Steam Greenlight's Replacement Could Pose Problems Of Its Own

Today, Valve announced that they're killing Steam Greenlight, the user-driven service they use to ferry lesser-known games onto the Steam store. Soon, it will be supplanted by Steam Direct, a service that will allow anyone to pay a fee get their game, well, directly onto Steam. No more votes. This approach, however, creates complications of its own.

Admittedly, we're currently in the thick of the knee-jerk forest, but the big focus of the day is the fee. Right now, it's undecided, and Valve said that it could be anything from $US100 ($130) to $US5000 ($6513). Naturally, game developers are worried about the upper end of that spectrum. Greenlight served smaller developers, after all, the sort for whom even that service's mandatory $US100 ($130) fee was sometimes a stretch. Major players with $US5000 ($6513) to spare will ascend Mt Steamlympus regardless, so developers are wondering who such a big fee would serve.

Said Robert Yang, creator of games like dick pic sim Cobra Club, naked man latherer Rinse and Repeat and car sex game Stick Shift, all of which he had trouble getting onto Steam:

Yang also pointed out that a higher fee is even more of a turn-off for creators of cheap and free games. Other developers agreed.

SteamSpy, meanwhile, pointed out that developers from countries other than the US would get absolutely savaged by a $US5000 ($6513) fee.

SteamSpy also questioned the effectiveness of any sort of fee as a barrier against bad games, as did Vlambeer's Rami Ismail.

See, here's the thing: Valve has already shown their hand in regards to quality control, and Steam Direct — despite being a supposed solution to Greenlight's awkward midpoint — feels like another awkward midpoint. While Valve's recent algorithmic improvements are far from perfect, they're clearly doing a better job of helping people find their way through Steam's infinite labyrinth of options. "An example of this is the Steam front page," wrote Valve's Alden Kroll, "where, the improvements of Discovery 2.0 have resulted in showcasing 46 per cent more games to customers via the main product capsule. Refining our discovery algorithms has allowed us to increase visibility for more titles, most notably exposing smaller titles to the right audiences."

Because Steam now makes recommendations based on your previous activities and what friends are playing, and learns your tastes over time, people are buying more games from the front page's top box and the Discovery Queue than ever. The latter is up 27 per cent, according to Valve. That's big. It took for-fucking-ever, and there's still a long road ahead, but Valve's finally pushing Steam to a place where finding cool games you didn't know about isn't as much of a chore.

The question, then, is why Steam still needs a fee at all. If you think Valve's decision to remove Greenlight from the equation signals a return to the days of relentless curation, you're fooling yourself. The floodgates are gonna be open wider than ever, but there's still a barrier to entry, a reef of sorts. Why? If Steam is moving more in the direction of a traditional game/app store, except with fancy algorithms aiding good old-fashioned external marketing in helping people find stuff, what's the point of curating? Steam is already the video game equivalent of a buffet. Even if they never admitted another game, there'd already be Too Much. So who is Valve serving by keeping poor people out?

I confess that, in the past, stricter curation was something I advocated for, but mainly because it seemed like a possible solution to the toxic player-vs-developer culture born of Steam Greenlight. Crappy developers would post slapdash games, and then users would go to war against them, feeling like this was all they could do to keep Steam from rotting from the inside-out, because Valve did, in fact, empower them to be gatekeepers. Many of those users felt like they lacked adequate tools to navigate Steam's sudden nightmare zone game flood, so they did the only thing they thought they could, and displaced a fair deal of frustration onto developers in the process. Some developers fought back. It became a highly abusive relationship that spread to other elements of Steam. No doubt about it: Greenlight needed to go.

Now that Valve is nixing Greenlight and seeing results from their algorithms, though, they have communicated the future direction of Steam. Algorithms will do a lot of heavy lifting. Valve will manually make sure games work, and that's about all. The decision to charge a fee, then, is a curious one. It could block out creators of really good games while also enabling sketchy publishers, some of whom were also born of the Greenlight system, to continue their bloodsucking business models.

The good news is, Valve clearly threw the "$US100 ($130) to $US5000 ($6513)" number out there to gauge what people think. Given the blowback, it's incredibly unlikely that $US5000 ($6513) will be the final figure. I doubt they will cut the fee altogether (Valve likes to test things before tossing them), but here's hoping they settle on something that benefits everyone tangibly, and not just in theory.


    Steam's problem is that there's too much stuff on there - loads of shovelware titles and crap like what Digital Homicide produced. The barrier to entry is way too low, and it got that way because people basically decided that if it wasn't on Steam, the game wasn't worth playing. So with the barrier lowered, now you get your game on Steam but it still doesn't get exposure because it's one of a hundred new titles and nobody sees it. Things become successful because they get signal boosted by Kotaku or other game sites - and in that case you either didn't need Steam, or you would have gotten on Steam anyway.

    Curation is ultimately what the platform needs - but a financial disincentive to keep submitting shovelware is a short term measure that might help. As it is, everyone trying to dogpile on Steam clearly isn't working and it's making it harder to find good games. If indie devs really care about exposure, they'll realise that when an arseload of games appear at the same time, chances are I won't see your game.

      The platform does have curation. Find a curator you trust and use their recommendations to find games. The only difference between Steam now and Steam before is before, if you wanted a game the curator (Steam) didn't care for you couldn't get it. Now if you want a game the curator (your choice) doesn't care for you can still probably find it on the platform.

      The problem has never been how much is on Steam or whether there's shovelware. The problem is how easy it is to find things you actually want. Subscribing to active, trusted curators isn't a panacea but it helps.

        But it's still an awful system, even community curation is a noisy mess at the moment. Same with how community reviews aren't overly helpful, even as a collective whole. We shouldn't be afraid of Valve implementing some sort of quality control. The platform is full of absolute garbage, and being on Steam is no longer the path to greatness it once was. It's ultimately in the platform's best interests to stop admitting everything that turns up.

          We certainly should be concerned about Valve implementing their own quality control. It used to work that way and people hated it because good games were being rejected. The whole reason they introduced Greenlight in the first place was because both we users and they themselves knew that doing their own curation wasn't sustainable.

          User-side curation can certainly stand to be improved and I want to see that too, but going back to the dictatorship days of early Steam isn't the answer. Like I said below, it's far better for a game to be available and give you the choice to ignore it (filters, curators, whatever) than to have the game not available at all.

          Last edited 12/02/17 8:41 am

            Perhaps it's time for Valve to dedicate a team to better curation then, because right now the system is broken and I don't see how trying to rely on community curators will fix it. How many people look away from the front page? How many bother to look through curated lists?

            I think that by increasing the volume of games we're reducing the chance for titles to be discovered. New releases are regularly drowned out by a sea of shovelware shite. It means nothing to get on Steam now - hardly anybody notices unless a news site of big Youtuber happens to like your game.

              Being on Steam was never meant to be a prestige thing, it was just that way initially because of the way Valve handled admissions. I absolutely don't want a single entity curating what does and doesn't go on Steam, whether it's Valve or anyone else. I want all the games available to me so I can choose which ones I'm interested in, not be subject to someone else's decision with no recourse. If Valve curated entries exclusively again it may be enough to drive me to another storefront.

              What matters is how you find games, not how many games are available. The front page is curated, you don't have to click away. You have tools like choosing like-minded curators and the interested/not interested marker to filter what's shown to you, and they work. Here's a list of the games visible on the front page to me right now:

              Main banner: Sniper Elite 4, Scrap Mechanic, Banner Saga 2, Heroes and Generals, Wildlife Park: Wild Creatures, Icey, Call of Duty: Black Ops 3, Rebel Galaxy, Offworld Trading Company, Novus Incepti, Halcyon 6, The Guild 2

              Special offers: Koei Tecmo publisher weekend, Darkest Dungeon, Rebel Galaxy, Attack on Titan, Civilization 6, Batman Telltale, Dynasty Warriors, Elder Scrolls Online

              Trending among friends: Tiger Knight, Conan Exiles, Depth, DOTA2, Rocket League, Battle of Tallarn, Warhammer 40K: Sanctus Reach, Mass Effect

              Discovery queue: Rebel Galaxy, Conan Exiles, The Wild Eight, Attack on Titan, Astroneer, Resident Evil 7, For Honor, Elder Scrolls Online, Transport Fever, H1Z1 King of the Hill (this is the only actually bad game here, as an aside), Youtubers Life, My Summer Car

              From that list of games, the majority are quite good and the rest are new releases. Almost all the games on the list are ranked Mostly Positive or above, only three I think are ranked Mixed. The only games there I'm not really interested in are Call of Duty, Wildlife Park, Novus Incepti, DOTA2 and Battle of Talarn (the latter two were only recommended because some of my friends have been playing it recently).

              This is hardly a list of junk games, and this is the kind of front page quality I always get. Junk titles rarely show up because I've told Steam what I like and what I don't like and it's tailored what it shows me accordingly. Half the main banner games are on there because it knows I like the genre they're in.

              I definitely agree that improvements are needed, but there are tools available to see what you want and find what you want. If people don't use it, that's their choice, but it's not like they're not there.

              Last edited 12/02/17 12:22 pm

    Steam's greatest problem in regards to greenlight, early access and that hillarious failure that was paid mods was always the same: Quality control.
    They adamantly refuse to even try to put together a real quality control team... and they probably never will because that would water down the absolutely ridiculous amount of money they make per employee. Valve makes money like a company with hundreds more employees than it has and unfortunately there's no real reason for them to change that.

      It shouldn't be down to Steam alone to choose what constitutes quality. Aside from it being a commercial conflict of interest, if your tastes don't match theirs then you end up screwed because the games you want aren't on the platform at all. That's why the curator system was introduced, so there can be multiple people making recommendations and you can choose which one matches your tastes.

      It's a lot better for games to be available but you can filter them out than for them to not be available at all.

    The shovelware is real. It is here and there will be more of it!

    I think there needs to be some form of vetting on steam. Greenlight was bad but this will be worse.
    Valves hands off approach is bulldust. The most games on steam came out in 2016, and most of them rubbish. But that's only from the small slice I saw.
    Only now am I finding some true gems that were released last year. But I didn't know they existed.
    Even if you think every game is a beautiful snowflake. Millions of snowflakes only make a blizzard.

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