The invitation was just for Valve to meet the independent developers who weren’t going to be at Develop, show their faces, mingle a little, and maybe give them a few tips on how to navigate their way through Steam’s opaque application process to actually get their games on Steam. Instead of drinks and a schmooze, Valve’s Anna Sweet presented Greenlight, a brand new, community focused way for indie developers to get their games on Steam. You may have already heard about it.
There’s an FAQ already up on the Greenlight page, but that’s the broad strokes. Below I’ve got my finer brush out.
“We get a lot of submissions, and the team at Valve isn’t that big in terms of reviewing things. We also heard it was a little too ‘Black Box’ and it was too hard to know what we were looking for.” Anna begins. “So we brought in a group of our development partners [independent developers] and asked them what we can do to make the application process better.” It’s at this point that a mockup of Greenlight flies onto the big screen behind her.
It looks a lot like Steam Worksop, just a simple grid of square images, each one a different game, with a rating system of stars underneath it. “Greenlight takes the job of how games get picked on Steam and gives it to the community.” However it’s not going to operate in exactly the same way as the Workshop, as the intention there is to make the best mods and player-created items push to the top, and stay there, where Greenlight is about highlighting the best looking indie games and letting people draw attention to them.
“We don’t want this to be a popularity contest where people only see the top rated games.” She continues. That means that initial grid, the first games you see when you visit the page, will alter depending on which games are getting neglected, what hasn’t been rated yet and what hasn’t got a huge amount of buzz around it.
But as some of the developers I talked to on the night stated, “I’m concerned that this may make it harder for people who make small, personal, interesting games to get on Steam, because what they make may not necessarily appeal to the demographics that Steam is hoping will get interested in this.” The worry is that it will force developers to become marketers rather than just developers.
“If you have a really niche game, then there’s going to be a little more work on your side to rally your community.” That’s Anna again, assuaging the concerns of a vocal independent developer after the presentation. It means Greenlight favours transparency, allowing you to host videos, screenshots, descriptions and update it all as development progresses.
However, this isn’t just going to be some automated system where, once a developer reaches a certain amount of votes, they’re rushed to the Steam store page. “How many votes does it take to get a game on Steam? I have no idea. We don’t know how many people are going to get involved in it. A hundred, or a hundred thousand, it doesn’t really matter. We’re not waiting for you to hit a certain benchmark before we ship your game on Steam.”
It addresses some concerns that Ed Key, developer of Proteus, brought up on the night. “ If 250 people like [a game] in half an hour, does that flag something up, does that spike get their attention, doing basically what they’re doing now, telling them that this is interesting, and this has potential.” Luckily, Anna has some more words on the subject.
“We ship new games on the platform every single day, so we’re going to be constantly looking at Greenlight and seeing that people are excited, and we won’t care that the progress bar isn’t completely filled up before getting that game on Steam.”
Which might lead you to think that this is some hybrid system between the new and old, where the submissions team at Valve are just going to be using Greenlight to highlight and filter the wheat from the chaff, showing up the games that are worthy of attention while letting those that aren’t die down in the hubbub. But that’s not exactly how it works.
“When we reach that point of reaching out to [the developer] and saying “Ok give us a build” we’re really not going to be doing a lot of further filtering at that point. We’re going to make sure it works, but other than that we’re trying to put the choice in the hands of the community, as they’re going to be spending the money.”
With the success of Kickstarter, and the fact that both the Team Fortress, Dota 2 and Skyrim Workshops really do work, at least so far, any cynicism that is bubbling away in my gut is finding a hard time getting all that much purchase. The major worry is that some developers just won’t be good at harnessing a community, no matter how good they are at making games. The hope is that it won’t matter, and sites like PC Games N will be able to highlight the games that need highlighting, doing what the developer can’t.
Either way, it’s a very bold and strong move from Valve, and it’s going to be fascinating to watch it all unfold.