Gabe Newell on Steam Greenlight: “I don’t think we did a super good job. We have a bunch of work to do.”

Steam Greenlight

To see Gabe Newell propped against the wall of Valve’s Bellevue office, espousing the values of Kickstarter and dismissing publishers as middlemen, you’d think him some kind of fringe industry libertarian – metaphorically holed up in the desert, an Eastwood with a blunderbuss. You wouldn’t think him a man at the very centre of game development, but there he is.

Speaking from his wall, Newell said that “gamers having more control over where money is going in terms of funding projects” would be good for the industry, and that Greenlight had been an attempt to extend that approach to Steam. He also agreed, however, that the system was “still not where we really want to get to”.

Newell was talking to office visitors from 4chan’s /v/ in a long, winding but illuminating chat. One of its many threads began with his opinions on Kickstarter.

“So the Kickstarter thing is great,” he said. “Gamers are funding the money anyhow. If you think of what a publisher’s doing, all they’re doing is holding onto gamers’ money for a little while and attaching a bunch of strings.”

He continued: “You guys should take a seat at a publisher’s meeting. It’s pretty grim. So that’s something I think the whole games industry will benefit from – gamers having more control over where money is going in terms of funding projects. There’ll still be a bunch of projects that fail, but at least they’ll be more interesting failures. You won’t just get the same damn game over and over.

Newell admitted that Greenlight was “trying to do that”, but had a long distance left to travel before it became a true instrument of the people: “I don’t think we did a super good job. We have a bunch of work to do.

“First of all, there’s way too much between a game developer and getting something on Steam. It’s really because we’ve been kind of stupid about the amount of work we have to do – just to process everything applying on Steam is 20 or 30 peoples’ work. We need to make that process much more efficient.

“So Greenlight was more about, ‘Why don’t you guys choose which one we should turn the crank on’, rather than, ‘Let’s just focus on making turning the crank easy, so that anybody can put it up’. Greenlight is better than nothing but still not where we really want to get to.”

Upon Greenlight’s launch, the mob voting service became a reverse Pandora’s box, flooded with all kinds of evils. To sort the mess, Valve introduced a $100 Greenlight submission fee, but that came with its own set of problems.

There’s plenty of good stuff vying to make it through, mind. Check out our Paul’s weekly Spotlight on Greenlight for proof. But are the right games getting thumbed up?