Steam Greenlight Turns Yellow: Slow Down, Pay $100

Steam Greenlight launched late last week and was quickly flooded with a myriad of bogus submissions. The signal to noise ratio was far too low, and wading through the garbage to find the gems was proving to be just as arduous of a task for users as it had been for Valve (which prompted this whole community-driven selection business).

In response, Valve instituted a one-time $100 fee for submitting games to Greenlight. The funds collected (minus taxes) will be donated to Child’s Play. The fee grants your account submission access to Greenlight, so one fee will allow you to post and update any number of games to the service.

This new rule has proven surprisingly divisive. Many like the notion of eliminating spam while supporting charity, while others balk at the idea of a fee or its amount.

The Problem:

Greenlight has an identity problem. It has replaced the old direct-submission webform that Valve used to use, and thus is the only way for new developers to establish a relationship with Valve, short of meeting them in person or being contacted by them. (Yeah, you could leverage other contacts too, but it’s the official way to submit games for consideration on Steam).

So Greenlight is a replacement for the submission form. This sounds great: get users to publicly demonstrate their support for a product in order to gauge its popularity. Developers create a page on Greenlight for their project and then send their fans to it directly. The traffic they can generate is a good sign of the game’s popularity. Valve can monitor the projects with a lot of traffic and skim the cream of the crop. Problem solved.

But then Valve added a project listing and the ability to browse through submitted titles. This put *all* submissions into the public eye. This was never necessary to solve their problem of gauging the popularity of games; developers could have just directly linked to their projects. If there was no directory, then spam entries would be unseen and harmless.

Instead, Valve’s approach, paired with a lacklustre interface, thrust every joke, spam, malicious and simply naive project to the forefront. Every user saw when Half-Life 3 was posted for the fifth time. Discoverability was sabotaged by the huge amount of cruft and the fact that the system made no attempt to hide it.

The $100 Solution:

The quick answer of a $100 fee will likely solve the spam problem. And it probably won’t stop even the most mildly serious of game developers. But it’s still a knee-jerk reaction that a lot of people are opposed to.

To me, the amount is a non-issue. It should be enough to discourage invalid submissions and its low enough that any indie developer can scrounge for it.

What matters is that Greenlight is still evolving and has yet to prove itself. No game has been promoted to Steam proper yet. No game has even earned an audience with Valve. Heck, there’s no guarantee that reaching 100% “calculated positive ratings” will earn you anything.

And thus, you’re paying for… a web page really. A chance at Steam – sort of, maybe. It’s all a bit nebulous, and that’s the frustrating part. The old submission form was free, and that usually garnered an eventual response from a human at Valve. It was unsustainable, but why not just cut out Greenlight altogether and add the fee to the submission form?

Comparisons with the App Store, XBLIG, WP7, etc:

Many people are quick to point out that other App Stores charge a similar amount for no promises. However, in each of those cases developers are given clear guidelines for publication. Yes, there are rules, but if you adhere to them then your projects are accepted for sale on the store. There are no such guarantees with Greenlight. Some might argue further that acceptance on an App Store doesn’t guarantee you will have any sales, but that’s really beside the point (and would apply to Steam anyway). Getting on the store is what’s at stake. Your performance once there is up to you.

What Could Valve Have Done:

Close Greenlight submissions. It’s not even that radical a suggestion – Steam submissions were closed for all of August leading up to Greenlight’s launch. Then take the time to reevaluate whether or not Greenlight should be a “discoverability platform”. If so, look around for how other systems handle spam. Reddit’s “new” queue would be a good way of keeping invalid submissions away from anyone who didn’t want to play moderator. You could even just limit the number of brand new submissions on the front page when a user visits.

The Bottom Line:

The fee solution is probably going to be effective at weeding out spam. It probably won’t stop many legitimate developers (and some indies have even pledged to help out those in need). And all the money goes to a good cause. There’s not *that* much you can really be upset about. And if Valve continues to develop Greenlight as a browsable directory where Steam users can discover new games, then just being on Greenlight has value thanks to the sheer number of users.

I’m a bit annoyed that Valve jumped to this solution. I’m anxious that Greenlight keeps changing and has yet to prove itself. I would have preferred if Valve had solidified how Greenlight worked and proven it out before adding on a fee. But at the end of the day, I’ll be paying it without hesitation.

Say, did you know DLC Quest is on Greenlight right now?

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About Ben Kane
I'm a game developer with a heart of gold.

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