You Shouldn't Have To Be Middle Class or Rich To Make Video Games

Steam Greenlight, the voter-determined submission system created by Valve, isn't free anymore. The point was to decrease the number of illegitimate submissions, which was neccesary after the insane influx of games that Greenlight saw just days after release. Some weren't happy with Valve's decision, given that other methods could have solved the submission problem without requiring such a high fee.

Many developers have sounded off on this in the last few days. The voice that I've seen that best encapsulates everything wrong with the $100 fee has to be from Jonas Kyratzes. Jonas is a developer veteran that's been making games for the last decade. His most recent creation is The Sea Will Claim Everything, an adventure game with a ton of heart. Over at his blog, he's posted something that walks us through the problem as he sees it.

At first, the way Greenlight was initially set up didn't seem right:

My first thought after I filled out the Greenlight submission form for The Sea Will Claim Everything and clicked "publish" was wait, there's no approval queue? That struck me as very peculiar. This is the internet. Any submissions system is likely to be abused within seconds. It's entirely normal for blogs to keep comments for moderator approval to make sure they're legit. Why was Greenlight allowing any submission to go through?

Moderation might've helped, but Greenlight didn't have it. Nor did it make sense to have downvotes, since they didn't really serve a purpose—isn't the question "how many people DO want to buy this game?"

But nevermind the voting aspect, just about everything about Greenlight wasn't set up very well. It was a nightmare to try to find a game, especially when Greenlight would repeat games you'd already looked at, and the sorting options weren't very good either.

Then came the fee, which seems like the worst way to try to mitigate the problems Greenlight was seeing.

The $100 fee does not cut out the nonsense (at least judging from our experience with other platforms), but it does exclude many of us indies who come from economic backgrounds that simply do not allow them to spend $100 on the mere possibility of being judged by a subset of the Steam community that is generally not very friendly to indie games.

$100 may not seem like much money to some. That's great, those for who $100 isn't a big deal are fortunate. But the sad reality is that the indie game scene spans beyond what most major gaming websites cover. Most indie developers I know are starving artists for who $100 dollars is a month's worth of food. And maybe they have a game that could catch the public's attention, but they don't have the money to be considered for that chance. Steam can be a curator for content if it wants, and nobody is entitled to its virtual shelf space. But everyone deserves the chance to at least be considered, no?

But in the last few days, some of the responses from people have been highly classist. I've watched critics and developers alike on Twitter making it clear that they couldn't even fathom how it was possible that people couldn't have the money, or find a way to come up with it. It was common to read something along the lines of "maybe you shouldn't be making games if you can't even raise $100 for the submission fee."

A disappointingly large number of developers and journalists could not even imagine that some people don't have this amount of money. I found this genuinely shocking. It's not that they hadn't experienced it themselves, but that they could not even conceive of it. That's a disconnection from reality so fundamental that it is quite frightening. Ever wonder why there aren't more political games? This is why. Not only are the majority of developers (those who have a voice, anyway) white heterosexual middle-class males from the US or the UK, but a scary amount of them have absolutely no understanding of the existence of anything outside their own experience, and are in fact offended by the very suggestion that anything else exists.

Some of us are poor, Jonas goes on to say. But maybe for most of us, that's not something we have to see or deal with most of the time. Gaming is not a cheap hobby, and it's a luxury to have the money to participate in it. And when the developers you hear about tend to be the high profile ones, I'm afraid that cognizance or care about the lower class in this space doesn't exist.

So maybe a game is good enough to sell enough on its own to raise the money. But that money then needs to go to actual living costs. The fact that people can be so snide about this is cause for concern, especially with the current state of the economy.

The crux of this issue, in a way, doesn't lie with Greenlight—not exactly. It's with who we allow to be legible within a series of gatekeepers who tend to favor a very specific type of developer. One in the right socioeconomic bracket who would be able to afford costs like licenses, development kids and submission fees. Some might go as far as to suggest that it also favors those who make specific types of games (how many puzzle platformers will the indie scene most of us know spew?)

For now, Valve says that Greenlight will continue to evolve. Fantastic. But it's not just Greenlight that needs to change. So, too, does the attitude surrounding who should be making games. Some people do it for the love, and so yes, they're going to keep going at it even though they might not make much of any money. So to tell a developer that they might want to reconsider their passion just because they're not rolling in cash is heartbreaking. They deserve to be here just as much as anyone else, and there's no shortage of things trying to keep them out.

The One Hundred Dollar Question Jonas Kyratzes