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Revisiting Greenlight

November 5, 2013 Article Start Page 1 of 6 Next

When Steam Greenlight was launched in August 2012, developers had numerous concerns with the platform.

Valve's idea was simple: Since the company was finding it difficult to keep up with the influx of games being submitted for the Steam platform, Valve decided to let its players decide what should come through the gates.

Steam users are now able to look through the Greenlight catalogue, and vote for any games that they think should be available via Steam. If a game receives enough votes, it will rise to the top of the pile, and be accepted by Valve.

There's still other ways you can get onto Steam -- via a publisher; via a prior relationship with Valve; being so notable that Valve comes to you instead of you coming to it -- but for 99 percent of developers, Greenlight is now the only way in.

Since the launch of Greenlight a good 15 months ago, those issues that developers originally had haven't exactly disappeared. While Valve appears to be pushing games through a lot quicker now, the same old problems remain.

Gamasutra talked to a variety of developers -- some with games on Greenlight, others whose games have been through the Greenlight process and are now on Steam -- to get their thoughts on where Greenlight is now.

The following Q&A piece has been split up in such a way that each question will be followed by answers from those developers who are still looking to get Greenlighted, and answers from those who have been Greenlighted immediately afterwards. This is so that it is easier to compare and contrast answers from the two groups of developers.

How long has your game been/was your game on Greenlight? Do you feel like it is/was taking a fair amount of time to push through the system, or has it been tough going to get through?

Developers hoping to be Greenlighted

Ryan Creighton, Untold Entertainment (Spellirium): Spellirium was posted to Greenlight in April 2013, around the time we launched an independent crowdfunding campaign to raise support for the title. I really don't see it as a matter of "pushing Spellirium through the system," because I don't see any hope for the game making it through the system.

There are a great many games currently on Steam which, if they were made to run the Greenlight gauntlet, would likely never be approved. Bookworm Adventures, Spellirium's closest kissing cousin, comes to mind -- and most of the minor entries in the PopCap library like Venice and Big Money! Deluxe wouldn't stand a snowball's chance on Greenlight.

Just as I'd like to see a lot of motorists re-tested to see if they could actually earn their driver's licenses again, I'd love to see certain games pulled off Steam and run through Greenlight to gauge audience response.

It just goes to show that, while it's greatly reduced the workload of the game approval committee at Valve, Greenlight is not exactly a tastemaker when it comes to choosing good titles for the service. If you take a look at the list of greenlit titles, it's clear that 3D games dominate, shooters dominate. If all our films were chosen by committee in the same way, every movie would be an Avengers sequel, and pornographic to boot.

Ian MacLarty (Boson X): Boson X has been on Greenlight since 18 October, so not that long. We've got 4237 yes votes out of 11684 unique visitors with 250 favorites and are "39 percent of the way to the top 100." We reached 3000 yes votes fairly quickly, but now we're only getting around 100 yes votes a day. These stats are fairly meaningless though as Valve don't choose games based solely on their Greenlight rank.

I think our case is somewhat unusual, as we hadn't originally planned to go on Greenlight. The plan was always to use the free PC version to create awareness of the game before the iOS launch. It was only after a Rage Quit video of Boson X generated a large spike in visits to our website that we decided to submit to Greenlight. It just seemed that not submitting would be squandering a good opportunity.

We're adopting a wait-and-see approach to Greenlight. If we get on Steam then awesome, if we don't it's not a big deal -- the iOS version is doing reasonably well and we're preparing to launch the Android version soon. We're not going to expend a huge amount of effort on Greenlight, because there's just too much uncertainty. Of course if we are Greenlit we'll be putting a lot of effort into ensuring the Steam version of Boson X is worth the asking price.

Boson X

Ashton Raze, Owl Cave Games (Richard and Alice): Our game's been on Greenlight since the service launched, back when it didn't even cost money to get on. We're 68 percent of the way there now, which, yeah, is taking a fair while.

A lot of existing players are pretty keen to see it on Steam, but I think to an extent the game's a little bit of a hard sell if you haven't already played it. Most people who have seem to love it though! I'd like to see it on there, because obviously it'd be great to reach more people.

Antonio Iglesias, Kraken Empire (Kromaia): Our game has been on Greenlight for 32 days. It takes a long time -- too long sometimes. Some friends of ours finished their game, a pretty good game, and tried to get through Greenlight to sell on Steam. It took them almost a year to get greenlit with an already finished and interesting game.

That is why we decided to enter Greenlight as soon as we had something interesting to show and play -- it seems better to get on Greenlight some time in advance than on final release.

[Note: The following answers from Colin Walsh were given to Gamasutra just hours before his game Drifter was Greenlit – hence, Walsh's answers are from the perspective of a developer looking to get his game through the Greenlight process.]

Colin Walsh, Celsius Game Studios (Drifter): As of writing this, Drifter has been on Greenlight for 154 days. It feels like it's been quite a lot of time, and compared to getting on to other similar storefronts perhaps it is -- but I realize this is far shorter than many other titles that have been through or are currently still on Greenlight.

Also, since they started approving larger batches of games more frequently it feels like things have sped up a fair bit. So before that point, I'd have said the process definitely felt more difficult than it does currently.

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Kyle Redd
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"More frustrating is that some indie games apparently continue to bypass Greenlight despite Valve's insistence that Greenlight is the only process."

Has anyone ever thought to ask Valve why this is? Who within the company has the power to "pre-approve" indie games to be released on Steam, that would not otherwise qualify?

Maria Jayne
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Are they not made by an indie dev that already has a pre approved game on Steam?

It was my understanding once you have a game greenlit, all your future titles bypass the greenlight process. You just have to get one game voted on and approved, not necessarily that game.

Ryan Creighton
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i have a developer friend whose game recently launched on Steam, despite never going through Greenlight. As with anything career-related, it's all who you know!

i don't fault Valve for it, though. It's not a democracy - it's a storefront. They could choose games by lottery if they wanted to. It's their prerogative.

Kenneth Blaney
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It is not true that once you have a game on Steam all of your others are auto green lit. Pretty famously in New York circles, WadjetEye was forced to go through Greenlight for "Primordia" despite having 7 (I think, maybe more) other games already on Steam.

I suppose they might let you bypass Greenlight, but it is no guarantee.

Caleb Garner
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No, the official word with greenlit games is each new project must start with greenlight..

In Boston, we had a nice pre-Boston Festival of Indie Games party event that Valve sponsored and the message was clear that greenlight is just one of several tools to decide what games get in.

greenlight is just the "main door" for most of us. they are not going to shut out a game they personally believe needs to be on steam. there is no law that prevents backdoor approvals. There are devs who have long term relationships and proven track records.

However Maria, you more accurately could say that once you've had a hit game with them before and build a good relationship with them that your chances of another game getting approved without greenlight are increased.

Mihai Cozma
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I agree, Valve is an independent business and they do their own rules. The author stated there is the case where "they come to you", just as they invited Mojang to publish Minecraft on Steam at some point. If there is a game that attracts a lot of people it is just common sense for them to try and get that game on Steam.

Brendan Drain
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I'm also an indie developer currently on Greenlight and have noticed similar issues. Valve told me that Greenlight was the only way I could go, but a publisher has since offered the chance to bypass it completely if I sign up with them. It feels like I'm being railroaded into accepting a deal with an established publisher when I just want to self-publish.

The game in question is Predestination, a sci-fi 4x game. We've been on Greenlight for about 131 days and it says we're 96% of the way to the top 100. I worry that if Valve is using media coverage as a yard stick for how well a game will sell, they're automatically putting indies and niche games like mine at a huge disadvantage. The major gaming media doesn't talk about us at all; we've had to make it through a successful Kickstarter and almost to the top 100 on just pure organic growth and the occasional article on a niche blog.

Kujel s
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This is just one among many reasons I wont even try to get any of my games released on steam.

Brendan Drain
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There are plenty of other digital distribution methods and platforms out there now, for sure. But the reality is that Steam still holds such a high market share that it's hard to justify not trying to get onto it.

Kujel s
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I justify it with morales, I don't believe in monoplies nor do I believe in deceptive marketing.

TC Weidner
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with games being easier to create and more accessible, and with the big indie push, visibility is a problem that is here to stay. Simply too many people looking to fit into too few seats. Discoverability is going to be a big problem for a long time it looks like. It also doesnt help that we consumers and internet users are a lazy bunch. We act as if it physically exhausting to look beyond a few pages in a search.

Hell on google its like you dont even exist if you arent in the top line or two of search results. Might as well not exist if you are on page 3 or above. Same lazy habits hurt game stores and developers ability to be found.

Alex Nichiporchik
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Hey, hey guys. Can anyone please look at it from a platform's perspective?

Greenlight warrants that a game is good enough, that it will sell well -- dictated by the community. This way Steam (the platform) knows it's worth the effort to allow (probably) inexperienced developers into it. Obviously you'll have a billion questions and issues when you're using something like that for the first time (it's always like that when it comes to APIs, social integration, etc). If everyone was allowed in, this would make it next to impossible for Valve to manage it.

If a publisher offers you to go to Steam, it's the publishers responsibility to make sure you as a developer don't fail, don't get stuck in integration, etc. It's not Valve's responsibility at that point.

/2 cents

Rosstin Murphy
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I agree, that's a very reasonable perspective. Steam looks like a PITA from our perspective as developers who want transparency, but Valve is probably trying to do the best they can to manage their reputation and get good games out there, which is why it's hard to get your first Greenlight but easier to get subsequents and easier if you have a reputation.

Abel Bascunana Pons
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Our game on Greenlight The Dark Triad was at 42% to reach the Top100, but with the batch of games aproved last 29th October, we are now at 96% of the Top100 (about 9k votes). All this with the game running an unsuccessful Kickstarter campaign (we didn't have the money to promote the game properly, so we could not reach a wider audience).

I wonder what would happen if we entered the Top50 on Greenlight. It would be a great irony being near to be approved and not having the money to finish the game (maintaining a team of 6-8 during 3 years is not cheap unluckily).

Ryan Creighton
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Anecdotally, i was recently in a chat room when a developer whose game was recently greenlit admitted that he'd long-since abandoned the project over a year ago, and that his greenlit status has now put him in an awkward position.

Ryan Christensen
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If they truly want to compete with new consoles and mobile they'll drop this silly Greenlight process. It is nice to have above nothing but it provides them with old school gatekeeper thinking. Greenlight at this stage is more friendly to publishers than developers.

Let the market decide, let customers decide what is good. There are many, many games vying for attention, who has the time to support games just to be seen.

Valve really needs to ditch Greenlight and go self-publish, open market. Since the consoles have gone self-publish, Greenlight and Valve's process is looking really ancient from the days of Ivory Tower Approvers even with the community aspect.

I think this quote sums it up nicely, "We're not going to expend a huge amount of effort on Greenlight, because there's just too much uncertainty." Valve is missing a huge opportunity to be bigger and as Gabe put it, bigger economies are better. Why limit the games people can find? Same question was posed to next gen consoles and they came to the present, hopefully Steam will open up for real.

"Economies get better the bigger they are," he said.

Greg Quinn
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My issues with Greenlight...

1.) The Genre Issue
If you're making a Pixel, Survival or Zombie game you're gonna get Greenlit. The less popular genres still have a hard time making it through.

I think one racing game has made it through in Greenlight's history.

Unfortunately for the 10% of people that do love racing games, their vote will never count, because in a democracy the majority always wins.

2.) The Discoverability Issue
Steam needs to make games on Greenlight more discoverable, by showing random 'Greenlight games of the day' on the Steam News Update popup. Otherwise after the initial submission, the games go into oblivion with little traffic and it becomes a popularity contest for developers to get the most exposure for their game.

3.) The Game is Nowhere Near Ready Issue
Another thing I don't agree with is early alpha games that are 2-3 years away from being completed getting the Greenlight when games that are ready to play get the short end of the stick. There should be a playable demo, not some pretty screenshots that get your game on Steam.