The introduction of a $US100 fee (or donation, considering the proceeds go to Child’s Play) for developers to get themselves onto Steam Greenlight gave rise to two arguments. One side believes that games development is a business and if one can afford to create games, you should have the funds to spend on marketing. The other argument posits that $US100 is a lot of money and low-profile indie developers shouldn’t have to pony this up for the mere chance to make it onto Steam.
Yesterday, in the her article You Shouldn’t Have To Be Rich Or Middle Class To Make Video Games, Patricia Hernandez claimed that “most indie developers I know are starving artists for who $US100 dollars is a month’s worth of food”. She felt many of the responses online to the fee were “highly classist”; apparently, people either couldn’t understand why $US100 was a lot of money, or, why an indie developer looking to get on Steam and, therefore, sell a product, couldn’t find $US100 in their budget to put towards getting on arguably the largest digital distribution system for games.
While I understood the point the article was trying to make, I don’t think it considered that Steam Greenlight isn’t Kickstarter. Getting on Steam means getting your game in front of a massive audience so they can buy it, not fund it. My impression of Greenlight is that it’s for developers who are serious about development and working towards making it a career. This is a very different situation to the hobbyist developer after a bit of publicity.
After reading Hernandez’s piece, I went looking for opinions on Greenlight from the bigger indie developers and I came across an artice on Ars Technica. The outlet approached a number of devs to get their opinion on the gating fee. A fair point made in the Ars story is that the fee is similar to Apple and Microsoft’s $US99 payments to develop for their respective proprietary platforms — and that’s not factoring in the cost of getting iPads, iPhones and other test devices, at least in the case of Apple.
Here’s what Robert Boyd of Zeboyd Games had to say:
“$100 might not seem like a lot to someone in the US, but in some countries that could be a substantial amount of money for an indie developer … I think a smaller fee would probably be a good idea… say a $US30 fee to start an account would be enough to keep most of the non-game garbage off the service while being less of a drain on actual developers.”
Boyd goes on to say that developer serious about being legitimate would “find a way” to pay the fee. Ars also talked with Jonathan Blow, best known for Braid:
“If someone is able to do that much work [making a game], it’s hard for me to think they can’t come up with $US100. Maybe you can think of some extreme case of someone in the developing world who is using a computer they got for free or something, but I think if you show someone like a publisher, Indie Fund, or a site like Kickstarter a strong game, it is pretty easy to get $US100.”
The consensus is that while these devs sympathise with less successful indies trying to make a name for themselves, if you’re working to make your livelihood out of games development, then you’ll do whatever needs to be done to break into the market… and that sometimes involves paying for things.
Personally, as a developer looking to get to be on Greenlight (once the Classification Board sorts itself out) — one that approached it as a business and not a hobby — I couldn’t care less about the $US100 fee. What bugs me is how shambolic Greenlight is, especially considering the people behind it.
Sure, Valve would have been lucky to get it perfect on day one, but making as sweeping a change as a pay-for gating mechanism so soon after its introduction does not inspire confidence.
On the other hand, in terms of reducing the current signal-to-noise ratio on Greenlight, the solution is immediate, effective and simple to implement. Perhaps Value will introduce other, free ways to get onto the service, now that it’s bought itself some time to consider such options.