I’m still making a Greenlight campaign because Greenlight is GOOD for indies

Its been a LONG time since I made a blog post, so bare with me as I try to get back into the swing of things.

My next game, Mount Your Friends, just came out on XBLIG and I’ve made a Greenlight campaign for it. This is after some angry developers have ranted about how they were dismissed by Valve because of their Greenlight page and indies calling Greenlight a popularity contest and the worst thing for indie developers ever. So, why would I subject myself to the popularity contest of Greenlight? Why spend $100 and work making a page for a service that indies are claiming is BAD for indie developers? Why expose myself to Greenlight commentators that sound like every idiotic Youtube video comment you’ve seen?

Maybe because it’s not as bad as people’s hyperbole, and it’s going to get better.

Let’s start with WHY I want to start getting my games onto Greenlight. Mount Your Friends is going to be the first game I’ve made that will be posted to Greenlight, and for good reason. As an XBox Live Indie Games developer I’ve tried to keep my games small and manageable for the $1 price-point market that XBLIG is. Mount Your Friends fits that pattern, but I want it to be a bigger game than what I’ve built for XBLIG. Getting approved through Greenlight is my way of justifying that kind of work. If I can get on Steam, I can make the game larger and more feature rich because I’ll be on a higher-price-point market. I enjoy making small, manageable games, but XBLIG is looking more and more like a sinking ship. Microsoft stopped supporting XNA long ago, the XBox One (or XBone) has been announced and it sounds like there will be no XBLIG in it. From rumours I’ve heard, XBLIG nowadays is run by one person to address issues, who only works on the platform part time. At some point things are going to break, and there will be no one around to fix it. Even though I’ve made a good living on XBLIG, it’s on the way out and I need an escape route. Getting a Steam deal could be that chance for me. That used to mean having the right connections at Valve to make a pitch, but now it means pitching to the Greenlight community instead.

Greenlight is a popularity contest. You are no longer being judged by a small team of professionals to get on Steam. Instead you are being upvoted by driving traffic to your Greenlight page. On the other hand, all game development is a popularity contest, isn’t it? We, as individuals with unique tastes, don’t always agree with what the masses find appealing. Surely you’ve seen games that have been released on Steam that you loved, but didn’t shoot their way up to #1, while games that you would find generic and dull sit on a throne at the top of the Top Sellers lists. Working with the masses directly in the approval process just gives more of a chance of the games that the masses will like being moved forward to Steam. That means more games that will get high sales being released. Yes those games may not be your favourites, but it will get MORE games in the hands of MORE players. The professionally-curated games may drive more interesting experiences onto Steam, but those experiences will often still perform worse in terms of getting the games in front of people. If you want to encourage unique experiences from indie developers, buy directly from the developer and encourage others to do the same, but don’t expect a service that revolves around getting their average game out to as MANY people as possible to take up that flag for you. It isn’t fair to claim that it’s Valve’s responsibility to do such a thing. The games that rise to the top on Greenlight are the games more likely to get more overall sales, and Valve has limited capabilities to push games in front of Steam users.

Speaking of the throughput of games, this tends to be considered one of the biggest flaws of Greenlight. Too few games pass Greenlight and get published to Steam. Greenlight’s “big list of games” really emphasizes how few games get published. This has of course always been the case, the process was just more hidden before when Valve would quietly tell people their games were rejected. Most rejected people won’t make a fuss online about it so we didn’t see big walls of games being rejected. After all, most people who submit games don’t want to seem petty or act entitled when their games don’t make the cut. We were never able to compare what Valve thought was the wheat versus the chaff. I don’t know if Greenlight is really that different from the old methods in this respect, it just makes the problem a lot more visible to the public.

But that problem of not enough games being released through Greenlight? That’s being addressed. Valve seems to WANT to approve more games and just doesn’t have the power the process all the games they want on the service. Valve has recently announced a more streamlined system to get games from approvals to market, and Gabe Newell has expressed his own problems with Greenlight, and how he wants to move the service from approvals to all games being released, and having systems in place for the best games to rise on their own. Valve is a big company and Steam has a lot of moving parts. Valve may not be able to make the changes quickly, but they have expressed their desire to make these changes. Sure Greenlight isn’t the ideal system, but the intention is that Valve is working to build that ideal system. I can’t guarantee they’ll succeed at the task, but I’m happy that they care enough to work towards it.

Greenlight is a flawed popularity contest that shows how few games Valve lets onto Steam and we need a better, more open system to let games prove themselves on Steam instead of being approved by vapid public comments about videos and screenshots. Greenlight could be so much more than what it is, but that doesn’t mean it’s bad. It means it’s having growing pains, and with the right direction and feedback it can become great. I’m not going to avoid my chance at getting Greenlight’s attention just because there are flaws. I’ve been working in a flawed infrastructure for years (XBLIG) and at the end of the day, I am the one making the educated decisions that will lead to my successes or failures. My platform holder can hurt my work, but everything I do is a chosen, calculated risk by me.

Do I expect to get through Greenlight and get published on Steam? Not necessarily. Do I believe that Greenlight can get my game exposed to more people, and at the very least help me practice marketing my games to new audiences? Absolutely.

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