My thoughts on Steam and Greenlight

I was a little curious about Greenlight when it was announced but for me it wasn’t such a big deal. Just an interesting initiative from a company that has proven to implement well good ideas.

At first I was genuinely astonished by all the fuss it created. Then I was killed by the earthquake in the indie scene that the 100$ entry fee had generated…

Hopefully, I think it just comes from the fact that people misunderstand what is Valve, what is Steam and what Greenlight is for (Valve didn’t helped on that last one, though).

Steam is overrated

PCs (and Macs) are the sole devices where you can actually choose where to sell your game. The developers often rant about the choice they don’t have to sell their title on mobile devices or consoles. Players rant too when they have to use a mandatory service to buy “big” titles on PC (Origin, Uplay…). But it seems that all those developers that choose to be indie in order to be “free” and create a great user experience through their game want to limit themselves to selling their games on Steam only. Valve is a really nice company that doesn’t treat its customers as sheep, but if Steam would be the only portal on PC, I think we would be seriously screwed.

Your own website, Desura, Indievania, IndieCity, GreenManGaming, GamersGate, Impulse… There are many more places to sell your product ! And because everyone want to be on Steam, Valve has to be selective, but that might not be the case with other portals where it might be easier to be on. Take that opportunity now, you can still be on Steam later !

Yes to be on Steam is convenient, because *everyone* who is interested in PC gaming has a Steam account. For that same reason, to be on Steam only is actually not an issue. It is also true that *some* players will not buy your game unless it is on Steam. But I believe that it’s only a minority.

Also and it’s really important : it’s not because you are on Steam (hypothetically) that people will buy or discover your game. Steam has already thousands of games and little search criteria, don’t count on Steam to be discovered. Also, a shitty game on Steam (or any other portals) will not sell, because people want to buy quality games (except maybe if the game is part of a bundle or discounted at -75%…).

If your game is good it will sell everywhere. If it is not good enough it won’t sell, even on Steam. Stop thinking about Steam as “the one true portal” or “the one portal to rule them all”. You can be successful without Steam (Minecraft, anyone ?).

GreenLight is not the Holy Grail of indie gaming


I had the impression that GreenLight was waited by the indie scene like a messiah that would solve everything or that with Greenlight all indie games will now be on Steam.

The biggest problem with Greenlight is that people though that it was something completely different than Valve said it would be. Here I quote Gamasutra at the beginning of July :

As part of the existing Steam Workshop, Steam Greenlight allows developers to submit their game for consideration, and users can then pledge support for the games they like best. Valve will then check out the games that get the most attention, and those that pass Valve’s approval process will then become full-fledged products available on Steam.

Greenlight is just a service that sort games by popularity. Valve uses that service at his advantage by evaluating only the top games to see (all popularity apart) if they are worth to be on Steam. Greenlight not only decrease the number of game Valve review, but it select the ones that may sell the most. That’s what Greenlight was design to be.

In other words, to be on Steam, you need to prove (now more than before Greenlight) that your game will make money because you have many, many, many people ready to buy it. You need to be known already and have a community behind your game to reach the top of Greenlight.

Steam is not a public service and Valve does not owes you anything

Valve and Steam have become so big and ubiquitous for the PC gaming that people forgot what they are : Valve is a private company that seek to make money by selling profitable games on Steam. Steam is a business not a charitable publishing service !

Valve does not owe you a place on Steam just because there are already some indies or because some games are not as good as yours (there a few garbage on Steam and Greenlight is also supposed to address that) or because your game is kind of like something else that is already on Steam.

Stop blaming Valve/Steam/Greenlight for not being what you want them to be !

The 100$ fee and why it’s actually not an issue

Remember that Valve is a company that want to makes money through Steam, and that Greenlight is a popularity contest. How the hell do you want to win at a popularity contest or being profitable enough for Steam if your game is not good enough to make 100 bucks by itself ? There is no point to be on Greenlight if your game is too bad and your community too small to make 100$ from sales or fan’s donations. Problem solved !

What shocked me the most is when people said that the fee was unfair because some devs couldn’t afford it. One hundred dollars is less than 20 hours of work on minimum wages, 20$ borrowed to 5 friends, 20 copies of a 5$ game… This argument is also completely wrong since there is all those other stores around (again : you don’t need to be on Steam).

I completely acknowledge that you can be in a situation where you can’t borrow money at all, or make money from your game yet or don’t have one single spare hundred dollars because it happened to me as well. But in that case, don’t you think that what you can’t afford is to be a full time independent game developer ?

How to reach the top of Grenlight 101

To reach the top of Greenlight, you need a lot of people to push the “Yes” button on your Greenlight page. So you need people to know your game, and makes them want to buy it on Steam. If you don’t have 100$ yet, you must also save that.

The funny part is that the other portals will help you achieve those goals !

If you really want to be on Steam, create your Greenlight page as soon as your have the money and be sure to link to it wherever you can (devlog post, demo…).

To build your audience, IndieDB is a great place to start. On IndieDB, you can post devblogs, videos, screenshots, downloads, infos about your game and yourself. People can easily subscribe to your game and track your progress through the development of your game. They can also post comments, so you can have feedbacks and interact easily with your fans. IndieDB is also nicely integrated with Desura, a great place to sell your game. You can even alpha fund your game directly on Desura !

If your game is ready to be published, don’t wait to sell it everywhere. Did you know that IndieVania doesn’t take share from your sales and that you can also alpha fund your game there ? Did you know that you can do pretty much the same with IndieCity too ? Don’t be afraid by the big boys (GreenManGaming, GamersGate, Impulse…), each store you are on is an opportunity to make money and to build your online presence. If your technology allows to create a web built, you might want to put your demo (if you don’t have a demo yet, create one !) on site like Kongregate or Newsground (you lso get features, community and feedbacks).

People are nice, even if they brought your game from a portal other than Steam, they still would want to help you to be on Steam and upvote your Greenlight page. Also, as long as you don’t already have millions of players, it is still worth (for you and for Valve) to be on Steam. The more player you already have, the more likely you are to be on Steam !

Conclusion

As you can see, you have to be good at two things to succeed : to be a good developer and to be a good marketer. Guess what ? You also had to be good at these before Greenlight ! So nothing has really changed then. There might be more indie games on Steam than in the past but if you don’t get better at gamedev or PR (or more precisely if you are not better than your fellow developers), the odds to be on Steam didn’t really increased.

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