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Steam Greenlight: Developers Speak Out

September 5, 2012 Article Start Page 1 of 3 Next

Steam Greenlight launched last week to a huge influx of entries. If you follow many indie developers on Twitter, you will have no doubt seen your fair share of both love and hate for the initiative. Crowds of developers happy to get their game closer to being on the system were buffeted by tides of frustration at Greenlight's shortcomings.

Now that things have started to settle down, Gamasutra looked to grasp the general feeling among developers: is Greenlight good news for the indie scene? Will it actually help consumers show Valve which games they want on Steam, or is it yet another database to throw your game into and then never see any real good come out of it?

"Greenlight is pretty bare-bones right how," Colin Northway, the developer behind Incredipede, tells us. "It's basically a collection of screenshots with like buttons attached."

Yet, he adds, this "is actually kind of nice for me. My big fear for Greenlight was always how much work was going to be involved. Kickstarter projects require an immense amount of preparation work, and I was worried that Greenlight would be the same. By having such a simple system, Greenlight doesn't take much time away from development. Which is good, because the last few months of working on a game are pretty hectic."

However, Northway is very aware of the fact that getting ahead on Greenlight is simply a popularity contest. It doesn't matter too much how good your trailer, screenshots, and description are if you can't play the marketing game properly.

"The skills required to make good games are very different from the skills required to dominate a 'vote for my game' contest, so I'm worried good games will be lost in the shuffle," he notes.

"Greenlight could be better, and I'm sure Valve knows this. They're great at changing and adapting. Their stuff is always living and improving. It's not surprising that the first Greenlight is pretty bare-bones. It's probably more of an experiment than a 'final product'. As they discover how it works and experiment with how to make it better I'm sure it will improve."

As for Incredipede's future on Greenlight, Northway is ready to now play the waiting game, and see what his fortunes are.

"Greenlight is scary as hell," he adds. "Great games not getting the attention they should is always a problem, and asking the crowd what's good usually results in 'that thing everyone else likes'! On the other hand, look at how many games are on Greenlight. That's how many games Valve used to get in its inbox every day. So in a choice between 'lost in the shuffle' and 'I don't have time to even open the email containing your trailer', I guess I'll take Greenlight."

Some indie developers are using Greenlight to gauge interest in sequels. Philip Tibitoski is one such dev, as his team looks to drum up support for Octodad sequel Dadliest Catch. As of now, his Greenlight has been going very well indeed.

"There have been a few inconveniences, like the upload service for screenshots being a bit wonky, but besides that we've been pretty happy with it," he says. "Knowing that Valve tends to be very iterative with a lot of their services keeps us at ease despite the few problems Greenlight has right now. We trust in the fact that they've always been on hand to answer any questions we might have and have just been really helpful in general."

The completion percentage meter on each game page is an area that Tibitoski doesn't understand at all -- as he notes, it doesn't say anywhere exactly what constitutes this measurement, plus he has witnessed his percentage jump from 1 percent up to 5 percent and then back down again multiple times.

"We spoke a bit with our Steam contact over the weekend, though, and what I believe is going on is that they're looking for the sweet spot of exactly how many upvotes one might need to get approved," he explains. "It seems like they've set an impossibly high ceiling, and will be adjusting it from there based on how some of the current top games are doing over time. Which I think is a really great idea, rather than just picking some arbitrary number."

Tibitoski already has a plan laid out for how he plans to use the Octodad Greenlight page -- he says his team will be utilizing it in the same way as its Facebook page, reeling in fans and gradually gathering support over time.

"The caveat of this, of course, is that we have the possibility of the direct result being that the game gets put on the Steam service. I see it as a way to build our audience somewhere that we may not have been seen before. We've been getting a lot of positive feedback and comments since we put the game up. We've seen a lot of things like, 'I don't know what the hell this is, but I like it.' Which I think proves that we're reaching a lot of new people."

Of course, as it stands, a game's Facebook page has numerous pros over its Greenlight page, from blogging to sharing new material to fans. Says Tibitoski, he'd love to see some of those elements brought across to Greenlight.

"It would also be great if we could directly link to our other social media accounts or just the website in general," he adds. "Submitting to Greenlight was easy and quick, but we also weren't able to display a lot of interactive information. I'm sure there could be many more features like a forum, or something akin to that."

Tibitoski is also worried that the average Steam user isn’t actually sure what Greenlight is about, and what its purpose is. "One thing I think that could be improved would be for Valve to do more outreach and explaining of what Greenlight is,” he notes, “because it seems as if some users believe it's simply a system to request games they like."

The system is bound to level itself out as the months go by, users gain experience with the service, and the trolls move on, reckons Tibitoski, while new features will no doubt be added to make Greenlight far more useful for developers.

"It would be nice if as developers we could receive some sort of report weekly or monthly on how our page has grown or changed," he suggests. "I think something like this could be on the horizon, but you can never be sure what Valve will do next."

"I at least ultimately believe that Greenlight is a good thing," he concludes, "and that this fear everyone has about the service ruining or clouding Steam's library of games is being perpetuated without much thought behind it. Have a little faith."

Article Start Page 1 of 3 Next

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Andre Silva
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I began working on my game project last month, and decided to put it on Greenlight as soon as it started, seeing how they said that was OK in the FAQ. In my opinion $100 is outrageous, because you still need to be aproved by random people.

I suffered the same thing Greg did. My game is a 2D platform adventure game, it goes by the name of Project Sarah. It has been compared to Cave Story multiple times on the comments (just because it's 2D, I'm not even joking) and some people even thought I was ripping off Nifflas' Saira, just because of the name, even if both games are completely different both artistically and gameplayably speaking.

Also, I think most people that are on Greenlight already think of selling their game cheap, since they KNOW it isn't a master production by a big company, but no one commenting even takes that in consideration.

Steven Christian
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To be honest you haven't added much for people to get excited about yet, and a lot of people will take that at face value and think that is all you have to offer.

They said that it is ok to put it up as soon as you feel comfortable, but I see a lot of devs putting stuff up too early and then feeling uncomfortable about the response.

Arnaud Clermonté
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Your complaints have nothing to do with the "outrageous" $100.
It seems that the fee should be the least of your worries.

Lex Allen
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I think it's really too bad. I think that Greenlight was a good idea, but it really has turned into quite a mess. If the community really got to vote and it couldn't or wouldn't be vetoed by Steam, I think they really may have had something.

I don't know why they had to make it $100. Not everyone wants to be out $100, especially when everybody wants you to spend a 100 bucks to submit your game now.

Rob Wright
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It's funny how much the public reaction to Greenlight's launch/introduction has mirrored the reaction to Steam's launch years ago. I think in general, people hold Valve to a very high standard -- and I suppose that's fair because Valve set that standard themselves. But I also think some of the complaints are a little over the top. To recap...first it's FREE, and people complain there's too many submissions and the library of offerings is impossibly big even a few days after the launch (cue the "Victory has defeated you!" quote). Then the $100 fee is introduced to cut down on the crap and joke entries (submitted by...I dunno...maybe some of the same folks who are complaining? Possible perhaps?) and people complain it's too expensive and just a greedy money grab from Valve. Then people learn the $100 fee goes to Child's Play...and people STILL complain that they don't get to choose their own charity to donate to and -- this is rich -- don't get a receipt to write off the donation for tax purposes.

Come on, guys. It's been what, a week? Give it time. It's hard for me to take the opinion that folks are overreacting to Greenlight because this will likely never affect me, so I can't totally relate to this from a indie dev point of view. But when I read people feigning outrage about Greenlight, well, it bothers me. Valve is trying to do something new and different that it hopes will be beneficial to aspiring developers, and I think the least they deserve is measured and constructive criticism on how to improve this system instead of the kind of scorn and disdain I've been reading (Disclaimer -- not here, the comments have been mostly civil and thoughtful. Mostly.).

Brett M
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The exact issue is that their standards don't seem very high. Why didn't they have a fee from the very start? $10 would've cut out most of the rubbish. Why didn't they see the up/down vote issues?

If they had outlined it for 5 minutes in Google Docs, surely they would've noticed these problems.

Raymond Ortgiesen
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You're proving his point. Why didn't they have a fee from the start? Because they didn't know it would be necessary. Maybe they hoped the community would prove to be better than their stereotypes. Maybe they just didn't think of it. Like they said, they don't need the money.

And let's not forget, exactly how long ago was the Steam application process completely opaque and unavailable to most? Oh, last week. Sounds like we've made some big steps since then.

I'm so sorry Valve wasn't perfect on launch day. It's the end of the fucking world!

Rob B
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Oh give over, this isnt pioneering and new, these services have already been erected in one form or another by several companies and to a far higher standard without dumbfounding naivety and slapdash decisions. Nobody is asking for perfection, they are asking why a multi-billion dollar company is having trouble coming up with something better than a first year college student could knock up.

I do think greenlight will become a great service as steam has (Probably in no small part due to the people you are deriding for complaining.) That doesnt excuse such a poor beginning.

Brett M
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Why not just cancel Greenlight and make it a proper app store? I could be playing a ton of these games on Steam right now.

Dev's submit their game to SubSteam for $500, and get to use the Steam platform, but don't get advertised in the main store. After X amount of sales they get moved to actual Steam.

Valve wouldn't have to vet anything. They just have to respond to copyright/illegal takedowns.

$100 is not a lot of money, but it's not worth that amount. Even if I was a billionaire, I wouldn't pay $50 for a cup of coffee.

Robert Carter
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They dont want it to be an app store because
1. They dont want to flood the store with titles. They dont want everyone to submit a game, they want a few well done and well recieved games
2. They want a process that involves the steam community and grows said community. An app store does nothing on this end.

Getting greenlit should be an achievement. Valve is looking for quality over quantity on this one. Which is also good for devs, because if you get green lit you have good visability and quite a few people already willing to buy.

Greenlit has its problems, but I have little doubt Valve will sort them out and make it something quite great.

Steven Christian
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People are going through this to get their games on Steam, not on Steam Indie Games Junk Section.

They want Steam with front page coverage and Steam Sales and Special Promotions. This is what makes Steam.

Besides, 95% of the games on greenlight are unfinished
ie. you can't play these games now even if they were on Steam.
(and if they are finished you can buy from their site or Desura, and add the game to Steam)

Kyle Redd
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There's one big question around Greenlight that I haven't seen answered anywhere (edit: Galindo alluded to this near the end of the article): Are the people at Valve who dealt with submissions before Greenlight still doing that job? Specifically, are they looking through the candidates just like the users are, and can they approve Greenlight projects even if they haven't (and probably won't) receive the necessary number of votes?

If the answer is yes, then I'm not really worried about the truly great games slipping through, because Valve has a pretty decent track record in that regard; they just didn't have the time to examine all of them thoroughly. In this way, Valve has essentially added a million or so volunteers to help lighten the burden.

If the answer is no, then Greenlight isn't going to be much help. As Northway pointed out, any "one person, one vote" system is going to be weighted in favor of games that have the widest appeal even if they are of mediocre quality, and penalize those in niche genres even if they are exceptional.

Jeremy Reaban
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That's the thing - why doesn't Valve/Steam have the time? They are an immensely wealthy company, it's not going to break their finances to hire a few more people to screen games...especially when it just means more money for them in the long run through sales.

Greenlight is just a way of letting the public do the work for them.

Robert Carter
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Its not a money and screening issue, they want to expand the Steam community. They have been doing a lot on that front recently. Hiring more people to screen behind closed doors does not expand or involve the community

Steven Christian
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Similar to Google, Valve is a large company who has many smaller groups working on many smaller projects. The Greenlight project may not have a lot of resources attributed to it, especially since it isn't really a money-maker.

james sadler
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It is rather funny how much people have complained about Greenlight thus far. I don't really think we the developers and public are going to have a real sense of what the service will do for us until a game goes from greenlight page to steam store. Really we need to see a few titles do that before we can make any decent conclusions. One of the best things Valve could do at this point is take one of the higher ranked games it currently has on greenlight and pass it up to show that a) this whole process actually does mean something, b) shows the process from greenlight approval to steam store, and c) what kind of time frames are possible. One of the things that kind of puts me off with the service is that we have no idea how long it might take from starting the page, and if things go amazingly, ending up on the store. I'm a time tables kind of guy though so that's probably just a personal thing.

Personally I don't have a problem with a lot of the comments users have said (trolls to some people I guess). We as developers are submitting our games to an audience that we are hoping will like those games and upvote them. If that audience is saying that they don't like a game for X reason why would we think they would buy it if it did end up on the store? Its like trying to sell Dubstep CD's at country music festival. Sure some will probably buy it out of curiosity, but the mass wont; and I'm sure they wouldn't be exactly kind either.

David Burningham
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What I fail to understand is why they added the ability to downvote games. An upvote essentially means "I would probably pay for this game if it comes out" and makes it easy to guess how many sales you would get from the game. I can't see Downvoting adding anything to the service however.

Although I do agree with Rob Wright concerning the rest, it is a new service and hopefully Valve will sort out all the teething problems.

Yama Habib
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I've thought about this, and I came to the conclusion that downvoting serves 2 purposes:
1) With no risk of downvotes, there are no repercussions to developers spamming links to their greenlight page all about the internet (in the same vein as say...penis enlargement advertisements or Nigerian princes)
2) Downvotes can be used as a metric for an outflow of titles from Greenlight. Thus far, I haven't seen it mentioned anywhere how exactly (other than getting accepted onto the Store) titles are going to *leave* Greenlight. Is the list of games just going to grow and grow ad nauseum? Throwing out titles based on time alone is sure to screw over some developers that are actually slowly acquiring a fanbase. Taking both time *and* downvotes into account, on the other hand, gives a pretty accurate representation of what games are least likely to ever pass through to the Steam store.

This is all assuming, however that downvotes are measured as their own thing, and not simply as negative upvotes.

David Burningham
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The problem with 2) is, how do you tell the difference between someone downvoting a game because they think it is a bad idea/find it offensive/etc. and someone downvoting it simply because it is an indie game? I'm highly doubt that downvotes can be taken as a "pretty accurate representation" and I doubt people will troll a game by upvoting it.

Also on your point about time, if they have method of tracking Upvotes over time, that would be enough to tell if a game was steadily gaining interest and browsing through the comments will let you see why people have upvoted it and what they're looking for in this game.

Thomas Bark
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I am not sure, if Valve uses the downvotes for any other "hidden" reasons it does not reveal to the public, but for me as a user, espacially with the newly labeled buttons it is quiet clear:
Upvote: I would probably buy this game if it was available on Steam.
Downvote: I wouldn't buy this game for whatever reason.
You might want to consider that buttons name again, but for me it is just a way to get all those games I am not interested in out of my list of new games so that I don't stumble upon them over and over again while searching for games I haven't looked at yet.

And concerning your second purpose Yama, this is a quote from the Greenlight FAQ:
What happens if my game never gets accepted?
Your game will remain on Greenlight unless you decide to take it down.

So I guess those games will stay there indefinitely unless their creator takes them down him/herself.

Yama Habib
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That's a perfectly valid point. Looking for the games with the smallest upvotes over various spans of time may well be just as effective, if not more so than looking for the games with the highest downvotes over the longest periods of time.

That's interesting! I'm not sure how Valve plans on juggling an ever-growing database of indie games (who would willingly take their game down when they paid $100 to get it up there in the first place?)
I feel that it's very likely they'll change that eventually, given the revisions already made to the FAQs page and the fact that Greenlight as a whole is still well in its infancy.

Andrea Phaneuf
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My question about Greenlight, is whether large indie games with large Kickstarter backing will have to go through the same admissions process as the rest of us. Double Fine, Planetary Annihilation, Wasteland 2, are considered Independently Published, but my suspicion is that they will not have to submit to Greenlight. If that happens, then where is the cut off, at which point is a Indie Game still considered "Indie".

james sadler
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Double Fine wont have to go through Greenlight as they already are an established company with relations with Valve/Steam. I would imagine that the guys from Wasteland 2 are in the same boat, as well as maybe even the Planetary Annihilation people. Greenlight is more focused on new companies from people with no previous connection to Valve/Steam. I doubt that a Greenlight successful project would have to go through it for a second game.

Emppu Nurminen
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Just one question; did they guarantee that every game winning the popularity contest do get in the Steam? I didn't see such claim in their site.
In that light, I find it bit odd to have this huge freak out about popularity contest. Other companies that use similar kind of model have to use the best rather than the most popular ones for maintaining good, trustful brand. Sure, Valve is for making money, but so are all the companies and it's going to be hard to stay at top, if they only go with where the money is.

Thomas Bark
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I don't have any prove from a Valve employee, but I read in several community discussions that what getting a Greenlight does is simply give you a spot in their review queue.
Getting those 100% upvotes is not a guarantee that your game will be sold on Steam and neither is not getting 100% a failure.
But again, I have no official confirmation for this.

Tadhg Kelly
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Personally I think the biggest problem is that Greenlight isn't crowdfunding.

Voting with cash gives a much more honest picture of what users actually want, whereas upvoting is very transient because it asks nothing of the user. It tends to quickly lead to an in-crowd of super-voters who dominate what gets to the top of the heap or not (see: what happened to Digg) that over-emphasises one kind of content, but that behaviour does not necessarily correlate to purchases.

I think a lot of the content-flood problems would have been nipped in the bud had Greenlight worked pretty much as Kickstarter does, and I also think that Steam would have been the perfect environment in which to do that. Maybe there is hope yet.

Troy Walker
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lower the fee, and add crowdfunding... then you will truely get reality and not some bullsh!t opinions and gun slinging non-sense.

Steven Christian
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Upon release, Valve will have more stats in regard to people putting their money where their mouth is.
I wonder will they take into account the number of people who said that they would buy the game, then didn't, to adjust down those people's future votes..?
And then those that said they would buy the game, and did, may have their votes adjusted up (to in effect become super-voters).

Of course this doesn't take into account other factors like a change in circumstances, a different product released to what was expected, or a high price for what is offered.

Bruno Xavier
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For me it is just another

Steven Christian
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Having rated all of the games on Greenlight, I now feel a bit lost as there is no similar method to review released and upcomming games outside of the service and be able to remove games that I'm not interested in, and be suggested games that I am.
I have discovered the 'Recommended' section but this is very minor and doesn't let me flick through a lot of games or DLC's quickly.
I have actually resorted to searching indieDB to find more indie gems.

Sam Juarez
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I think the $100 is a good idea. When Greenlight first caem out, cant tell you how many "games" I saw that were just getting started with nothing in the game it self or just plain waiting people time and taking up space. the $100 is to discourage those kind of people that will just post something up using mod tools and assets in mod engines which are not real games. Plus you know how HARD it is to get a game on steam if you go through the normal steam channels? At least this gives everyone a standing chance to get your game on the steam store front. Plus people who should post on Greenlight should be teams that are ready to have people to look at it and vote on it. No reason for someone who just started less then a month with nothing really to show to be posting on there. My team will fork over the $100 when we are READY to. Right now no way I will show the world the game we are making in it current state.