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The Problem With Greenlight – An IGM Roundtable

The last few weeks have been packed with news about Steam’s new peer-to-peer approval service, Greenlight. Though meant to help indie developers bring their games to a larger market, the service has criticized left and right by consumers and developers alike while Valve have been steadily tuning the outlet to their liking. Everything from changing the text on rating buttons from “Like” to “Would you be interested in this game if it were on Steam” to more major  actions such as censoring certain games for sensitive content has been done at this point, but nothing seems to have struck a cord as much as their most recent change.

Since being announced as a free service accessible to all developers, Greenlight has been met with a flood of submissions. While mostly from legitimate developers, many have come from trolls and civilians submitting the works of others, somewhat diluting the legitimacy of real Greenlight entries. To remedy this, Valve decided to institute a mandatory $100 dollar donation in order to submit ones project; their way of keeping submissions true to Greenlight’s intended purpose.  When word of this mandatory donation reached the public, it was met with mixed commentary from the public as some felt Valve were going back on their promise of a free chance for all indies to make it on to Steam.

The subject especially interested us here at IGM, so we decided to sit down and get our opinions out to the public. We have asked writers from around the office as well as a wide net of developers to present their stance on the Greenlight fee and this is what we’ve come up with.

IGM Staff

Dominic Tarason - Senior Editor

There’s nothing quite like a $100 fee to make people stop, read the rules, and then question whether you’re serious about trying to get this game marketed and on a major storefront. The clever twist here is that Valve aren’t pocketing the money themselves, but rather forwarding it to the Childs Play charity. In theory, time-wasters get filtered out, and some sick kids get happier.

Personally, I’m in favour of it, with some small reservations. The number itself can be argued to hell and back, but it’s not a figure outside any serious commercial developers reach. I poked around for a point of reference, and the price for an indie press table (the smallest you can get, with no additional promotional materials) at the San Diego Comic Con is $500. While there’s some grumbling on Twitter about the chosen figure, it does bring us back to the purpose of Greenlight: It’s a system whereby established indie developers can forward their existing audience to a voting page in order to fast-track them onto Steam, where they have a good chance at making hundreds of thousands of dollars.

If you’re not sure that your game has a market to begin with, and you’re unwilling to put $100 on the line, then there’s nothing stopping you from releasing via Desura, the Humble Store, directly to your audience or via one of a hundred other routes and raise some money that way. Steam is the biggest and most high-profile store, but it’s not always the first and last step. Even indie classics like Aquaria started out selling direct to fans before getting a larger distribution deal.

In the end, the simple fact of the matter is that something had to be done. It’s not unreasonable to say that the majority of submissions to Greenlight were from people who either failed to read the rules to begin with (lots of people putting their favourite non-Steam AAA titles up), or were trying to market games that never would have had a chance to begin with. No shortage of ‘my first game’ projects using FPS Maker or similar drag-and-drop toolkits. Personally, I think this should stop the worst of it. If it manages that, it’ll have done its job.

Alex Wilkinson - News Editor

Valve had to change some policies regarding the Greenlight project as when it originally launched it was far too open to abuse from people submitting ridiculous ”joke” ideas. In small numbers, this can be vaguely funny, however with the continued string of absurd titles being placed on Greenlight, Valve needed to create some barriers to entry. The $100 entry fee is a suitable interim solution as it will stop most people dead in their tracks and so will solve the problems, however this is not a good long term solution. It does slightly alienate a lot of new developers of course $100 is not a great deal but I feel Valve would be remiss if they do not consider better development of the Greenlight project beyond what they have already produced.

Gareth Kay (the developer from Vineland) did sugest to me on this matter that Valve should reduce the fee and instead have a valid website and company name to have to prove authenticity. This i feel is already a better idea that would work for the medium to longer term, although it is anyone’s guess where Valve will end up on the Greenlight project I have every faith it will work out, hell look at Steam when it first came out compared to now!

Jamell Brown - Editor-in-Chief

While I agree wholeheartedly with my colleague’s, I think I’m going to play somewhat the devil’s advocate on the subject. Honestly, the idea of a fee — or mandatory donation — seems like a quick and easy way to incentivize developers to take a more serious look at their product before moving to that outlet. With no barriers to entry, what reason do I have to not throw the Pacman-esque flash game I just created on Greenlight? Worst case scenario, it sits there and I’m no worse off, best case it gets on Steam and I make tons of money! What I think most people are more upset about is how sudden and random the institution of this fee seems.

Valve is a pretty big company with plenty of experience in the digital distribution market. Greenlight is far from the first channel developers have had to go digital, Desura, the Humble Store and others like them have shown that there are tons of indies out there looking to jump into a larger market. As seasoned as Valve is, it seems like they would have observed these markets and known that there would be  a lot of people trying to get onto Steam right away, thus giving them a reason to institute some barrier from the offset to stem the tide entries. By starting off as a free service and then hastily throwing a fee into the mix, Valve virtually promised every Steam hopeful the world before shutting the doors in their faces. Greenlight has gone from an attempt at equal representation to a $100 lottery ticket over night, and in that sense, Valve has somewhat let their community down.

What I would prefer to see is Valve pocketing the money instead of hiding behind this “donation” as a way to try and offset some criticism. If the money could provide incentive for Valve to put more resources behind moderating the content and comments on Greenlight, the overall quality of the service would improve and more people would actively scout the games there, increasing everyone’s chances of getting on to Steam. Whatever Valve decides to do next should be carefully planned and calculated, hastily throwing out solutions is only going to make their audience more irritated.


Sergey Mohov (@krides)

In my opinion, Valve did what was best for Valve in all regards. Greenlight is not a charity system, it’s not meant to help anyone per se, it’s only there because the old Valve’s review process could miss some of the potentially lucrative titles (and god knows it did: Offspring Fling was first rejected, and we all know that story). Now, I personally don’t think that there’s something wrong with this situation: acting in your company’s best interest can hardly be a reason to blame anyone. On the other hand, I think that we, as developers, should also act in our own best interest, or at least that is what I am going to do.

I am not ready to pay $100 for an objectively thin chance of getting published: whether this money goes to a charity, to Valve, Microsoft, Apple, US government or Willy Wonka. I just don’t have $100 to throw away to be a member of this elite club. Fortunately, paying the XBLIG and AppStore fees still means that you get your game(s) published and is likely to stay this way. Clearly, Valve believes Steam to be superior than all the other platforms, and, to be fair, in a way it is. I just don’t believe that it can work miracles. As far as I can see, publishing still doesn’t automagically mean profit, so what you are really buying when you pay the Greenlight fee is a chance to get a chance to sell a game, which is of course not exactly money well spent.

For now, I will stick to this belief and see how Greenlight develops. So far, everything already went wrong in it, and, hopefully, Valve will come up with a somewhat more feasible system to banish trolls from the system rather than building a dollar bill barrier. The good news for me is that I’m not forced to pay for Dédale, since it’s already in the system. As for my next project, I am beginning to think that, for all of its flaws, Windows 8 is a more indie-friendly environment now.

Phil Charlise (@zoombapup)

I think the $100 thing is a red herring. What concerns me more is the quality of the comments on games. Not very mature. Ultimately paying $100 to be hurled abuse at like I just posted a puppy video on Youtube is not my idea of good business.

Craig Stern (@sinisterdesign)

The amount is excessive, and will disproportionately hurt small developers barely scraping by on their sales. Weeding out fake entries is a good idea, but there are other ways of doing it that don’t hurt small indie developers. At the very least, they should make it a deposit that gets returned when a game is found to be a legitimate entry. If they’re really concerned about discoverability, though, they need to fix their interface and implement smart sorting. Charging an arbitrary fee just to be considered is a lazy way of trying to boost discoverability.

Cale Bradbury (@netgrind)

If the game is really good enough for Steam and your completely strapped for cash you could probably find someone to cover it. People need to stop worrying about Steam in the early, still concept games, just build cool shit.

Michael Louisseize (@micleee)

We think it’s great, it insures that all the projects on Greenlight are from actual serious developers. If you can’t put down $100 on your game, you aren’t serious enough about it.

As you can see, there are as many sides to the argument as there are people to argue the point. Since the first wave of games moved from Greenlight to Steam, most people are really beginning to see Greenlight in the more positive light I believe it deserves. What do you think about the matter? We want to hear your thoughts. Drop a comment in the area below, or head to our forums to strike up a real conversation. If you want to check out some of our favourite Greenlight projects, keep an eye out for IGM Limelight every Friday afternoon right here on IGM.

Source: The Indie Game Magazine – The Problem With Greenlight – An IGM Roundtable