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."