Opinion: Greenlight shouldn’t have been greenlighted
This is a guest perspective by Greg Lobanov about the new Steam game approval process “Greenlight.” Valve’s press release, posted yesterday, states: “Steam Greenlight allows developers and publishers to post information and media about their game in an effort to convince the Community that the game should be released on Steam. Greenlight piggybacks on Steam Workshop’s flexible system that organizes content and lets customers rate and leave feedback.” Roughly 24 hours after launch, here is Greg Lobanov’s take on how well the system is working.
Steam Greenlight launched yesterday to a lot of early criticism. That criticism is deserved: the way it’s structured now, Greenlight empowers trolls and jealous competitors to shut out good indie games through downvoting.
Here is a fact you already know: Steam is current the #1 online distribution channel for games. Greenlight was launched as a way to make submission easier on the guys who run it: devs like me put up their games, and then the community supports games they like with “upvotes.” Highly upvoted games are the ones that get on Steam, which is an absurdly big deal and the difference between big success and failure for a lot of games (mine included).
Unfortunately, the community has a lot of really distorted expectations, and games like mine have been hurting a lot for it (here’s another example). It seems like they’re expecting AAA gunporn, and they’ve been quick to “downvote” many games that look a little too indie, or, in their words, “like a Flash game.” My game’s not even Flash, but the ratings on my game send a pretty harsh message.
I think an important question to ask here is: why is there even a downvote button on a site like this? Steam themselves seem to sort of disregard it in their own marketing material. You won’t catch any mention of it in their description of the platform, or the iconography. And indeed, they shouldn’t, because frankly it doesn’t belong in something like this.
We all thought the idea was to go and support the games you liked, but once the power to downvote is placed in your hands it looks like people make themselves up into these all-power gatekeepers of Steam, who decree what should and definitely “should not” be on Steam. There was a time when I would have asked who would look at any game and want to say “NO. THIS SHOULD NOT BE SUCCESSFUL; I WANT TO ACTIVELY PREVENT A SCENARIO WHERE THIS IS POSSIBLE.” Greenlight has answered that question for me loud and clear.
You could say, validly, that the aggressive reaction of the Steam community should become a learning experience, and that designers should take it as a fair criticism and look to make their game better out of it. But there’s only so far a small team can go with their visuals, and when it comes to indie games I don’t think it’s absurd to think the standards ought to be a little bit lower on these things.
More importantly, it doesn’t really help our chances on Greenlight to learn from the feedback. Once our game is downvoted, it’s downvoted. I doubt highly anybody is going to return to review their snap decision on a game they immediately disliked, even if the game was revamped in a big way to meet those expectations. So those negative votes are going to be stuck on us–forever. If you’re a dev in that down-voted crowd with me, you can say good-bye to Steam.
Down-voting isn’t even really helpful in recognizing the diamonds from the rough. If the goal behind Greenlight is to find the games that most people will buy, then down-votes are utterly unimportant; it’s not like that translates to a “negative purchase” should the game come to Steam. Think of this: if a game gets 1 million upvotes and 2 million downvotes, it would have an average of only 33%, and negative one million votes–even though, in reality, a game like that would be a highly profitable release with a million purchases! What aspect of a game’s success on Steam is the down-vote portion of Greenlight even trying to represent?
Downvoting just seems like an overly aggressive feature in a system where people are meant to be “supporting.” I hate to say it, but if I’m a dev trying to get his game promoted, doesn’t that also mean it’s in my best interest to “downvote” every other game available? It’s twisted, and definitely not the type of community I think Steam wants to create–but that’s what it is as of right now.
Here’s hoping it changes soon. In the meantime, games like mine are having their chances of ever seeing light on Steam nipped in the bud by a distorted, angry community. Are you listening, Valve?
Greg “Banov” Lobanov is an indie game developer. He’s made award-winning games like Assassin Blue, Escape from the Underworld, as well as indie RPGs such as Dubloon and Phantasmaburbia. Like many indie developers, he wants to get his work on Steam.