Valve to abolish Steam Greenlight, open up with Steam Direct

Valve have announced plans to hugely widen the number of games they allow onto Steam by approving developers directly. The popularity contest of Steam Greenlight will end as Valve replace it with the new ‘Steam Direct’ scheme. This will let devs register with Valve and, after verification, publish games to Steam as they please. The changes are due to kick off this spring. It’s not an open-door policy like Itch or Game Jolt, mind, as Valve do say they will charge a recoupable fee per game submitted “to decrease the noise in the submission pipeline”. But the end result should be more games on Steam.

When Steam first launched, it only sold Valve’s games. It slowly spread out to sell select games from other developers, with Valve carefully curating admission through a opaque submissions process. Valve were overwhelmed, and a great many great games were denied Steam releases. So in 2012, Valve launched Steam Greenlight to outsource curation to the public. On Greenlight, developers pitch games to Steamers, who vote by answering the question “Would you buy this game if it were available in Steam?” If a game is popular enough, eventually Valve approve it.

While games were Greenlit in teeny batches at first, Valve have substantially picked up the pace over the years. As I write, 6,135 games sold on Steam reached it through Greenlight and another 5,452 have the go-ahead for future release.

As Steam now has more games than anyone could ever play, Valve have been working on ways to show people games they might be interested in. They recently overhauled discovery (with recommendations which do still kinda suck) and Valve’s numbers say that Steam users are now buying more games each year than ever. So as they continue work on automating per-user curation, Valve want to see more and more games (and apps, and movies, and…) on Steam.

“Our goal is to provide developers and publishers with a more direct publishing path and ultimately connect gamers with even more great content,” Valve say. So next comes Steam Direct. They explain:

“The next step in these improvements is to establish a new direct sign-up system for developers to put their games on Steam. This new path, which we’re calling ‘Steam Direct,’ is targeted for Spring 2017 and will replace Steam Greenlight. We will ask new developers to complete a set of digital paperwork, personal or company verification, and tax documents similar to the process of applying for a bank account. Once set up, developers will pay a recoupable application fee for each new title they wish to distribute, which is intended to decrease the noise in the submission pipeline.

“While we have invested heavily in our content pipeline and personalized store, we’re still debating the publishing fee for Steam Direct. We talked to several developers and studios about an appropriate fee, and they gave us a range of responses from as low as $100 to as high as $5,000. There are pros and cons at either end of the spectrum, so we’d like to gather more feedback before settling on a number.”

The fee is a curious open question. When Greenlight first launched, submitting games was free – and Greenlight was soon flooded with pranksters and rip-offs. After only a week, Valve started charging a $100 fee (which they donate to charity) to put games on Greenlight. Some pointed out that $100 was a lot for poorer developers, and $5,000 certainly would be a hurdle for many. Unlike Greenlight, where devs kiss the money goodbye, the Steam Direct fee will be recouped but getting five grand together in the first place would still be a big ask.

This being Valve, I’m sure we’ll see them fiddle with the system a lot both before and after it launches. Steam Direct should kick off this spring, so watch for it.

In the meantime, hey, I’m glad the open store Itch is continuing to grow better and better. Some of my favourite games in recent years have released free or pay-what-you-want through Itch, and with the Direct fee I can’t imagine we’ll see those on Steam.

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74 Comments

  1. internisus says:

    I do not think that willingness and ability to pay a fee is a good measure of a game developer’s—or anyone else’s—legitimacy.

    • FriendlyFire says:

      I don’t think their goal is to validate “legitimacy” or even to be arbiters of such a thing. A fee will just weed out the spammers and jokers who’d send thousands of submissions just because they can.

      If you want to spend whatever that fee is to put your shitty Game Maker game you made in an afternoon on Steam, Valve isn’t gonna stop you. Their intent has been clear for a while now, they don’t want to choose what goes on the store, barring exceptional circumstances.

      • April March says:

        Valve may not stop rich idiots from putting their shitty GameMaker games on their store, but they do stop talented but little-known devs from putting their excellent weird games on their store. I don’t care about the former, but I care dearly about the latter.

        • Landiss says:

          You wouldn’t be able to find those games in Steam anyway. There’s too much mess already. And there is itch.io.

          • phlebas says:

            I agree that discoverability on Steam is a bigger problem than the presence of lots of crap. But if you already knew about a lovely weird game and wanted to buy it on Steam (for convenience, or because that’s where most of your game library already was, or whatever) then you would generally be able to find it if it were on there.

        • Fly says:

          If they care for the game and if they spend time on it – they will be able to find 100-500$ to be able to sell it on biggest platform. It’s not a big deal. Because anyway – any good game budget is muuuch more than that if developer will check amount of time he spend on it.

          • phlebas says:

            Which is to say that $100-500 wouldn’t be a big deal to you, and you’re happy with the idea that only people in the same position should be able to sell games on Steam? The fact that someone has time available to create something doesn’t mean that they have money to spare upfront.

    • Premium User Badge

      Alpha1Dash1 says:

      Well, I thought that the Greenlight program had stopped back in ’15 and that’s why Steam has been inundated. But if it is still going, who the hell is voting for all the dross that appears nowadays?
      I wonder if its being gamed by unscrupulous publishing houses or if its an attempt to tarnish Steam’s rep by a rival?

      • Premium User Badge

        BlueTemplar says:

        Devs started giving away free Steam keys in exchange for votes :
        link to reddit.com

        IIRC, being able to resell Steam cards for those games was an additional motivation for the “players”.
        (who didn’t actually need to play the game as there’s software that automates running the games in sequence one after another to get just enough time to get keys,
        and other users were willing to buy those cards to craft badges, complete achievements, and level up (or something))

        • Josh W says:

          I feel like they should have fixed that by making it impossible to prove whether or not a specific person voted for your game; allow people to vote, take a screenshot, and undo their vote, or allow people to click on a page that gives them confirmation of voting but never actually votes. The latter probably works better, unless you delay the update of new votes onto the system, so that people cannot see that it is fluctuating and use that to test whether someone’s vote has been undone.

          That way, companies that offer steam keys for votes are no longer able to be sure that their program is effective, and will end up flooding the market with free keys that lower the eventual value of those keys to people willing to vote to get them.

  2. RavenGlenn says:

    So while everyone in the industry is complaining that STEAM has a ludicrous flood of trash games hitting the store, making it difficult to find games that are not only good…but actually GAMES….Steam is just opening up what limited floodgates they have to let everything in?

    Hell, ~40% of all the games on Steam were released in the past year. Do we really need even more?

    • aerozol says:

      Is it really that hard to find a good game on Steam?
      Not trying to be facetious, but I don’t really struggle with it. I only really have decent quality games pop up on the ‘front page’ radar, unless it’s the occasional indie that Valve’s decided would be similar to specific things I’ve played. I’m just trying to visualize how other people browse it/use Steam that they’re so buried in games they don’t want. Alphabetically?

      • mgardner says:

        Have you tried browsing new releases? There are 9 pages (25 items per page) of releases from the past 5 days! That’s nuts. I used to check new releases every week, but now it is too hard and time consuming to tell which might be things I am interested in that I don’t bother anymore. Same problem with games on sale.

        • aerozol says:

          So, you find games to play not alphabetically, but by date of release…
          Honestly, that makes even less sense to me. I look at that list out of curiosity every now and again, but I certainly don’t expect it to be curated for my tastes :S

          • mgardner says:

            No, now I select my games using a random algorithm, but I don’t buy anything where the price ends with a 7, or the title has the letters “EG” next to each other, unless the publisher name has 8 letters and it’s Wednesday. Duh.

          • aerozol says:

            Relax, I browse lots of shops by newest release too. I spent three days going through listings on Amazon trying to find a bottle of water last week! You wont believe how much stuff they put on there that I don’t want! It’s ridiculous.

        • Premium User Badge

          BlueTemplar says:

          Or you could browse all games, not the just released ones, and sort them by reviews, genres, and tags
          Enhanced Steam helps too :
          link to enhancedsteam.com

      • Darth Gangrel says:

        I used to browse all the discounted games each week (up to 5 euros, my arbitrary limit), then that became too much work, so decided to look at the cheapest games, but even that was a lot of work and they never seem to be any good. Can’t expect that with those prices, but still…

        I usually just look at my wishlist (or rather, my “hmm, that might be something, better add it before I forget about it”-list). I don’t have trouble finding good games, there are too many of them on sale and in my backlog, but finding new good games I hadn’t heard of before, to be surprised is diffcult (steam recommendations/discovery suck).

      • Premium User Badge

        Phasma Felis says:

        I’ve never really thought about discoverability in the Steam interface, because I don’t really need it. I’m already utterly inundated in games I found through reviews, recommendations, forum links, and friends. Finding new games is the opposite of my problem.

    • gabrielonuris says:

      Your comment made me want to browse Steam using condoms from now on…

    • April March says:

      Steam’s new releases has always been a ridiculous flood of thrash games. It’s only that it used to be ridiculous thrash games with million-dollar budgets by large developers.

  3. Snowskeeper says:

    Oh goody.

  4. Dachannien says:

    I’m guessing that $5000 won’t be enough to dissuade malware purveyors from copying crapware from elsewhere on the internet, crufting it up with keyloggers, and plopping it on Steam.

    • AngoraFish says:

      I take it that you don’t think that requiring a “complete a set of digital paperwork, personal or company verification, and tax documents similar to the process of applying for a bank account” will be sufficient to prevent such things? If not that then what, precisely, would satisfy you?

      • Landiss says:

        You have to sign it with your blood. BLOOD, I say, or it doesn’t count.

        • Premium User Badge

          Phasma Felis says:

          Is it okay if I use monkey blood?

          I mean, it’s just that I’ve got way too much monkey blood, and I don’t want to just throw it out.

          • Snowskeeper says:

            He said your blood, silly.

          • Landiss says:

            Maybe it was his monkey blood. If that’s the case, then sure.

          • Pravin Lal's Nuclear Arsenal says:

            You can never have too much monkey blood.

            …This comment will look great in the “Respond to our gibber” section of the site, won’t it?

  5. laggerific says:

    What’s gogs policy on these sort of things? I don’t think Steam needs more games, and I’d hate to see it rival itunes/google play for number of crap games. I might have to move away from Steam, if that’s ultimately what we end up with. That makes me sad.

    • Czrly says:

      I have more or less moved away from Steam and so I hope GOG don’t follow suite in this case. It sounds like Steam are going to head the way of Google Play and, much like that Play Store, Valve refuse to put in any modicum of effort to vet games or reviews. It’s just noise on Steam and, to be honest, it has been that way for a long time – this is just another step towards irrelevance.

    • RabbitIslandHermit says:

      Devs apply to GoG and their staff decides whether or not to publish it. It seems pretty damn hard to get on it unless you/your publisher already has games on it or the game’s already done well on Steam.

  6. Jeroen D Stout says:

    Only 5000? I’ll just sell an acre of my many lands and fire one of the cooks.

    • Czrly says:

      Yeah, I’m pretty sure some of the developers who created the best games I have played in my life couldn’t afford that amount – at least not until AFTER their games rocketed to success – and I’m even more sure that some of the worst dreck ever to surface comes from muppets who could afford that 100-times.

      • Jeroen D Stout says:

        This rather bothers me because Valve is a company filled with some of the smartest people in games and they are essentially the owners of a money-faucet. Yet when it comes to making their marketplace a better place so far their best suggestions all seem to be ‘what if we increased startup costs for developers’ and ‘what if all people who dislike a game’s genre could indiscriminately post about this on the store page’.

        I am somewhat in the balance of being happy Steam exists (it pays my living) but frustrated at what I see as Valve being somewhat listless about the responsibility of having Steam.

    • AngoraFish says:

      In my view, if a developer doesn’t have faith that their game is going to bring in at least $5000 in clear profit then they probably shouldn’t be considering releasing their game on Steam at all.

      • Malarious says:

        $5,000 USD is an enormous price to pay, considering how risky indie game dev is. You’re already spending 2 or 3 years of your life on something that has a chance of not turning a profit. This harms small developers disproportionately: $5,000 could easily translate to an extra 6 months of polish for a single person dev studio and gatekeeping like this could lower the average quality of games on the store.

        Even for a 3 or 4 person studio, $5,000 isn’t chump change, and it’s coming right out of your budget. PC gaming is great for indies largely because you can bypass so much of the red tape that exists on consoles: no $10,000 mandatory cert tests that can fail, no paying for ESRB/PEGI/etc ratings, no dev kits required… but a lot of what makes PC game dev attractive is also the state of the storefronts: Steam has a gigantic userbase, tens of millions of active users seeking every niche, and plenty of ways for your game to surface and find people interested in it.

        Of course, it’s Valve’s platform and they’re free to do whatever they want — I’m just speaking as a customer who owns over 1000 games on the platform. Much of what I love about it stems from the fact that you can find games that fill every niche, from obscure translated Japanese indie games, to officially licensed Dungeons & Dragons virtual tabletop software. I check the new releases every day, and while there are many games that I personally don’t have any interest in, I’ve found a number of niche games that I would literally never have heard about if it weren’t for the platform, games which have yielded dozens of hours of entertainment.

      • ThePuzzler says:

        They’d have to be not only confident of making $5,000 profit on Steam (when they’re up against thousands of competitors and dozens more every week) but also of making so much more profit on top that the $5,000 doesn’t seem like a major proportion of their potential sales.

        Say I work for a year making a game that I’m planning to sell for $3, $2 of which goes to me. The first 2,500 sales would make me no money at all; they’d just go to paying off this hypothetical $5,000 fee. If my total sales are 5,000 copies, I make $5,000 for my year’s work instead of $10,000 as I would have done without the fee. Seems like that would be significant to a hungry developer.

        • Snowskeeper says:

          From what I can tell from the article, they get the $5k back from Valve once their game is on Steam. It’s just an attempt to prove they’ve got the money to begin with.

          Which is incredibly backward and silly, but for very different reasons.

  7. Kefren says:

    I don’t mind how many games are on Steam, but I’d love better filters. I’d like to restrict results to DRM-free (even better if it made it simpler to download the install file to my desktop). Advanced filters like that would help me cut out lots of things I don’t want, or to prioritise decision-making.

    • Nucreum says:

      You mean you want filters like (include or exclude):
      DRM-Free, free-to-play, pay-to-play, pay-to-win, pay what you want, In-app purchases, random purchases, colorblind-friendly, blind-friendly, deaf-friendly, dyslexia-friendly, left-handed friendly, average session time, cross-buy, requires register to play, requires social network to play or around 70 motivations that lead you to play videogames?

      Don’t worry, we’re working on it and it’s called Piwag. :)

      • Frank says:

        Had a look and that sounds great and all, but it doesn’t seem to be very much aimed at consumers. The most consumer-facing recommendation system I’ve seen (jinni, for movies) had an endgame of selling their services to platforms like Steam, same as massive-database companies like AMG (music, games, whatever) do.

        Dollars to doughnuts, Piwag is going to take a similar route, selling its recommendation engine to XBONE or some other storefront that I’m never going to use (since Steam is apparently set on an in-house solution). I mean, good luck with that, but I doubt it has anything to do with me, as a PC gamer.

        • Nucreum says:

          It’s just because we’re still in alpha and filling the database with games, so we’re not oriented towards gamers yet. We still have to develop the gamers part, but it will open this year.

          And we will not sell it to anyone, as we want to keep our neutrality (not including the fact that it would be less profitable to sell it). :)

          At contrary, as a PC gamer you are the main audience of Piwag. ;)

  8. Touchstone says:

    As bad as people claim Greenlight to have been, in what way is it different from Itch that the latter seems to get praised? They are identical: lots of crap to sift through before you can find anything good. Sounds like Valve is the only one with a solution in the pipeline.

    • Snowskeeper says:

      If it ever achieves the level of popularity Steam has, it’ll probably be praised less.

    • April March says:

      Itch has never forced developers to jump through a series of ridiculous hoops in order to maintain a patently ridiculous claim that they only sell games that meet a certain standard of quality.

    • RabbitIslandHermit says:

      Itch is generous to devs (their suggested (optional) share is only 10% I think while Steam’s mandatory share is 30%), that makes up for a lot.

    • Premium User Badge

      Ninja Dodo says:

      Itchio is completely free and open to anyone (whereas Greenlight has an up-front $100 fee) and you can upload your game right away with a lot of flexibility in how you present it and how much you give to itchio as RabbitsIslandHermit mentioned. Great support for game jams, etc.

      Incidentally: link to twitter.com

      Personally I was actually a lot more positive on Greenlight than most, but for smaller indies there’s a lot to like about itchio.

  9. delberry says:

    Oh yeh, good news for me. I was dreading greenlight.

  10. Premium User Badge

    Ninja Dodo says:

    Good that they’re opening it up to anyone and simplifying the process, and probably better to have a fee per-game to encourage not putting just anything on there, but not so sure about increasing the fee to well over $100. That’s going to put it out of the range of many indie developers (while doing little to stop companies looking to make a quick buck on clones and other low effort releases).

  11. racccoon says:

    Who needs to increase the banks of an already monopolized game platform that’s violated our PC! This totally useless gaming tool called STEAM has been constantly sucking the PC gaming industry dry of every ounce of life that it once had! & that was INDEPENDENCE & FREEDOM.

  12. shoptroll says:

    This sounds very similar to what Gabe described about 4 years ago as the future of Steam: link to rockpapershotgun.com

  13. Frank says:

    I’m happy with this. Hopefully the Cook Serve Delicious guy will put ShellBlast up now.

    I’d still like to see that thing that (I think) Gabe mentioned long ago, where others can have their own storefronts that plug into their own Steamworks systems (for handling downloads and multiplayer) that didn’t involve paying Valve and using their backend.

  14. bill says:

    The problem with having huge amounts of content and then relying on recommendation systems to deal with it is that those recommendation systems need data, and the only way to get data on quality is from people buying/playing it, and if there are too many games per user then you’re not going to have enough people looking at it to be able to make a decent recommendation.

    Google Play store has this problem.
    I was recently looking for an app of a certain kind. Searching revealed a few hundred of them, but 99% had very few reviews and there wasn’t much to go on. the few that did have good review had lots of reviews because everyone just tried those ones.
    Which means that they became well-reviewed back in the days when there were very few such apps on the store, and then that has become self sustaining.
    It turned out that several of those apps hadn’t been updated in ages and were well out of date… but they still maintained prominence due to their huge head start in reviews.

    To get reviews you need to get noticed, and to get noticed you need to be recommended (or reviewed elsewhere) and to get recommended (or reviewed elsewhere) you need to be already well-known or have good reviews.

  15. Premium User Badge

    MajorLag says:

    Anyone remember how exciting the indie game explosion was around 2008, IIRC, with the Potato sack and all that? I think part of the reason for that was that Steam wasn’t flooded with a bunch of crappy bullshit at the time like it is now. I remember then looking at a game I’d never heard of and saying, yeah, but Steam is recommending it, so it probably has some merit. Versus now when I don’t even bother because who the hell knows. Certainly can’t trust steam reviews or the rating system.

    Now I really only look at games if an RPS article recommends them.

    I don’t really know how you can solve this problem, and I think it is good that Valve is willing to experiment, but I think they are somewhat hampered by their profit motive. Imagine if Steam was a sort of invite-only store? Someone on the Valve staff, or perhaps people dedicated to the task, would find a game they think deserves recognition and invite the developer to publish on Steam. Then when Steam promotes a game, you’d pay attention. Granted, that’s ridiculously unfair, but is the current system really any better?

    • Premium User Badge

      BlueTemplar says:

      Why can’t you trust the rating system?

      • Premium User Badge

        MajorLag says:

        How can anyone trust anything that rates Counter-Strike above FTL?

        • Premium User Badge

          BlueTemplar says:

          I fail to see how that example is relevant to the discussion. Both of these games are classics by now (and have the same “overall rating” of 97% : “Overwhelmingly positive”).

          While the “crappy bullshit” you’re talking about is unlikely to break the minimum 500 user reviews (and 95% score) to get an “overwhelmingly positive”.

          You still get some quirks like this one –
          link to steamcommunity.com
          – but overall it seems to me that the system is decent enough…

  16. SuperTim says:

    Let’s rephrase what Value actually meant: “We’re going to make game developers pay more to put a game on to Steam. We are sure that money will come from somewhere but it’s definitely not coming from Valve. Of course that money comes from you, my dear money paying customers, but we’re not telling you that now and hope you’ll be happy to pay us, when you realise the games are not going to be cheaper from now on.”

    If the costs are going to be higher for developers, then we’re going to pay for it. It’s not a good deal if you ask me.

    • Snowskeeper says:

      Wish you’d read for content before you decided to try to be clever. The $5k is given back to the devs after the game gets up or is refused. The “new devs will suffer” argument is valid, but the “customers will be forced to pay the price” argument is not.

      It says this in the article. I don’t get how people keep missing it.

      • SuperTim says:

        Wow! So clever you are! You really think devs would freely give away $5k temporarily for nothing just so that the game gets sold cheaper for the consumer? In that case, can I borrow $5k from you now, and I’ll pay you back later, no interest asked.

        I’m also not saying every game will be more expensive, the F2P games will still be free, and the shovelwares with good business minds behind them will still flourish. But the games you’d like to play, they will be more expensive.

        • Snowskeeper says:

          Game won’t get sold cheaper. It’ll get sold for the same price. Because nobody able to put down that money will be losing anything, and they will not need to make anything back afterwards off of sales. I don’t get what you’re having trouble understanding, here. The only people who are going to suffer, here, are the people unable to come up with the funds to begin with, either through income or through a very short-term loan.

          • SuperTim says:

            Sure, that must be how business works! This recent quote from a well-known business person said it best: “We’re going to build a wall and *you* are going to pay for it!” The one who makes the game doesn’t care if there are more risks involved in making a game, because someone else is going to pay for it!

            This was and is how it worked. VAT increase? The customer is paying for it. Weak exchange rate? Price increase. More risk at the gamedev side? Good excuse to increase prices. Besides, the game is worth it, right? :-)

            Oh, and personally I hope the fee is $100k, perhaps that will increase the competition.

          • Snowskeeper says:

            What part of “the money is given back to them, so there is no risk of losing it” do you not understand?

          • SuperTim says:

            Well, can you specify exactly where Valve said that “the money is given back to them, so there is no risk of losing it”?
            Because that’s not what they said. They only said “a recoupable fee per game,” which is something completely different.

  17. aepervius says:

    I would buy more game if i had not to spend so many time going through the game i DO NOT want. For one they could curate the tag. Everything has rpg tag. Everything or nearly. And then if i was able to add a “NOT” before tag i could more easily search for what i do want as opposed to what the queue propose me. E.g. NOT VR and NOT early access would be my first.

    But the subtext of their change is not to make the queues better for the end user, but to try to peddle stuff i dont want. Otherwise those NOT selection functionality would have long been implemented.

  18. Marclev says:

    We talked to several developers and studios about an appropriate fee, and they gave us a range of responses from as low as $100 to as high as $5,000

    Wow, talk about mass hysteria! Has everybody gasping in horror at that $5,000 actually bothered reading the words in that quote?

    He’s saying the industry has suggested the fee should be “between $100, and 5,000”, which does not mean the same as “It will most certainly be $5,000”. It will be somewhere in between those two extremes, and could even stay at $100. The chances of it being $5,000 are very low!

    The only real effect of this for gamers will be that Steam will become like a mobile app store, flooded with crapware making it impossible to just browse the listings to find anything good.

    Luckily this won’t affect the obviously recommended way of using Steam, which is to read a review on RPS and then just do a direct search for that game, or similar ones mentioned in the comments that sound interesting, without looking at anything else.

  19. PanFaceSpoonFeet says:

    Y’see… I kinda hope that a good game will make its presence known, or rather have its presence made known in good time by the objective gaming press/media… Is that the case, or generally speaking do the games we read about [in other rags, not this one obvz] get page space because it was paid for…..?

  20. Premium User Badge

    Captain Narol says:

    Since someone of the Hive (was it Brendan or Adam ?) mentionned it, I make a point of checking that thread (“today on stream”) everyday :

    link to twitter.com

    It’s a good way to make sure I don’t miss some small indie release that are typically up my alley and would go under my radar otherwise…

  21. MattV0 says:

    There would have been much better ways to prevent all this sh*t from Steam. Why don’t they support demos and force every greenlight game to provide a demo. And then only games with positive reviews get greenlit. If you are not able to provide a good demo, the game itself won’t be good at all.

    Also, Steam should keep the money for the first 7, 14 or 30 days after publishing and when it has bad reviews, delete it and give the money back to all buyers. You could give the developer 30 days to fix bugs and stuff, but generally this would force the developers to provide good games. This could even be possible for early access. Just exchange 30 days with 1 year. 5000$ won’t help hiding bad games, but it will hide the small independent good ones.

    For free games, this fee might be ok.