A Greenlit Developer’s view on Steam Direct

On Friday, Valve posted on the Steam Blog that Steam Greenlight will finally be replaced by a new system for game developers to submit their games to the digital distribution platform. The new system will be called Steam Direct, where a developer can fill in a set of digital paperwork (such as company, tax and bank information) and pay a fee for each game they submit, with a small verification process to ensure that games will be able to run properly through the platform. With this news bringing heated discussions among game developers and journalists, I figured I’d put all my opinions down on one post to give my side.

While I have Steam Greenlight to thank for giving Gemstone Keeper the chance to be on Steam, I feel that Steam Greenlight has a lot of issues and is an easily cheatable system. It can make a game developer’s efforts a bit demoralising when they work hard on a game, pay the fee and spend time to create a good description and video to be placed on the page, when among the other hard working developers who put as much effort, you are also competing with people who either flip pre-made assets onto the store and could easily rack up votes by offering free Steam keys. Doing things the right way, as I talked to students about at a Staffordshire University conference months earlier, might take a few days if you are lucky, but more likely take weeks, months or (in a few cases) years to get greenlit, if you are greenlit at all.

The idea of having a fee per game, instead of a fee per account, is not new. It’s been suggested even why back when the idea of replacing Greenlight was first mentioned by Valve back in 2013, and I’m one of the group who agreed with the idea. This means that I was initially glad to see Steam finally announcing Steam Direct with this fee approach. It’s also worth mentioning that Steam has said that all games which have been greenlit, but have yet to be released, will not be affected by the transition and that it is possible to get a refund of the Greenlight submission fee if you do not have any Greenlit titles.

That being said, there are some concerns, namely with the vague and limited description of the approval process. While it’s all good to ensure that games released will actually contain an executable required to run the game, the question of quality arises. I’ve heard some ideas that a full vetting process would mean some really creative games would get rejected, which I do find valid since the appearance of a game is subjective, but I’d disagree on the fact that having a game that is quirky or unusual in appearance would still get through as long as it can run smoothly with a good framerate on average hardware and would be difficult to crash or bug out. It’s a concern to bring up, since part of the reason why Steam emassed such a large amount of poor quality games is because they allowed poorly made games to get through.

The other main concern is the size of the fee, to quote the blog post from Alden Knoll:

We talked to several developers and studios about an appropriate fee, and they gave us a range of responses from as low as $100 to as high as $5,000. There are pros and cons at either end of the spectrum, so we’d like to gather more feedback before settling on a number.

While a lot of developers are either worried or accepting of the maximum fee, citing either eliminating low income developers and developers from third world countries, I’m gonna be sounding like the optimist and say I doubt Steam would ever set the fee at $5000, unless they fully accept the risk of alienating a large amount of aspiring developers and reverse the progress of allowing indie development to be more accessible to bigger platforms. However it is because of reasons given like the fact that Valve and Steam are a business, submitting games has its own costs and there is a risk on Valve to allowing several games, especially if it’s unlikely they’ll make any money on the platform, that I do not see $100 being the fee they’ll decide on. Based on the several discussions I’ve read and the majority of developers preferring a lower fee, my best guess is that whatever fee Steam decides, it will not exceed $1000, maybe not even $750 if it would deter anyone who wants to use Steam as a way to make money with little effort.

Some have even suggested that the fee will bring a rise to smaller marketplaces for indie developers, as even Itch.io even joked about. I like seeing more variety, and I’m happy to see platforms like itch.io, GOG, GameJolt Marketplace and the HumbleStore growing their own communities, it would still take a few big named publishers to move to these platforms to topple Steam over.

Finally, I want to give my view to a point made by Jonathan Blow, who made a series of tweets criticising game journalists who write about Steam Direct being a reason for Indie Developers to panick, and not considering views who are on-the-fence or approve of Steam Direct. I don’t entirely agree with his viewpoint, in particular I don’t think it’s correct to think Kotaku/Polygon’s potentially biased reporting on the Steam Direct based on actual sources and “fake news” to be the same. However, considering that it’s only been a weekend and not every bit of infomation on Steam Direct has been finalised, I don’t think it’s good to treat every bit of detail in the Steam Direct announcement as negative, considering this is one of the first positive steps Valve has made in a while regarding Steam in a while.

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