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.