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Steam Greenlight: What developers need to know
Steam Greenlight: What developers need to know Exclusive
July 12, 2012 | By Leigh Alexander

July 12, 2012 | By Leigh Alexander
More: Console/PC, Programming, Business/Marketing, Exclusive

With the upcoming Steam Greenlight program, Valve wants to give its community a say in what games get published on its platform -- and to ease its own submissions bottleneck. What do developers need to know to make the most of this opportunity?

Gamasutra spoke to Valve's Anna Sweet, who says the idea came directly from Steam Workshop and the community-led content creation that surrounded Team Fortress 2. Through Steam Workshop, fans can create and submit new content, and their feedback decides which creations make it into the game.

"It occurred to us we could use this same system to solve another long-standing problem of ours: Game submissions," she says.

Sweet explains how it'll work for devs: Those with valid and non-limited Steam accounts will be able to fill out a Greenlight submission form, providing information about their games. Developers can use their Greenlight page to display info like trailers, potential system requirements and links to press coverage.

"Once the Greenlight page has been created, developers can continue to update it as frequently as they want to make sure the Steam community has the most up-to-date info on their game," says Sweet.

Games can be submitted as early on in the process as developers would like -- including early concepts. "In the concept phase, games won’t be rated by the community, but it will be a great forum for developers to get feedback on their ideas, and start talking directly to the Steam community to begin building fans around their game," she says.

"Once the game reaches a playable stage, meaning there’s a build that demonstrates game mechanics and at least a single level, then the Steam community will be able to begin rating the game and pushing it towards acceptance on Greenlight," Sweet adds. "We’re expecting our customers are going to teach us a lot about what types of games they want to see on Steam.

Primarily, as Sweet says, Valve aims to "put the control in the hands of the community, because we believe they are going to be better at this than we are. So if we missed something in the past that the community now says is really awesome, then we’re going to do what we can to ship that game."

"Of course, the community is going to be voting for games assuming the finished product matches expectations established in what they can see about the game in Steam Greenlight, so we will be doing a bit of final checking to make sure the game isn’t obviously unfinished or contains offensive material," she adds.

Social media indicates studios like Subatomic and Dejobaan were visiting Valve in order to help them shape this program. Though Sweet wouldn't verify specific partners, she said indeed "a number of indie developer partners" are helping with the design of Greenlight.

"We first pitched the general idea to this group and asked them to shoot holes in it," explains Sweet. "The system that will be launching August 30 is a direct outgrowth of that and other conversations with these partners, and they have been active in providing feedback and suggestions all along the way." She says work on the program will continue after launch in response to how customers and partners use it.

That also includes experimenting with ways to potentially provide some kind of post-launch visibility support for games that reach Steam through Greenlight: "We want to make sure we find ways to keep the community who has supported the game through Steam Greenlight aware of when a game is launched on the Steam platform," she says. "We’re not sure yet, what this will look like – but it’s something we will be experimenting with to find out what customers want."

Communities are often able to mobilize in incredible force -- not always for the most desirable reasons. Valve will need to be prepared for the possibility of those trying to game or otherwise mess the system, and it'll also be a complex and evolving process: "We’re going to have barriers in place to prevent most abuse —- at the most basic level, you need at least need a non-limited Steam account to vote," Sweet notes.

"We’re also going to be tweaking the system over time as we get a better picture of how the community is using Steam Greenlight and what kind of potential abuses surface," she adds.

"That being said, we want to create a system where developers can rally support of their community toward success on Greenlight so we’ll need to find a balance that doesn’t create hurdles for people legitimately trying to participate in the system."

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Dave Ingram
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Greenlight seems very exciting for gamers, but it also introduces exciting possibilities for developers.

While at first glance the greenlight process may seem like a challenging hurdle for developers, those who receive a high level of interest during the greenlighting process can rest assured that their game will succeed in the marketplace. Any developers who struggle through the greenlighting process can pick up valuable lessons for future projects. It's a winning situation for everyone.

Ian Fisch
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There's one important question I have. Will the 'playable build' requirement means that the build needs to be released to the public? In other words, does this system require that games have a demo?

I know a lot of developers don't like making playable demos because they take time away from development, and they can hurt sales if the game requires a significant play time to really 'get' the experience.

For an example of what I'm talking, check out the Journey demo. I think there's a good reason they didn't release a demo until months after the game's release.

Jacob Germany
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While I think a demo that doesn't properly showcase the appeal of a game is likely the fault of the demo designer, not the design, I think the former and more frequent excuse of "It takes too long" is outright backward thinking. A demo isn't a favor to fans, but an appeal to potential consumers. I've heard it many times and never really understood the excuse.

Ian Fisch
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I'm not sure I follow. "It takes too long" is just a fact of life. Money isn't infinite. You can either spend the time/money making a demo or put that time/money into the actual product.

I think it should be the developer's choice, rather than it being a Steam requirement (assuming that's the policy).

Kenneth Blaney
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It would appear that a playable build would generally be available to at least anyone with a non-limited Steam account. That said, I don't think they mean to equate "playable build" with "demo". It seems the expectation is that a "playable build" is an early work in progress to crowd test the engagement of the core mechanics. If they are good mechanics, people will vote for the game.

Where it is like a demo is that the purpose is to get the player to lend support. However, the vote here is a much lesser decision than purchasing a whole game.

Sergio Rosa
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I don't see making a demo such a big problem toat would take a lot of time away from development, because you're not making "demo content" but rather utilizing some content of the game for the demo. For example, taking only one or two of the 5, 10 or 20 levels of your game and release them as a demo. Not a big issue since you need to make those levels for the full game anyway.

Thomas Happ
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Thanks, Leigh. I'm so excited for this to come out. I hope to make a Greenlight page for Axiom Verge as soon as they open it to the public.

Curtis Turner - IceIYIaN
profile image , much?

Trent Tait
profile image much?

Christiaan Moleman
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@Trent: Those are the same sites. Different layout, same database.

But yes, this seems to be to Steam what IndieDB is to Desura, more or less.

Alex Nichiporchik
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Throughout the year we've had multiple submission tries to Steam.

After 2 rejections, we made a poll with 3k signatures and then the review team said that they just don't like the game.

There is indeed a problem, a problem of subjective opinions. Someone doesn't like the game, or the people that made it, it's projected into decision making. If they let the community decide and make the "success" criterias very visible and simple, it will work.

Ian Fisch
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I think Steam has to have some standards. Just look at the crap that's popular on xbox live indie: a bunch of 3rd rate minecraft clones and manga dating simulators.

Jane Castle
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Can you show the game that you sent to Steam for review?

Brian Parnell
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Alex: Got a link to your game?

Bruno Xavier
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I dont see that as something good at all. All they want is to stop ppl from flooding their emails asking to publish crap on Steam. Nothing more than that. IF a game somehow manane to get hyped there then they MAY take a look and maybe think about publishing it.
Steam doesnt publish ppl who need this kind of thing to be published, so I cant see where the excitement is.

stephan maich
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I am curious if they're going to require developers who participate in Greenlight to distribute exclusively through them or not... i'll try it if i don't have to be trapped there!