Greenlight Has Been Broken for a While

Usually I tend to stay away from news that just broke, mostly because it seems so click-baity to write about it and often people are just panicking for no reason until a few days later when things are explained to them again more clearly. But this time, I just had a thought and wanted to tell it to whoever may listen.

News broke that Valve will be shutting down its Steam Greenlight system in favor or a new system called Steam Direct. With Steam Greenlight a developer had to pay an entrance fee of $100 and could then submit as many games as they wanted. From there on, the game was put into a queue with all the other games in the Greenlight system and people could up or down vote them, as well as leave comments. If a game reached the top 100 of the queue, there was a chance of your game being evaluated and Greenlit – the game was ready for release on the Steam platform. Steam Direct removes this voting process, as well as the random factor of getting picked or not. You fill out a form, you pay per game a fee and if everything is in order, you get your game onto Steam. It’s simple and “direct”, and a process one might have expected from the start.


Originally, Greenlight’s intention were really good, but similar to how people tend to find and use exploits in games, they also found and used exploits for Greenlight, until it became the norm and the system was left broken. The voting system for Greenlight is basically a weak form of a scheme used by drug dealers and other shady sellers: “If you can bring me X amount of buyers, you’ll get a shot for free”. The voting system was supposed to be a useful thing for both Valve and the game developers. It was supposed to be a place where you can drive attention towards your game, all the while getting it up the ranks and eventually published. But since Valve is not evilâ„¢ they didn’t force the voters to any commitment, which is where the exploitation began. Game developers soon realized that all you needed for passing Steam Greenlight was to get a lot of people to just press that “Yes” button. It doesn’t matter, whether those people actually like the game or not, they just need to be convinced somehow to press that button and optionally leave a comment.

Besides the issue of getting low-quality games onto Steam, the bigger issue for Valve is, that these boosted games won’t generate enough revenue, because even though a few hundred or thousand people said “Yes, I’d buy this game if it were on Steam”, only a very low percentage actually bought it once released. So Valve is left with your $100 and 30% of a couple of sales, but has to provide a very highly available service, fast connection, lots of bandwidth, update procedures, dealing with complaints, refunds, etc. In the long run, this will not work out for Valve, which is in my opinion why Steam Greenlight has been broken for a while and is now being shelved.

In most conversations I have read surrounding Steam Direct, the main focus has mostly been on the mentioned Dollar values. “$5000 is way too much!”, “$5k will kill small indies!”, “So expensive, I live in a 3rd country!”, you get the idea. While it certainly is true, that games of the concept mentioned above will have a hard time justifying a higher entrance fee, those are the kind of games Valve has little interest in publishing on Steam to begin with. If your game doesn’t sell, your game isn’t generating revenue for Valve to cover their costs. Since the voting system will be removed, game developers aren’t required to provide a pool of potential buyers anymore, as such Valve runs a higher risk of not getting any sales in at release. To counter balance this problem, they have to raise the entrance fee and restrict it to each game. Remember that when Steam Greenlight first came out, there wasn’t even an entrance fee, those $100 were only added after the fact, due to people just submitting anything and everything, as such it acted more like a spam-filter. The new fee, however large or small it will be, will have to pay for the actual services that Steam provides, but again Valve is not evilâ„¢ because they’ll most likely let you recoup that fee, by not taking a cut or a lower percentage cut for the first game sales. So if you are smart as a game developer, you’ll simple write that fee off as an investment, then try and bring enough buyers to the Steam platform and you gain back the invested money.

In conclusion, I find Steam Direct a lot simpler and clearer. You’re no longer at the mercy of people voting for you. Over the years I’ve voted for many Greenlight games and rarely made a purchase afterwards, as such I’m glad that this broken system is being replaced. The discovery phase and additional exposure you could get through Greenlight might take an initial hit, but I’m sure Valve will introduce a different section if it’s really missing.

Let me know what your opinions are on the topic, by either leaving a comment below or tweeting me @DarkCisum.

7 thoughts on “Greenlight Has Been Broken for a While

  1. While I agree with you, I still find that if a small indie, who may have generated enough hype, might be blocked a bit by the cost. I hope that the cost could be based on experience and possibly market value. If you release a game that has generated no hype, nothing, I don’t expect it to sell at all anyway. So the price, whatever it may be, wouldn’t matter because the game just won’t sell anyway.

    But let’s say you’re an indie, first game, you generated a lot of hype on forums, Tweeter, Facebook, etc.. There is clearly a crowd around it. I would consider lowering the fee. Let’s say $1k instead of $5k. Why? Because it might have enough sell potential to cover the cost of the maintenance.

    In the end, of course Valve shouldn’t put the cost at 100$, because the same problem will come back. But they shouldn’t put it too high either. Just high enough for serious people to put the money in. But Not too high so it will not prevent good games to be released.

    1. Any “scalable” system would be useless/unfair, because people would just figure out how to trick Valve into counting their game for the lowest entry fee or the judging of Valve would be set to undefined parameters which will swirl up huge discussions on fairness. Like who’ll be the judge of whether your game has generated “enough” hype or not?
      I could imagine however that there might be different categories, like for AAA studios vs small indie studio vs one-men show, but that’s pure speculation.

      I’m also not denying that some indies might struggle with higher entry fees – not everyone has a thousand plus just lying around. However, for these indies I might bring up the following two points:

      – If all you want is to sell the game on Steam to make a couple of bucks, like 50 copies sold for $5, then Steam probably has less interest in you, than you have in Steam.
      – If you have an awesome game and the skills to have created it, then getting together some money through other sources first, should not be an issue. Do some contract work, do a crowdfunding, ask a friend to help out, etc.

      Ultimately, I’m certain that Valve will find a good balance.

      1. I agree. And thinking again on it, I realized that if you have generated enough hype in some way, maybe you went with some sort of crowdfunding(Kickstarter, etc.). A portion of that money could definitely go to be released on steam.

        I (and probably a lot of people also) tend to forget that the money gotten from such funding is not entirely dedicated to hiring people for the project and making sure it gets released on time. The money can go to marketing, publishing, etc..

        And I am not worry that Valve will find a good balance. And yes, I would not be surprised that if you’re a big studio and want to release a AAA, it will be more expensive than an indie one, or a one-men show.

        1. If you have generated enough hype, why going to Steam in an early phase anyway? There are tons of online services for selling stuff on a transaction fee basis. I bet it’s super easy to get your first $5000 if you have fans already. That’s roughly 500 sold units, should be easy with some hype.

          1. With “early” do you mean like early access or similar? I think for most people it’s just more convenient if you use channels like Steam, i.e. not everyone feels comfortable using some random service to buy an early access game and then manually download and update it.

            But if money is really an issue, there are many options to try and get your fans to help you out (Patreon, merch selling, crowdfunding, etc.).

          2. Mostly because Steam is a well known platform? And providing an early access to your game can be a nice incentive for the future fans?

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