Fed Up With Steam, Devs Unite To Score Extra Greenlight Votes

Fed Up With Steam, Devs Unite To Score Extra Greenlight Votes

Steam Greenlight was originally envisioned as a way for fans to help select which games would make it onto Valve's ridiculously ubiquitous PC gaming storefront. Unfortunately, it's kinda busted sometimes. A group of game creators has decided to take matters into their own hands by gaming the system. Kinda.

Indie GameDev Greenlight is a recently established (and growing) Facebook group dedicated to one thing: developers upvoting each others' games on Steam Greenlight, largely because the system is not kind to smaller developers. Rule number one is: "Vote for others' projects. No questions asked." After that developers can submit their own games to receive the same treatment. Right now the group has over a hundred members.

Some might see it as vote-spamming or taking advantage of the system, but members of the group insist they're doing what needs to be done in order to get by. Many of them have been caught in the cogs of the Greenlight machine for months, with no sign of movement.

Fed Up With Steam, Devs Unite To Score Extra Greenlight Votes

Originally Valve wanted game creators to engage with their fans — people like you and me — in order to achieve success on Greenlight. Developers post information and updates, fans decide if they're, well, fans, and games either climb the ranks or languish in obscurity. Over the years, however, problems with the system have been well-documented, and even Valve says it's going to get rid of it one day. For now, though, it's still around, and many smaller game creators are having trouble putting their games in front of the millions of eyeballs (and other human body parts, usually assembled) that Steam provides.

The Indie GameDev Greenlight group's creator, Isosoftware founder and Palm Kingdoms developer Eugene Ivanov, believes what he's doing is necessary, as evidenced both by the number of developers who've already joined his group and results he's seen on Steam Greenlight himself. The group has yet to push any games through Greenlight — you need way more than 100 people to do that — but every little bit of incremental progress and exposure counts.

Ivanov explained to me via email that getting visibility by way of Greenlight is very difficult since only a small subset of Steam users ever really check it. Moreover, Greenlight's built-in features — the ones that should benefit fans — are surprisingly light. "I subscribed to about 30 projects," Ivanov said, "and was surprised to find out they were greenlit and released. Steam didn't notify me of that, despite my subscription." It's a two-way street with a giant pit in the middle. Getting back to fans is harder than it needs to be unless they actively seek out new information.

Meanwhile self-promotion is a big no-no on some major gaming forums, and gaming publications (Kotaku included) are often bombarded with so many tips that it's easy for some to slip through the cracks. In many ways the system asks too much of smaller developers while not really giving them a clear avenue toward success.

It all goes back to a classic problem, the very reason Valve gave birth to its infernal Greenlight contraption in the first place: there are too many games for any single entity to manage. Nobody's devised an ideal way to handle the fact that so many games are being made these days — not even Valve.

Fed Up With Steam, Devs Unite To Score Extra Greenlight Votes

But is this indie collective a good response? Is it OK for developers to essentially vote-spam one another, to gain an upper hand nobody else has while also potentially de-emphasising the importance of building communities? Shouldn't focus be on getting the attention of fans, not other developers? Ideally, yes, but a) Ivanov isn't technically breaking any of Valve's rules and b) he and many of his fellow game creators already tried getting Steam users to notice for a long time. It didn't work.

"I don't think my Greenlight FB group goes against Steam's rules or policies," he said, backing up what I found when I read through Valve's rules. "I can't force anyone to vote for me, we're just offering a friendly community to showcase your game without getting booed."

"My opinion is Greenlight is extremely difficult for an indie project to pass. For example, our project Palm Kingdoms was very successful on iOS, with over 150,000 fans that we inform about our new releases and updates. However, such audience turned out to be not enough to get greenlit. Our Greenlight page is currently #77, and it took us 260 days to get there (still not greenlit). And that's a very expensive, serious project — in development since 2012. Not all projects are like that, not every developer has a vast fanbase, and most of them can never get on Steam at all."

Game creators often talk of getting "stuck" on Greenlight — having modest success, but not enough to push them into the upper echelon. Ivanov told me that, after consulting with other developers, he found out that it usually takes between 6000 and 10,000 votes to make it onto Steam. But if you get stuck in the middle — find a strong, but not overwhelmingly powerful fanbase and lose the initial boost being on Greenlight's frontpage provides — it's hard to get out. Ivanov's group, then, is an attempt at escaping from that purgatory.

"After our flagship project got stuck on Greenlight, we decided to try something in a different style and genre, and made a minimalistic multiplayer tower-building duel game Dwarf Tower — this time with a 100 per cent working beta for Windows, Mac OS and iOS," said Ivanov. "It was equally well received on Greenlight, and got nearly as many votes, and got stuck the same way: several thousand votes with no Steam distribution on the horizon. In fact, this game is already selling in other stores, but not on Steam."

Will the Indie GameDev Greenlight group be the difference-maker these developers need? At its current size, probably not. But it's only been around for a few days, and it's gained quite a bit of traction. Beyond that, well, here's hoping Valve is close to either improving Greenlight in a big way or finally chucking it altogether in favour of a better system. Because right now, it's causing problems for everybody — players and game creators alike.

I contacted Valve for comment on this story. The company has yet to say anything, but I'll post an update if it does.


    instead of voting up your shitty greenlight games how about we get pricing parity on Steam first.

      you cant really blame these indie devs for that....

      Last edited 29/10/14 12:23 pm

        you also cant excuse for for trying to screw over an already bad system. Scrap Greenlight. stop screwing over the consumers. Big publishers hitting us with horrible prices all and unscrupulous indie 'Devs' force feeding trash into the store are just as bad as each other.

          yeah sure there is a lot of crap but it doesn't mean you have to buy it, seriously "unscrupulous" is what you are gonna use to describe them, like dam, sure there are bad greenlit games out there but there are also awesome ones, doesn't mean these indie devs have a complete lack of moral standards.

          all I can that they are doing here is they are trying to use a system that was originally put in place to help devs get their game out to the public to actually do that and since the system is broken they are doing what they need to do to help make it work for them.

    How long before Valve takes notes of all the developers in that group and chucks them off Steam?

    With every man and his dog seemingly making an indie game, are they really getting pissy about every Steam user not taking the time to go through every single game up for greenlight (currently 148 games)? How will this change anything? Instead of people going through 1-200 games up for greenlighting to find a hidden gem or two now they'll have to sift through thousands of games released on Steam because you and your group artificially got it released without the support of the people who would normally have voted up your game?

      the hardest thing with this is if its only the other devs who are wanting to greenlight them they wont have an customers once it is green lit.

    Meanwhile, people are complaining about a flood of shitty games onto Steam...

    There are a number of things wrong with this approach that I can see:
    1) Colluding with a group to vote spam just means we're going to get more instances of Bad Rats appearing on Steam rather than things people want.
    2) Why not use the group to cross-promote the other games? That way, the players still get to decide if it's worthwhile and you get more eyes on the game.
    3) iOS and other mobile markets are a different platform and a distinctly different target market so it should not be a surprise the numbers don't translate directly across.

    Just a sign that there are too many people releasing the same indie games these days. Everyone thinks they can be the next big gem yet most of them are just rehashing the same games over and over.

    Last edited 29/10/14 10:32 am

    This shits me. Steam is already overflowing daily with a torrent of games the wrong side of mediocre. These jokers are so desperate for the guaranteed Steam pay-day that they're willing to help sabotage the guarantee by overcrowding the system? Will they only be happy once Steam is as bad as the iTunes app store, such that no-one can find anything in the cesspool of shovelware and clones such that they have to rely on brave pearl-divers to curate by taste? It's already on the way there...

    Hey. Devs.
    You are not 'stuck in traffic'. You ARE traffic.

      The problem with this attitude is that it's mostly not greenlight games that are shitting up steam (yes there is some) but it's mostly shovelware trash that steam approved publishers churn out en masse that is the real issue. It's easy to blame to very visible but very few greenlight failures but it's not greenlights fault.

        I'll agree that Steam has somewhat of a problem with crap approved games, but I think it was largely ignorable/manageable before Greenlight.
        Besides, part of the point of Greenlight is to get good smaller projects in the hands of a wider audience. It's failed to do that due to the types of games Transientmind mentions so I've got to ask what's the point? If anything it seems like good smaller project games are harder to find since Greenlight offered anybody with two lines of code to rub together a potential shortcut to big bucks.

        Last edited 29/10/14 10:59 am

          Well. A potential shortcut to big bucks as long as the platform can retain some sense of exclusivity and not drown prospective customers in so much shit that they only buy sure things instead of the curiosity purchases that gave rise to the 'guaranteed Steam payday' shit that's drawn all these flies to it.

          Every indie thinks they have a right to be on the life-raft, even if that means the raft overloads and sinks, drowning everyone. We've already seen plenty of pieces from devs complaining that now that they're finally on Steam, the payday isn't as big as it should be because the impulse curiosity-purchase demographic is being damaged by the impact of indie shitware. OTHER PEOPLES' shitware, of course, not their own special unique snowflake game of underrated brilliance.

          I really don't want the Steam store to turn into the iTunes app store, but with the advent of trying to improve discovery options based on tastes, the clamouring of the unwashed indie masses at the gates, the European publishers dumping their entire 90s and 00s back-catalogues into the pool, and the push to get people listening to self-appointed 'curators' integrated into the system, I have no faith in this not getting much worse before it gets better.

      Looking through the listing of the facebook group I would have to agree with you. Most of the things on offer there are generic low quality games the I would never vote for let alone purchase. A bunch of f2p trash and retro platformers. I'm sure there are interesting games in there amongst the 100 but to say any turd that gets added to the group should be upvoted by everybody is a terrible idea.
      I'm not convinced that there is a major issue with greenlight, all the feedback that seems to come is that the game I think is the best one isn't getting as many votes as i think it should and this game I don't like has been voted more therefore the system is broken.

        ...the feedback that seems to come is that the game I think is the best one isn't getting as many votes as i think it should and this game I don't like has been voted more therefore the system is broken.

        That's what I'm hearing when I hear complaints about Greenlight. Plenty of shit that deserves to (by which I mean, I voted for, put on my 'follow' list, and was happy to see) has got through. A handful I think should be on, aren't.

        That seems a crime, to me, but after a year in the system without success, that's the point I think you should go to a publisher and work out a non-horrible deal for them to arrange distribution.

        I think people forget in their indie-love-fest that publishers historically have actually served some useful functions.

        Developers typically aren't business people. They're normally not marketers, they don't usually have contacts in logistics, advertising, distribution. Established relationships with experience and knowledge in the way these things work. Just like if you don't have plumbing experience, you call a plumber, if you want to broaden your distribution channels, you contact a publisher. You pay the price of having a professional do that part of your work for you. And whether they like it or not, managing profitable distribution channels IS work, and valuable work.

        Publishers are not inherently EVIL just because the rockstar publishers have formed a reputation within the industry for exploitation, greed, robbing IPs and exerting artistically-damaging creative control in favour of sales popularity, thanks to the rights they purchased by way of offering up start-up capital, paying developers a wage while they work on something that isn't earning any money and won't earn any money for several years.

        Get a non-exploitative publisher. There are numerous small ones out there. When you want to build a house, you contact a local builder, you don't sit down at the table with Laing O'fucking'Rourke and complain that their fees are gouging you.

    I think this may be one of the final pushes that prompts Valve to scrap greenlight and think up a new approach. Greenlight isn't doing what it's meant to. It hasn't from day one and it seems like every day it gets further away from it's goal rather than closer. It's actually become so bad that it impacts Steam as a whole. They've made moves to counter it already, but it's still reached the point where it's impacting Steam's ability to sell games. The sheer volume of 'indie' projects begging for change was so overwhelming that even while hidden it continues to bleeds through.

    Yes obviously there is a lot of crappy games on greenlight, but there's also a few good ones and ports llisted that I know I would've voted for if I had seen them. The greenlight section is kinda hidden away and it's just a general mess.

    Sounds like an awfully good way to greenlighting complete crap games. When you are asking people to support something without criteria (i.e. no questions asked) you are allowing a clique mentality to be the defining factor of choice.

    Any bets in how long before factions arise and small subgroups start shitting on other groups/individuals' chances of being greenlit?

      On the bright side, it'd be pretty difficult to sabotage someone's greenlight because the system (very wisely, knowing The Internet) doesn't factor in downvotes. You can only ignore or support.

      I think the only things you could really do to sabotage a greenlight would be DDOS their off-Steam materials, report their Youtube videos, drown out their campaign with something better, or make inflammatory allegations against the developers. (Which could still backfire if the game looks good and people vote for that after being made aware of it.)

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