Steam Direct: The Best And Worst Of Greenlight’s Replacement

After 5 years of hits and failures, Steam‘s Greenlight tool is going to be replaced this next spring by Steam Direct, a new platform that will let developers publish their games on the store without prior community curation by paying a fee.

The new concept was explained as a way of avoiding Valve’s influence when deciding whose game gets distributed, also probably getting rid of one of the most corrupt voting systems around. Sounds good right? Well, what about a recoupable fee ranging from $100 to $5000 per-game and dropping your project into an unmoderated market?

Before analyzing its successor, we have to take a look at Greenlight’s current problems. It has a single entry fee of $100, after which you can upload any amount of projects to be curated by the community. A utopic idea where aside from browsing Steam’s store, users would also visit Greenlight to browse again and choose independent titles they’d like to see published. It was a matter of time before it got corrupted by the increasing market of paid votes and reviews, completely overthrowing the community’s power over it.

Curated collections helped Greenlight's efforts
Curated collections helped Greenlight’s efforts

Don’t get me wrong, if a game’s good and it has a kick-ass marketing campaign it’ll surely get through, but really small teams and newcomers can’t always promote their projects. What’s more, in a hostile environment the effort is even less attractive. Success means a mixture between getting good press, and the pure luck of being spotted on a flooded library. Steam Direct should change that and be Direct, but if implemented poorly it could carry Greenlight’s issues to the actual store.

Steam Direct’s Simple Filters

Valve’s new approach seems fairly simple: pay, let us run a basic test to see if your game works and you’re good to go. The only serious filter here is the actual per-game fee, still being debated between the speculative $100 to $5000 price range. It is supposed to be recoupable, but no further details were given about how this would work.

We have to consider that even if the actual $100 fee hasn’t stopped anyone from posting broken games, a higher one could make pranksters think twice, but serious developers are the ones who pay the real price. In an industry were being independent usually means struggling with a budget, $200 makes as much of a difference than $1000.

As the official announcement states: ‘there are pros and cons at either end of the spectrum’. They could be harsh and filter out some of the junk, together with projects on a budget; or permissive, and risk to continue filling the store’s library with unwanted games. It’s a double-edged sword that will continue to exist for as long as this non-creative filter strategy is applied, unless you look at Steam as a pure distribution platform. It’s possible for it to work, but it depends only on how the community and the store itself adapts to Steam’s point of view.

The Community Needs Tools to Support Direct

With Greenlight out of the way and content coming straight to the store, users will need to judge titles and share. Wait a minute. Isn’t that what community reviews, curator lists, and forums work for? The platform’s already there and players share their experiences in hilarious yet useful recommendations. It’s the same concept as Greenlight’s but practiced on approved games and, with the proper tweaks, Valve could push the community into taking this moderating role to an actual working level.

A great start would be to eliminate the risk factor, either by rethinking refunds or by reviving timed demos so that gamers can actually generate an opinion. The latter’s probably the logical solution, since gameplay speaks by itself and the lack of transaction is a great incentive. One thing’s sure, there’s an active audience out there waiting to participate. Just look at funding platforms like Kickstarter or Indiegogo, currently on their prime and packed of eager fans.

Discovery queues include assorted titles and customization options
Discovery queues include assorted titles and customization options

The second step would be to take what’s already there and polish it to avoid Greenlight’s mistakes, a move that Steam partially made when introducing recommendations and discovery queues. Tastes are extremely varied and their algorithm does a great job at suggesting similar titles, but that doesn’t erase the fact that there’s already hundreds of games buried and forgotten. With Steam Direct around the corner, not developing these aspects would just add to the current problem.

Aside from that, the community’s tools are pretty much there and ready to use. Reviews only come from people who played the game, there’s known curators, and Steam’s forums are as active as ever.Valve doesn’t want to get involved in the creative judgement, and they don’t have to. They have to focus on making Steam a resourceful platform, as dynamic and inclusive as possible for Steam Direct to really help game distribution.

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