Valve has finally closed the shutters on Steam Greenlight and will be replacing it with Steam Direct soon. So what went wrong and will things finally get better now?
What Was The Problem With Greenlight?
Wow, where to start? In theory, Greenlight was a good idea. Give smaller indie developers the chance to get their games on the biggest PC gaming platform. Let the players decide which games they were interested in and which they weren’t by allowing people to vote for their favourites. It sounds great, right?
Well it wasn’t.
The process had a few issues and I’ll be as brief as possible with them here.
People voted for things they thought were funny, not for things that were good
This coined the colloquial term “Steam Memelight”, and games that basically used up all of their comedy in either the name or the title image. They didn’t need full games and a lot of them weren’t even games at all.
Ridiculous achievements made games desirable for completionists
Some people don’t like having games with incomplete challenges. A lot of people like to 100% their game collections. A lot of people like to make sure they complete every badge that’s available. Which made them easy targets for exploitative people to manipulate. Easy achievements to bump up your score? Done.
Shady developers could make their $100 submission fee back via trading cards
To be straight with you, I’m not really sure how this works. To me, trading cards are only valuable for games I actually play. They’re a bonus add. But apparently there was a market for trading cards and if you’re a developer looking to recoup your $100 Greenlight fee, it was apparently easy to do by adding a million easy to collect cards into your game. Quite who was buying them I’ll never know.
The system was easily manipulated by groups offering incentives
The most well-known group was YOLO Army, who would offer group members rewards if they voted for certain games in Greenlight. Jim Sterling did a video about them that you should check out here. People could win free copies of highly desirable games just by voting “yes” on a crappy one. That’s not a bad deal for the individual, but of course it’s awful for a system relying on honesty.
What Would I Have Done Differently?
The main problem was accountability, right? There was no agreement that you’d have to buy a game you voted for. So I’d probably have tried that first. If you wanted to vote “yes” on a game, Steam would take the money and hold it until it got through Greenlight. When it was available, it was automatically purchased and added to their account. If it wasn’t Greenlit, the money was returned. That would make people think twice about voting on everything. The risk would have been less games getting through, but I think that’s actually another good thing.
Will Steam Direct Be Better?
To be honest, it’s too early to tell. The entry fee is the same, so I’m not sure how Valve thinks anything will be better. But they say they’ll be using Curators more heavily (because Valve doesn’t like to do any actual manual work). That’s great for people like me, who keep their Steam Curator page up to date. Steam is apparently going to be offering commission to curators if someone buys a game from their page. Which is fine in theory, until someone like YOLO Army starts their own curator page offering the same shady types of rewards.
So it’s another example of just having to wait and see. Greenlight was a trash fire and I’m glad it’s gone. We just need a system that forces people to take responsibility for their actions. We need something that’s not so easy to exploit. But that’s up to Valve now.