It’s no news that Steam’s Greenlight can be a daunting and often times discouraging process for an indie developer. Obviously, the difficulties my own project, Ring Runner: Flight of the Sages, might face as it struggles up this very competitive ladder are a problem. But they’re not necessarily a problem of the system; they’re in large part due to my brother and I being completely unknown. We have no right to have it easier than anyone who’s already worked hard to establish themselves in the market.
I’d also like to state that this article is not intended to address the inherent problems of crowd-sourcing your review process. Clearly it’s not an ideal system, but board review isn’t without its shortcomings either.
That being said, I believe there is one major problem inherent in the current Greenlight process, which can be resolved in a simple way that’s mutually beneficial for both Valve and struggling indie devs like myself.
Developers have no access to Steamworks prior to being Greenlit.
Why Is It a Problem for Developers?
You can’t develop with all of the benefits of Steamworks in mind. In the event you’re fortunate enough to be Greenlit, you’ll likely have a good deal of work on your hands before your game is ready for distribution on Steam.
Of course, this also means that you can’t pre-sell your game through Steam or even promise Steam compatible versions on fund-raising efforts like Kickstarter.
Why Is It a Problem for Valve?
By not allowing developers to pre-sell their games through Steam unless they’ve already been Greenlit, Valve is losing millions in potential revenue.
Why Doesn’t Valve Just Let Everyone Through?
Opening the floodgates and letting every aspiring developer onto Steam would arguably dilute the power of making it onto the service. Valve is careful to curate their content, which is perhaps one of the main reasons that players flock to Steam.
So then, how can you possibly allow developers access to Steamworks and to pre-sell their games via Steam without some kind of filtration?
Draw a clear line between Greenlight and Steam. It could really be that simple.
The separation would work similarly to the division between Xbox Live Indie Games and Xbox Live Arcade, except that the process of going from one side of the wall to the other would be facilitated for titles that prove themselves through methods similar to what currently exists. Games that find success in the Greenlight market would be pushed onto Steam.
Good for Developers
This would allow developers early access to Steamworks, cutting back on potential development time and letting them better tailor their game to the service’s strengths. It also enables developers to pre-sell their game to Steam users who are legitimately interested in buying and supporting the title, often after hearing about it from an external source.
Good for Valve
Desura, amongst other distribution systems, already provide a streamlined process for developers to handle their pre-release sales. As this segment of the market continues to mature, it’s in both Valve and developers’ best interests to establish a reliable, high-profile medium.
Good for Users
Steam users would be able purchase and play Greenlight games without having to wait and hope they’re Greenlit. They would launch very similar to the way a traditional Steam game would, but could be placed under a separate tab of their game library. In this way, Valve can be clear about which games have not passed through their quality assurance tests and preserve the power of actually publishing a title.
This arrangement could also help mitigate some of the issues that both Steam and developers face when pre-alpha games get pushed onto the actual marketplace. Clarity is essential. Players should know what kind of quality and level of completion they can expect before they potentially sink money into a project.
By drawing a clear distinction between Greenlight and Steam while allowing developers access to Steamworks and giving them a venue through which to pre-sell their games, the value of making it onto Steam is preserved, but the approval process is no longer a hard wall. Through this arrangement, both Valve and independent developers will increase their reach and revenue.