It seems the light in Valve’s community-driven game approval system has been proverbially downgraded to yellow. In an announcement pushed out September 4th, the company identified a “significant amount of noise and clutter” being submitted to Greenlight, resulting in less than ideal discoverability for worthy projects. As a result, they’ve added a $100 submission fee (which Valve will donate to charity) for all hoping to post their potential next big thing.
Immediately, developers of all stripes took to Twitter to share their opinions on the move, which seems to have polarized many into two camps. One is in support of the measure as a way to legitimize Valve’s fledgling service, while the other thinks that the fee is a blow to the openness promised to the public when Greenlight was announced.
Polish one man band Sos Sosowski – developer of the wild, refreshing McPixel argues that perhaps “if Valve set a submission fee of $100 for old-style standard process…Greenlight wouldn’t be needed at all.” The implication here is that arguably Greenlight is meant to represent a space distinct from Valve’s official submission process, where the community at large is empowered to tell the download giant what they want. By charging money to put your title at the mercy of the internet, Sosowski implies, the company is perhaps undermining the “freedom on all sides” approach to Greenlight, and may as well tack a fee on to a more guaranteed method of review.
On the other end of the spectrum, Independent Games Festival award recipient and developer of Antichamber Alexander Bruce calls that idea flat-out “wrong.” to his mind, “Greenlight lets the community help get Valve’s eyes on things they want that just Valve [themselves] may overlook.” Implied in his statement? The notion that paying the $100 fee is worth bypassing the busy gatekeepers, and the insistence that with or without cost, the service is a worthwhile alternative to regular Steam approval processes.
Bruce further elucidates his thoughts on the matter by retweeting outspoken member of the games press and lead writer for the Penny Arcade Report Ben Kuchera, by proxy expressing Kuchera’s strong opinion on the matter:
“Devs [developers]: you are not owed your development costs in a Kickstarter. You are not owed Steam support. This is not how it works.” Costs. The more places you looked, the more it was clear that outside of the conjecture about Greenlight’s mandate or purpose, this $100 has started a fierce debate about the wiseness of charging content creators the right to throw their creations into the shark tank. Here, you have everything from acerbic reactions – “$100 for Greenlight, $100 for IGF, $100 for iOS App Store? Soon, it may cost as many as THREE HUNDRED dollars to make games professionally!” – to more frank ones. To quote Josh Nilson, COO of Vancouver’s East Side Games (makers of the upcoming Ruby Skies):
“If you can’t raise/source/borrow $100 for the Greenlight fee you probably won’t make it in this business.”
Comedic, pedagogic, or blunt, there seems to be a common thread. Many developers see the fee as a necessary step for those looking to expose their game to potential customers on the world’s largest digital game distributor. If you’re unwilling, they say? It’s indicative that you aren’t serious enough about your product, and likely don’t understand the realities of the design landscape, where costs are certain to skyrocket well beyond $100 as you move from crowdsourcing votes to marketing and promoting your product.
Here, another Vancouver independent developer, Brian Provinciano, was kind enough to weigh in with us in more detail. The one-man wrecking crew has been working for the last seven-plus years to bring his nostalgic masterpiece to bear, and the Mario-meets-GTA hybrid Retro City Rampage will be launching this fall for every major platform, including Steam.
“[This hundred dollars]… it’s giving people that moment of reflection as to whether their game is really good enough, or whether it needs more work before it’s submitted.” Reflecting on his journey, which has caused him to commit his life savings and mortgage his home, Provinciano continues. “And it’s still the cheapest of everything. With everything else, you need to buy (at minimum) some hardware…and if you’re shipping on consoles, your multi-platform worldwide ratings could exceed $10K (for example)…QA [alone] could cost you $30-60K; the list goes on.”
It’s on the subject of lists that Provinciano brings up the idea that Valve has one of their own to worry about. “Valve must pay staff to sift through these games,” he contends of Greenlight’s potential corporate system of checks and balances. “Anything that Valve can do to reduce the weak submissions will only help strong ones, because they have a better chance of getting noticed and getting the coverage they deserve. If the average quality of games on Greenlight is higher,” he finishes, “more people and press frequent the site. If we, ourselves need to sift through a lot of the poor quality [free] submissions, we’ll be less likely to spend the time searching so hard for the gems.”
And yet, some still take issue with Provinciano’s thoughts – echoed by many – that $100 is a deterrent to low quality content. Multiple tweets used the App Store as an example of a company charging money (Apple’s developer license costs aspiring iOS content creators $100 / year) while not being able to prevent the submission of low quality, often intellectually stolen content. Moreover, some developers and journalists alike raised the notion that $100 to test the waters of an unproven idea – something Valve sold as one of the explicit purposes of Greenlight – is simply too much to ask of those who may come with the idea and talent, but not cash.
British independent designer Zayne Black, maker of 2D adventure title Flibble, brought his own wit to the party, self deprecatingly noting that “if had $100 for every time I got told I should be able to afford $100 to submit to Steam, I’d be able to afford to submit to Steam.” His words, a good-natured but ultimately relevant reminder that for many making games, $100 represents things like a tangible amount of food, and that measures like these on the part of Valve do less to solve a discoverability issue and more to create a “class” of eligible participants in a service so supposedly open.
That’s why perhaps the most heartwarming response to the miniature controversy came in the form of something that cut through debates about right and wrong to offer actionable solutions to something that is obviously an issue for many. Boston indie games studio Deejoban Games, makers of the “I’m only going to type this once” title AaaaaAAaaaAAAaaAAAAaAAAAA!!! (Force = Mass x Acceleration), took to their blog to offer up a $100 loan to help indie developers in need submit their game to Greenlight. Conditional to the loan, said the post’s writer Ichiro Lambe, was an e-mail linking to the game’s website (before September 10th), info about the project and its creator(s), and a promise from potential recipients of payback by the end of the calendar year – symbolizing the admission that they weren’t ‘owed anything.’
And they say you can’t buy happiness.