Steam Greenlight: Some Concerns

August 31, 2012 in Editorial

Steam Greenlight went live yesterday. The system itself presumably exists as a means to crowd-source the initial vetting stage of indie games applying to appear on Steam, leaving Valve only with a smaller selection of games to approve. This seems alright in principle and it’s perhaps too early to judge, but there are some things that  potentially raise some concerns.

A cursory glance at the comments system reveal a few trends among participants mostly missing the point:

Headdesk #1: People asking for AAA titles
Within just one page I see requests for Battlefield 3, I am Alive, Battle For Middle Earth, Fable 2 and Angry Birds. AAA titles need no help from the public to have their games included on Steam. If their titles are not already on Steam, it’s likely due to reasons outside any of our control.

Headdesk #2: People asking for console games
It’s amazing how many commenters are requesting for games to be ported from consoles. It’s  just not the place for requesting such things – ask the developers of those titles instead.

Headdesk #3: We need “real games” not “indie trash”
A feature specifically created for indie games gets flak for being exactly what it is supposed to be?

Headdesk #4: Fake submissions
The submission system is easy enough that pretty much anyone can submit their game. The result is multiple people posting Half Life 3 or other joke entries (or maybe they aren’t joking). It causes  the perceived amount of submissions to be rather a lot larger than needs to be. Valve is fairly quick at deleting these, but unfortunately they are outnumbered.

It saddens me because the above groups are likely to downvote games just because they are not Call of Duty or God of War. How can an indie dev with hopes of being on Steam have any hope of getting a fair chance?

What’s worse is the potential negative effects of the mob mentality that often rears its ugly head in gamer culture. Sometimes gamers band together for good, but mostly we just hear about it when the trolls gather to sling hate-speech at someone for being female/gay/whatever. It’s just as likely for angry mobs to downvote games for reasons other than the actual quality of the games in question. Or the usual groups of *ists that will instantly balk at and shoot down any game that might not fit into their narrow mindset.

I see comments all the time of people who actively label all indie games as rubbish. When they do elaborate on their reasons it usually becomes clear that they have just dismissively chucked all indie games in a mental box and given it labels like “hipster”, “pretentious”, “fugly”, or whatever else they can say to make them feel like they are in line with whatever the current trendy thing is to hate on. And yet they get to take part in ruining the fun for those who do like indie games.

In government elections there are usually some basic requirements for being a voter. Usually nothing too complicated; you must be a citizen, and you must be over a certain age. Steam account = citizen: check. The logic of the latter being that you need to be mature and (heh) sensible to be a voter. Nothing like that exists here. Anyone with a Steam account gets a voice. “It’s just games”, one might argue, but why should a developer’s livelihood depend on masses of people who can’t fathom why Minecraft, Guild Wars 2 and Diablo III are not on Steam?

Developers themselves also need to keep in mind that this system is not intended as a promotional tool. They need to do their own promotion to drive people to their Greenlight pages to vote. The downside of this is that the average socially awkward developer who has been slaving away quietly for the past two years to create some fantastic little gem of a game, is less likely to get noticed among the masses of submissions.

Let’s hope that Valve can refine the system to perhaps make it a bit more fair. It’s not an awful idea, but I fear that for a system put in place to manage the standards of indie titles that end up on Steam – the system itself needs some way to manage the standard of people that gets to have a voice.

Until then, I guess there’s always Desura.