After one day of poking around Steam Greenlight, I feel like I have seen this all before. And then I realise: in a way, Steam's suddenly going all Kickstarter. It's a big new platform that the little guys — and not-so-little-guys — can use to get their project in front of millions. And it's a bit of a mess.
Greenlight is at once a brilliant idea and a nightmare of execution, an enormous haystack in which perhaps, if we are lucky, some needles are hiding. At the moment, Steam informs me there are 579 games awaiting my rating. Yesterday there were somewhere in the order of 260. At this rate, even millions of Steam users won't be able to comb through the Greenlight slush pile with any efficiency.
While anything that exposes more unknown, indie games to a wider audience is a great idea, there are already some flaws in Greenlight's implementation that make it difficult to work with.
- Language. I don't mean bad language, or abusive language. I mean, I can't read the Cyrillic alphabet and these Russian listings are worthless to me. A language filter would be very helpful.
- Fake listings. In half an hour, I reported more listings than I voted for. Battlefield 3, Shootmania Storm, Minecraft and FIFA 13 are not your indie games, submitters. Nice try. Valve is banning fakers as they come up but it's still an imperfect process.
- Insufficient information. There's not much to go on, with most games. A handful of potentially pre-alpha screenshots and a short description rarely say much worth knowing. As a result, it's too easy to judge a book by its cover, as it were. The prettiest games are the ones that can most easily grab my attention.
- That cursed downvote button. Like any popularity contest, a dedicated fan base can rig it. While a horde of fans arriving to upvote a game is perhaps the desired effect, that thumbs down button may prove prone to abuse. The gamer community is not known for being gentle or subtle with its displeasure.
- Playability. Greenlight welcomes games at any stage of the production process, but it would be helpful to be able to filter out finished products from pre-alpha concepts.
- Ranking. It would be helpful to be able to sort games by how many favourable ratings they've received. Maybe there's an excellent project at the top I'd like to pile on to, or one languishing unfairly at the bottom that I'd like to boost.
So while flicking randomly through 20 pages of potential PC games, what can the discerning user find?
Then there are the titles. Escape Goat is the name that made me giggle most, though A Hat In Time also caught my attention, and made me look more closely at their listings. (Though, of course, names can also draw negative attention; Voxel Elephant Murder Simulator struck me for all the wrong reasons.)
Steam Greenlight readily highlights the challenges of curation — it's hard to separate the good from the bad, in an overwhelming world. Some games in the mix look like they could be promising PC indie titles, if they're ever finished. Some are clearly finished or almost-finished works by developers who know what they're doing. Others are clones of popular ideas (Minecraft in particular seems to be inspirational), or straight-up trolling.
Steam has just become like the wide-open mobile market in one key way: unless you already know exactly what you're looking for, it can be quite a challenge to find. Hopefully, the system will see some enhancements soon.