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.

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  • brewhead says:

    Yesterday when I took my first look at the Greenlight section, saw the first game on there, and then saw there was a “thumbs down” button, I had the exact same reaction – “Why the hell is this here”?

    I’m just a lowly gamer, not a dev or anything related to industry, but I just can’t understand why Steam has this option. It’s ridiculous, and like you, I don’t understand why anyone would want to actively deny a games right to existence, or a platform on which to attract fans.

  • Montgomery Flange says:

    You got to hand it to Gabe, he has not only saved money by creating an automated system that eliminates bad investments, but made it look like the gamers are the ones in control. In other words it is enabling games be bought faster – ‘at launch’ that would otherwise sit in the bargain bin.

  • Unanon says:

    Oh look, another no name that doesn’t seem to understand the system and is getting butt hurt over people down voting. Down vote is nothing more then an “Uninterested” button that doesn’t effect the public percent as it’s purely based on current positive votes vs current total positive votes required.

    Greenlight is based on the age old Market Testing system, in which it’s a well known fact that most products get less then 50% of their test base saying they enjoy, want, or would use said products. These test groups are usually small and the products tend to only need clear the 10% mark. If your averaging above that when there are several thousand people in what is more or less the test group then you should count yourself lucky.

  • Don says:

    Yes, I agree. The Down-vote button even being there boggles my mind and doesn’t make any kind of sense at all.

    I’ve put up a train-route (compatible with the RailWorks3/Train-Simulator2012 program),
    and I realize that it’s a niche type of simulation genre that a large percentage of gamers probably have no interest in, and the amount of down-voting I’ve received so far has been brutal and without valid reasons.

    I posted the following as a part of the description on my Greenlight page, but chances are most trolls / haters / bashers won’t care and down-vote anyways without just cause or a valid reason:

    “I realize that not everyone will like all genres or types of games (example; Personally I don’t have much interest in Sports type games, but I don’t think that is enough of a valid reason for me to vote-down a game of that genre. In the case that I don’t like a genre / type of game, out of respect for the Developer and the hard work and time they put into making their game, and out of respect for other Gamers in the community that do enjoy that genre / type of game, I would simply not vote at all).

    However, to just simply vote-down a game because you don’t like the genre / category / type of game, then that seems unfair to an Independent Developer (like myself, who is a 1-man-team) who has spent thousands of hours of hard work in making their creations.

    If you decide to vote-down this route-addon, it would be helpful to me to know your valid reason for your decision. I don’t mind constructive criticism (but please, refrain from swearing / insults / trolling / bashing). So as an example, if you voted down my route and added a valid comment like, “I don’t like fictional routes.” or “I think your route is too small in size.”, etc… then I would appreciate your comment as it would be giving me constructive and helpful feedback in how I may improve on my future work and give me a better idea of what people don’t like about this particular addon I’m offering here.

    To those of you who vote-up, “Like”, my Train Route addon here and/or add your comments of support as well, I very much appreciate it. Many thanks! 🙂 — Don / RRYard.com “

  • Anon says:

    I don’t plan on down-voting anything. I believe that everyone should have a fighting chance, and I really do love independent games.

    That being said, if Valve wanted Steam to be XBLIG or iOS, they’d open the floodgates. The point of Greenlight isn’t to promote every game onto Steam, it’s to shine attention on games of professional quality (whether they were developed by an individual, an independent team, or a commercial team) that would be a good fit on Steam.

    I’m not talking about your game in specific, but just generally, there are quite a lot of games on the service that are a developer’s first attempt at a game. Many of them are are… not professionally polished. That’s not necessarily a bad thing, everyone starts somewhere, and I think it’s excellent that services like XBLIG and iOS let a person dabble their toes into the commercial waters. But Steam is a curated storefront, and that category of games are not appropriate for that storefront.

    Note that I’m not talking about someone who, say, looks at a dating simulation and says “lol this sucks downvote”. There are trolls. Those people are awful. Nothing should be downvoted because of its genre. But if a game does not meet professional standards within that genre, then it’s not really the kind of thing made for Greenlight or Steam.

    You linked Phantasmaburbia. It looks fun. I’d definitely consider playing it. Some of the ideas in the description sound neat. But based on the art, text, mouse cursor, menus, etc. it looks primarily like a hobby project. I love hobby projects; I played a lot of games made with VERGE or the Hamster Republic RPG Engine or RPG Maker. But I wouldn’t vote for it to be on Steam. This doesn’t mean it won’t turn out excellent. It might. But it doesn’t seem like a good fit. Not because of the genre.

    You might think “But there are lots of crummy games on Steam” or “There are lots of unprofessional games on Steam”. That might be the case. I’m not necessarily defending those either. But by and large, even the terrible games on Steam… and I can assure you, your game will be much much much much better than Bad Rats or Eternity’s Child… have a certain professional veneer to them, evident often times in presentational elements but sometimes in the depth or polish of the mechanics. And that, to me, should be a requirement for Steam.

    I hope you consider this feedback with an open mind rather than dismissing it as trolling or hating or being rude. I am none of those things. Keep working on your game, I’ll definitely check it out when it is completed whether or not it makes it on Steam. Right now it looks like an interesting hobby project, done as a part-time thing and a learning experience. I hope you learn a lot from it. Good luck.

  • DSebJ says:

    But no one else see’s the thumbs down; so what’s the problem?

    It’s better that you – the developer can see this information. The only public stat’s are positive reinforcement.

  • True. I’m not fully aware or sure of how the down-voting is taken into account, etc..

    As a Developer who has uploaded a submission to Greenlight, http://steamcommunity.com/sharedfiles/filedetails/?id=93129091 ,so far with having a larger majority of votes being in the negative, I am presented with the message of “This game has attained 0% of necessary positive ratings so far”. So it almost makes me feel that if my submission keeps getting hammered with down-voting from trolls and haters for no good valid reason (other than that they simply don’t have interest in something like a Train-Simulator), then I’ll probably never even reach 1% of positives votes as I’ll always be in the negative :p

    Anyways, we’ll see how things go. Probably Steam/Valve may take other factors into consideration when looking at submissions, like the overall number of Up-Votes and positive comments expressing interest, regardless of the amount of down-votes, then perhaps there’s still a chance some Independent Developer (like myself) might get noticed by them.

    Cheers! 🙂

  • Xaenor says:

    It is painful to see that games like Mr. Lobanov’s “Assassin Blue” could get downvoted just because someone confused them with flash (dislike of which is also a different story, since there are outstanding flash games out there, too). There’s still a lot to improve in the Greenlight system. But then again, it’s been up for a very short time yet. I’m sure Steam devs won’t just leave it be as it is. Maybe they’ll introduce a better system than downvoting. Maybe some sort of “Complain’ button so that a team of moderators could check the game for being a fake or a trolling attempt.

    Anyway, to all those indie-developers who are trying to get through – don’t lose hope, folks, because all your efforts are deeply appreciated by us, simple gamers who know that the real beauty of a game lies beyond its graphics. Keep it up, keep struggling for your rights, and one day our mutual efforts will make Steam a better system.

  • ET3D says:

    I agree that the down votes are more trouble than help, but they’re not the only problem with Greenlight. There’s a lot of scope to evolve it.

  • Unanon says:

    For those that are curious, whether you be a developer or someone worried about down voting. The bar that was making developers so paranoid that they were getting trolled has been removed. http://forums.steamgames.com/forums/showpost.php?p=32641782&postcount=9

    Now you have no worry about seeing the oh so scary market test data, and can enjoy the rainbows and unicorns of the ever increasing positive percent bar as it was meant to be.

  • @Unanon: Whew! Well, that’s good news I guess. The way they had it before was totally confusing and misleading and made many of us think that indeed down-votes did prevent progress towards acceptance.

    The Greenlight setup is still messy, lots of trolls, clumsy and redundant to navigate, confusing, etc… So it has lots of room for improvements. But my hat’s off to Steam/Valve for for giving some of us Independent Developers a chance to submit and show some of our work to the Gamers out there and with a hope/chance that perhaps one day, some of us may even get lucky enough to have some of our work get approved to be selling on Steam. 🙂

    Good luck to everyone.

  • Barry B says:

    “But no one else see’s the thumbs down; so what’s the problem?”

    Because you aren’t the only one who sees the figure for your game. So do the folks at Steam, who select which games to add and remove from their lists. With choices made quickly based on little input, the powers-that-be are going to give some weight to very negative voting for a particular game.

    I can only hope that the sheer number of negative votes, plus the complaints, generate a reassessment of how this is handled. And soon.

  • Barry B says:

    “Now you have no worry about seeing the oh so scary market test data, and can enjoy the rainbows and unicorns of the ever increasing positive percent bar as it was meant to be.”

    Ah, missed this. Good. Though you should remember that the “oh so scary market test data” is exactly what’s used to determine whether tv shows are renewed, play runs are extended, writers get new contracts, or even whether suppliers to major department store chains find their product on the racks or in the discontinued pile. So a bit of sympathy for people other than yourself might be in order. 😉

  • Banov says:

    Thanks for bringing to light the stuff about market test demographic. I’m a developer any my knowledge in marketing and stuff is pretty close to nada.

    It’s not easy to see overwhelming negativity in a system that was promoted to me as being one big support network. And it’s especially terrifying when the forces at work are literally what determines my ultimate financial success or failure. This is my rent and food on the line. I can’t afford to let my work slip through the cracks, or at least appear to be.

    Did I overreact and complain a too loudly? Probably, but that’s also what got this attention and that’s how changes are enacted and questions are answered, sometimes.

  • […] their games are much more interesting than actually perceived by the general public. I have seen developers complaining about 63% of down-votes on their games, even when the reasons for such niche appeal […]

  • The Wandering Shadow says:

    I find it equal parts depressing, hilarious, and rage inducing to read the opinions on the discussion page. But ignoring the idiotic comments like “Give us some REAL GAMES”(that example being one of the milder comments), I can sort of see where they’re coming from. I get the idea that Greenlight is aiming to support games that look complete and polished to a shine. These games are supposed to compete with the games already on Steam, the games that are made by big name companies.

    But it’s also meant to support games that would normally be overlooked, that would have been skipped over if it had been submitted to Valve beforehand. Just because the games are made in “simpler” tools like Flash, doesn’t mean they aren’t great. People in the Greenlight community seem to have trouble understanding that. And I wonder, are they biased against Flash or against 2D graphics?

    On the other hand, there is a lot of vendor trash flowing into Greenlight at the same time. If the downvote button were removed, there could be abuse of a completely different kind, couldn’t there? I assume the downvote button was put there to cancel out positive votes that are felt to be illegitimate or undeserved. Without downvoting, positive votes would be irreversible, and bots or trolls would be free to intentionally upvote genuinely terrible games. And with enough people abusing the system, Valve would receive a bunch of these terrible games to review, thus voiding the entire purpose of Greenlight.

    That’s just my understanding of the views on the subject. If there was an actual solution, perhaps it would be constructing a more open-minded community? This is the internet, though, so good luck there.

  • Michael says:

    Hi guys, i think they have just done a horrible job of explaining how the system works. From what I understand, the down vote is needed to block the same games from re-appearing every time you vist the site, i.e. if you don’t down vote you’ll keepp seeing the same games that you are not interested in.

    when you up vote it gives them an idea of how many people like the game, down-votes don’t mean you don’t like it, it just means that you are not interested in that game, and it will be hidden from only you going forward, the other users will still see it.

    but only positive votes count in any case – they don’t care how many down-votes a game got only how many up-votes – the down vote, which should be labelled as ‘not interested’ just means that you are not interested and hence please don’t show it to me again, but as far as which games are more likely to be chosen for publishing they are only comparing the positve votes against the other positive votes – so if 2 games got 100 up votes, they are ties, it doesn’t really matter how many down-votes they got – down votes don’t move them down, it just means don’t show it to you if you down voted it, but both games would be tied for interest and i’d assume that both would be tested by the site admin before they chose which of the two games, perhaps both, would be published.

    so the ‘not interested’ does not count against the game, it just tells the site that you aren’t interested so that the site won’t keep showing you a game that you already said you were not interested in.

    the cold reality is that most people do judge you within 30-60 seconds, that’s life, but teh fact that you are not interested in a certain game does not mean the game is worthless. Hence the up-votes
    are used to determine the interest of all games, down-votes don’t really do anything but block the games from you. And then they review the games that make the minimum vote and probably manually review each of them before deciding which to publish.

    as far as trolling and such – it makes no difference, if you had only up-votes and no down-votes, a cheater could simply vote themselves up many times by creating many users if they had nothing better to do, or do the same with down votes – but it doesn’t really matter how many down-votes you get since it doesn’t affect your score – as another person noted, they are mostly interested that the game has a minimum amount of interested people as you only need a small percentage of the total gamers to be a success.

  • […] CONTROL:  Steam Greenlight has been a source of major contention since its inception in 2012. As a method for independent developers to publish their […]


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