Posted on 13 Feb 2017 by L Coulsen

Steam Direct: Greenlight, Indie Devs and the Future

Since its inception, Steam Greenlight has been much maligned by a significant chunk of the Steam community. Many seeing it as nothing more than a massive floodgate opening to allow all the shittiest shitty shite in the universe to make its way into their Steam libraries. Now, putting aside the fact you, y’know, have to actually buy these games before owning them (mostly) and that the whole purpose of Greenlight was to allow users to have a say on what they think was worth adding to the marketplace…actually, there isn’t much left to say about.

Okay, let’s try and take a look at this as rationally and objectively as we can. No easy feat, because though I consider myself to, generally, be on the less reactionary side of the gaming community. Like many of my brothers and sisters, video games are a lot more than an entertainment art form to me. We are a very passionate bunch, and when you get a lot of passionate people together…well, let’s put it this way. Nobody expects the Spanish Inquisition, you feel?

So what’s the deal with Greenlight? And, more importantly, Steam’s next step of, effectively, turning into the Ebay of digital games. Because that’s more or less what they’re now trying to do. Taking away as many layers as possible, to allow anyone and everyone to turn their passion project, which many games are, into a viable income stream. Because think about this for a moment, no matter what we may all think about the user submission process, that’s what Valve is really trying to do here. Step away from being a platform just for the massive game studios that already have multiple release pathways. They want to allow everyone, literally everyone, the opportunity to breaking into game development and actually make a living from it.

Is that really a bad thing? Fuck yes it is! But is it a good thing? Of course. That’s just the nature of the beast. For every breakout indie gem, you will have your utter shite cash grab. And it seems, the largest issue most people have, is that Valve should be more closely monitoring the quality of the products available on their platform. Which is absolutely correct. However, it’s a very different world than, say, your local supermarket. Because, you see, it’s not actually the supermarket itself that does the quality assurance. That kind of thing is typically handled by the government, the suppliers, independent watchdogs.

The numbers are staggering.

Let’s put this into perspective here. Valve is a massive company, in terms of tech and video games. But they are only one company, pretty much being expected to do this all on their own. And though they may be large, how many employees do they actually have? How many offices? A supermarket, even a relatively small one, can have hundreds of branches and tens, if not hundreds of thousands of employees. With thousands and millions, respectively, for an international company. Valve have, what? A thousand worldwide? So it may be true that they should be checking each and every game. But it just will not happen.

Which is where we come in. See, the comparison to Ebay earlier was not an offhand, flippant and lazy analogy. The soon to be defunct Greenlight, and upcoming Steam Direct services were always intended to be policed by us, for better or ill. Not because Valve are too lazy to do it themselves, but because they simply do not have the manpower to pull it off. But more importantly, precisely because we are so damned passionate about our hobby. Think about it. When something funky is going on, we know about it. That shit spreads like it’s going out of fashion. As it well should.

Perhaps you will argue that it’s a bit of a slap in the face, or that we, the gaming public, are expected to be essentially free labour. And yeah, we are. And yeah, it’s every so tiny a little lot cheeky. But let’s be honest here, we’re going to do that shit anyway. Look at the backlash for No Man’s Sky, or Aliens Colonial Marines (which is still actually kind like by the way). Even though we weren’t, in those instances, being expected to call people to task for the dodgy practices they pulled, we did it anyway. Because we’re all so passionate about gaming.

So, Steam Direct. What’s the deal?

Currently, there’s very little set in stone aside from the fact Valve want us to be in charge. Quite literally, they want us to decide, with our time and income, what and who we think is worth supporting. Which is what we’re already doing anyway. Meanwhile, it will allow people like us, like anyone, to finally take that step from “I want to make a game” straight to “I just published my game”. And dear GODS but we’re going to see some utter tosh. And we’re going to see some true diamonds that might not, otherwise, have ever even existed. Because it’s not just about the game’s being made now.

Plenty to choose from no matter your genre or quality preference.

Imagine if someone does, finally, turn that idea into a game. But it’s a bit naff, because they were doing it in their spare time, didn’t have much experience, lacked the capital to really pull it off. But the work they put into it speaks for itself, and despite the flaws, it’s still playable and even worth your time. And so, say, ten thousand people buy it. And that person, or small group, make, eh, let’s say $10k. Which isn’t nearly as much as it sounds, believe me. But then, they take all that money, and put it back into making another game, with a larger scope, and better assets behind it.

Think back to the old days, which many of you are old enough to remember, despite that old trope that most gamers are loudmouthed teenagers. Think back to the days of the Amiga, Commodore, ZX Spectrum. Another time, in gaming history, when anyone could make a game and see a real possibility of actually making some money out of it. If we hadn’t had such an open system, at the time, would we still have Wing Commander? Or fucking Rockstar! Just think about it.

Those are the exceptions, of course they are. And there are hundreds, thousands, however many-ands, of others that were absolutely abysmal. And got in the way of the worthy efforts. But that’s just one of those things. You take the rough with the smooth, as they say. So again, let’s look at this objectively. Is Steam Direct a bad idea? Undoubtedly. But is it a good idea? Abs-fekkin-loutely.

Those people that were making wank games, those people always did, always are, and always will make them. Because they’re not interested in quality, they just want to con people out of a bit of cash in the short term. But those people who are struggling to find a way to bring attention to their passion project, they’re going to have tens of millions of eager, passionate gamers ready to give them a very pessimistic, very sceptical, but very genuine chance at winning us over. And it’s those people that will come out on top in the long run. Mostly.

Just, please, Valve, Lord Gaben, don’t make the initial fee five grand. Even if it is all a guaranteed return. ‘Cause the people who most need it won’t be able to make that, and the wankers that just want a quick buck typically already have the capital behind them.

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