Two of Australia’s leading independent developers have raised concerns over Valve’s recently announced Steam Greenlight program. Due to launch in August, Greenlight will allow the Steam community to play a role in identifying titles for publication on the service via a voting system. Developers will be encouraged to promote their games directly to the user base by posting trailers and screenshots, blogging about the production process and responding to questions from potential supporters. The more popular the game, the more likely it is to be selected for publication on Steam. The Black Panel spoke to two local studios with recent Steam experience and neither seems entirely comfortable with the concept.
Speaking on behalf of Hitbox Team, Dustforce developer Terence Lee suggested that Greenlight could see self promoters rewarded at the expense of dedicated creators. “A talented developer who devotes 100% of their time and money to making the best possible game (and actually delivers that standard of quality), has traditionally been able to get onto Steam,” Lee said. “If we now give priority to developers who spend more of their time and money telling people about their game than making it, then we can expect a decline in the overall quality of the Steam ecosystem, which hurts all developers.”
Lee also had serious reservations about placing too much control in the hands of the audience. “Game developers should make design decisions based on what they want, not on what the public wants.”
Having released MacGuffin’s Curse on the service earlier this year, Brawsome’s Andrew Goulding was concerned about the resource implications for smaller developers. “It could be more expensive and labour intensive to get a game on Steam than it was in the past,” he said. “Before you’d have to send a bunch of emails and possibly go visit Valve at their booth at a tradeshow and build up a relationship with one person. Of course I know that’s difficult, but this process could be even more difficult, with no greater guarantee of success than before. Now you’ve got to start a serious marketing effort for the game at large before it gets to the platform.”
Could Greenlight have a homogenising effect on the Steam software line-up? The notion had certainly occurred to Goulding, who didn’t want to see daring low budget creators squeezed out by “better funded or well known developers with potentially more mainstream ideas.”
One of Valve’s stated goals for Greenlight was to increase “increase the volume and quality” of games on Steam. While Lee was certainly on board with the latter aim, he was much more apprehensive about the former. “We don’t need more games, we need better ones,” he said. “As long as Steam Greenlight is used just as a supplement to the decision making process, it could be a good way for Valve to prioritise their queue. But if the process is entirely democratised, then it could be a setback for a creative medium already too tightly integrated with its business.”
While neither creator was prepared to condemn the program (“I can’t knock it till I’ve tried it,” Goulding said), it was clear that both remained sceptical. The announcement of Greenlight has already attracted its share of praise, but it’s evident that Valve hasn’t yet convinced all of its stakeholders that the service will enrich the Steam catalogue.