Today, Valve announced that they’re killing Steam Greenlight, the user-driven service they use to ferry lesser-known games onto the Steam store. Soon, it’ll be supplanted by Steam Direct, a service that allow anyone to pay a fee get their game, well, directly onto Steam. No more votes. This approach, however, creates complications of its own.
Admittedly, we’re currently in the thick of the knee-jerk forest, but the big focus of the day is the fee. Right now, it’s undecided, and Valve said that it could be anything from $100 to $5,000. Naturally, game developers are worried about the upper end of that spectrum. Greenlight served smaller developers, after all, the sort for whom even that service’s mandatory $100 fee was sometimes a stretch. Major players with $5,000 to spare will ascend Mt Steamlympus regardless, so developers are wondering who such a big fee would benefit.
Yang also pointed out that a higher fee is even more of a turn-off for creators of cheap and free games than Greenlight’s fee was. Other developers agreed.
SteamSpy, meanwhile, pointed out that developers from other countries would get absolutely savaged by a $5,000 fee.
SteamSpy also questioned the effectiveness of any sort of fee as a barrier against bad games, as did Vlambeer’s Rami Ismail.
See, here’s the thing: Valve has already shown their hand in regards to quality control, and Steam Direct—despite being a supposed solution to Greenlight’s awkward midpoint—feels like another awkward midpoint. While Valve’s recent algorithmic improvements are far from perfect, they’re clearly doing a better job of helping people find their way through Steam’s infinite labyrinth of options. “An example of this is the Steam front page,” wrote Valve’s Alden Kroll, “where, the improvements of Discovery 2.0 have resulted in showcasing 46 percent more games to customers via the main product capsule. Refining our discovery algorithms has allowed us to increase visibility for more titles, most notably exposing smaller titles to the right audiences.”
Because Steam now makes recommendations based on your previous activities, what friends are playing, and learns your tastes over time, people are buying more games from the front page’s top box and the Discovery Queue than ever. The latter is up 27 percent, according to Valve. That’s big. It took for-fucking-ever, and there’s still a long road ahead, but Valve’s finally pushing Steam to a place where finding cool games you didn’t know about isn’t as much of a chore.
The question, then, is why Steam still needs a hefty fee at all. If you think Valve’s decision to remove Greenlight from the equation signals a return to the days of relentless curation, you’re fooling yourself. The floodgates are gonna be open wider than ever, but there’s still a barrier to entry, a reef of sorts. Why? If Steam is moving more in the direction of a traditional game/app store, except with fancy algorithms aiding good old-fashioned external marketing in helping people find stuff, what’s the point of curating? Steam is already the video game equivalent of a Golden Corral. Even if they never admitted another game, there’d already be Too Much. So who is Valve serving by keeping poor people out?
I confess that, in the past, stricter curation was something I advocated for, but mainly because it seemed like a possible solution to the toxic player-vs-developer culture born of Steam Greenlight. Crappy developers would post slapdash games, and then users would go to war against them, feeling like this was all they could do to keep Steam from rotting from the inside-out, because Valve did, in fact, empower them to be gatekeepers. Many of those users felt like they lacked adequate tools to navigate Steam’s sudden nightmare zone game flood, so they did the only thing they thought they could, and displaced a fair deal of frustration onto developers in the process. Some developers fought back. It became a highly abusive relationship that spread to other elements of Steam. No doubt about it: Greenlight needed to go.
Now that Valve is nixing Greenlight and seeing results from their algorithms, though, they’ve communicated the future direction of Steam. Algorithms will do a lot of heavy lifting. Valve will manually make sure games work, and that’s about all. The decision to charge a fee, then, is a curious one. It could block out creators of really good games while also enabling sketchy publishers, some of whom were also born of the Greenlight system, to continue their bloodsucking business models.
The good news is, Valve clearly threw the “$100 to $5,000" number out there to gauge what people think. Given the blowback, it’s mad-unlikely that $5,000 will be the final figure. I doubt they’ll cut the fee altogether (Valve likes to test things before tossing them, and a small fee makes sense so Valve doesn’t have to sift through joke listings all day), but here’s hoping they settle on something that benefits everyone tangibly, and not just in theory.
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