You Shouldn’t Have To Be Middle Class Or Rich To Make Video Games

You Shouldn’t Have To Be Middle Class Or Rich To Make Video Games

Steam Greenlight, the voter-determined submission system created by Valve, isn’t free anymore. The point was to decrease the number of illegitimate submissions, which was neccesary after the insane influx of games that Greenlight saw just days after release. Some weren’t happy with Valve’s decision, given that other methods could have solved the submission problem without requiring such a high fee.

Many developers have sounded off on this in the last few days. The voice that I’ve seen that best encapsulates everything wrong with the $US100 fee has to be from Jonas Kyratzes. Jonas is a developer veteran that’s been making games for the last decade. His most recent creation is The Sea Will Claim Everything, an adventure game with a ton of heart. Over at his blog, he’s posted something that walks us through the problem as he sees it.

At first, the way Greenlight was initially set up didn’t seem right:

My first thought after I filled out the Greenlight submission form for The Sea Will Claim Everything and clicked “publish” was wait, there’s no approval queue? That struck me as very peculiar. This is the internet. Any submissions system is likely to be abused within seconds. It’s entirely normal for blogs to keep comments for moderator approval to make sure they’re legit. Why was Greenlight allowing any submission to go through?

Moderation might’ve helped, but Greenlight didn’t have it. Nor did it make sense to have downvotes, since they didn’t really serve a purpose — isn’t the question “how many people DO want to buy this game?”

But nevermind the voting aspect, just about everything about Greenlight wasn’t set up very well. It was a nightmare to try to find a game, especially when Greenlight would repeat games you’d already looked at, and the sorting options weren’t very good either.

Then came the fee, which seems like the worst way to try to mitigate the problems Greenlight was seeing.

The $US100 fee does not cut out the nonsense (at least judging from our experience with other platforms), but it does exclude many of us indies who come from economic backgrounds that simply do not allow them to spend $US100 on the mere possibility of being judged by a subset of the Steam community that is generally not very friendly to indie games.

$US100 may not seem like much money to some. That’s great, those for who $US100 isn’t a big deal are fortunate. But the sad reality is that the indie game scene spans beyond what most major gaming websites cover. Most indie developers I know are starving artists for who $US100 dollars is a month’s worth of food. And maybe they have a game that could catch the public’s attention, but they don’t have the money to be considered for that chance. Steam can be a curator for content if it wants, and nobody is entitled to its virtual shelf space. But everyone deserves the chance to at least be considered, no?

But in the last few days, some of the responses from people have been highly classist. I’ve watched critics and developers alike on Twitter making it clear that they couldn’t even fathom how it was possible that people couldn’t have the money, or find a way to come up with it. It was common to read something along the lines of “maybe you shouldn’t be making games if you can’t even raise $US100 for the submission fee”.

A disappointingly large number of developers and journalists could not even imagine that some people don’t have this amount of money. I found this genuinely shocking. It’s not that they hadn’t experienced it themselves, but that they could not even conceive of it. That’s a disconnection from reality so fundamental that it is quite frightening. Ever wonder why there aren’t more political games?

This is why. Not only are the majority of developers (those who have a voice, anyway) white heterosexual middle-class males from the US or the UK, but a scary amount of them have absolutely no understanding of the existence of anything outside their own experience and are in fact offended by the very suggestion that anything else exists.

Some of us are poor, Jonas goes on to say. But maybe for most of us, that’s not something we have to see or deal with most of the time. Gaming is not a cheap hobby and it’s a luxury to have the money to participate in it. And when the developers you hear about tend to be the high profile ones, I’m afraid that cognisance or care about the lower class in this space doesn’t exist.

So maybe a game is good enough to sell enough on its own to raise the money. But that money then needs to go to actual living costs. The fact that people can be so snide about this is cause for concern, especially with the current state of the economy.

The crux of this issue, in a way, doesn’t lie with Greenlight — not exactly. It’s with who we allow to be legible within a series of gatekeepers who tend to favour a very specific type of developer. One in the right socio-economic bracket who would be able to afford costs like licences, development kids and submission fees. Some might go as far as to suggest that it also favours those who make specific types of games.

For now, Valve says that Greenlight will continue to evolve. Fantastic. But it’s not just Greenlight that needs to change. So, too, does the attitude surrounding who should be making games. Some people do it for the love, and so yes, they’re going to keep going at it even though they might not make much of any money. So to tell a developer that they might want to reconsider their passion just because they’re not rolling in cash is heartbreaking. They deserve to be here just as much as anyone else, and there’s no shortage of things trying to keep them out.

The One Hundred Dollar Question [Jonas Kyratzes]


  • If you can’t afford a $100 investment that will supposedly kickstart sales for your game, you maybe have bigger problems than developing at the moment.

  • If you can’t afford a $100 investment, then what the hell are you doing developing games for a living? Where did your computer and internet come from? Seriously?

    $100 isn’t ‘rich’. That’s like 6 hours work at a minimum wage job. Or save up centrelink for a few weeks. It’s not that much, and if you really can’t afford it then maybe you should think about getting an actual job instead of working on a hypothetical one that may or may not pan out.

    Dumb article is dumb.

    • what about people in developing countries? who don’t have centrelink, and are using hand-me-down computers from wealthy countries?

      I knew when I was on centrelink benefits I didn’t have $100 to throw around. If I did, I would have starved.

      • But surely you could put $10 away, couldn’t you? In 10 months you’d have $100.

        And seriously, just open the Internet, search around and you’ll find temporary one-weekend jobs. Brick-laying, serving tables at an event, distributing fliers… The main problem with lots of people is that they swallow whole the martyric idea of “starved artist” and believe that soiling their dainty little hands with some mundane hard work to support their artistic endeavours would completely invalidate their artistic integrity.

        If you build a game with your own hands and you love it and you believe it in as an enjoyable product that others may love as well, do go the extra mile for it instead sitting on your arse believing that as a creator you are entitled to immediate legitimacy because “you already worked hard on your creation.”

  • Are you kidding me? Playing the “class warfare” card, Kotaku?

    If your company’s ENTIRE WELFARE hinges on releasing your first commercial game on Steam (i.e. you can’t even make $100 unless it releases on Steam) then you’ve got a seriously poor game-plan. There are other avenues to consider first, e.g. selling through your own website and other digital distribution services, promoting it through gaming and social media. I mean that’s like slaving away for years on a project then making an “all or nothing” bet – oh wait, that’s not “like” doing that, it IS doing that.

    Steam is not the only digital distribution service. It’s the biggest, yes, but do you really need to RELEASE on steam? (Note: Release =/= Publish.) Is the average Steam user going to know that your game is not “fresh out of the oven” if you release it a little later down the track? Are most Steam users going to care?

    Greenlight should be less about concepts, prototypes and alphas and more about games that are beta or gold (i.e. practically or actually complete). I thought that was the point of Greenlight: to give the games that, for one reason or another, missed out (or would miss out) on Steam publishing a fighting chance. It’s unfortunate that Greenlight doesn’t actively discourage woefully incomplete (possibly vaporware) games, but the $100 fee (that goes to a charity, btw) provides an economic disincentive to submitting incomplete (or, in many cases, barely fleshed-out on paper) games.

    Stop making “all or nothing” bets. Promote your game, even sell your game, through means other than Steam, THEN try to get it Greenlighted. What were you going to do if Steam Greenlight didn’t exist?

    • Indeed, as I said in an earlier article, the $100 results in quite a low amount of money per potential viewer than most other websites could offer, where it would be either cheaper, but a far smaller userbase (and less people to potentialy buy later), or a large viewerbase, but far more expensive (at least in proportion to the number of people who see it).

  • Try and get your game known elsewhere before trying to submit to Greenlight (which also charges Once, you can submit as many games as you want)

  • I’m sorry, but a spare $100 is not ‘rolling in cash’. I could have found that much spare money when I was working 3 days a week minimum wage retail. The only argument I can see that would have any weight is people in other countries where exchange rates are not friendly so US$100 might be much more compared to their wage.

  • Some of the responses here are just disgusting. It’s sad and amazing that anyone could read this article and then say something as ignorant as “if you don’t have $100, you shouldn’t be making games”. It’s just baffling and scary that anyone could be so willfully unaware of the world around them.

    I for one would love to see games developed by more people who aren’t white middle class male Westerners, personally. This $100 entry fee just to pitch your idea is as classist as it comes.

    • If you think your game is good enough to thrive in the market then I’m sure you could come up with $100. If you can’t then use your obvious skills to get a job that pays money until you have enough saved to submit it.

      The bigger question is whether you’d want to actually submit your game to Steam Greenlight which sounds like a disaster.

  • Amazing how the commenters in this article fail to realise they are doing exactly what this article is pointing out, even while claiming that this article is ‘dumb.’ Wake up to yourselves people. Can you not see that you’ve JUST typed out the things Patricia is observing?

    Games “companies” aren’t who Greenlight is (was?) for. It was for indie developers who do not have a “company.” They don’t have staff or income. They are regular old people, students perhaps, but definitely not professional game makers. So, get that out of your head, for a start.

    But I guess this might be a difficult argument to make to privileged, classist consumers who haven’t got a creative bone in their body.

    • again, if they can’t afford a spare, one off, $100 fee, are they going to have the resources to make a game to a saleable condition (cheaper game development tools tend to be much more limited in the sorts of games they can create), and not only that, but be of a quality that people will buy it from steam. remember, steam isn’t the only service out there, but it does have a large userbase, so $100 to get your game that much visibility is relatively cheap.

      Heck, I would say for most indie developers, especialy those without much capital behind them to afford development kits, steam is probably the worst choice for their first game release, because there are other websites where not only will they more likely have a larger percentage of users be in the niche they are going for with their game, they may also be able to get tips for future projects.

      • there is a wonderful game development tool called ‘writing code’ in which you can create any fuckin’ game you want, and it costs absolutely nothing.

  • Cultural differences. A guy doing my job in the US earns significantly less p/h than I do in Aus, for a dollar worth the same amount.

  • I would prefer a fee of 40-50 sounds much more reasonable, but you cannot do this for free, otherwise people are just going to fill it up with crap like they did before.

    If you cant afford 100$, how are you developing the games? How are you sleeping, eating and living? your missing the whole point, Video games / indie games are a luxury we rich westerners enjoy. The fee is acceptable, there’s only a tiny handful of disadvantaged people who would actually “genuinely” miss out.

    Because Im sorry but If you cant afford 100$ on a luxury one off purchase then making a video game is the least of your concerns, trying to put food on the table or at least paying bills kind of comes first.

    besides think how many “indie game designers” are on centrelink. They are the vocal minority nobody wants to hear about.

    • Maybe they’re spending that money on living and eating. Maybe they’re ill, and cannot work. Maybe they have access to an old family computer with free software, and THIS is the way that they may earn just a LITTLE bit of extra cash as a buffer.

  • The first thing that needs to be noted is that $100 AUD may be around equal in value to $100 USD, but it’s also easier to earn, so we need to adjust accordingly.

    If you’ve already been spending hours creating your game, you’ve already been spending money making the game. That’s time you could have been working. A $100 investment on top of that isn’t really that much.

    If you want to release a product to the world, you need to make a monetary investment. This isn’t a new thing, nor is it an immoral thing. It’s a realistic thing.

    And if you don’t want to spend $100, don’t forget Kickstarter.

  • This article made me give up on Kotaku. Honestly, if “Any Old Shit” is the minimum standard for your journalism then I’m not waiting around for a decent article. Have a sense of professionalism.

  • This is utter, utter bollocks.

    Jonas Kyratzes, he who is the impoverished artiste, lists his “currently playing” as Skyrim.

    I would agree that perhaps, for some, $100USD is a crapton of money. It can’t possibly be for those that can afford to be Dragonborn.


  • I can certainly understand the realities of being dirt-poor.Until recently, I lived in a small town with practically NO JOBS. I didn’t have much – what I earned at my job was barely (and I DO mean barely) enough to live on, and try as I might there was simply no way to supplement my income. People saying “If you can’t save up $100, you have bigger problems” pisses me off because when I was in that situation, I did have bigger problems. And that bigger problem was not being able to get any other job.
    Now, what if I was the best developer in the world, and had made the best game in the world in my spare time? I know I wouldn’t have been able to afford that $100, unless I saved it up at, like, three dollars per week, because that’s pretty much all I had rattling around in my pocket from week to week. I fed myself on $30 a week for 6 months. So don’t be telling me I wasn’t trying hard enough, or that I didn’t care enough about my hypothetical game to conjure money which simply didn’t exist.
    Now – about the Greenlight submission fee – they can do what they want. If it’s going to help them sort the wheat from the chaff, then they’re entitled to do exactly that. But the sentiments being expressed in these comments really shits me to tears, because the only way I could have made more money back in those days was robbing a service station.

  • I’m curious, how hard is it it to get the money through donations, or am I crazy to assume that a pre-greenlighted game would lack the community for it?

    Maybe we just need another website, ‘Kicklight’, to gather donations.

    In the long term my faith is with VALVe to fix the system if it isn’t working. The $100 payment seems to be just a quick attempt to stem the flow of entries while they get a proper system sorted out. Though in the end I do have to wonder how anyone was expecting to release a game without some kind of promotional cost. It does sound a lot like people were just expecting a free promotion, then kick up a fuss when it dissapears. How much would it cost elsewhere anyway?

  • You guys should stop pretending to fully understand other people’s situations, you can easily afford $100? Congratulations. Jerks.

    • It’s not about being able to afford $100. Many people can’t afford $100, it’s a huge amount of money to some people. It’s about getting the list of people who can’t afford $100, and then getting the list of people who have developed a Steam worthy game, and seeing how much overlap there is. If you can’t afford to save up $100, then it’s also very likely you can’t afford anything non-essential above food and shelter. If that’s the case then either stop making an indie game (on the computer you own) until you can, or at the very least, stop crying into your Ramen noodles about Steam being mean, and put your game on some other free distribution service. Being on Steam isn’t a god-given right, add it to the list of all the other things you can’t afford if you’re poor and get over it.

  • The main issue here is Valve’s chosen method for submission moderation. It is currently a broken form of moderation, one that will presumably be fixed in time.

    Jonas Kyratzes’ article is a fine contribution to the growing collection of views and opinions that find Valve’s methods to be poorly thought out in regards to developer validity and accessibility. Valve wants to know whether the game actually exists and in playable form, developers want an even platform to present their game for consideration, without the need for financial barriers. It would be nice if more commenter’s in this thread had read it before lambasting the message within.

    The sentiment of “If you can’t afford $100, then x” confounds the moderation issue by attempting to discredit anyone who is against it: the sentiment is an unreasonable rationale; equating financial status with systems moderation is an incredibly long bow to draw.
    Further confusing negative sentiment on this issue is the assumption that the $100 submission fee is a guarantee of success, in one form or another. The $100 submission fee is purely for the opportunity to be viewable on Greenlight, it is in no way a guarantee that a game will be accepted to Steam’s catalogue.
    There are currently 787 entries on Greenlight. The population of users who would have viewed every single entry, in detail, and taken the time to make an informed decision on any one game, let alone actually voting for the game, is extremely small relative to the total Steam population.
    When considering word of mouth, the majority of advertisement instances are going to be through niche communities, where little effect will be had. Rare exceptions will occur where one of the 787 entries is promoted on a high visibility medium, but then the population of viewers has to be broken down again to those who will actually vote for the game.
    Point being, maybe a handful of the current 787 entries will progress to the ‘pending’ stage. We don’t know the process from that stage to being accepted, so we can’t speculate on it.

    For the moment Valve has released Greenlight as an incomplete platform, and the vitriol and ignorance that has surfaced from the gaming community because of it is absurd.
    More thought and preparation from both parties in what they present to their audience is in dire need.

  • I would also note that unlike, say, kickstarter, that this is a service exclusively to publish a finished game. You don’t put y ourself in saying ‘This is the game I want to make’, it is ‘I made this game, please sell it’. You do not get to that point of the product development cycle without some means of paying for your imminent publishing; there is no truly free way to do so. In the worst scenario, you probably could actually do a kickstarter with that as your goal; a big point of kickstarter is to fund things like this.

    I don’t see this as about saying ‘If you can’t afford $100 don’t make games!’ but if you have a game made that is going to earn you money, there are ways to get it outside this process. When it comes down to it, wherever you are the fact will be that if your game is going to earn enough to be on Steam earning money, you are likely able to find a way to make that money.

    While the moral argument ‘you shouldn’t have to be X class to participate!’ is compelling, it needs to be balanced with the question of how likely that is, ultimately, to be an issue. I don’t, personally, see that this is going to prevent anyone with the will and ability to make a good game from getting that base capital together. Use kickstarter, or sell some copies on a shareware site, or pitch it to Kotaku people in a oomment thread or forum, or something. There are lots of ways to do this for anyone who, again, has the resources to make a Steam-viable game.

  • Yeah Id have to agree with scrumptatoes, the whole fact that the $100 fee doesnt really guarantee anything is pretty disheartening/useless. It is an entirely absurd process.

    but, the articles title alone is a horrible approach “You Shouldn’t Have To Be Middle Class Or Rich To Make Video Games ”

    It starts off on the right track with the lack of moderation but then blurs into utter shit “durr they took our jobs, stick it to the man, 1% blahblahblah KONY 2012”

    my key point is that Games Development is an upper class job, its not for the poor people, otherwise who would run our garbage collection routes or drive our taxi’s? its a goddamn LUXURY in terms of indie development, It’s not a solid income that puts bread on table, Even if you work for a large company like activision, EA, the financial security isnt there, hell The devs tools and engine licenses themselves are costly, and tools for art assets, Maya, 3ds max and Adobe suite are all very expensive.

    These can all be pirated, and nobody would even care, but what about the internet to download that, doesn’t come for free, neither does test machines, or the development machines themselves. Even indie games have some form of finance now matter how small it would be.

    and then what about education or training (uni, other colleges), either yourself or other employees? That cost money too.

    Its a very expensive process, keyword: Luxury.

    It really isn’t for the financially disadvantaged, time = money, If your spending all this time making a game and not earning money, then either slow down the development pipeline and accomodate for a real income source, or push for funding so you can work uninterrupted.

  • And even then, as a person with a brain it makes a bit of common sense to not just jump on greenlight, it will take a bit to evolve, to shape up and get things sorted.

    This is article is trash about 25% “the lack of moderation is a serious issue this needs to be brought to light”


  • There’s a saying, “You have to spend money to make money.” I think there’s a bit of a perception problem about what Greenlight should be. It’s primary purpose is to gauge consumer demand for various games so Valve can start adding games that may have originally been rejected going by their (Valve’s) opinion alone. It’s market research and you are essentially paying for advertising space on Valve’s marketplace.

    If you’re expecting to come in to Greenlight as a no-name, “This is my first game” developer and suddenly have your game hit all the headlines and number one spots then you are most likely in for a disappointment. There are other sites and forums out there dedicated to discussing and warming up the crowd to your game as a bit of pre-sales work that can be done for free. Greenlight, to me, is where you go after you have ascertained that there is a demand for your game and you now want to secure distribution platforms.

    If you are wise, this would be in your marketing budget (People seem to forget that there will be other costs involved with getting your game out there, it’s not just free development and then a $100 fee). Ideally, if this is your first game and you don’t have a particularly large budget, initially launch your game on a less costly platform first, then, when you have enough (20 sales of a $5 game would get you there) and you know that there is demand for your game, then go for Steam and other bigger platforms.

    Yes, it sounds cruel to say “If you can’t afford $100, maybe you shouldn’t be making games”, but the truth of the matter is that if you are serious about what you are doing, then you need to face up to the fact that it’s not a free lunch. As I mentioned, there are plenty of ways to get your game out there for a relatively low price, but if you balk at spending a little money to get your game out there, then maybe you aren’t really as dedicated to it as you need to be.

  • The problem that most of you people have is that you think everything is america and $100 us is a lot of money in other places and this people may not have the money to do this. The mere possibility that your game may not be chosen by voters is let down for most developers who will not choose steam as platform and we may never see their works because of this. i think that a revision of the uploded games should have been enough, but steam does not want to make any investment, to have more profit. “Capitalism a love story”…

    • I’m not sure why my comment was deemed “inappropriate” and deleted. It was simply sound advice in a very reasonable tone. Promote and sell your game through other (free) avenues (to get revenue for a submission, and fans to help seed upvotes and spread the word), THEN put it on Greenlight. If the US currency makes it prohibitively expensive, then sell your game to US fans for whom it isn’t expensive. What’s inappropriate about that?

      Hopefully this one won’t get deleted:
      I’d like to correct you on a very important point. VALVe does not make money from Greenlight Submissions. All money from submissions goes to Child’s Play, a CHARITY.

  • I can see Valve’s logic, but it was an inelegant solution to the problem. I don’t think it was classist, just logical on their part – slow down the number of submissions and make some money out of it while they were at it. It’s a reasonable enough bet, because if your game IS good enough to get through, even an incredibly poor-sellling title ought to be able to make that $100 back.

    And yes, in some countries, and for some people, $100 US is a lot. But by the same token, the potential return in that case is even greater. Besides, if you’re not confident you’ll get through submission and make that money back, then you probably shouldn’t be going through Greenlight in the first place. Put it on the internet, there are plenty more distribution channels than just Steam.

    • “and make some money out of it while they were at it.”
      Again, the money (after taxes) goes to charity. This should be at the top of the article so people stop making this erroneous assumption.

  • Exactly. I think the entire point of the fee is not just to filter out the nonsense, but to make developers think honestly about whether the game they are developing is ACTUALLY worth other people’s money.

    While its clear Valve underestimated the abuse the system was open to when they launched it, and this may not be an optimal solution by any means, all this outrage reeks of a lot of ‘middle class or rich’ people jumping on a ‘somebody think of the children!!!’-style bandwagon, as opposed to any actual developers being disadvantaged…

    (and is it just me, or has Kotaku become a rapidly increasing source of sensationalist flamebait lately? 🙁 )

Show more comments

Log in to comment on this story!