Editorial: Steam Greenlight - From Novel Idea to Train Wreck in Sixty Seconds
When Valve announced Steam Greenlight in early July, it seemed like a great idea – put the power of the Steam submission process into the hands of the consumer. Developers and publishers would be able to post their game and use the platform to convince the Steam community that their game was worthy of being on the world's leading digital distribution platform. The system seemed to work so well with Steam Workshop for both big AAA titles (The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim) and smaller indie titles (Dungeons of Dredmor). Greenlight is modeled after that system, so what could go wrong? And after all, anything Valve has a hand in typically turns to gold, right? Well if everything was all rainbows and roses, I probably wouldn't have written this article.
When I was mulling over titles for this piece, I thought of calling it "Valve Clearly Underestimates the Stupidity and Immaturity of the Human Race", because let's face it, that's what happened. But the current title is equally apt, though "sixty seconds" may be a bit of an exaggeration – maybe it was more like sixty minutes. When Greenlight finally went live on Thursday, August 30, it seemed great and just as expected. There were only roughly thirty games that had been pre-approved by Valve to be available on Greenlight immediately upon launch of the system. I could easily browse the games and rate up the ones I wanted to see on Steam! And then it happened – within minutes, the game submissions started pouring in, but unfortunately not the way Valve intended, nor probably predicted.
Valve failed to see what many of us have known for far too long – most people are complete morons. Greenlight suddenly got flooded with fake submissions, copyright infringements, games people wanted on Steam but had no rights to sell, and yes, even porn. Basically, Greenlight became a troll's paradise. Valve started issuing one-day and one-week bans to many offenders (like someone who jokingly posted Half-Life 3), but Valve's moderators simply couldn't keep up – hours after the system went live, there were hundreds upon hundreds of submissions (the current tally is roughly 700). There is absolutely no approval process to get a game onto Greenlight, as the system is supposed to be policed by the community. This is certainly happening to a degree (there's a downvote button and report button), but even the community is having a difficult time sorting through the system to uncover the "real" games from the fakes. It didn't help matters that the Greenlight infrastructure was incomplete at launch, with no access to your favorites list, no way to sort by popularity, nor any way to remove the games from your standard view without voting thumbs up or thumbs down. Favorites can now be accessed, but the other issues have yet to be addressed.
And therein lies the problem with the current state of Greenlight – Valve is simply not responding fast enough. It's like the company rushed it to market without proper testing, which is a very un-Valve thing to do. Valve is currently conducting beta testing for its new Steam Community changes, yet doesn't think to do the same with Greenlight? Huge oversight. The discussion boards are filled with suggestions (some good, some bad), but who knows if Valve has seen any of them. Probably the best suggestion I've seen is the implementation of a nominal ($1-$5) submission fee. That should, in theory, weed out some of the fakes, though sadly there are still some rich trolls in the world that won't see that as an impediment.
All the apparent trolling aside, the system itself is seen as flawed by many. As alluded to earlier, many people would downvote a game simply to remove it from their "list of games to rate", not necessarily because they were against the game being available on Steam. There really needs to be a "neutral" option. You also have people simply downvoting games because it's not a genre they play or they don't feel games originally developed for mobile devices should be on Steam. The latter shouldn't be determined by them and clearly they didn't notice Hero Academy going on sale on Steam last month, a game that originated for iOS devices. Then you have people simply downvoting for bad graphics, like bad graphics equal bad gameplay. What would have happened if Limbo had to be submitted over Greenlight? Would people downvote it for not having any color?
But should there even be an option to downvote a game? No. I highly doubt the Valve moderators are even looking at the number of downvotes, but if they are, they shouldn't be. If you look at upvotes and downvotes at their core, upvotes are essentially users saying they would probably purchase the game, while downvotes are users saying they wouldn't. In retail/e-tail, since when does the number of people not buying your product mean anything? The only number that matters is how many people would buy your product, as that equals sales, which directly affects profit. If a game has 5,000 upvotes, it shouldn't matter whether it has 100 downvotes or 10,000 downvotes – 5,000 sales is 5,000 sales. You already have a report button for fakes, copyright infringers, etc., so again, there really is no point in allowing downvoting – without requiring any actual feedback to help developers improve their product, it's simply inviting trolling.
I'm holding out hope that Valve corrects Greenlight's flaws and reduces the number of fake submissions, but for now, it's tough for me to recommend that any of you actually attempt to use the system. That's a shame, because there are truly some very well-deserving games currently on there. Greenlight has immense promise, but it'll take a lot of work. It has the potential to be a great tool for struggling indie developers and as someone who is planning a career in the video game industry (I'm finishing my Master's in Digital Game Design & Development this year), I really hope it reaches that potential. If any of you have checked out Greenlight, feel free to share your thoughts below or in our forum!