The Future Of Steam Greenlight

The Future Of Steam Greenlight

Steam Greenlight is kind of a mess. It's a system for bringing lesser-known games onto Valve's store that doesn't really help people who play games or make them. Two years ago, Valve said the plan was to kill it and replace it with something less broken. And yet, here it remains. So, what's next?

First, the good news: Steam Greenlight still has an expiration date. Unfortunately, right now it reads, "...someday." The plan is to pull the plug on Greenlight (and hopefully throw it into a dark, mysterious ravine that is said to feed on people's collective hatred for a thing, such that it will never return) and replace it with a system that's entirely user-driven. Theoretically, anyone will be able to put a game on Steam with no pesky gatekeepers standing in their way. Valve business development authority Erik Johnson explained it to me during an interview at GDC:

"[Greenlight] is our first step," he said. "User-generated stores is the goal. We learned the lesson from back in the publisher days that we're bad at picking games. It's hard. If you sat us down in a pitch meeting and told us to pick the next ten big games, we'd almost certainly get it wrong. Everything we're doing now is heading in the direction of being more out of the way, just providing people tools and letting that take care of itself."

And while it doesn't seem like much progress has been made in that transition, Johnson said that Greenlight devs regularly tweak it (in admittedly small ways) to make it shine ever so slightly brighter. Moreover, he noted that important changes are happening elsewhere in order to clear the path to an entirely open Steam storefront. For instance, user-created maps and items in games like DOTA 2 and Team Fortress 2 — which can be sold for real cash, netting some players thousands of dollars per year — offer a glimpse into the future of Steam.

It's an ambitious plan, for sure, but it's tough not to want more, you know, direct progress after two years. I asked Johnson why we're still waiting, and he put it to me like this:

"Our goal is that users can self-publish their products on Steam. The realities of the world intervene on that. It becomes difficult. It's not just something where we're like, 'Now we can do it.' There are technical issues and stupid legal issues and all of that."

The Future Of Steam Greenlight

"You don't get there overnight, but we need to keep pointing in that direction. I think the most recent big Steam update is [indicative of that]. We're trying to ship more games. Greenlight was created at a point where we literally could not ship games fast enough. People were making games too fast. Games that were good just weren't getting shipped. Our customers have every right to be pissed about that. Content needs to get in their hands as quickly and efficiently as possible."

Which is all well and good, but the great Greenlight gameflood of 2013 (and onward) led to a new problem: too many games, some of which are, to put it lightly, crap. Boom quickly went bust. Solving one problem, as is often the case, revealed another. And while Valve has tried to cut down on the chaos — boost the signal, reduce the noise — by implementing systems like Steam reviews, Steam curators, and broadcasts, many users still don't feel like that's enough. Tons of games wash up on Steam's fabled shores every day, and people don't know which ones are worth their time. Johnson admitted that's still a work in progress:

"I don't think that fundamentally customers have problems with a huge range of content on Steam," he said. "Whether that's genre specific or age-appropriate specific or whatever. I don't think users care that there are all these games on Steam. I think the question is, 'Is Steam doing a good job of putting me in contact with things I care about?' We're not there yet. We're not at the point where we're doing that efficiently. We're a long ways off from where we want to be. Complaints are valid, and they're useful data for us. We'll try to fix it."

That, however, brings us to the big problem: Greenlight is still around right now, and it's busted, sparking like a frayed wire plugged into a socket. These aren't small issues, either. As I've discussed previously, it's broken as a system, and it will continue to cause unintended problems until things change in a big way. Once again, Johnson didn't hesitate to agree that the system is in need of major improvements, especially in light of recent incidents involving developers giving away free games for Greenlight votes or signing with publishers to get them through Greenlight faster. But, also again, Johnson didn't give me much of a picture of what an overhauled, pre-open-storefront Steam Greenlight will look like.

"There's definitely drag," he said. "There's totally a drag right now. I've heard from developers [about issues]. The thing that made us really nervous is some developers are signing with publishers that will get them through Greenlight more quickly. That is not how we want content to flow to customers. That's something we take very seriously and we're gonna be very careful about as we get to the other side."

"We need to improve. We need to improve everything all the time. I think Greenlight as it is right now exists as a stopgap between where we were in self-publishing [and where we want to end up]. The guys who are really close to Greenlight are always making changes to make it work as efficiently as it can. The reality is, us continuing to be involved with games before they can ship on Steam is the problem that's worth attacking. Greenlight is one of those transitional things that, when we're on the other side of it, we think things will be really great."

Here's hoping. For now, though, we still don't have a timeframe for The Future's arrival, or even an idea of what it will be like. Valve's working behind-the-scenes, and I'm sure the technical and legal issues they're coming up against are immense, but Greenlight has evolved from temporary solution to problem in its own right. Fingers crossed that Valve is able to combine all the pieces into something much, much better sooner rather than later.


    Greenlight is a problem but I feel it is not the only problem. I feel our ability to search the store is somewhat limited. The search features it has is great to a extent but they are not personal.

    Giving us the option to set up a customised store would be great, the features are almost unlimited. Blocking genres such as Early access, indy, sims... setting price limits, the ability to block developers you no longer trust or like.

    Clicking onto the store and getting a experience tailored to me and knowing it is showing games I might like would be so great. this of course would be optional and something you could do over time to slowly tailor the experience to something you like. Add tabs to steam too for the love of god, I barely use my steam program for buying games because I find it so cumbersome to search through droves of games... with google I go though a list and hit open new tab every time I find a game i like then after a while Ill go through them and check em out one by one.

    Steam is miles ahead of the comp atm but they need to pick up there game, I really feel steam is stuck back in 2005 and is missing some key features that should of been added already.

    Last edited 11/03/15 1:51 pm

    Honestly? I think self-publishing will be a worse system. The problem with Greenlight is there are too many games, and little way to know if they're quality. If everything is user driven, then there'll be even more games with a wider range of quality. I personally liked the old system pre-greenlight.

    Maybe what I'd like to see is something a bit more open, but not directly. Take a leaf from package management on Linux. You have your main store, which is run the way Steam used to be (maybe with more staff to approve more games), but then let people add their own "Stores" on. These stores wouldn't be on everyone's Steam by default, but a game dev can have a "Add Store/Repository" button on their browser that would open the link in Steam, and let you add it. Then when you search, their games are included in the results?

      Based on how I read the article, that looks to be the plan.

      Allow users to make their own stores in the steam complex then they have to go out and advertise the store for it to be found.

      (Then I imagine if a store/product is well-enough received it'll be added to the main steam repository.)

        That has it's own problems of not really giving exposure to indie games beyond people actively looking for them (Which I believe was the main complaint), but it seems there is no easy solution here.

    Greenlight is over two years old?

    Ever since the Greenlight program started and the floodgates cracked open I've been finding myself less and less inclined to keep using Steam. Once the open storefront gets put in place I'll be leaving for greener, (No pun intended) less crowded pastures if I haven't already. I miss the good old days of knowing that if it was on Steam, it was a quality game that was worth playing.

    Last edited 11/03/15 2:51 pm

    I think the biggest issue is the Minecraft model - Let's make a game, ask people to pay for it before its finished and hopefully it will fund us enough and long enough to finish the game. Worked great with Minecraft, not so great with Day Z. I don't think that publishing houses should hold all the keys, but allowing just anyone to make a "game" and charge people for it before its even playable just isn't right. The paid alpha bubble is mid-burst, and while it does sometimes work, it more often then not ends up in a bad place (ie yogscast or molyneux).

    Let people make games and put them in the spotlight - but kickstarters or paid alphas need to go the way of the dinosaur before every indie work in progress gets tarred with the same brush.

      yep - i agree
      i think too many people are doing these early access alphas

      i bought ruse a while ago, it was fun at first but apart from it being obviously far from complete they turned it into a disaster. i dont even know what state the game is in right now - but its not the game i originally bought.
      you cant take peoples money, tell them youre gonna make them a certain game and then somewhere along the track you go 'oh actually, were not really gonna make that game anymore - its gonna be something else, but were not too sure at the moment - not like we care anyway cause you already paid us!'

Join the discussion!

Trending Stories Right Now