Greenlight has come under a lot of criticism from developers, especially since its inception, mostly due to the fight for popularity that it causes, whereas the focus might be on quality games that haven’t been recognized as much. Even Valve have acknowledged that it’s not good enough, but Six Sided Sanctuary developer poe took to writing a letter to Valve a few days ago, in which he criticizes Greenlight from his perspective as a small developer and offers ways that they could improve it.
Poe was incited to write the letter after seeing a Reddit thread highlighting the promotion of Infestation: Survivor Stores under its Daily Deal, which gave a lot of exposure to what is usually considered a good game. The problem with Infestation: Survivor Stories receiving this special treatment, as perceived by those rallying against it, is that the game is notoriously bad and was originally made to riff off the popularity of Arma II mod, Day Z.
“Unfortunately, since this whole thing is so experimental, the rules keep changing. Some games get through with publishers; some are hung out to dry. Some don’t even need Greenlight; some do. Some get Greenlit when they crack the top 100; some sit in the number 1 or 2 spot for weeks or months.”
You may know Infestation: Survivor Stories under its original name, The War Z, which is thought to be titled as such in order to confuse players in thinking it’s actually Day Z. What’s interesting about the recent renaming of the game is that the process briefly eliminated the game’s Metacritic score (20%) on its Steam page. The Metacritic score on the Steam pages is a way for customers to find out what the consensus is on that game, and given that The War Z’s is so low, you could imagine that it put a lot of players off. So renaming it, which removes that score from its page, and then its going on a Daily Deal, could be seen to be a little deceptive on both the developer’s and Valve’s part. Luckily, this has been rectified since.
That aside, poe’s focus is that Greenlight’s current set-up isn’t cohesive with the number of people who actually bother to visit and vote, that it doesn’t favor niche games, titles using certain buzzwords will get voted up to the top based on having that buzzword in the title, and also that only 66 titles have been Greenlit since August 2012, and there are a lot of deserving games still sitting pretty.
He also isn’t happy with the way that indie games have been marginalized as they have to go through Greenlight, but other games get instant distribution deals and can avoid the slog altogether. There are many reasons for this. Poe says that in doing this, Valve have broken their own rules.
Poe calls out for more transparency from Valve, for them to interact with developers more, to create a Steam Store widget (the Humble Store widget) and to give prominent figures in the indie game community a voice to help curate which games get Greenlit.
Tom Bui of Valve responded to poe’s letter, stating that the main problem at Valve is that they cannot ship as many games as they like. There are a lot of processes for them to go through, and, apparently, some of their older methods (now scrapped) involved using fax machines! Tom says that they’re still working on Greenlight a lot, but the changes that are being made are not particularly visible to those outside of it.
“Until we can ship everything we want, Greenlight is serving the purpose of helping us prioritize what we ship. It is not perfect by any stretch of the imagination and has a bunch of downsides (even with all its failing, it is much better than our old, opaque system).”
One of the directions they’re going in to help speed things up is involving developers in putting their games on Steam, instead of constantly going back and forth, obtaining relevant information through email. They’ve recently made the Steamworks SDK available to developers too so that they can integrate their games with Steam before securing a distribution deal with the store. He says that the methods used to put games on Steam were crazy because it involved so much work from Valve employees, so the work they’re currently doing to speed everything up should hopefully mean more games are released through Steam.
The priority is to give developers the chance to sell their games on Steam and have the customers vote with their dollars. What that indicates of the changes they’re making to Greenlight, we’ll see at some point in the future. The full response from Tom is in the image below. Click on it to see a bigger version.