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Indies On Steam Greenlight, Part 2: Possible Futures

Before The Storm

This second part of our look at how the indie community feels about Steam Greenlight had its thunder stolen before it could even get out the door. There is, I'm afraid, now a much bigger issue than anything addressed here, yesterday having brought the news that Valve had implemented a $100 charge for any developer wishing to create a Greenlight page - regardless of whether or not it would prove successful. It sorts the wheat from the chaff perhaps, and thus could be said to address one of the major issues with Greenlight to date, but in doing so it also presents an extra barrier to indie developers who don't have money to throw around and raises further moral issues around something that was already in something of a grey area. That, however, is an issue already discussed by those it directly affects, and a topic around which much more needs to be and will be said. Here, primarily in the interests of good, honest decency, I simply wish to allow those who spoke in the first part of this planned series to finish their pre-charge thoughts about Greenlight - what changes they'd like to see to it, and how democratic it can ultimately be.

Participating: Tiger Style, Size Five Games, Puppy Games, The Indie Stone, Lo-Fi Games, Locked Door Puzzle, Hermitgames and many more.

Some of these comments might be severely affected by the introduction of a charge, but they remain strong talking points around a highly ambitious project - and big questions about how this strange middleground between promotion and commerce might need to evolve. And, quite frankly, they throw into sharper relief just why Valve might have decided to introduce the $100 fee.

Rather than form this into an editorialised feature as before, given the newly changed nature of the topic I shall simply present it as it was arranged - two questions, and the answers to them as they were given by a raft of indie developers big and small.

What changes would you hope to see from Greenlight?

Randy Smith of Tiger Style, whose highly-regarded action-puzzle-botany iPad title Waking Mars has taken its impending PC version to Greenlight

I'm not sure it makes sense to have a Thumbs Down button, since that seems like complete troll bait and not clearly useful, so I might remove that concept entirely (who runs around Thumbs Down'ing concepts, what are their tastes and motivations?). I would like the videos to be much more prominently highlighted, since that's a very functional staple of Kickstarters but in Greenlight they get completely lost in the screenshot interface.

Most importantly, I would like to see different ways of sorting the front page, which right now seems sorted by magic, and the last time I ran through the entire list I didn't see Waking Mars at all. For example, sorting by which games actually exist vs. which are just brainstorms. Sorting by how many times a game has been added to a Collection or how many times it's been Thumbs Up'ed (although that obviously leads to potentially bogus feedback loops). Generally ways to slice all the data for quality, not just multiplayer and genre.

Dan Marshall of Size Five Games (of Time Gentlemen, Please fame)

Ha ha, by the time I'm ready to go, I just hope it's calmed down a bit. If I had a game ready to go right now, I think I'd probably try and leave it a month or so, because right now feels like the floodgates have opened. It's like trying to promote your game alongside 500 other people - you're not all going to get heard!

I hope Valve stick to what they told us about the 100% figure being relatively flexible, and still taking games on board if they've shown that they've got community support, not because it passes some arbitrary figure in an Excel document.

Thomas Hopper of TACSgames whose puzzle platformer Super Skull Smash GO! can be found on Greenlight here

I'd lose the downvote system. A more robust way of interacting with the people who take time to comment would be great.

Joe Wintergreen-Arthur of Impromptu Games who has ‘meditative exploration and puzzle platforming’ game InFlux up on Greenlight

It needs to be a lot easier to navigate and sort. Some kind of ability to send a message to everybody who's supported your game once it's released would be great, since I'm kind of worried about all these new fans floating off and forgetting to buy it when it comes out. I'm not sure about thumbs-downing, there's some confusion about exactly what it's for and there's potential for abuse there. Registering interest with a thumbs up is great, but I'm not sure if it's useful to actively register disinterest or dislike. I think it might be an idea to gameify the rating process somehow - start awarding workshop items for participating, maybe.

Matt Hames of Hermitgames, who has ‘algorithmic, generative and metaphorical arcade game’ qrth-phyl on Greenlight

Really what I'd like is for Steam to have an 'unapproved' section where you can distribute/sell your game just like on Steam. Then Valve promote up the games to the curated area that do well / they like. At least then it'd be the game that decides rather than the devs ability to run a social media campaign. I'd happily pay a small yearly Apple developer/XNA-XBLIG/MS Win8 Dev style sub for this ability.

Luke Dicken of Robot Overlord

I'd like to see voting rationed so that people actually need to be selective about what they "back". Ideally I'd also like to see the down-voting removed so that if something isn't to your taste you don't counterbalance the people who do like it. I really think that there
needs to be a better curation system in place, and honestly I think that by making this something that Joe Gamer can submit to they've made a mis-step. I'd like to see a Steam Developer Program start up - doesn't have to be a paid model like Apple - they just need to find some way of filtering out some of these projects and getting the SNR on track or people are not going to bother with it.

Chris Hunt of Lo-Fi Games, whose squad-based, sandbox RPG Kenshi is on Greenlight

Separation for project states: Finished, Alpha, and Concept stage games need to be clearly marked and categorised, so that users can filter them.

Caspian Prince of Puppy Games

Very simple changes: change "downvote" to "don't show me this again" and of course don't record the stats on that. Such a subtle psychological difference that makes a massive change to the mentality of the griefer. And simply make all comments proactively moderated - that is, held in a queue. These pages are for spreading the good word about a game or concept, not for shitbags to insult developers. Or even each other.

Richard Perrin , aka Locked Door Puzzle, whose exploration-based first-person puzzler Kairo is one of the first wave of games on Greenlight

Definitely need better filtering options. I know danger of ordering by rankings is that it will encourage those at the top to get even more votes. However since the idea is that the top games will be scooped off for Steam itself I don't think it's going to be the end of the world to let me see, for example, what this week's top 20 voted adventure game are.

I don't know the specifics but Kongregate and Newgrounds have some kind of initial filtering before games go onto their main listings. I believe it's all still community driven but helps weed out the fakes and jokes. Greenlight needs something like this badly as Half Life 3 has been posted on there at least 5 times already and we're only a day in.

Ultimately, how democratic can Greenlight be?

Dan Marshall

The trouble is, people are idiots. There are people who have been abusing the system from the second it went live. Oh hilarious, you've put Half Life 3 on there you have you, you wag? There are also people moaning about the stupidest things on the boards, and it's not currently the joyful nirvana I think we'd all hoped because anyone and everyone has popped by for a peek. IN a month, maybe two, I have hopes it'll be a tight community of Indie game enthusiasts.

Ultimately, it's up to Valve to make sure it doesn't just turn into an XBLIG-type affair, full of rot. At the same time, I'd hate to see rubbishy games flooding Steam. At the moment, the service feels like kind of a yardstick - if an indie game is on Steam, it's not a shitty game, and I think that's something they need to be careful about. I'd hate to see 4Chan getting something awful on the system using sheer numbers, or anything like that.

Thomas Hopper

The number one issue for a small time indie developer is one of discovery. Building good games is never enough, you have to have an avenue to for people to find them.

There seems to be an awful lot of half finished and very bad games on the list which makes it harder to stand out.

Also seeing some fairly well established games at the top of the list is displeasing to me for two reasons, firstly that these developers are not already on steam (as they should be) and secondly that the small fry like me are going to get buried again under a pile of games.

I think it's obvious why Steam has created greenlight, it has become very clear that their job before of picking the gems out of the piles of utter garbage they were sent was practically impossible.

All in all, I have high hopes for the system.

Joe Wintergreen-Arthur

I'm somewhat worried that once there're thousands of games on Greenlight we'll get into an app-store-like situation where hard-to-find but possibly excellent games aren't able to claw their way up to a publishable level of popularity. A big part of why InFlux is doing relatively well on there is probably my getting up at 3AM to make sure the page was up within minutes of the launch. It's not like there aren't measures that could be taken to help offset that, promoting games with exceptionally few pageviews maybe, but that might not happen.
Basically, I think it can be a fair system, but it's going to take Valve very actively working to make sure it stays that way.

Luke Dicken

How democratic is Britain's Got Talent? That's essentially the model they're following here - people with no proven skills being selected by people with no critical experience, and no investment in the process. Is that "fair"? Maybe I guess, it's letting the great unwashed have their say, but it's not necessarily fair to the dedicated developers who are trying to succeed in what's already a fairly hellish community. With that said, take that to its logical conclusion and there /is/ a place for Greenlight, in the same way there's a place for BGT without destroying music, it's just that it isn't somewhere serious artists should expect to be. For my part having seen Greenlight I'm very comfortable to ignore it and get my ducks in a row for when Kickstarter comes to the UK later in the year.

Chris Hunt

It's all gonna depend on how Steam lays the projects out. If it has all the most popular projects on the front page then they will just get fatter and there will be a lot of hidden gems that get missed because they are on page 107 and don't have any votes yet. Its gonna need ways to spread things around, like on Amazon when you buy a book and it goes "You may also like theessee boookksss" and you go "DAMMIT AMAZON!" and end up buying 10 books. Otherwise its all down to the developers own marketing, and indie developers suck at that, thats why they need Steam in the first place.

Caspian Prince

Just fixing those two major issues, and the third minor one of opaque stats, is all that Greenlight needs from a developer perspective to deliver mostly everything promised. As a punter, if the actual number of votes were shown rather than a % of some unknown value it'd be more useful. I'd feel like my vote counted. Look, there it is, my vote - it went up from 12,334 to 12,335. I counted.

Richard Perrin

I think the greatest trick of all this is that this isn't really a democratic system. Steam are still going to be curating which they pick of the top voted games. The only thing that's really changed is that now instead of having to look at thousands of games each week to make their choice they can look at the top 20 voted games and pick from those. They're still just as unaccountable before and are well within their rights to ignore even a highly voted game if they decide they're not interested.

Randy Smith

If Kickstarter and the App Store are any indication, a very functional version of the Greenlight concept has a good shot of being a meritocracy, helping the best concepts get noticed and approved. The thing I ask myself now is who is the current crop of voters, are they representative of most gamers' interests, and how does Valve intend to promote superusers who can be the tastemakers? Collections is the obvious answer, and we're already seeing some good motion there - will it be enough? Let's hope so! This is an experiment to create a community-managed App Store equivalent for new ideas... no one can be sure how it will go!

SPECIAL GUEST APPEARANCE: Chris "Lemmy" Simpson of Project Zomboid dev The Indie Stone explains why he believes the 'Collections' feature of Greenlight might be key to its long-term success.

So the way I see it, at the moment the top collections have massively less 'thumbs up' than the top actual games do, which suggests the majority of people are hunting through the games themselves. Obviously this is great and many people need to do this. But at the same time rating and looking through collections, which will perhaps start to happen when the big sites start doing round ups with a link to their own collections, it will become important to get in those lists.

However those curators will be finding games from the main game list, or from other less popular lists. People find a lot of pride in finding obscure gems and would happily do the leg work to find them. This gives the game more visibility to the higher tier collections, who likewise to the higher tier, until potentially your game is on a list of 50 top RPS/Kotaku greenlight games to watch. All this without a dab of coverage, just because that guy from Tampa who finds every interesting turn based strategy game ran into it, and so-and-so from a big site keeps tabs on his collection, and so on.

Of course this is only a big deal if enough people are looking at those collections to start pushing up the numbers.

Thanks to everyone who participated in this. We'll have more to say about Greenlight soon, I don't doubt.

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