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One year of Greenlight: the problems

Yesterday, we looked at developers who had made the leap onto Steam via Greenlight, but few such developers have had such positive experiences. To some, Greenlight feels like a rigged game, something closer to a poorly planned lottery than a service for developers or players.

“It’s real bad,” said Mike Maulbeck of Code Avarice, the team behind Paranautical Activity, when we spoke to them this summer. “It’s broken.”

“Garbage,” his colleague, Travis Pfenning, chipped in. It wasn’t the first time the team were so outspoken. It should be noted that Paranautical Activity has since been greenlit, one of the hundred titles Valve gave the go-ahead to in an enormous anniversary event, even in spite of Code Avarice’s very public critique — a critique that has yet to be completely addressed.

The pair had no hesitation about criticising a process that they saw as “shady,” ambiguous and inconsistent, as they believe it cost them dear. As Travis put it, “It screwed us out of a quarter of a million dollar deal.”

Code Avarice joined many other aspiring indies by placing Paranautical Activity on Steam Greenlight in the hopes of winning enough support to see the game adopted. Then Adult Swim took notice and told the team they could take the game directly to Valve in a big money deal.

Representatives from Adult Swim met with Valve, showed them a portfolio that included Paranautical Activity, but returned with news of a refusal precisely because, Maulbeck says, the game was already vying for a spot via Greenlight: “They said they don’t want to send the message that independent developers can use publishers to get around the system.”

The pair were, to say the least, disappointed. During an appearance on YouTuber green9090’s channel, they spoke at length about how unhappy with the system they were beyond just their rejection (“The service that's supposed to get us onto Steam is the only thing stopping us from getting onto Steam.”). Maulbeck said that this inspired several other indies to join the discussion.

“People complain about it a lot,” Maulbeck explained. “With the whole Paranautical Activity thing, that got really big and a lot of press and now people are looking at Greenlight, they’re seeing all these inconsistencies. They’re like ‘What’s going on here?’” The inconsistencies he describes are an opaqueness in Valve’s statistics, their selection protocols and what seems to be a disregard for the rankings of games. The most voted-for games are not necessarily those that are greenlit.

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The problem with greenlight is that its a popularity contest essentially so that makes it harder for the smaller indie guys to get up there without advertising help from lets say totalhalibut or other youtubers.

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