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Gabe Newell's vision for Steam: More choice, more democracy, less Greenlight

Gabe Newell's vision for Steam: More choice, more democracy, less Greenlight

February 6, 2013 | By Frank Cifaldi

Valve's Gabe Newell is an interesting man in an interesting position.

His company's Steam platform has changed the way people consume games on their computers, in many ways democratizing which games consumers choose to play by opening the doors to weirder and more experimental independent developers. And now he's targeting the living room, with Steam's Big Picture Mode and with simple "Steam Box" units that will plug into televisions coming in the very near future.

But one big hurdle is Steam's approval process: as Newell himself admits, Steam is a "dictatorship," and that has to change.

At a candid talk at the University of Texas recently, Newell outlined his vision of where Steam is going: doing away with the approval process, converting Steam into a network API that any developer can call, transferring ownership of its "boring" storefront to its users and, surprisingly, killing off the "Greenlight" crowd-voted approval process introduced just months ago.

We've highlighted some choice quotes below.

Doing away with the approval process

"One of the worst characteristics of the current Steam system is that we've become a bottleneck. There's so much content coming at us that we just don't have enough time to turn the crank on the production process of getting something up on Steam. So whether we want to or not, we're creating artificial shelf space scarcity.

"So the right way to do that is to make Steam essentially a network API that anyone can call. Now, this is separate from issues about viruses and malware. But essentially, it's like, anyone can use Steam as a sort of a distribution and replication mechanism.

"It's the consumers who will draw it through. It's not us making a decision about what should or shouldn't be available. It's just, you want to use this distribution facility? It's there. And customers decide which things actually end up being pulled through. So Steam should stop being a curated process and start becoming a networking API."

User-generated stores

"Another piece of Steam is the store. The store is… I don't know about you, but I think the store is really boring. It's like this super middle-ground marketing thing. Like, oh, here's a list of features in our game.

"The stores instead should become user-generated content. Other companies can take advantage of this as well, but if a user can create his own store -- essentially add an editorial perspective and content on top of the purchase process… then we've created a mechanism where everybody, in the same way we've seen a huge upsurge of user-generated content with hats, we think that there's a lot of aggregate value that can be created by allowing people to create stores.

"A store is just another piece of content that can be created that creates overall value for all of this collectively.

"I'd buy stuff from Yahtzee. I would buy everything from Old Man Murray."

Bye bye, Greenlight?

"Right now we have inside of Steam we have a dictatorship.

"It's probably bad for the Steam community, in the long run, not to move to a different way of thinking about that. In other words, we should stop being a dictator and move towards much more participatory, peer-based methods of sanctioning player behavior.

"Greenlight is a bad example of an election process. We came to the conclusion pretty quickly that we could just do away with Greenlight completely, because it was a bottleneck rather than a way for people to communicate choice."

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