Gamasutra: The Art & Business of Making Gamesspacer
View All     RSS
October 24, 2014
arrowPress Releases
October 24, 2014
PR Newswire
View All
View All     Submit Event

If you enjoy reading this site, you might also want to check out these UBM Tech sites:

Greenlight Forever
by Petrucio Stange on 05/04/14 07:31:00 am   Featured Blogs

The following blog post, unless otherwise noted, was written by a member of Gamasutra’s community.
The thoughts and opinions expressed are those of the writer and not Gamasutra or its parent company.


An in-depth look at the Greenlight process, from the perspective of a project that has been there since day one, had a successful Kickstarter since then, currently has almost a 90% approval rating, but hasn't yet been Greenlit.

Since the beginning

Valve's Greenlight program has been a constant presence on the life of our project. Full-time development began two weeks before the release of Greenlight - I already had a working prototype of the game, and used those two weeks to make it look better and make it presentable and more easily understood to put it up on Greenlight.

According to statements from Valve before the launch of Greenlight, developers could post projects in early stages of development, "giving them a chance to raise awareness and generate excitement". It seemed like a good idea at the time - use our Greenlight page as a hub for all things related to the project - posting announcements as some sort of dev blog, using it as a forum, and getting important feedback to improve the project. And putting it up on the first day might mean that we got less competition for views, and/or that getting votes early on might mean even more views as it grew.

We got around 25% of 'yes' votes on that first month - I considered that to be an ok number for such an early build, since the question is 'would you buy this thing if it were for sale', and not a simple 'like' button. Most of the feedback was positive and there was a surprisingly complete lack of trolls. At the end, it still seemed like a good idea to have put it up early, even if it would take several months to get into the Top 100, we were racking up votes little by little. Boy would that prove to be completely wrong later, as we shall see.

Valve's initial queuing system

All credit to Valve, the system is a lot more fair when it comes to giving every project a fair share of views than I expected - and also that most developers and users give it credit for. It seems to me that the system tries to ensure X thousand views for every project will get inserted into users queues in the project's first weeks, which ensures all projects get their fair share of views regardless of how popular they are. Which is a pretty good thing indeed in my book. But I might be wrong on how that works.

After those guaranteed views, your project is mostly left to it's own devices, and views after the first months drop sharply. At the end of the first months, we were still getting about 100 views per day, but after a couple more months, it fell to below 10 per day. Which still didn't look that scary - after we got some proper cool trailer and pushed for Greenlight visibility from the outside, things should pickup again, right? Maybe so, were it not for The Dreaded Browser Barrier.

The Dreaded Browser Barrier

There are three ways a Greenlight entry can get views: through the 'Most Recent' button, through the 'Your Queue' button, or through a direct link.

  • The 'Your Queue' method is the best one, as it will net a very large percentage of a entry views and votes.
  • The 'Most Recent' method also brings in a lot of traffic, but you have to fight harder with other projects for a click, with a good attention-grabbing thumbnail. And by the way, due to a basic fact of human evolution, animated thumbnails will grab a lot more attention than great looking logos - in my humble opinion they should not be an option.
  • The third method is to be directed to the project's entry by a direct link. And other than some trickling views coming in from queues, that's your main weapon to get votes after the first months.

The problem with getting views through direct links is that it has too much attrition, and there are way too many ways to lose that vote before it gets cast. First you have to get your project in front of people eyes somehow, be it email, social media, videos, or press. But these people aren't actively looking for stuff to vote like the ones that get in via the other methods, they are just reading - a huge portion of them won't bother to click the link. Of those that click, they will get directed to the project's page inside the browser, not inside Steam. Many people leave Steam running in the background all the time, but they might not be logged in their browsers, so even if they get interested, they might not go through the trouble of logging in to vote. Even when they do click to login, you better hope this is not their first access from this system/browser, or they'd have to go get the access code in their email, which is a sure fire way to risk losing yet another vote.

As proof that this is not all just hyperbole and a way to try to justify poor performance, here's the views and votes graph for the month we ran our kickstarter, where we had a Greenlight button right there at the very top of our Kickstarter description:

While we had a noticeable bump in votes during this period, it still paled in comparison to the early months. There was only one day, only our very very best day with tons of press mention, that brought in more views than our worst day on the first month. But the most astonishing find when I went in to analyze this data was this: WE GOT LESS VOTES ON GREENLIGHT THAN BACKERS ON OUR KICKSTARTER!! That needed to be in all caps and bold, because it simply boggles the mind - it can be almost as hard to get a vote on Greenlight as getting a backer on Kickstarter!

The takeaway message

All this means that getting in early on Greenlight is a huge, HUGE, mistake. The 'Concepts' area of Greenlight didn't exist when we got in. It sure was the place our project should be before we started our kickstarter. My advice to new projects is to stay there as long as possible, polish your trailer and your screenshots with very good stuff, get a good voice-actor for the trailer, make an awesome (and animated) logo/thumbnail, and keep licking that entry until you have a very nice ratio of likes-to-dislikes, as those views you get via the Greenlight system itself in the initial period will probably be the bulk of what you get, and it will only get a lot harder after that.

Here's what our votes graph looks like for our last month, with the trailers from our Kickstarter days, with very nice voice-overs, and updated and great-looking screenshots, a huge improvement of 'Yes' Votes % compared to the first month:

And we still need and updated trailer (in the works).

To drive that point home, if I could somehow reboot my entry and start from scratch with zero votes, dumping all the votes we got during our kickstarter, and during the last month when we switched into full Greenlight gears, but having the approval rate we have now instead of the one we had on our first month, here's how our 'Cumulative Yes Votes' graph would probably look like on the first month, compared to what it looks now:

Just looking at that drives me nuts. And I still have an uphill battle to get the next couple thousand votes I'll likely need. Writing this article is just one of the many things I plan on doing to help us get there. Hopefully it will help other devs avoid the pitfalls I fell into.

Do I regreat what I did? I do not, since I did what I thought was best given the incomplete information I had. If someone offers you 5-to-1 to draw to a flush on the river, you should take that bet every time as you are close to 4-to-1 to hit it, and not regret when it doesn't hit. Would I take it back if I could? Sure I would, just like I would take that flush bet back if I could when the river card doesn't hit me.

But in life, as in poker, we don't play with foresight, and we have to do the best we can with the hand we've got. I've got a shitty hand, but you can help me improve it by checking our Greenlight out:

And make sure you are logged in :)

Oh, and I almost forgot - here's your gift of entertainment for having read this far:


Update: Commenter Joseph Mirabello pointed out a way to create links that open directly in the Steam client, which should make it easier for people to vote using your links. I thought it was too important not to add an update to the article itself

Original tip was posted in reddit by the developer of Black Annex.

In order to create a link that opens the Steam client in a Greenlight page, there's an undocumented CommunityFilePage url feature in the steam:// protocol. Wrap a php file around that for external stuff like twitter and facebook to properly link to it, and voila! This is the end php file contents:

<?php header('Location: steam://url/CommunityFilePage/92960968'); ?>

Add a redirect to make a nice-looking and clean link to this php file, and there you go:

Ahhh! Much better! Thanks Joseph!


Related Jobs

Next Games
Next Games — Helsinki, Finland

Senior Level Designer
Activision Publishing
Activision Publishing — Santa Monica, California, United States

Tools Programmer-Central Team
Crystal Dynamics
Crystal Dynamics — Redwood City, California, United States

Senior/Lead VFX Artist
Magic Leap, Inc.
Magic Leap, Inc. — Wellington, New Zealand

Level Designer


James Hicks
profile image
I think you're definitely onto something there, but don't beat yourself up too hard - the visitors you're getting now might be mostly from articles etc about your game or your own sites, who go to the page with the specific intention of voting for you.

Whereas in the beginning, you had all kinds of random Steam kids hitting the page, and most games just do not have 89% appeal with the general population.

What scares me there is that you got a Rock Paper Shotgun article, something that I pin a lot of hope on and would sell a kidney (well, someone else's kidney but a kidney) to get, and it doesn't appear to give you a huge boost.

So if RPS does that, what's happening with those games that tool along with a few thousand votes for month after month then suddenly skyrocket to #5 in a few days? Where are they getting the votes from? I always assumed this was some kind of media breakthrough, but perhaps not?

Petrucio Stange
profile image
I agree that a reset now probably wouldn't bring the approval rate to 89% for the reasons you stated, but it would certainly be a far cry from our initial 25%.

As for those games that skyrocket all of a sudden, I think that's probably due to a big Let's Player picking them up for a spin. That can bring in WAY more views than a Rock Paper Shotgun article.

Petrucio Stange
profile image
BTW, what's you Greenlight link?

Colm Larkin
profile image
Yep it's interesting that decent media mentions only lead to a smattering of votes. It is as Petrucio mentioned due to the split between where you are logged into steam and where you aren't (reading games news on your phone on the bus, for example).

I've seen as much in my own campaign. Cheers for the great write up by the way - I'll share my own soon

Joseph Mirabello
profile image
I can't remember which developer did it, but someone found a trick to help links auto-open in steam itself, rather than a browser, when you click them. That removes at least *one* hurdle, though for anyone who doesn't have steam open/installed it might not work at all irrc, so then you lose those people. Anyway, asking on google or twitter might bring up that info for you.

Also, you COULD cancel and restart your GL campaign too, if you wanted to try and get that first-month's views again. I think if you did that a lot it would be frowned on, but if you've been there since the beginning I don't think a restart would be abuse. I'm not sure whether or not that's a wise tactic, mind you, but it's an option I guess. Goodluck to you!

Petrucio Stange
profile image
Thanks, I'll try to find that option later today!

And yes, I'm really thinking about cancelling and restarting the campaign after we get our new trailer if we don't get in the next batch. I'll take a careful read of the terms first, as well as send an email to Valve to confirm.

Thanks for both tips!

Petrucio Stange
profile image
All I got was steam://url/SteamGreenlight, but it doesn't seem to accept a specific project to open..

Joseph Mirabello
profile image
Here you go--looks like it was that helpful fellow from Black Annex!

Obviously, youll need to replace the links with your community ID. I actually did the php trick that's described in the comments, and even put a clickable button link IN my game's menu screens, so if they'd pre-ordered they could click the button right there and it'd open GL. That helped me a lot, I think.

Petrucio Stange
profile image
That. Is. AWESOME! Thank you so much for that!

I'll add an update to my post soon with that.

Caio Ribeiro Chagas
profile image
You are a life savior, Joseph. Thank you.

Emerick Aussignac
profile image
"Even when they do click to login, you better hope this is not their first access from this system/browser, or they'd have to go get the access code in their email, which is a sure fire way to risk losing yet another vote."

So right about this. Basically every time I click a link to the steam site and need to do stuff with my account, I get a new mail with a code. I don't get why the steam client running on the same machine isn't enough to certify that I'm legit to enter my password.

Good luck with your kickstarter anyway!

Aaron Brande
profile image
Do what it seems like everyone else is doing right now: Give away a free Steam key to everyone who votes Yes for you on Greenlight after your game gets on Steam.

Petrucio Stange
profile image
This is buying votes and I've read it might get reported and (correctly IMO) shut down. I do appreciate the suggestion tho, but no thanks.

Roderick Hossack
profile image
I remember hearing an interview of the Paranautical Activity guys. They had started a Greenlight page for their game early on, just because.

Later, they were gonna be the first Adult Swim-published game on Steam. Valve said that they were trying to use the publisher to get around Greenlight, and made an example of them by not allowing them to be published.

At the time, I believe the game was almost done and being sold elsewhere. They just needed to get on Steam. During the interview, they mentioned that anyone who voted on their Greenlight page who also got someone else to vote would get a free copy of the game. I dunno how public that statement was (like if it was on their Greenlight page or not), but that game has since been Greenlit.

Alex Gold
profile image
Our game Dark Scavenger was in a similar situation. We were one of the first titles on Greenlight, and we were finally Greenlit just recently.

It's an uphill battle and the process could benefit from some improvement, but fortunately, Valve is Greenlighting many more titles now. We were sitting static in the 60-70% range, but with each new batch, we moved up by 5-6%. Even though you're still several batches away, the good news is that even with minimal press support past the initial push, you'll eventually make it.

I gave you a 'Yes' vote. Best of luck!

Petrucio Stange
profile image
Thanks! We're moving up quicker now with all of our efforts, so hopefully it's just one or two batches away. Got 60 yes'es today alone with the clicks from this article and it's portuguese translation elsewhere. And there are many hours left in the day!

Michiel Konstapel
profile image
Great article, and an excellent tip about the steam:// link!

As an alternative to the server side approach, it is of course also possible to use a bit of Javascript. I've tried to set it up so that it'll open the Greenlight page in the browser if Steam is not installed, but making that work across different browsers proved more trouble than it was worth.

Quick snippet, hoping that code tags are supported:



var steam = "steam://url/CommunityFilePage/95359349";
var loader = document.getElementById("loader")
loader.src = steam;

setTimeout(function() {
if (loader.src != steam) {
// go there in browser
window.location = "";
}, 3000);


Example link:, which just happens to be our game :-)

Micah Betts
profile image
Oh hey, 1 week later you get Greenlit! Congrats!

Petrucio Stange
profile image
We did it! Thanks!

We hadn't even reached the Top 100. But as Valve itself says - press mentions, Kickstarter, and maybe even this article (I sent them), everything counts.