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Greg Lobanov has been creating smaller indie games as a hobby for many years now, with titles such as Assassin Blue, Crazy Over Goo, Dubloon, and Escape From the Underworld his best-known. With Phantasmaburbia, he is looking to make the leap onto Steam -- however, his experience hasn't been so wonderful up to this point.
"Unfortunately, the community has a lot of really distorted expectations, and games like mine have been hurting a lot for it," he says. "It seems like they're expecting triple-A gun porn, and they've been quick to 'downvote' many games that look a little too indie, or, in their words, 'like a Flash game.' My game's not even Flash, but the ratings on my game send a pretty harsh message. It's also frustrating that the comments and private ratings on my game paint a very different picture of the community reaction."
Steam is where all the money is at, he reasons, and without getting on to Steam, he doesn't believe he'll be able to live comfortably off making games. "Greenlight is now the major gateway to get there," he says, but it is "something of a necessary evil for people like me."
"The first day was something of a shock," he tells us. "Greenlight was promoted as a big support system, like a Kickstarter where upvotes replaced cash. The emergence of a downvote button was, then, terrifying -- because pretty quickly it looked like I was making lots of 'negative money'. I panicked and complained, and Valve just removed the ability to view downvotes at all."
While Lobanov is happy that Valve was quick to respond to the criticism, he says that an explanation of the system, rather than simply hiding it away, would have been much better.
"Now I can't actually see one of the major metrics to my game's success, and that's nerve-wracking. I expect things to smooth out, and for the system to get better with time; till then, I'm riding the ship, no matter what."
David Galindo is another indie veteran who is hoping his luck with Steam will change thanks to Greenlight. He's currently looking to get his 2010 beauty The Oil Blue on the service, and his time with Greenlight has definitely given him food for thought.
"Greenlight has been quite an experience to both watch and take part in," he says, "but ultimately what I think of the service depends on what Valve does with all this new information."
"I realize that it's a business move, and not necessarily a community one," he adds. "A small scale, little audience indie gem has no better chance of being on Steam with Greenlight than they did submitting it directly to Valve, perhaps even less so. But then again, who's to say it'll sell like gangbusters if it were placed on Steam?"
Greenlight's success will all come down to how Valve handles the data -- if the publisher picks up both the most popular games and those gems which are highly rated by perhaps not viewed by so many people, then Galindo would count that as the best outcome.
Says Galindo, "But if all this does is send [a list of] the top 20 games a Valve employee has to look at every month for store placement, then it's a complete letdown. I'm very surprised that a few days in, we're still under 700 games submitted; a Valve employee needs to take an afternoon every two weeks or so to comb through them, pull out some great games, and take it from there, instead of waiting for the votes to accumulate. That's what I hope Greenlight turns out to be. It just all depends on Valve's first move."
Difficulties aside, Galindo has found that having a Greenlight page for The Oil Blue has been a real morale booster for him, providing him with great positive feedback from users and raising awareness, no matter how many upvotes he's receiving. In that sense, he's hooked. "I'll definitely continue to put my new games on there," he states.
Greenlight’s future all depends on where it goes from here. "Six months from now, there needs to be a breakout hit from Greenlight,” he says. “There need to be games coming out of the system and onto the store on a regular basis."
However, Galindo has his doubts too. "It's a bit startling to hear that Valve forgot to update the FAQ about not having concept pages on Greenlight, and wanting to move them to a different sub section," he says, referring to the fact that Valve accidentally forgot to address game concepts for Greenlight. "Stuff like that makes me wonder how much Valve is committing to this project."
The dev also hopes that Valve experiments with out-of-the-box ideas for the system. "What about using some of the bigger indie devs on Steam, like Team Meat, and have them pick out one indie game from Greenlight to place on Steam?" he suggests. "Some kind of spotlight every month that takes the votes out of the equation, and puts the trust in some of the respected indie community."
"But like I said, it's all about what will happen when Valve first brings some Greenlight games to Steam. It should be interesting for sure!"
For its part, Valve has already tweaked the service -- including two rounds of changes to downvote functionality -- edited its FAQs, and spoken directly with developers. It had not yet answered Gamasutra's questions on how things are going as of press time, although Gamasutra plans to run the publisher's response later this week.
Given this, it's not yet precisely clear what form the next changes to the service will ultimately take. There's no doubt, however, that these developers feel it's already changed the face of Steam and maybe even the indie development scene. It's clear the service has taken on a life of its own in the meantime.