Why the Death of Steam Greenlight is a Step in the Right Direction

So something big happened in the world of video games (especially PC games) this week. Steam has announced that it will be ending the Steam Greenlight program and be replacing it with a flat fee that a developer can pay to submit their game to Steam. 

So why is this a big deal?

The current process of getting your game(s) onto Steam is... terrible. It requires a studio to game the system. They literally get people to like and comment on their submission page on Steam in an attempt to generate enough traffic and momentum on Steam that the game will be selected into the Greenlight program. So you see lots of harmful stuff that studios have to do in order to get over those hurdles. For example, it became a fairly common practice for developers to give away copies of their games in exchange for people voting for their Greenlight projects. Which is a practice Valve has been fighting for at least a two years according to this 2015 Kotaku Article.

So what is this community/vote based system being replaced with? A new method called Steam Direct, which was announced by Valve on the official Steam blog on the 10th of February. Under the new system, studios would be able to submit their games directly to Valve to be placed on Steam. So how do they intend for this process to work?

First a studio would create an account with Steam and verify their identity. Valve says it would be "similar to the process of applying for a bank account." So a studio would:

  • "Complete a set of digital paperwork"
  • submit "personal or company verification"
  • submit "tax documents"

Once this process has been completed and their identity has been established by Valve, the company can pay a recoupable fee* for each new title they want to place on Steam. (* - Recoupable is important language here. It means that whatever the fee ends up being, you will earn that money back via sales. Since these contracts don't exist yet, we don't know the nature of this repayment. It could mean that you get a higher cut of profits from the game, and Valve takes a lower cut (or even no cut) until that fee is paid back to you.)

But what about that fee? This is the thing that is going to make or break Steam Direct. So far there's been no announcement of what the fee will actually be. Valve has stated that they talked to a number of studios about what they felt would be an appropriate fee for the service. Those responses ranged from as low as $100 a game to as high as $5,000 a game. Valve says, "there are pros and cons at either end of the spectrum," and as a result, they are going to gather more information before making a decision about the amount of the fee.

So what are those pros and cons? $100 is barely a hurdle. Especially if you will earn it back fairly quickly through recoupment. It would do little to deter the "flood of crap games" you sometimes see people complain about on Steam. Really the only studios this would hurt are the people who make little games in RPG Maker who likely wouldn't be willing to pay any fees to list their games on Steam.

At the high end, $5,000 a game would likely be prohibitively exclusive. Most Indie studios wouldn't be able to afford the fee. Not without running some sort of crowdfunding campaign to pay the fee. And that would seem to defeat the purpose of eliminating the whole system-gaming Greenlight system, wouldn't it? Plus $5,000 is larger than the budgets a lot of Indie games have to work with, and it would keep these gems from coming to play in the biggest pond around for computer/video games. Which would also be a shame.

I personally think the fee would likely settle between $500-1,000. It's a large enough sum of money that it will make people think twice about pulling the trigger. They will want to have the best possible game they can before launching it. At the same time, it's not so large that people flat won't be able to afford it. It's a fee that can be easily budgeted for that won't come at the expense to the rest of the game's development.

We will definitely keep an eye on Steam Direct and let you know when there's more news to talk about. What do you think about the changes? Do you think they're a step in the right direction? Or completely ignoring a larger problem?

PS) After writing this, I found a new announcement from the crowdfunding site Fig about establishing a fund to help developers pay for fees to get their games to market. Check it out here.

** CHOP'S LCS GAMES OF THE WEEK **

So this week marks the halfway point of the split and we start seeing some mid-season rematches between top tier teams. So instead of 1 match-up, I have 2 to recommend as the top 3 teams battle it out this weekend, some for the first time, some in rematches.

Saturday February 18th @ 6pm EST - Cloud9 vs Team SoloMid - The week 1 rematch between the #1 and #2 teams in the LCS. Cloud9 is sitting on the top of the mountain undefeated right now. Can they survive their rematch with the always dominant TSM?

Sunday February 19th @ 3pm EST - FlyQuest vs Team SoloMid - The battle for #2. These teams are tied for second coming into the weekend. They both look dominant and along with Cloud9 look like top contenders in the playoffs for the first half of the season. There are big questions still in a lot of people's minds of whether FlyQuest will be able to keep up with TSM, and we will have answers to those questions at the end of the weekend.

You can tune in on Twitch (They have 2 channels: NALCS1 & NALCS2) or Riot's eSports YouTube Channel.