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Valve: Steam Greenlight is the solution to 'an intractable problem'

Valve: Steam Greenlight is the solution to 'an intractable problem'

July 10, 2012 | By Mike Rose

July 10, 2012 | By Mike Rose
More: Console/PC, Indie, Business/Marketing

"We had this huge business problem," admitted Jason Holtman, Valve's director of business development as part of a keynote lecture at the Develop conference in Brighton. "How do we go through the thousands of indie games submitted?"

The answer was Steam Greenlight, the new initiative announced by the Steam behemoth earlier this week that is looking to streamline the submissions process for indie developers hoping to get their games on Steam.

As part of the existing Steam Workshop, Steam Greenlight allows developers to submit their game for consideration, and users can then pledge support for the games they like best. Valve will then check out the games that get the most attention, and those that pass Valve's approval process will then become full-fledged products available on Steam.

Trying to work out which indie games are suitable for publishing on Steam is "an intractable problem," he admitted, adding that "there's no way to tell what's awesome and what will succeed."

With Valve's current method for finding and encouraging indie game development, Holtman says that it's incredibly difficult to work out what is worth pursuing. Even if the company has spotted Minecraft earlier on, how could they possibly have known how popular it would become?

With Greenlight, Valve is looking to put its past experience with its community to work in a new area -- the experience it gathered from its Team Fortress 2 marketing and involving the community with each new update.

It was when asking the question "how do we make TF2 updates interesting?" that Valve realized bringing the community in and making the updates feel exciting and personal was the key to really grabbing consumer attention, far more than any regular advertising and PR could.

"We realized it wasn't a multiplayer game -- it was a hat manufacturing game," he joked, referring to the influx of virtual items that have invaded the game, especially since it went free-to-play last year.

Holtman explained that, even though there are only 6-8 people working on Team Fortress 2 at any one time, by getting the community involved it could exponentially expand the amount of buzz the game was receiving.

With the Soldier vs Demoman update, for example, the company asked players to compete as their favorite of the two characters in order to win the next update of their preference.

Every inch of marketing, from the official blog posts to the banners and graphics, was put together by the TF2 team rather than a marketing team -- as is every update for the game. By personalizing every part of the update push, it really struck a chord with gamers, said Holtman, and made for a far more exciting update than your bog-standard PR spin.

"If this had been written by the marketing team, it would have sucked," added Holtman.

The other side to this approach is that "the community is better at knowing what should be next for the game," he continued -- hence the introduction of the Steam Workshop, which allows players to create their own content.

With all this in mind, Valve is going into Greenlight with the ideals that encouraging development and involving the community are the best ways for the company to understand what indie titles are actually desired.

"We wouldn't find and ship the right things" without this approach, admitted Holtman. Greenlight will encourage virtuous development cycle, he adds, and help Valve to prioritize game releases.

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