downloadable demo]
  • Owlboy (D-Pad Studio) - incomplete
  • Revenge of the Sunfish 2 (Bizarre Wound Productions) - incomplete
  • Starbound (Chucklefish) - incomplete [available on Steam Early Access]
  • Antichamber (Alexander Bruce) - launched
  • The Swapper (Facepalm Games) - launched
  • The Witness (Jonathan Blow) - incomplete
  • Cube World (Wollay) - incomplete
  • Axiom Verge (Tom Happ) - incomplete
  • Among the Sleep (Krillbite Studio) - incomplete [early alpha and preorder available]
  • Amnesia: A Machine for Pigs (thechineseroom) - launched
  • Lovers in a Dangerous Spacetime (Asteroid Base) - incomplete
  • Scale (Steve Swink) - incomplete
  • The Moonlighters (Rad Dragon) - incomplete
  • Super T.I.M.E. Force (Capybara Games) - incomplete
  • TowerClimb (Davioware) - incomplete [preorder to play the first half]
  • Fract (Phosfiend Systems) - incomplete
  • Scarcia (Michael Lavoie) - incomplete
  • Quadrilateral Cowboy (Blendo Games) - incomplete
  • Heaven Variant (Zanrai Interactive) - incomplete [and abandoned. An album of the uncompleted game's soundtrack is available]
  • Cradle (Flying Cafe for Semianimals) - incomplete
  • Asylum (Senscape) - incomplete
  • DataJack (Epic Banana Software) - incomplete [playable demo available]
  • Distance (Refract Studios) - incomplete [private alpha available via preorder]
  • Memory Of A Broken Dimension (Data Tragedy) - incomplete
  • Project Zomboid (The Indie Stone) - incomplete [demo available on Steam Early Access]
  • Barkley 2: Revenge Of Cuchulainn (Tales Of Game’s Studio) - undetermined [website was down at time of writing]
  • Zeno Clash II (ACE Team) - launched
  • Apotheon (Alientrap) - incomplete
  • Octodad: Dadliest Catch (Young Horses) - incomplete
  • Monaco (Pocketwatch Games) - launched
  • Path of Exile (Grinding Gear Games) - launched
  • Depth (Depth Team) - incomplete [and on "indefinite hiatus"]
  • Dungeon Dashers (Jigxor) - incomplete [alpha available on Steam Early Access]
  • Castle Story (Sauropod Studio) - incomplete [beta available on Steam Early Access]
  • else { Heart.break() } (Erik Svedang + Friends) - incomplete
  • StarForge (Code Hatch Corp) - incomplete [alpha available on Steam Early Access]
  • Intruder (Superboss Games) - incomplete
  • Charlie Murder (Ska Studios) - launched
  • The Banner Saga (Stoic Studio) - incomplete
  • Starsector (Fractal Softworks) - incomplete [alpha available via preorder]
  • STASIS (Christopher Bischoff) - incomplete [demo available]
  • The Iconoclasts (Joakim Sandberg) - incomplete
  • Gunpoint (Tom Francis) - launched
  • Rawbots (Rawbots Team) - incomplete [early release available]
  • Ether One (White Paper Games) - incomplete
  • Routine (Lunar Software) - incomplete
  • Radio The Universe (6e6e6e) - incomplete

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Paul Johnson
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Thanks for this, Ryan.

This is actually quite annoying to read, and rather eye-opening. We have a game struggling to make headway past a 50% approval mark on greenlight, largely because we have no heritage on PC - we're a mobile developer - and thus have no existing large pool of supporters to rely on.

And whilst that's fair enough, our problem, the key difference is that Combat Monsters is actually finished and out. (You can get it on PC from a direct download here: so I do wish they'd give some kinda lower threshold to approve things you can actually try/buy.

Luke Mildenhall-Ward
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Paul, I understand Greenlight is especially frustrating in your position, but one does wonder... If you can't get enough Greenlight support, how do you expect to get Steam sales? If Steam actually did approve all submitted games, you'd be buried and pining for eyeballs just like you are on Greenlight currently. I think whatever approval system a distributor uses, marketing is going to be important either way.

Paul Johnson
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Because your typical Steam customer doesn't look at greenlight stuff, at least according to the people I've polled. Greenlight approval says much less about game quality than it does about developer PR quality and that's also fine to a point. But when your game is out and available for people to look at, that has to be more solid than a pie-in-the-sky wishlist from a better known developer, as the original article seems to cast most approved games.

When on the main store, it's a helluvva lot easier to get people to go check it out as it's a real product thats demoable. Word of mouth might (hopefully) spread from a core seed, that we can (hopefully) nudge upwards a bit through marketing.

But basically it's this: If all those approved games that never actually got made were unwound from time, maybe finished products like ours would go from 50% to 100% and we'd find out. :)

Tim Conkling
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Pretty sure that an indie game's projected release date and that same game's inclusion on a website's "most anticipated" list have absolutely nothing to do with each other.

Robert Fearon
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"perhaps to get more hits on base"

No. Just to put the word out about 100 games that are quite possibly coming out in 2014 and people should look forward to. And Steam Greenlights more games because they're clearing the massive bottleneck queue that Greenlight was supposed to solve whilst testing their new systems out that allow them to bulk approve games.

That's it, really.

arthur mcgee
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I don't think it's fair to say these games "don't get made" when quite a few are in alpha/have demos available. It makes sense that an article on "most anticipated" games aren't done yet. To scoff that these games won't get made sounds like sour grapes.

Bruno Barbera
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The article makes an interesting point (50 games approved don't equal to 50 games launched anytime soon) but then I think the methodology is a bit flawer: the Indie Statik list mixes games that have been approved through Greenlight, games that were published directly on Steam, and games that aren't even on Steam (see Charlie Murder), so the percentages aren't so meaningful in the end.